Thursday, February 28, 2008

Rest of James Lessons Complete!

For those who are following them, the rest of the James lessons are up on The Big Picture, at Have a great evening!

Portrait of Courage

ARLDF.NET posted this update today, with some poignant insights into the heart of Cyd Mizell. Please pray for her family and the family of her Muslim driver, Hadi, who was also apparently murdered. This update really is a portrait of courage.

Update: Feb 28th, 2008
We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of concern expressed by many people following our announcement of the apparent deaths of two of our Asian Rural Life Development Foundation workers. Muhammad Hadi and Cyd Mizell were kidnapped Jan. 26 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. We continue to work with the Red Cross to receive confirmation of their deaths.

We remain puzzled over this entire situation. We cannot understand why our employees were targeted in this way or why they would be killed. ARLDF is a humanitarian development organization that works throughout Asia helping to provide a better quality of life for the poorest of the poor, mainly through community development projects. We work in about 12 Asian countries, with most of our programs focusing on small-scale efforts.

In the Kandahar area, our personnel work in education and projects that help people learn skills to better their lives and the lives of their families.

Hadi, a Muslim family man, had served as an ARLDF driver for two years. He had five children, ages 6 to 15. He was a threat to no one, only working to support his family.

Mizell, 50, had lived in Kandahar since 2005. She regularly wore the all-encompassing burqa, showing respect for the culture, and learned the local language to better communicate and help in humanitarian projects. She taught English to high school students and helped women learn income-producing skills such as sewing and embroidery.

“The women here make a beautiful, intricate type of embroidery called ‘khamak,’” Mizell wrote last year. “We have grown to love and appreciate this handiwork and would like to ‘show it off’ to others, as well as to help these women and their families improve their livelihoods. Many of these women rarely leave their homes, and it is not appropriate or helpful to pull them out of the homes in order to give them employment. Our project employs women to embroider small pieces of khamak in their homes that we hope will be useful and marketable.

“I’ve been able to help some with the design and production phase and I really love being able to work with these Afghan women. They are very patient and gracious with my [language skills]. It gives us lots of opportunities to laugh!”

Our prayers continue to be with the families of Hadi and Mizell. We regret we are unable to respond individually to your calls and e-mails of concern. Additional releases will be posted when more information becomes available.

Cyd Mizell: a friend of Afghanistan
As news spreads of the unconfirmed but widely reported deaths of Cyd Mizell and her Afghan colleague, Muhammad Hadi, many are asking:Why would an American woman live and work in one of the most dangerous regions of a country at war?

“Because she cared,” said Jeff Palmer, international director of the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation (ARLDF). “She loved the people of Afghanistan, and she devoted her life to meeting their needs and helping them rebuild their nation, which has experienced violence and suffering for many years.”

Mizell, 50, a native of Eureka, Calif., moved overseas to serve the people of Afghanistan. Since 2005 she had lived in Kandahar, where she taught English to high school students and helped women learn income-producing skills such as sewing and embroidery. She also assisted in other ARLDF-related efforts in the area, which include food-for-work projects, irrigation, rehabilitation, health care and restoration projects.

“The women here make a beautiful, intricate type of embroidery called ‘khamak,’” Mizell wrote last year. “We have grown to love and appreciate this handiwork and would like to ‘show it off’ to others, as well as to help these women and their families improve their livelihoods. Many of these women rarely leave their homes, and it is not appropriate or helpful to pull them out of the homes in order to give them employment. Our project employs women to embroider small pieces of khamak in their homes that we hope will be useful and marketable.

“I’ve been able to help some with the design and production phase and I really love being able to work with these Afghan women. They are very patient and gracious with my [language skills]. It gives us lots of opportunities to laugh!”

Mizell also tried to meet some of the needs of the homeless “tent people” – migrants from drought-stricken areas of Afghanistan who 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 had the time and opportunity to go to a place where there was so much need to give to these girls who have so much potential,” said an ARLDF colleague who worked with her. “The high school students loved her. She was adored by teachers and students because of the spirit that she brought with her. She really loved them.”

Mizell, a gifted musician, began helping Afghan women even before she went to Afghanistan. She volunteered in the United States to teach English as a second language to Afghan refugees who had resettled there. She became increasingly interested in assisting the people of Afghanistan as that nation struggled to rebuild after years of war.

“I remember her telling me that she had volunteered to teach English as a second language and that several women from the Pashtun area in southern Afghanistan had come to her class,” recalled an American friend. “She was so excited because that was the very people she had decided she wanted to help. She did not go to Afghanistan out of any need for adventure. She just wanted to go where the need was greatest and where she could be of the most service.”In 2005 she joined the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation, a humanitarian organization that sponsors development work in a number of Asian nations, including Afghanistan. She 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.”

They trusted and respected her, too. That was vividly illustrated in the days following her Jan. 26 kidnapping when as many as 600 Afghan women in Kandahar met to appeal for her release -- a rare public display by women in the conservative area. Rona Tareen, director of the Kandahar Women's Association, urged Mizell's captors to free her immediately, saying she had helped Kandahar's women with small business projects."She was here helping the woman in Kandahar. She was trying to get their embroidery outside of the country," Tareen told the women — many wearing all-encompassing burqas — who gathered in a Kandahar wedding hall. "Her kidnapping is against our culture and tradition.”Another woman, Bibi Nanai, said she received permission from her husband to join the protest. "I came from my home to show my support," Nanai said. "We are very upset."Mizell was aware of the risks of working in Kandahar.

A few months after her arrival in 2005, Mizell wrote: “(T)he security situation here has been steadily getting worse …. One thing that has become very clear in recent days is that we have no guarantee of how long we will be able to remain in our city. So, I want to make the most of the time.”

She was able to remain for almost three years. Just a few weeks before she was kidnapped, she wrote:

“I would just like to say that I am very much at peace in being here. I have no desire to go anywhere else.”

"Cause me to be a Blessing To Someone Today"

That simple prayer was the last I ever heard my mother-in-law utter.

Last year she spent 99 of her last 105 days in the hospital. 10 days before her final breath on this earth ushered her into eternity with our Lord, a dear family friend visited her room. I happened to be there and was so blessed when we had an impromtu prayer meeting. During that time, Mom was having trouble breathing but prayed a simple yet profound prayer that rings in my ears to this day: "Lord, I love You. Cause me to be a blessing to someone today."

This 80-year-old woman had lived a hard life. Orphaned at age 4, she was passed around from family member to family member. She never felt at home anywhere, but she kept talking to this "Jesus" that her mom had told her about. She didn't think he could hear her because she was so little, so she would climb to the highest hill and shout out her prayers to be sure she was heard. She grew up, married and divorced, and raised 3 sons largely by herself. Each disappointment and struggle drew her closer to God.

Like no one else, she taught me that every day is a chance for ministry. I saw her find the will to live because she still had grandchildren to pray into the kingdom. I listened to her describe praying for the televangelists that all I ever did was complain about. I watched her lovingly prepare her sons for her homegoing. She ministered until her dying breath, literally - her deathbed worship was a testimony to her ICU nurse.

I can explain theologically that we are "blessed to be a blessing". I can parse the texts and lay out the biblical foundation for missions. But only God can create in me a heart that cries out to truly be a blessing. Only God can transform this selfish woman into someone who thinks of others first. Only God can cause me not to just know about blessing, but to actually be one.

So Lord, cause me to be a blessing to someone today, and all my days.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

In Memory

photographs used by permission of ARLDF.

Rev. 12:11 But they overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,
and they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.

The news was shocking at first. All that believing prayer - surely it can't be true. God delivered Paul for the sake of ministry more than once, and I really believed He would deliver you. All those Afghan women obviously needed you. There was so much left for you to do.
Or so I thought.
In reality, God saw that you had poured out your life as a drink offering to the fullest extent. He knew the women needed Him more than you, and He knew that you would agree. He saw you had fought the good fight and finished the race, even if it didn't look that way on this end.
And so, He told me no. He would deliver you all right - to Himself. I would never get to hear your story (at least in this life, but save me a seat near you at the wedding supper, okay?).
I don't know about Muhammed's relationship with the Lord, but I respect his devotion to you to the point of death. I worry about his wife and kids. I pray this starts a snowball for the kingdom in his people group that nothing can dissuade.
Today I sit in the quiet of my home, thankful for the stomach bug that allows me a day off work, a day to process this hard truth. Somehow I have felt connected to you despite never having known your name until a month ago. So I am taking this quite personally. My friends in the region are too, I'm sure - they know it could easily have been them. But they press on to minister, and you pressed on to overcome.
Ah, to think you see it all from the perspective of eternity today.
Until the kingdom,
A fellow traveler

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sad news about Cyd

Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. The devil is about to have some of you thrown into prison so you may be tested, and you will experience suffering for ten days. Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself. (Rev. 2:10)

Thanks to an alert blog reader I have an update from ARLDF. Unfortunately it is a sad one.

Update: Feb 26th, 2008
We are deeply grieved to report the apparent deaths of Muhammad Hadi and Cyd Mizell, Asian Rural Life Development Foundation workers who were kidnapped by gunmen Jan. 26 in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Although we have no confirmation of their deaths, we have received information over the past few days indicating that our two aid workers have been killed.

Hadi, a resident of Kandahar, had served as an ARLDF driver for two years. Known by colleagues as a “kind, loving man,” he was the father of five children, ages 6 to 15.

Mizell, 50, a native of Eureka, Calif., dedicated her life to serving the people of Afghanistan. Since 2005 she had lived in Kandahar, where she taught English to high school students and helped women learn income-producing skills such as sewing and embroidery. She also assisted in other ARLDF-related efforts in the area, which include food-for-work projects, irrigation, rehabilitation, health care and restoration projects.

We are thankful for the efforts of local government other authorities during this crisis.

Our prayers are with the families of Hadi and Mizell. We regret that we are unable to respond individually to your calls and e-mails of concern. We will continue to post more information on our Web site ( as it becomes available.

Cyd Mizell - One Month Later

Dear Cyd,

One month ago today your plans were dramatically interrupted. A day that began like any other ended in silence.

When you and your driver Hadi were kidnapped, I expected a quick demand for ransom and the debate over "negotiating with terrorists" to begin. Instead, there was only a frustrating void.

As I sit home this afternoon, my day interrupted by a stomach bug, I wonder about your thoughts that first day. I wonder how much of it was fear and pure survival instinct - how much of it was practical thoughts of the interruption to your plans - and how much of it was prayer. There's really not a right or wrong answer - and I don't exalt you to the point of thinking that you immediately hit your knees for the captors and prayed God's provision over those you would have helped that day and asked His peace for your family. I know you got to that point eventually, but as a fellow traveler I'm just curious how long it took to get there.

As I live out my minor inconvenience surrounded by the comforts of home and my pets, Dr. George and Nurse Petey, I feel guilty ... and yet in a strange way, I can identify with you. When I was sick again a few moments ago I wondered if it would ever end. I feel guilty, then normal, for focusing on myself so much. And as usual over the past month, my thoughts return to you.

I don't pretend to think that you'll ever read these letters; when you are released you'll have many loved ones and friends you know personally whose emails and cards have flooded your boxes. So I realize that I write these not for you, but for myself, and for the body of Christ. It's my way of remembering, of keeping you real before me. It's my way of identifying with a fellow sister in Christ. It's what I would say (I hope) if one of my friends was in your shoes. And it's my way of reminding people that you aren't yesterday's news.

You are part of us, part of the body. And we are not whole without you.

With hope and prayer,
A fellow traveler

Monday, February 25, 2008

Caught up in Christ

I confess -- I'm a political junkie. I actually watched or read transcripts of about 6 debates, before they started coming weekly. It's easy for me to get caught up in a cause. And to some extent in our society, that's okay, because we are the government so involvement in the system is part of honoring the "king".

But that's not why Jesus saved me, and I need to remember that.

Every governmental system - including democracy - is flawed. And in our democracy, there are Christians of every political stripe. And among people who agree with my causes, I will find Christians and non-Christians. If I think the success is in the result of the cause, then I have seriously missed the point.

Jesus never called me to be caught up in a cause. He wants me to be caught up in Him!

That was the error of the church of Ephesus.

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus, write the following:
“This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who has a firm grasp on the seen stars in his right hand – the one who walks among the seven golden lampstands: ‘I know your works as well as your labor and steadfast endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have even put to the test those who refer to themselves as apostles (but are not), and have discovered that they are false. I am also aware that you have persisted steadfastly, endured much for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: You have departed from your first love! Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place – that is, if you do not repent. But you do have this going for you: You hate what the Nicolaitans practice – practices I also hate. The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will permit him to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.’"
Rev. 2:1-7

Ephesus had a lot of causes -- ones that many of our churches would laud. They were known for their stand against evil. They fought against false teaching and for truth. They even hated the right things. God agreed with the stances they took in those issues which they got caught up in.

The only problem is, they got caught up in the wrong things. Christ didn't want them to be caught up in issues - He wanted them to be caught up in Him. He wanted them to focus on their first love.

There are an unceasing number of good causes out there. Just this weekend I've been confronted with a growing error within the church, a satanic deception, a political issue, an international issue, and a debate within our town. I have opinions on all of these.

And yet as I lay in bed last night God spoke to me: Love. The greatest commandment isn't to have the right issues. It's to love God. Causes don't even make the second on the list - that's reserved for loving others. After spending 4 1/2 months in James, I understand that to mean practical acts of servant love - acts that transcend political issues.

I'm sure the early Christians had opinions on political issues of their day. There were causes then too. But when the story of their lives was written, the golden thread that tied everything together was their love. They were totally caught up in Christ - loving Him and loving others with His love. Emperors came and went, kingdoms rose and fell, and there they stayed, living the life that showed the reality of the message.

That's what it means to be caught up in Christ. No other compelling cause will ever come close.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Children's Worship

I never cease to learn something the weeks we teach in children's worship -- and it's not necessarily about the Bible story. The lessons instead tend to be about ME ... about my relationship with God.

This week was no different. The lesson was on Elijah and the prophets of Baal, and I did learn some new things about that familiar story. But more than that, I learned some principles to help me relate to God.
  • God's initiative doesn't negate my work and prayer. God told Elijah to go to Ahab and God would bring rain ... but work was involved in the power encounter on Mount Carmel and Elijah prayed intently before the rain came.
  • It's easier for the altar of God to be neglected than for the altar to idols to be destroyed. I was struck by the fact that Elijah had to rebuild the neglected altar to Yahweh. The altar to Baal was apparently intact. I'm sure Israel didn't intend to let Yahweh's altar be so abandoned ... it's just that Baal was so much more demanding, and distant. And in our flesh, we put out so much more effort to earn the attention of those who are distant than we do to love those who are faithful. It's the same in my life. I may be more prone to "support" the demanding idolatries in my life than to care for the altar of God in my heart.
  • God doesn't care if I wriggle, so long as I worship! Kids just have to move around - all that energy in such a little package! But the bottom line is worship, and so we just encourage them to move for Jesus. Likewise, sometimes I struggle to "focus" on worship. I forget that God wants even my wriggles to be submitted to Him for worship!
  • The heart of worship is delight in God, and the heart of ministry is delight in those we serve. It's part of that big word called "love". Sure, we can practice the acts of love without delight in our hearts, but true worship comes when that love is expressed in delight for God. And true ministry comes when that love is expressed in delight for others. The storyteller today was completely sound doctrinally (which is crucial), well-prepared (which is necessary), and in charge of the group (which is nice to prevent distractions) -- but most of all, he obviously delighted in the kids. Not surprisingly, they gave him their complete attention. They knew he wanted to be there with them, and it made them want to be with him. Even the shy ones eagerly helped "rebuild the altar of God" at the appropriate part of the story. I watched, amazed at how easy it is to go through the motions of ministry and then wonder why people don't respond. Maybe I just need to delight in them a little more!

So there you have it - just a few of the lessons I learned today. I know you learn lessons in ministry every day - I'd love to hear them!

Enjoy being His child today.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Moveable Treasure

And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine (Ex. 19:5)
In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession, since we were predestined according to the one purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11)

Somewhere inside us, we all want roots.

Even "Army brats" who grow up moving from place to place express frustration at times with the lack of depth in any one place. We tend to find a place we like and camp there.

So if you've committed to a life of "anywhere, anytime, God" service, you may find yourself uprooted against your will ... even though you thought you surrendered that will to Him. You may push against the goads, thinking that you could do so much where you are if He'd just leave you there a little longer. Your heart may cry out for roots even while your spirit surrenders to His wings.

If that's where you find yourself tonight, take heart: God called you to be His moveable treasure.
When God said Israel was His "special possession" - later applied to believers in the Ephesians passage above - the Hebrew word segullah literally means "moveable treasure". The word is in contrast to real estate or other possessions that cannot be moved. We are more like diamonds than property! We are God's treasure that He can move around.
It's normal to want roots. But home is where He is. When you "abide" in Him that literally means to make your home there. Wherever your feet are planted, your heart's home is already established.
You're His moveable treasure. Make Him your fixed home, and see what kingdom fruit results!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Why Did Jesus Have to Die?"

That was the question posed to our church from a pastor 10 Easters ago. We were challenged to write an essay on the subject. Although I was raised in church, I had only recently started walking with the Lord, and the question reflected one that had burned in my heart throughout my life.

So, I took the challenge and added my own twist: I would read through the Passion Week accounts in a parallel of the Gospels - chronologically, on each day reading what occured that day of Passion Week (beginning with the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday, ending with the Resurrection on Easter Sunday).

It's a challenge I highly recommend. I ended that Easter with a new appreciation for the Resurrection, and a depth of understanding to that nagging question that no sermon could have given me. Wrestling with the Scriptures, I managed to write an essay that essentially focused on the judicial aspects of the crucifixion; Romans 3 was a key text.

That was accurate of course, but in the decade since my understanding of the Passion has grown significantly. C.J. Mahaney says, "We never move on from the cross - only to a deeper understanding of it." One resource that has helped deepen my knowledge is The Passion of Jesus Christ by John Piper. Piper writes devotionally of 50 reasons why Jesus came to die. The reasons include my initial judicial understanding - to absorb the wrath of God - but also reasons that have nothing to do with me ("To please His heavenly Father"). He covers eternal, spiritual reasons ("To deliver us from this present evil age" as well as down-to-earth, practical ones ("To destroy the hostility between races"). For the past 5 years, reading through this as a devotional for the 50 days before Easter has been a tradition for me as well - one I highly recommend.

It's from The Passion of Jesus Christ that I draw the quote below. Writing about a reason dear to our hearts - "To obtain for us all things that are good for us", Piper heads straight to the heart of the challenge that sometimes bad things happen. Referencing Phil. 4:12-13, Piper observes:

It says we can do "all things" through Christ. But notice "all things" includes "hungering" and "needing." God will meet every real need, including the ability to rejoice in suffering when many felt needs do not get met. God will meet every real need, including the need for grace to hunger when the felt need for food is not met. The suffering and death of Christ guarantee that God will give us all things that we need to do his will and to give him glory and to attain everlasting joy.

What "need" do you have that seems unmet? Reread the quote above. Trust that God will meet whatever your REAL need may be -- and if you're like me, half the time you might not know what that is. But rest assured that HE does. He will always act for your good.

Spend some time this Lenten season reminding your heart of that truth!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Becoming Who You Are

I confess - I sometimes love sweet, sappy movies -- especially those with a great point. That's why The Princess Diaries is one of my favorites!

In the movie, Mia is a homely, awkward teenager who suddenly discovers that she is really a princess - her grandmother is the queen of Genovia (played perfectly by Julie Andrews). Grandma wants to give Mia the chance to decide whether to pursue her heritage as princess and future queen, or to reject the opportunity.

Much of the movie consists of Mia's efforts to be transformed from a nerdy young woman into a princess. Sometimes the efforts are humorous, as when Mia trips and falters in her evening attire. Other times they are sad, as when she embarasses herself at a dinner party by setting the ambassador's sleeve on fire. And occasionally they are dramatic - when Mia's classmates see her new hair for the first time, they are truly amazed at the transformation. Through it all, Grandma encourages Mia that the Princess Lessons are really all about helping her "become who you are" -- and she reminds her that even if she rejects the heritage of becoming Queen, "you cannot reject who you are".

I sat amazed at the parallels to our struggles with sanctification. Truly, the picture that we "become who we are" is what sanctification is all about. We are counted righteous in Christ -- His righteousness is credited to our account -- but the rest of our lives are this process called sanctification, where He causes us to look more like Him on the outside. The imputed righteousness becomes realized righteousness one painstaking lesson at a time. Like Mia, we sometimes have humorous results, other times sad and embarassing -- and occasionally dramatic. Always we can see the results more clearly from a long, reflective view than we can in the midst of the day-to-day struggles. And if we throw in the towel for a while, we can never reject who we are -- the Holy Spirit won't let us be happy until we take up the lessons once again.

What hard "princess" or "princely" lessons are you learning today? Is life on the field making you long to give up the heritage of faith that you picked up from those who paved the way for you? Do you feel wholly inadequate to follow in the footsteps of the Hudson Taylors, the William Careys, the Lottie Moons? If so, remember that you are in the process of becoming who you are. Our Lord knows what needs to happen for you to reflect His image and achieve the good works He has laid out before you.

Don't give up. You can reject this assignment, but you'll never be able to reject who you are.

And at the heart of it all, who you are, is His!

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Pressure of Time

"I really don't have time to post this, yet I must."

The same is true of many things in my life - and yours too, I'll bet. Whether you're out there on the field, or hammering out your place in the kingdom in a support role, you feel the pressure of a lack of time. You feel the "musts" -- whether from responsibility or passion -- and the "should's" and the "wait's" that make up our lives.

Americans make a business out of Time Management -- and to some extent, that's okay. Time, after all, is part of the created order; it came as a result of the sun and moon and the division of creation into day and night. And since it's created, it comes under those things that should be "managed" if you will -- for the glory of God.

And there's the rub. We manage our time for ourselves, for the expectations of others, even for the church. We forget that we should manage our time for God.

That's why I've come to see the pressures of limited time as a blessing in disguise. It's like a budget; I'm forced to prioritize because there's not as much there as I think I need. I'm forced to steward my time and see what rises to the top as a "must". I learn to define those "musts" Biblically and not preferentially; I'd really like for "catching up on my magazines and reading my book" to be a higher priority than "work hard at the job God has given me", but it's not, and so I watch my stack grow and know that there will be time for that, somewhere down the line.

But in the process I learn a lot about God's priorities as well. Infinitely free of the confines of time, He is completely free to use my entire life to teach me one key lesson. The process of sanctification -- painstakingly slow from my perspective -- is done on His schedule, not mine. Because He doesn't see that traffic jam as a hindrance to His schedule of sanctification, He feels completely free to use it to shape patience in me, and give me some extra time to use for prayer (if I don't squander it on the phone, or worse, complaining!).

Come to think of it, I don't know if I am responsible enough to handle an unlimited store of time, with nothing pressing me. So Lord, thank You for the gift - and the struggles - of time. Thank You for those times that crystallize what's really important, and help me live in Your priorities to make the most of the time. Thanks for the pressure that prioritizes.

But I'm still looking forward to not having clocks in heaven!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

An Open Letter To Cyd Mizell on Valentine's Day

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Phil. 1:19-21)

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:8-11)

Dear Cyd,

As much as I've thought about you and prayed for you these past 3 1/2 weeks, I find myself almost speechless when it comes to addressing you personally. There is so much I want to say - and yet words are beyond inadequate, they seem almost ... absurd.

And yet I have to write this letter. I have to tell you what has been in my heart over the past few weeks, since your face became emblazoned in my memory and your smile written on my heart.

My heart leapt when news emerged you were captured. Knowing people in that part of the world, I immediately wanted to pick up the phone to check on them. I can't of course, and unfortunately my initial reaction was typically American and selfish -- I wanted to make sure that those I personally know were safe. I prayed for you that night, but I prayed for them more. For that, I apologize.

The next day when the dust settled and your name was released, I began to pray for you. Confession time: I felt sorry for you and angry that someone who meant such good could be mistreated. I felt helpless and unsure how to pray.

Two days later, 500 Afghan women protested on your behalf. Knowing that culture, I realized the risk these women took, and admired you for the impact you must have had on their lives for them to take a stand for you. Their protest also served as a condemnation on our western church mindset. I questioned whether I could get 500 people together to pray for you. I decided to call my Congressman and Senators, then yours, and finally ended frustrated at a system that seemed to circumvent doing anything to actually help you. The day ended with me determined that nothing could help but prayer.

And then the weeks began to drag on ... and on ... and on. Your father spoke on YouTube. Your organization began posting updates that came less and less frequently - a reminder that everyone was truly clueless about the situation. Only God knows where you are. And as James 5 reminds us, even one person's prayers can make a difference. So, I pressed on to try to be that person -- failing more than succeeding, I confess, as the days wore on. And I still felt sorry for you, fearful of what you were experiencing.

But yesterday, I stopped feeling sorry for you. You see, I discovered that you have something in common with the Apostle Paul! My readings in Philippians 1 and 3 gave me renewed vigor to pray for you. I've realized that you are sharing in the sufferings of Christ - and how can I deny you that honor? I must say that I don't envy you, but I no longer pity you.

Now I pray that you will perservere.

I pray that you will have strength and not be ashamed.

I pray that our Lord will be honored in your body - in this imprisonment just as in your service, and if He wills, in your death.

I pray for your parents to experience His peace.

Yes, I pray for your deliverance. I pray that we will get to hear your story.

And I thank God on this Valentine's Day that whatever happens, our God is both a God of refuge and strength, and a God of love. We can trust Him. And I trust Him with you.

In His Grip,
A fellow traveler

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Living with Rats

I received a precious update from one of you ... one out there "doing the thing". As usual, I am reminded how much like me you really are, and I learn from you about my own life.

With permission I am quoting from this email because I think we have a lot to learn from this illustration:

I don't mind the noise or the traffic or the squatty potty.

But one thing I had asked the Father for (all the while knowing I wasn't going to get it) was that there would be no rats in my new place. Now, slums are pretty much defined by rats. If there are not rats, by definition you can not be in the slum. So even while I asked I knew that the asking was more for my ability to adjust to it.

Where I lived before we had some rats outside the house and managed, by and large, to keep them outside the house. No such luck here. [This] home is made of what seems to be wood scraps which cause a pretty cool eclectic look to the walls but unfortunatley means the walls/ floor/ roof do not fit exactly together so there are lots of holes around. Good for air flow. Bad for rats. Actualy, good for rats, bad for me.

My saving grace thus far has been that I sleep under a mosqiuto net and in my imagination, the mosqito net works against rats too. Please ask that my illusion not be shattered here. The family already finds my reaction amusing whan I jump at sudden movements (or the mice/rats). They, of course, are used to it. It is all they have known so it has no effect on them.

Because of this I got to thinking about what we put up with when we live in the middle of it. And how sin is like the rats. How in the beginning you are appauled at it, but as you live in that world more and more you make compromises and berfore you know it, you live in this house of mice and rats and no one even notices anymore.

So I am asking myself, where have I let the rats run free in my heart? Do you have any?

I don't want to live that way. I want to see my sin the way the Father sees it. The way I currently see the real life rats. They bother me and I can not rest with them there. I want not to rest spirtitually until my heart is free (or at least moving in that direction) from the soul rats.

In the meantime, would you remember me and the real life rats. I think the Father's way is rarely to take away the problem but to give us what we need to get through it. In this case that would be courage, peace, a sense of humor...and a magic mosquito net.

Wow! What a lesson - applicable to all of us. My reading this morning in Seek God for the City covered the same topic:

We have found routines to manage our little sins and make ourselves feel better....Our sin is far greater than we have allowed ourselves to admit. We cannot settle out of court....Only Your Spirit can give us the genuine humility, not to berate ourselves, but to decentralize ourselves. We confess: It is not really all about us and our feelings of guilt. It's really all about You and the grief of Your heart and the glory You deserve.

Decentralize myself - what a concept! So much easier to "manage our little sins" than to allow God to reveal all the rats and do a full job of terminating at the root!

So thank you, dear one, for alerting me to the rats in my life. And may God help us all to decentralize ourselves and let even our conviction be about Him!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Taking Refuge in Love

As for me, I will sing about your strength;
I will praise your loyal love in the morning.
For you are my refuge
and my place of shelter when I face trouble.

You are my source of strength! I will sing praises to you!
For God is my refuge, the God who loves me. (Ps. 59:16-17, NET)

There's something wonderful about knowing that the God who is our refuge is also the God who loves us. It's a reminder to me that He doesn't protect us out of duty, obligation, or responsibility -- He protects us out of love.

So often we view God like the great policeman of the universe. Sure, we can run to Him for refuge, and we can entrust Him to bring about justice -- but we act as though He might get tired of this role, as if He would do so begrudgingly. Worse, we respond to His refuge with a sense of entitlement, as someone due a handout. We forget that refuge is, ultimately, about relationship.

The refuge God provides is more like that of a loving Father, one who longs to wrap His children in His arms and shield them from their enemies. It's not His duty, it's His delight.

What trouble are you facing today? Embrace the truth that the God who is your refuge is the God who loves you. Delight in running to Him as He delights in shielding you!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Cyd Mizell - latest from ARLDF.NET

This latest "non-update" from ARLDF should remind us to continue praying fervently for Cyd. For me personally it was also a reminder to pray equally fervently for her driver. It's easy to focus on someone from "our" country - but her driver in many ways faces greater danger as an Afghan working with an aid agency. Let's lift Muhammad Hadi up as fervently as we lift up Cyd Mizell.

From ARLDF.NET ...

DATE: Friday, Feb. 8

We continue to appreciate the calls, emails and expressions of interest and concern many of you have sent regarding our employees, Cyd Mizell and Muhammad Hadi. We remain concerned for their safety and well being and want to see the situation resolved with their release as soon as possible.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Resurrection Power and the Glory of God

Life is hard.

Whether lived on the plains of Africa, the bustling cities of Asia, behind the veil of a burqa, in the mountains of South America, or on the streets and in the corporations and institutions of the United States, life as we know it is beyond us. Even as believers, things can seem insurmountable.

And that's why it's good to know there is a power bigger than us at work.

Paul prayed that the Ephesians would know "what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places..." (Eph. 1:19-20, emphasis mine). In other words, God's great power raised Jesus from the dead - and that power is the same power that is effective "toward us who believe."

Paul personally experienced this power in his ministry. 2 Cor. 13:4 says, "For He was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God." God's power took Christ from the weakness of death to being resurrected -- and by the same power Paul's weakness would be transformed in ministry to Corinth.

We know this intellectually. Our theology informs us that God's resurrection power continues to be displayed in us. But it's so easy "when the chips are down" to rely on our own strength, our own limited resources, ourselves. We forget to practice the truth we know - to ask God to show His resurrection power in situations that are beyond us.

The fact is, God's resurrection power is paralleled with His glory scripturally. Rom. 6:4 observes, "We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." Raised by God's power; raised by His glory. What could be more powerful than the glory of God - a glory that leaves the angels glowing, a glory that caused Moses to veil himself; a glory that prompted Israel to ask for a mediator? Is there a more powerful force in the universe than the glory of God?

Of course not. And that is why we should start living out the truth we know. God is glorified when His resurrection power is practiced. No wonder He delights to execute that power on behalf of those who belong to Him!

God leaves us in this hard life so that He can reveal Himself through us. Ask Him to reveal His resurrection power on your behalf today.

It's all about Him. It's the power of glory. And nothing will shine brighter.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Pretending not to see

She just blended into the crowd so easily. I'm sure that's why I didn't really "see" her.

Her torn and tattered shoes, taped together. Her raggedy clothes. Everything about Elizabeth screamed "homeless". But it was so easy to look at the car in front of me, at the marquee on the theater.

It was easy to pretend not to see her.

Perhaps that's why I understand the words to the song I heard on the radio today. In part they were:

she’s twenty-nine but she feels forty-eight
she can’t raise three kids on minimum wage
she’s cryin’ in back of the welfare line
but I pretend not to see her for the twenty-first time

she may be a stranger tryin’ to get through the day
but what if it’s Jesus and I walk away?
I say I’m the body and drink of the wine
but I pretend not to see her for the twenty-first time

this is a call for a change in my heart
I realize that I’ve not been doin’ my part
when i needed a Savior, i found it in Him
He gave to me, now I’ll give back to them


Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying we should indiscriminately give a handout to every beggar. That's not good stewardship, nor good for them.

What I am saying is that we have to quit acting like we don't see them. After Elizabeth left our town, I determined that I would look reality in the face, however uncomfortable it made me.

I related doing so to my father's disability. He is used to people ignoring him, thinking he is retarded, or drunk. He has cerebral palsy, and it makes people uncomfortable. But to me he's just Daddy, the man who taught me to discuss politics and religion, who I share the same head-tossing laugh and the same inability to tell a joke without laughing. He's a person, not a disability.

And they are people, not "the homeless" or "the illegals" or "the ________". In many countries "they" are "us" - the church. The outcasts.

I've been studying James the last few months, and it really has convicted me to focus on practical acts of servant love. Sound doctrine is important; political engagement in a democratic society is a responsibility; but Jesus emphasized practical acts of servant love at every turn, and the theme is reiterated throughout the epistles and expounded upon in the book of James.

Interestingly the theme also appears in the context of sowing to the Spirit. In Galatian 6, Paul exhorts the Galatians to sow to the Spirit and reap the things of the Spirit. Now, in my over-spiritualized mindset, I always thought that meant read your Bible and pray. And of course, that establishes the foundation for the good soil of the Spirit. But Paul seems to have something else in mind, because that admonition is in the context of the following two verses. See for yourself:
For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal. 6:8-10)

"So then" connects the thoughts. Paul is telling us that doing good is one way we sow to the Spirit - and we shouldn't grow weary of doing so, because a harvest will come.

Jesus told us Himself that we are to be salt and light in the world, and that our good works would glorify God (Matt. 5:14-16). The more I study the Word, the more convinced I become that practical acts of servant love should become part of our DNA from the day of salvation. New Christians should be taught to practice servant love as a spiritual exercise. Seasoned believers should step out and lead the way for radical acts of servant love to the body of Christ, people in their sphere of influence, and the world at large. We should join the cries for awareness about Darfur rather than worry about the politics of those raising such concerns. We should lead the way in asking how our countries economic policies impact poor people and poor countries. And we should get our hands dirty in doing something - not for political action, or to "give back" ... but to glorify God.

Those of you serving abroad have learned this. You regularly focus on practical needs - and we need you to remind us that this is as much a part of missions as sharing the Gospel. People need to see our faith demonstrated in authentic ways for the message to resonate with them. They need to know we care about them as more than a number. They need to know we are for love, not just against behaviors. And we need you to live that out for us and tell us about it when you are standing before our churches.

I'm not there yet. I'm still figuring this out. But at least I've quit pretending not to see.

Let's all work together to see this world with His eyes.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Update - Cyd Mizell

From ARLDF.NET ...

George Mizell, the father of ARLDF worker Cyd Mizell, has addressed a videotaped message to those responsible for the disappearance of Cyd and her driver, Muhammad Hadi, on Jan. 26 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The Mizell family asked us to post this message on in hopes of hearing from Cyd and Hadi or from those who took them. You can read the text of George Mizell’s message below, or watch the videotaped message at


I am Cydney's father.

My family and I want to thank all those who have shown their deep concern for the safety and well being of my daughter, Cydney Mizell, and Muhammad Hadi.

I am indebted to the Afghani people for their support of Cydney and Muhammad.
My family and I love Cyd very much.

I'm confused why my daughter would be taken because she's a gentle, caring, and respectful person.

When we talk to Cyd, she tells us about the friends she's made and the kindness that's been shown to her and of her desire to help them.

To those people who are holding our daughter, please let Cyd come home. Each day that passes without knowing about Cyd is difficult for our family and friends. We ask that you work with us so Cyd can come home. Cyd knows how to contact us and her co-workers. All of us are waiting to hear from you.

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.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Theme of Weakness

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Cor. 11:30, ESV)

What weaknesses have you been struggling with? Those things that are not sins, nor reflect a lack of diligence, but are simply areas in which we are frail in some way. The root word means "feeble." I just recently finished reading through 2 Corinthians and was struck by how strong the theme of weakness is in the book. Paul actually boasts in his frailties!

Corinth had accused Paul of being weaker face-to-face than in his letters(2 Cor. 10:10). In his second letter to them - in which Paul defends his apostleship against those who try to claim his authority is illegitimate - Paul strikingly doesn't defend himself against the claim of weakness. Instead, he embraces it.

Paul's boasting in what shows his weakness is a contrast to the false teachers who boast in their authority (11:12-21). He so identifies with those struggling in the church that he feels their weaknesses (11:28-29). In a well-known passage, he relates his experiential encounter in the third heaven, and the resultant thorn in the flesh, noting that in that weakness God's power would be perfected (12:1-10). And he brings out no less an example than Christ Himself to show that weakness in the flesh is not counter to the power of God (13:1-4). He desires them to be strong spiritually(13:9) - but his example demonstrates that the highway to spiritual strength is formed over the wagon trails of human weakness.

Why is it so hard for us to "get" this lesson? It is hardwired into us to want to be "good" at something, and to gravitate toward things we find easier. An entire branch of psychology, called "positive psychology", exalts strengths and basically encourages people to focus on strengths rather than correcting weaknesses. When this infiltrates the church, we find it hard to talk about our struggles and find ourselves only doing things that make us look competent.

As usual, Satan has counterfeited something of God's. Yes, God gave us spiritual gifts, talents and abilities to use for Him ... and the hand should never try to be the eye, and the mouth shouldn't try to be the heart. But when our focus becomes "our gifts", "our strengths", we lose sight of how God is glorified in our weaknesses. We forget they are gifts not "of Christians", but "of the Spirit" - and He asks for obedience and cooperation, not a selfish focus on what we do well. When He calls us to a task, He gives us what we need for that task (2 Peter 1:3) -- and yes it is generally in line with gifts we've "fanned into flames" in our spiritual walk with God (2 Tim. 1:6). But we can't forget that our gifts are His, and our strength is His, and our individual weaknesses of the flesh only highlight His power more.

Are you struggling with the language, the climate, the lack of sleep where you are? God's power can make your weakness the very path on which His glory is revealed to those around you. Your weakness can become strength.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10, ESV)

Friday, February 01, 2008


I've been reading some summaries of a book that I think would be fascinating - and convicting. [You can read them at,,,,

Unchristian reports on studies by George Barna's research group and basically says that American nonbelievers and unchurched believers find Christians, well, unchristian.

This is always a risk in a society where Christianity is the cultural norm -- nominalism was rampant after Constantine legalized Christianity. But the opportunities that God gives to Christians in an open society are profound. We can openly evangelize; have missions groups and societies; send our money all over the world. From the earliest days of the church God has made sure that all Christians everywhere were not persecuted at the same time -- and those who weren't were able to help those who were.

Sometimes people say Christians "need" to be persecuted. And while it is true that there is a purity that can come with persecution, the persecuted church is no more a perfect church than we are. In fact, historically when persecution has been overly severe the church has actually weakened. Twice persecution eradicated the church in China (in the 600s and the Middle Ages); after all the believers in Japan were killed in one swoop the church never regained its strength to this day; and the eastern church survived but never again thrived after its days of persecution. Christians in persecuted countries do have a chance for purity, but they also face recanted confessions of faith -- and bitter, divisive fights over what to do with those who recant and then return to the faith.

So while I can sympathize with the desire for purity that can come with persecution, I think since God has blessed us to be part of the unpersecuted body of Christ during this time, we should instead focus on other solutions that God lays out for the problems noted in Unchristian.
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31, ESV)
We so easily forget that the two top commandments are our priority - and they are so closely linked that they are really inseparable (1 John 4:7-12). It is so easy to focus on "what not to do" and to be defined by what we are against -- and fall right into the trap of the church at Ephesus.

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what
the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
(Rev. 2:1-7, ESV)
The church at Ephesus hated the same things God hated - but it wasn't enough to be against something. They forsook their first love. They failed to be characterized by love.

Love characterized the early church's interactions with each other and their neighbors. In fact, in the book Plagues, Priests, and Demons, Daniel T. Reff argues that the "charity" (agape love shown through practical acts of servant love) that characterized the church as plague spread across the Roman Empire and later Europe led to the rapid expansion of Christianity in those regions. Simply put, as people saw how Christians took care of each other and others, and did the dirty jobs in society, while the "elite" fled in self-preservation, people decided that Christianity was real.

So many of you have experienced this truth. As you go to the field, you determine to do what no one else wants to do, to show love to the people you minister to.

It's a lesson we need to learn. Sure, we should speak the truth - but in love. And we need to first demonstrate that love through practical, book of James-type love, and deal with individuals as people not as abstract categories. Our friend Joe, who knows we have been there for him, will be a lot more likely to hear us when we share Biblical teaching against ________________ (you fill in the blank), than if we don't know him and treat him as an abstract category: "All those ___________ are flat-out sinful." We will also be more likely to pray for the transformation that only God can bring if we really have invested ourselves into Joe's life.

So the conviction I've had as I've read these articles on Unchristian is that our failures are really failures of love. The church in America needs to rediscover the Great Commandments. We should love God, passionately worshiping Him, glorifying Him in our lives, enjoying Him, studying His Word, working for His purposes and not our own. And we should see that love overflow in love to others - our families, the body of Christ, our co-workers, the lady at the Hardee's drive-through, the waitress who expects the Sunday crowd to be rude and poor tippers.

As we do, I expect we'll find that we're not considered "Unchristian" at all.

In fact, we'll look more like Him every day.