Tuesday, May 27, 2008


A year ago this week, we were in mourning.

On May 25, my mother-in-law went from worshipping in this life to worshipping in the next. Her praise on earth poured out in full, we could only imagine what that moment was like when she stood before Jesus to hear Him say, "Well Done".

The next days were filled with family and friends, with planning and details. Yet in a way, the world stood still. It's one of those times when you know what really matters, and it's usually not something on your list.

My mother-in-law didn't want a funeral - she wanted a Coronation Celebration. And boy, did she ever get it. We had a grand worship service and memorial of her life. I've never seen anything like it - but God was glorified in the very unorthodox way she wanted us to remember her.

After her death, we sought intentionally not to grieve "without hope", but we still grieved. We faced times when we started to make a call that we couldn't make. We still think of things "Mom would know".

But most importantly, we have learned the true meaning of "legacy". It's not something you can plan. It sounds profound, and many people try to sit down and think of the "legacy" they want to leave. Let me tell you this: You can't. The legacy you will leave is being written on the hearts of those closest to you, those in your sphere of influence, and those you seek to serve. It's the message of your life.

Mom's basic life message can be reflected in the prayer she prayed less than two weeks before her Homegoing. It was the last prayer I heard her pray aloud.

Mom was in a long-term acute care hospital - it was about the 85th day out of 90 that she'd been in some hospital or another, with countless progresses and setbacks. A dear family friend - the kind more family than friend - came by to see her. Before she left, she asked if we could pray. Mom never turned down a chance to pray with others, and so the three of us clasped hands. Beth and I prayed heartfelt prayers, but to this day I can't tell you what we said. Because Mom's simple, one-sentence prayer rings in my ears: "Lord, cause me to be a blessing to someone today."

That certainly defined Mom's life. She was a blessing even in the hospital - kind to the nurses right up to the end, always loving and gentle with her family. But when we were looking for photographs for the PowerPoint before the service, I realized just how much that prayer defined her life. We found pictures of her with kids no one could identify - some of the many "strays" she took in over the years. Months later friends who didn't come to the service told me stories of her impact on their lives. The prayer I heard may have been the last she verbalized, but it reflected a life lived in blessing others.

What a legacy! She had no idea, I'm sure, that her simple prayer would be such a defining moment for me. And if it hadn't lined up with her life, it wouldn't have. But the words and the works were consistent, and the legacy was solidified.

No matter what I face in a day, I often remind myself of Mom's prayer. I fully believe that we are "blessed to be a blessing". My challenge is the outworking of that into action. And so the prayer, "Cause me to be a blessing to someone today, Lord," is becoming part of my daily quiet time. And so it goes - legacy.

You want to make a difference where you are, or you wouldn't be there. In your own way you desire a legacy. Remember the lessons I learned in grief: Legacy isn't something you determine. It's a reflection of who you are - a reflection that shines beyond the grave and teaches those who follow.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Those radicals!

"These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also" (Acts 17:6b)

You have to love those radical early Christians. Ousted by the synagogues but set on fire by the Spirit, they became known as men who "turned the world upside down". Their passion was Jesus, their aim was His glory, and they couldn't be controlled. They just couldn't stop talking about Him! And it got them in quite a few jams.

Good thing we've moved beyond that, isn't it? I mean, almost 2000 years later, especially after the Enlightenment brought the triumph of reason, we know that there are far more rational, safe ways to demonstrate our faith. We can be Christians without seeming weird or radical. We've come so far.

Or, maybe not.

When I read the New Testament, I see a lot of things - vigorous debate, radical obedience, serious prayer, the hard work of unity, a passion for the Word and the kingdom. I see the Holy Spirit working in and through imperfect people. What I don't see is safe. What I don't see is comfortable. What I don't see is a lot of things that "make sense".

We forget, I think, that it's really a battle. There are spiritual forces that don't want the kingdom to advance. We rightly rest on Jesus' words that the gates of hell won't prevail against His church ... but we forget that we are to be making a forward assault on those very gates. And if you're at the front of the line, you may get pounded in the process.

For all the craziness of the idea, God uses people in His great plans. Whether it's Peter preaching to a crowd of thousands, Paul teaching in Ephesus, Augustine defending the faith against false teachings, Wilberforce fighting to free slaves and tell of God's glory, Brainerd sharing with the Native Americans and treating them with dignity - God's message and the hope of transformation is always carried in the vehicle of human flesh. This "treasure in earthen vessels" Paul spoke of.

In a sermon dated 1819, Rev. Heman Humphrey delivered a message upon the commissioning of missionaries. After discussing the spiritual battle facing the new kingdom workers, Humphrey observes:
"Although the excellency of the power is of God, this great work is to be accomplished by human instrumentality....How was the Gospel first propagated, even in an age of miracles? By toil, by perseverance, by encountering a thousand dangers."

In other words, by being radical.

As you fight on the front lines, take courage in those who have gone before you - those who know that we never move beyond the simplicity of those first missionaries. May you never be too reasonable to be radical for Jesus.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tiny Signs of Growth

It's become a daily ritual.

My husband and I walk through our recently-planted garden, avidly seeking signs of growth. We delight in spotting the first leaf of a tomato or cucumber plant pushing stubbornly through the soil. He journals to keep up with dates so we know precisely which row was planted when, and can anticipate when growth might be expected.

But some plants are just stubborn - they push through the soil ahead of schedule. Others are right on time, and there are always a few on each row that are stragglers, lagging behind at each stage of the game. We find ourselves rooting for these "runts".

This early in the season, it's hard to imagine that soon we'll be spending hours chopping peppers and canning green beans. We worry about the plants still under the soil, wondering what is going on down there that will eventually bring them into our view. We dread the sound of thunder and potential hail that could easily wipe out the entire garden at this point.

It's easy to forget when faced with a plethora of produce at the height of harvest, that each plant started as a seed in the ground, that stubbornly pushed its way through the soil to greet the morning sun. Each one fought off the threat of disease and destruction by bugs of some sort or another. Rarely was the combination of sun and moisture ideal. And yet somehow, they survive. With appropriate, but imperfect, care on our part, the seed becomes a plant that yields "in due season".

How like our ministries! We plant a seed - the word- and watch for it to push its way through the soil. We nurture and do the best we can to provide an environment in which a believer can flourish. We anticipate fruitfulness, but worry when we don't see the tiniest shoots. We wonder if something catastrophic will wipe out a believer or even an entire church. And we pray that our care is doing what needs to be done.

Those daily walks through the garden encourage us. We are reminded daily that what we are doing is sufficient - even if not perfect - and that God has put into that seed everything needed to push the plant toward the sun and into the world where it can be fruitful.

Pray that God will give you eyes to see the tiniest signs of growth today. He has put in the word everything needed to push the believer toward truth and fruitfulness. We just need eyes to see the work in progress.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Perception, Reality, and Truth

"Perception is Reality." It's the modern mantra of a post-modern society ... the idea that we create our own reality. Scripture tells us differently.

While it is true that we think we know what is real based on our perceptions -- if we perceive that eating a certain food makes us sick, then we are going to avoid it regardless of whether that is truly the culprit. You've seen many examples in the cultures in which you live and work as well. People perceive that a person has some sort of power over them, and they act as though it is true. Festishes and idols have the same perceived power.

But the Biblical worldview teaches us that while perception is reality, it's not necessarily truth. Truth, as we know, is a Person - and the truth He teaches surpasses any perceived reality. It's one of the best things about Scripture - giving us that external grasp of what is true, what we can hold on to.

It's easy to take for granted though. I find myself giving into perceived reality sometimes faster than truth. I've challenged myself to look for the truth, beyond the perceived reality. And it is transforming me!

Whatever struggles and challenges you face, seek the Truth beyond the perceived reality. And when you find Him, He will show you what you can really hold on to. May you too be transformed!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pray for Asia

Asia is heavy on my heart this week. First the horrific cyclone in Burma, where the astronomical death toll is worsened by the government's desire to control the aid flow. Then the tragic earthquake in China - wrap your mind around the fact that the earthquake was physically felt over an area the size of the contiguous United States. Tens of thousands dead.

That's why I'm asking you to take time to pray for Asia. The strong Chinese church is well-positioned to impact all of Asia, and they can get into places like Burma where westerners cannot tread. As the body of Christ, we should support them any way we can - and prayer is at the top of that list. We all can't go to the Olympics and help the Chinese church evangelize -- but we can all pray.

So please, take some time to pray for Asia. I'm asking that this Saturday, May 17, be a special time of prayer for Asia. But please don't wait until then. Ask God this week to break your heart for Asia. Pray for Asia daily, especially China. Ask God if He would have you fast and pray Saturday, or even join with a group for prayer. Some possible prayer points for now and later:

* Pray now for children trapped in the rubble of a school. Parents are organizing a vigil - let's have one of our own. How fervently would we pray if children were trapped under rubble in a Dallas school? Let's pray for these as if they were "our own" - because they are His. This is a time-sensitive request - officials fear time is running out for these little ones.

* Pray for the national churches in China and Burma. The Chinese church is highly evangelistic and kingdom-minded; pray for them to grasp the opportunities they have within their own country. Pray for God's work in their purification. Pray for God to help them stretch their limited resources even further to reach the needy in the earthquake zone. Pray for unity between the house churches and the true believers within the official church.

The Burmese church, by contrast, has only "a little strength" like the church at Philadelphia. Pray for this trial to bring them together in unity and love. Pray for God to open previously closed doors as the Buddhist-linked regime is shown to not care about its people.

* Pray for kingdom workers "on the ground". Few new people are getting into Burma, but there are many believers already there with established relationships both here and in the country. Pray for wisdom and discernment in disseminating resources and funds. In China, pray for a couple who will be going into "earthquake zone" Thursday. They need protection and wisdom!

* Pray for the international community to see the tragedy for what it is, and not get desensitized. I am so thankful for internet and media that afford us the chance to see and pray about things in almost real time. But that same information flow can easily become information overload, with people dismissing tragedies and moving on to the next story out of Hollywood. Pray that Christians, especially, would be gripped to do more than move on; pray that God would awaken them during the night to intercede, to give, to go if that is His plan for them.

* Pray for provision of practical, tangible needs. That is one way Christians have always set themselves apart - meeting practical needs when no one else could. We saw it here during Katrina. Pray that it will be even more apparent because of the contrast to the predominant religions in the areas.

Thanks so much for caring. God is in control - and I'm thankful He has put us together for this season to come before His throne together for these precious individuals. May we see some of them around His throne!

Monday, May 12, 2008

He's Not Safe

Yesterday, on Pentecost Sunday, I celebrated the Global Day of Prayer in our town. It was such a blessing to pray for the world in unity with believers from all over the world. I thought of many of you who have shared your GDP stories over the years. I hope it was as significant a day for you as it was for me!

One thing that made it significant for me was being reminded that God never called me to play it "safe". We spend a lot of time making sure things are "safe" in our Christianity. We call it "balance" and there is certainly a need for that. But often our pursuit of "balance" turns into lukewarm safety. Safe worship - so we don't cross the line to emotionalism. Safe prayer - so we don't get into selfish excesses. Safe adherence to the Word - so we don't find ourselves out on a limb.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not negating the need for balance or correction in our pursuits. I'm just saying that sometimes we start down one path, and end up in a box. I'm guilty of it myself. I used to be so scared of anything "emotional" that I developed a completely rational view of my relationship to Jesus. Then I read the story of the woman who washed His feet with her tears, the one who loved much because she was forgiven much. And I saw a depth of intimacy that required me to get out of my safe comfort zone. I saw emotion, pure and raw, based on love. And I saw Jesus affirm it.

That wasn't a safe action for her to take. The upper room wasn't safe either - that day when tongues of fire visited the congregation. That rational part of me would have been looking for the door - things were getting a little radical here! And yet, it was the Holy Spirit at work. His power filled the crowd, and the apostles were later called men who "turned the world upside down". Also not a safe approach.

So I have been called afresh to reject the safe life and live the surrendered life. Surrendered in worship, in prayer, in service, in Bible study and radical obedience to what I learn there. Surrendered to Him, to His corrective balancing.

As C.S. Lewis wrote of Aslan, the Christ-figure, "He's not safe - but He's good." He doesn't call me to be safe either.

But the surrender is oh, so good.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day! and Pentecost Sunday!

Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:28-31)
My parents came up yesterday, and I was sad to have only a few hours with my mom before they had to leave. I haven't seen them since Christmas, and I longed for days together. But God's provision and work schedules only allowed part of a day, so we thoroughly enjoyed that time together.
This morning I am especially grateful, because I know many of you aren't with your moms on Mother's Day - and probably haven't been for years. Even with yearly furloughs, you aren't likely to be home on this weekend. And for the women among you, especially those who are moms yourself, I know you feel that absence keenly. It's hard to describe, that mother-daughter relationship, comforting and maddening at the same time, with a strong dose of "Oh no I'm becoming my mother" thrown into the mix!
So when I read these words of Jesus I think of you especially today. Jesus doesn't let Peter get much out. Peter - of course it would be Peter - points out in the midst of Jesus' teaching on the kingdom that they had given up a lot to follow Him. Jesus is talking about how hard it's going to get, and Peter explains how hard it's already been. Jesus doesn't hear a word of it. He simply points out that we receive back a hundredfold more than we give up.
Bottom line: He knows how hard giving up is, more than we can imagine. The Father gave up perfect intimacy with the Son in heaven. Jesus gave up the glories of heaven. "For God so loved the world that He gave." We can never do more.
But in His grace and mercy, He meets us at the point of pain and promises more in return than we ever give up. Mark it down: You will never surrender anything to God - nothing - that He doesn't more than make up for. I'm not talking treasure - I'm talking relationship. He will be the great reward, the hundredfold return.
This Mother's Day doubles as Pentecost Sunday. What a beautiful illustration of this truth. The disciples had to "lose" Jesus in this world in order to gain the perfect intimacy of the indwelling Holy Spirit. They had to "give up" the daily walking and talking with Him in the hills of Jerusalem and plains of Galilee in order to see Him revealed to every people group. They had to "surrender" their position within the Jewish community to become part of the Diaspora with the Gospel to all peoples.
May He meet you at your point of loss and sacrifice today, with a fresh revelation of His sufficiency.

Monday, May 05, 2008

From my Heart

My posts have been much more sporadic lately, and as I sit before the computer tonight committed to blogging something, I realize that I don't feel very profound right now. All I really can do is share my heart.

We all go through seasons where God rearranges our furniture - moving our carefully set routines and patterns around, shaking things up a bit. That's the season I'm in right now. It's all for good reasons -- God brought new ministry to our doorstep and asked us to pour out love. That's all He said, and we are learning to trust that it is enough. At the same time, He has advanced other ministries in our lives. He's opening doors and giving us the choice to walk through them ... and enabling us to do what He calls us to do on the other side.

But at the same time I find myself spending less time on a couple of things I love with a passion: this blog and my studies. I find that I have no frustration about doing the ministries God places before us, unless I factor in the things I'm doing less of for this season. That's when I start wanting "more time". I don't have any profound answers, but I know this: learning to be "content with what I have" means being content with the amount of time He gives. It means balancing what is before me in the "now" with the visions I really feel are from Him that take a longer-term investment. And it means being sure I'm not being selfish -- even about ministry.

So tonight, I just share my heart. I'm sure you can relate. I've heard so many of you tell stories about being moved into an area that gave less time for what you were passionate for - only to see God move mightily in the new ministry context. I don't want to limit Him. I realize that I am by nature prone to ruts and He is faithful enough to prod me along. I'm by no means giving up on this blog or my studies -- He hasn't given the slightest indication that those purposes are served. But He has given me peace that they might not look the same. How He has me approach them might be different. And if I want to see maximum fruitfulness in my life, I have to submit to the pruning and weeding process. I have to let Him rearrange my furniture.

Because in the end, it's all His anyway.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

New Post on Big Picture

FYI in case you follow it - there's a new World Christian Foundations summary posted on my other blog, The Big Picture, at http://worldchristianfoundations.blogspot.com.