Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Active or Passive?

Those of Pharaoh’s servants who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their servants and livestock into the houses, but those who did not take the word of the Lord seriously left their servants and their cattle in the field. (Ex. 9:20-21)

God's Word is meant to spark action.

We should certainly study Scripture. Praying it back to God is great, discussing it with others is helpful, and grasping its nuances can be rewarding.

But Scripture is God's Word, and from the first words God spoke to man, He intended His words to be acted upon. This passage in Exodus jumped out at me - those who feared God's Word took action; those who did not take it seriously did nothing. It remained for them a theory, a novelty.

The principle that I drew from this underscored the truth God has been teaching me for about 6 months now -- God doesn't want me to be passive. Certainly He doesn't want me to rely on my own strength, and there is a place for "being" rather than "doing". But "Be still and know that I am God" doesn't mean to do nothing -- it means to rest in Him. Resting, as Hebrews 4 says, from my works -- not from His words!

I get frustrated at passive Christianity - my own included. I hate that sometimes I know what's right and don't do it - Paul calls that sin. I hate that sometimes I grasp something theologically long before I apply it practically. I hate that it's so easy for me to tell someone "I'll pray for you" (maybe remembering to do so, maybe not) and so hard to say "Let me take this part of your burden" and then put myself out for them sacrificially. I hate that I have been guilty of brushing away horrific sins in the world with the rationalization that "this is a fallen world; what can we expect" -- as if God had forbidden me from speaking out or trying to change anything.

I am challenged by active Christians - like William Wilberforce, who refused to be passive in the face of slavery's horrors. Like William Carey, who refused to sit down when ordered to do so by an elder who insisted God's method of saving the "heathen" didn't require human action. Like Hudson Taylor, who was willing to risk scorn to blaze a new path for kingdom workers, a path that was radically different and yet thoroughly biblical.

I don't expect to solve every problem. But I am increasingly committed to actively manifesting the lessons God teaches me through His Word. This commitment doesn't lead me to pray less - quite the opposite. For I am learning that if I take God's Word seriously, I will live my life in a war zone - and the battle starts on my knees.

I've known that for a while. What is new lately is that God is teaching me that it doesn't end there.

"God's Word is alive and active in me." -Beth Moore

Monday, July 21, 2008

Different Kinds of Pickles

What's the best kind of pickle?

I love a crunchy dill - sour dills are even better. My husband, on the other hand, could eat kosher dills all day. And my mom swears by sweet pickles. Which is best?

As I've canned dozens of pickles this year, I'm coming to understand how many varieties are out there -- and I appreciate the uniqueness of each one. When you can homemade pickles, you have the added pleasure of creativity - no two batches are alike. We've made kosher dills, dills, pepper dills, and even "non-dills" (made by forgetting to put the dill in the jars) out of the same basic ingredients - cucumbers, water, and vinegar.

As I work I've thought about how my pickle-making illustrates an important truth about the body of Christ. There are so many ways that our worship and Christian community can look -- and if you are on the field, you have personally experienced that. We start with the same basic ingredients - faith in Christ, the presence of the Holy Spirit, relationship with God - and turn out some pretty different-looking results.

And that's the beauty of it. God doesn't want assembly-line churches. He is personally involved in each one, for His glory. John could tell the ethnic distinctions in his vision of heaven (Rev. 5) and so we know that those differences transcend earth's boundaries.

On the field, you are one of God's instruments for creating a unique batch of Christians - a unique church. As He adds the ingredients that will make this body distinct from others, sit back and enjoy the process. Because at the end of the day, you will have a new variety on the shelf, and God will be glorified in His creativity.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Distracted by Survival

I've decided that the enemy has a subtle tactic to shift our focus away from kingdom work: getting us into survival mode.

This can happen in several ways. At one extreme is persecution. True, some degree of persecution purifies the church and makes her stronger and more kingdom-oriented. But extreme persecution historically has thrown the church into "survival mode", where self-preservation moves the church into a defensive posture. When all energy is directed toward survival, the advance of the kingdom can suffer.

But this distracted-by-survival mentality can creep in the church subtly as well. I know of two churches that are scaling back giving to kingdom work in order to survive financially during these tough times. Other churches, struggling to maintain enough workers in the nursery or recovering from in-fighting and a church split, have decided that "we have to get healthy here before we are of use there" - and quickly find themselves distracted by survival.

The survival mentality can affect families and individuals. Conflict in a marriage can lead to more time spent praying in warfare for the marriage to survive and a loss of energy to pray for the warfare across the world. A wayward child can quickly - and rightly - become the focus of prayer, but at the expense of praying for that people group. Extreme poverty can cause a family's day to be filled with trying to find food to eat -- and indeed, one reason for the great advance of the kingdom in the late 1800's was the mere fact that because the standard of living was raised, people had more time to devote to something other than survival.

Falling into survival mode isn't selfish - it's part of our human tendency, something God put in us that scientists call "fight or flight". But we have to recognize when our perceived need to focus on survival is genuine or when it is a distraction by the enemy.

I've known churches that refused to cut back on giving - and found themselves blessed with a donation after a death in the church. I've read of small churches that committed more efforts in kingdom advance overseas rather than focusing on their conflicts and needs, and found themselves growing by leaps and bounds. I've known a wife who faced a serious conflict in her marriage that determined not to replace her kingdom prayers with marriage prayers - she committed to praying both. Lots of warfare, but the marital battles subsided faster than she ever imagined and was stronger than ever - allowing her even more kingdom prayer time.

I've also known churches that truly needed time to heal and regroup. (Smyrna in Rev. 2 affords a great example of a church that needed to be in survival mode, and received encouragement from God for it.) I've known people who needed to lay down fruitful kingdom work to focus on family needs and battles for a season.

My point isn't that every focus on survival is a distraction or of the enemy. But we are wise to remember that this IS a war. Sometimes in war, a soldier has to get out of the battle for a season to heal and survive effectively. Other times, he simply presses through the pain and keeps on fighting - finding that survival is granted in the middle of the battle.

What are you facing today that makes you head for survival mode? As you fight that personal battle, ask God to reveal to you whether this raises the need to focus on survival, or whether the enemy is distracting you by trying to get you into survival mode.

God is faithful. He will bring what He has started to completion. He will help you survive this trial - just trust His leading for that next step.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Moving the Stones

You're probably content not to always be the harvester. By the time you have any experience on the field at all, you understand the true meaning of Paul's words that "one plants, one waters, one harvests, but God gives the increase".

But you probably feel better when you realize where in that chain you are working. When you are bumping up against roadblocks of every kind and feel that you aren't even getting to sow seeds, frustration sets in. When you pray week in and week out for significant conversations that never happen, for deepening relationships that never quite get off the ground, for divine appointments that don't seem to come - you wonder. You question the call, you re-examine the steps that led you to presume this location was God's will, you look for open doors elsewhere in an attempt to go where God is working ... and still, you stay put, wondering what to do when the soil is hard.

Maybe God put you there to move stones.

I ran across this concept in my studies today. Paul Pierson referenced it in the context of workers who toiled for 50 years to garner 5 new believers. Pierson writes:
...there are people whose mission is not to reap, not even to sow, not even to plow the field, but, as one put it, to take the stones away from the field so that others can plow and others can sow and others can reap.
Lifting stones takes a strong body. Likewise, lifting spiritual stones requires a strong spirit. God didn't put you there because you are a failure - instead, He put you there to put within you a strong spirit to lift the stones away. To prepare the way of the Lord.

Come through! Come through the gates! Prepare the way for the people! Build it! Build the roadway! Remove the stones! Lift a signal flag for the nations! (Isa. 62:10)

Secret Believers

Most of the time, I try to keep this blog to encourage you. But today, I shamelessly use it to appeal to your hearts - because I have a prayer request that many of you can really understand.

If you haven't already read Secret Believers, the latest book by Brother Andrew, I highly recommend it. The book is a story of MBB's and their struggles. There is an awesome website, www.secretbelievers.org, that has a secured log-in blog written by some MBBs in the Middle East. Usually those blog posts are private but today I found one that was a cry for prayer - a request to pass it on - and that is what I am doing here. Please pray for this precious family.
From secretbelievers.org ...
Uncle brought news about a family we are praying for. He is a spiritual father to the family. T. about 50, has 8 children & 4 grandchildren. She met Jesus & became a Christian when she was about 20 years old. When her husband found out the persecution began. His solution to the problem was making sure she was always pregnant! Every time she had a baby, a few weeks after recovering she would be pregnant again! Shocking! But she just kept dedicating her babies to the Lord even the 6 she lost. Every one of them is walking with the Lord.

For the last 4 years it has been difficult & they have been on the run. Four years ago Uncle found her in a hospital recovering from serious acid burns & stab wounds. It was the children who first met him & shared the story of their lives. Uncle saw that the Lord had brought him to the city & hospital, reached out to them & took them under his wing making it possible for them to go into hiding after she recovered some. At home we were on our knees praying & weeping before God. T.’s family is influential- they are related to people even you would have heard the name in the US. However, I do not think it is safe to actually tell you who exactly. Just pray urgently with us.

T. & her family have continued to worship & declare Jesus their Lord & Saviour. In spite of her ugly scars, she is beautiful with a beaming smile & beautiful heart that just shines for Jesus. But she is a woman with young daughters & sons & is on the run. Her daughters were once kidnapped from her & forced to marry Muslim relatives of their father. However God in his goodness made it possible for T. to get to them in time & help them escape. It was only God’s goodness & power that saved them from these marriages.

I love my country but it is not the kind of country where someone like T. can live a Christian life without trouble. Last year Uncle arraged for them to leave & go to another country where they did not need an entry visa. This country also houses a UN base. They are in hiding there. The situation is getting worse. Their Muslim family is closing in, writing letters to Embassies & the UN discrediting their story, saying they are fakes & frauds. ... Get the world to pray. They are very alone & very afraid in a land where they do not speak the language- where those promising to help the needy have abandoned them & where they are now illegal residents. If they are sent back they will be kidnapped, tortured or even killed on arrival. Oh please get your families, friends & churches to share this story. Let’s get a lot of prayer going for this family. They really need it. I cannot even imagine what it must be like in a strange land, in a tiny crammed living space, in hiding, unable to speak the language and unable to go to the shops to get food, uncertain about finances etc… Please pray for this. Can we pray that in the days to come the Lord will stir up the heart of someone to do something for T. & her family? Pray for protection, that the people there would stop looking for them, following them, threatening them and they’re able to slip away & make a life as God has purposed for them.

We do not advise running away & leaving your home country, but sometimes you are forced out of the country as was their situation. Pray God can give them a home and in the place God has for them. Last time Uncle spoke to her, her son was crying with the concern in his heart for his mother & sisters.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Changing Chairs

I spent a day-and-a-half trying to be blessed by a new chair at work.

Someone's hand-me-down looked better than my old chair, so I tried it out. Unfortunately it was uncomfortable, and I found another possibility. This one had everything going for it - ergonomically correct, adjustable, and no stains on the arms :). I really wanted to make it work - but it was so uncomfortable that I finally switched back to my trusted old friend.

I'm not sure the old chair is really better - maybe my body needed to conform to that new chair. I just wasn't willing to go through the pain in the process. My back and backside were sore, and even my arms were tired from the different position. I remembered adjusting to an ergonomic keyboard and the eventual benefit that resulted - but this time the price was too great.

That got me thinking about change in our lives. Sometimes, where God takes us is so uncomfortable that we want the old place back - even if it's not where we needed to be. Sometimes, when God adjusts us, the price feels high, and we are glad we don't have the option to turn back, or else we might just run for the hills. We are His moveable treasure, but it can be painful to be uprooted.

I know several of you who are in this sort of situation. You know God is making a significant change, but the place in between the comfort of the old situation and the settling into the new is rubbing blisters on you! Let me encourage you - don't do what I did with my office chair. Let God define what "fits" best for you - and conform you to the new environment.

He is faithful, and will finish what HE has started!

Bridge Builders

My absence from the blog the past week or so doesn't mean God hasn't been working in my life. Quite the contrary - He has been bringing together things that have stirred around in me for a while, coalescing them into a tangible, practical awareness:

We need bridge builders.

It's no secret to kingdom workers that there are two structures - the world of the field and the world of "church". Though they should be the same, they rarely are. For all practical purposes, things function differently in the two worlds. On the field there is unity among denominations and groups, international churches with mixed races, radical faith in God for healing, finances, transportation, serious prayer and lots of awareness of spiritual warfare. While the church occasionally comes close to this, it's usually within the confines of a small group who are kingdom-minded, or former field workers and the like. The average Christian may truly and sincerely be interested in kingdom work, but doesn't understand that world, and doesn't know much beyond writing a check and praying for "all the workers". Not a bad start, but not enough.

That's why I'm calling for bridge builders - people who feel at home in both worlds. Often when we are awakened to the implications of the Great Commission and determine we are not goers (at least for now), we get frustrated with the church world and glamorize the field world. Or we become "the m. person" at our church - thereby enabling them to check off a box and not get more involved.

We need to engage both worlds. We need to encourage kingdom workers and find out what their real needs are. We need to teach the church how to pray and encourage them that "keep the m's safe" isn't always the prayer that needs to be prayed. We need to rally our church to keep the support going even when the budget is tight, to inform about why research on UUPGs is just as important as evangelism, to keep the communication flowing. We need to be bridges ourselves and train others to do so.

The best New Testament example I can think of is Gaius. John wrote to him:

Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. (3 John 5-8)

This speaks of more than financial support - the brothers testified of Gaius' LOVE. Gaius was apparently a significant person in his church - John exhorts him to greet "every one" of the friends. But he was also significant to those who went out "for the sake of the name". And John makes it clear - this is how we become "fellow workers for the truth".

If you are reading this as a field worker - please know that God is stirring in me specific ways to raise up bridge builders and be a bridge myself! I am praying that God will help you identify YOUR bridges!

If you are not a field worker but have been awakened to the cause, then please, seek to be a bridge. Seek to be a bridge builder to raise up more bridges in your church. The more I talk to workers the more vital I realize this role to be.

"Fellow workers for the truth." Hallelujah!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Have you ever tried to rock to sleep a toddler who was determined to stay awake and not miss the fun? Typically, such children will wear themselves out "fighting sleep" and finally collapse, spent, against your chest, looking every bit the innocent child with a sleeping face betraying none of the struggle shown only moments before.

That's the picture God has given me to help me understand the principle of rest, and the futility of struggling against Him. In fact, I am beginning to see a strand through Scripture that calls us to this rest:

* Jacob "fought with God" (Gen. 32) but the blessing didn't come until he quit fighting. The NET Bible notes explain that the Hebrew text makes clear that after the angel touched Jacob's sinew, Jacob stopped fighting before asking for a blessing: "To be successful with God meant that he had to be crippled in his own self-sufficiency." In other words, he had to learn something of rest before he could be blessed.

* "Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted over the nations." (Ps. 46:10) Here God calls us literally to "cease striving" (the literal translation of 'be still') and know Him. Specifically, we rest in knowing He will be exalted over the nations - even in a time when the nations are in turmoil.

* Even the Apostle Paul had to learn that struggling with God is futile. In fact, God told him that he was only hurting himself by "kicking against the goads" (Acts 26:14).

Hebrews 4 lays down rest as one of the key principles of faith. Verse 10 makes clear that we rest from our works. We find our "rest in faith" in Him. We may come away limping, but we find a dependence that keeps us trusting in a new way.

And that is precisely the point. Because like a parent knows when the child is tired, God knows that we need to relax and lean against Him. He knows that we need to learn how much we need Him. And He calls us to do that in a position of rest - not so we can do nothing, but so that we can realize that only as He equips us will we do anything at all. If we can get to that point, then we are ready to start serving. Until then, we're just struggling.

Rest in Him today, and see your service transformed by dependence.