Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Missions Wednesday: France

What countries come to your mind when you think about missions? Unfortunately, for me, I tend to think only about countries that are impoverished or heavily persecuted. I don’t usually think about countries that are similar to America in economic and cultural status. What I fail to realize is that God desires ALL nations to come to Christ, including ones that look like me. My problem is that I separate where I would like to visit from where I would like to minister. For me, Europe is where you go and vacation and all other areas are where you take Jesus. Terrible thinking, isn’t it?

Today’s country is France.

France, like much of the rest of the Europe, has become increasingly secular. The rise of Muslims moving into France has led some to believe that in the near future Mosques will outnumber churches. Even among native French people Christianity, and religion in general, is seen as irrelevant. This poses a tremendous challenge to the Gospel.

Ways to pray:

  • According to Operation World, the “drop rate” for missionaries is very high. Pray that missionaries would feel called to go and that God would give them courage to stay in the midst of hard times.

  • Occult workers outnumber Christian workers. Pray that God would raise up more Christian workers among the French people.

  • Pray that God would open the eyes of the French people to see that Jesus is not simply about following religion, but he is the greatest treasure in the universe.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Up Close and Personal

It happens all of the time. A friend hurts our feelings. A pastor doesn’t understand us fully. A spouse lets us down. A teacher treats us like we are ignorant. A boss is short and demanding. We walk away thinking, “wow, he wasn’t as nice as I thought he would be.” And then disappointment sets in. Sometimes disappointment turns into bitterness or anger. We begin to resent the particular person for their failure towards us.

Suddenly we are the unwitting victim of our unmet expectations. But honestly, and I have seen this all too often in my own life, we are really expecting them to meet a need or fill a void that only Jesus can fill. We are all too often slaves of our own unrealistic expectations. It can happen to all of us.

What I have learned in my own life is that I have a tendency to put people on a pedestal—idolize them. I worship the very words that come from their mouths, think they can do no wrong, and then suddenly I am sorely disappointed when they act just like me—a sinner. This is not to say that sin should be condoned or allowed, it just means that everyone is pretty ugly once you get to know them. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23), even the people we admire most. If we kept them at a safe distance they could not disappoint us, but that is not what God calls us to.

He calls us to live in a community. Not a perfect one, by any means, but a community, regardless of our sanctification process. For some of us it means that we will have to trust in God’s promise to complete the work he began (Philippians 1:6), for others it will mean we have to trust the confrontation from the people God has given us for our growth.

I remember the first time a friend really was honest with me about my need for growth. I hated it at first. But that only revealed my sin even more! It taught me something about the kindness of God. God has given me friends and family to convict me of my sin because he doesn’t want me to stay where I am. But he has also put me in a marriage, a family, and a church community because he wants me to not only be a recipient of his grace, but a means of his grace for others.

We can keep people at a safe distance if we want to, and we might not get hurt by their sin. But we will never grow if we do. We were meant to live within a community of God’s people, his family, blemishes and all.

It's so much easier to ridicule and inspect from a distance. But God wants us to get in the thick of it and get a little messy and scarred. It's what he did when he sent his Son. If Jesus had not come and dwelt among us, getting in the middle of all that we were, we would not be here. Sure, he could have observed from afar, but that would not have saved anyone. He became one of us, got personal with people, and died so that we might live. And that is our foundation for getting up close and personal with others.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Preserving My Time

Today has been a lazy day. And boy do I like it! About a month or two ago a dear friend encouraged me to examine my schedule and cut things out that took me away from my husband and my home. As she wisely observed, I had begun to fill my evenings, and even my Saturday's, with a lot of other things that had very little to do with my husband. I had assumed that since he was studying I could just do whatever I wanted. He didn't need me around, right? Well, what happened was these other "things" became overwhelming. Suddenly, I wasn't just away from home too much, but I was exhausted and moody when I was home. Not good.

My friend encouraged me to learn to appreciate my time at home. She encouraged me to do little things to help my husband as he studied and worked: make him cookies, clean the house, grocery shop in the evening so we have weekends together, just be there. My home should be a resting place for my husband and it's not very restful if I am devoting my time to everything but that pursuit!

So I started trying to preserve my time. And it was not easy! I am a chronic over-committer. I get myself way too involved in things and then realize that I don't have time when it is too late. Right now, I am winding down my commitments and hoping that the next few months can be a better use of my time for my husband.

Today was a first. I had nothing on the calendar! We slept in, ate breakfast together (Daniel cooked!), I read for a good, long time in my pajamas, cleaned the kitchen, and am now about to make dinner. We had a nice walk planned, but the rain ruined it. It just felt so nice to not have to go anywhere or do anything.

That's where I'm at right now in my sanctification. I wish I was further, but I am so thankful for my friend's encouragement. I am also so thankful that God is not finished with me yet. He will continue to shape me and mold me into the wife that he wants me to be. Until the day I see his face, I will keep plugging along, praying that each year brings me closer into his likeness.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Sad and Slippery Slope

A while ago I overhead a conversation about why someone would choose a church far away from where one lives. When asked, this particular person responded as follows:

“When I saw the church had a female pastor I knew that they would probably be more accepting of gay people like me.”

In a split second, and unbeknownst to him, he confirmed a conclusion that has been raging for a long time: a reversal of gender roles in the local church is a slippery slope to the reversal of believing God’s design for sexuality.

Often outsiders provide a clear window into a church culture that we fail to see because we are so immersed in it. My friend saw from the outside what so many of us fail to see on the inside. While I think it is a helpful commentary on what unbelievers think of the church, I think it says profound things about where our theology leads us. Denying that egalitarian beliefs provide a slippery slope to accepting homosexual behavior is merely postponing the inevitable.

But the issue is not about homosexuality at all, really. By the time a church moves into a reversal of gender and sexuality they typically have long given up the most important thing of all—submission to God’s authority over all things.

What I overheard that day is far more important than whether or not women can be pastors or homosexuality is a sin. And those are important things. It has to do with a church that is no longer living under the authority of God’s word. It has to do with a church that is no longer proclaiming the Gospel.

Sometimes the clearest arguments for our beliefs come in the most unlikely places. But this man’s belief is not a point to be argued. It is his life. Understanding God’s design for manhood and womanhood has tremendous implications for the souls of men and women. If a church abandons the truths of God’s word there, it will abandon God’s word in the most important places—namely the Gospel. The atoning work of Christ for sinners like us cannot be true in a church culture that denies the very essence of who we are created to be.

The loss of the Gospel in a local church has devastating ramifications for the souls of men and women in those congregations.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Missions Wednesday: Japan

In college, a professor told my world religions class that the years following World War II were prime opportunities for missionaries to enter into Japan and bring the Gospel. They were a country defeated by war, and while they had been following the false god of emperor worship, they were weak and vulnerable and potentially could have been receptive to the Gospel.

While it is not outside the realm of possibility, I don't know if this is true. But I do know that Japan recovered from the war. And now they are an economic superpower. They claim religious freedom constitutionally, yet less than 2% of the population claims Christianity.

Less than 2%.

Idol and ancestor worship is rampant in Japan, with new types of religion forming all of the time. And there are many towns in Japan that have never been reached with the Gospel. In a lot of ways, the soil is extremely hard there. But God has people in Japan for himself, and he is strong enough to soften even the hardest and driest soil.

Ways to pray:
  • According to Operation World, there is very little Christian literature in Japan. And the Japanese love to read. Pray that God would raise up translators for the existing literature and would equip Japanese men and women to write for his glory.
  • The birthrate in Japan is extremely low. Pray that Christians in Japan would understand God's commands to be fruitful and multiply. And pray that God would be pleased to grow his people in Japan through the family.
  • Pray that the church would be strengthened and that the people of Japan would see their economic stability as a gift from the Lord, not as fruit of their own self-sufficiency.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Elisabeth Elliot on Submission

Like so many other women, I have been tremendously shaped by the writings of Elisabeth Elliot. Her wisdom, honesty, and biblical faithfulness has grown me in ways I probably don’t even know fully yet. God has used her life and ministry to help me establish convictions and passions that I am so grateful for (and grateful to my mom for giving me my first Elisabeth Elliot book!).

I just finished reading Keep a Quiet Heart, and just like her other books, it did not disappoint. This particular book is a collection of her lead articles from her former newsletter. I only wish I had known about this newsletter when it was still published!

The book covers every topic possible: sanctification, discipline, child rearing, womanhood, marriage, singleness, patience, cultural issues, and the list could go on. There is hardly a topic left untouched. Each chapter is about 2-3 pages, making it very easy to read as a devotional book. I have a feeling that this is a book I will keep coming back to again as seasons of life change and grow.

There were many things that struck me while reading this book, but I will leave you with one particular section she wrote about: submission. It is such a weighty and controversial topic, and I think she says it quite clearly and biblically.

“Christians—both men and women—recognize first the authority of Christ. They pray ‘Thy will be done.’ They set about making an honest effort to cooperate with what He is doing, straightening out the kinks in their own lives according to his wishes. A Christian woman, then, in submission to God, recognizes the divinely assigned authority of her husband (he didn’t earn it, remember, he received it by appointment). She then sets about lending her full strength to helping him do what he’s supposed to do, be what he’s supposed to be—her head. She’s not always trying to get her own way. She’s trying to make it easier for him to do his job. She seeks to contribute to his purpose, not scheme how to accomplish her own.

If this sounds suspiciously like some worn-out traditionalist view, or (worse) like a typical Elisabeth Elliot opinion, test it with the straightedge of Scripture. What does submission to Christ mean? ‘Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as to the Lord,’ Compare and connect.”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Missions Wednesday: Sudan

Few things have shaped my understanding of God’s call to go and tell the nations about Christ more than John Piper. And I am sure many other people would say the same thing. Pastor John says that “missions exists because worship doesn’t.” All people worship something. As image bearers of God we are born to be worshippers. Our hearts yearn to be filled and give glory to something. The problem is we worship the wrong thing. Our worship is too small. Missions exists to get worshippers of King Jesus.

When we think about missions and people groups our prayer should be that they see Jesus as the great treasure that he is—that they see him as better than anything else this world has to offer. He deserves our worship. And he will get it one day. But for some, the realization of the glory of Christ will come far too late. It will come in eternity. This should cause us to weep. It should humble us. But it should compel us to go and tell because there are souls at stake. Souls with faces, names, and desires.

God has a people for himself, and he is calling them even now. They are from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Even Sudan.

Over 19 million people practice Islam in Sudan, which is approximately 65% of the population. Darfur, Sudan is one of the least evangelized areas on earth, and there are no known believers among the indigenous people of Darfur. To say that persecution of Christians is a reality would be a huge understatement. Within the entire country there is tremendous persecution of Christians, including bombing of church services, murdering of pastors, and slaughtering of entire Christian villages. In addition to the persecution of believers, slavery has been reinstituted and it is estimated that there are anywhere from 60,000 to 200,000 people who are now chattel slaves.

Sudan is a country devastated by civil war and oppression by an Islamic Government that wields its sword against defenseless people—leaving 2 million dead and many more damaged and traumatized. In some places riots and violence are common place leaving many to live in fear.

Ways to pray:

  • Sudan is a closed country, so pray that Christian missionaries would have ways into the country to teach them about King Jesus.
  • Pray that the people of Sudan would turn from their idols and worship the true and living God
  • Pray for protection for the believers already there and that they would have the courage and the faith to hold on to the promises of the Gospel

    Read more about Sudan here

    Learn more about a movie about Sudan here

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fighting Guilt and Fighting Sin

There are days when the weight of my sin is overwhelming. Do you ever have days like that? Simple prayers and Scripture verses expose the great wickedness in my heart that wants to come out (and unfortunately, often does). In those moments, I don’t even want to show my face to people for fear of exposure—or worse, sinning against them. It is then that I wonder, “Can I really change? Is it really possible?”

My sins are always before me. They scream condemnation into my face. “Feel the depths of your faults and failures,” they say. “You are as terrible as you think.”

And they are right.

More right than they know.

But the story doesn’t end there for me. My sins no longer condemn me. They can scream, but they cannot damn. Jesus paid it all.

I need this reminder. Daily. Without it, I am a lost cause. But I also need to make war, daily. Those sins that are screaming at me need to be crucified. They need to be killed. While they are paid for, they still linger around seeking to devour, destroy, and kill.

You see, I can’t stay here in the overwhelming part of my sins. The truth is they are overwhelming. That’s a fact. But if I let them, they will overwhelm me completely. Repentance is needed to get me out. And it should take me somewhere—back in history.

Two thousand and some years ago Jesus died for these sins. And this is where I must live to find true freedom from the shame and guilt that seeks to destroy me. These sins were paid for and I don’t need to try to atone for them anymore.

My sins are real. But so is the Cross. Jesus paid it all. I must get there quickly when despair is quick to overtake.

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”—Psalm 51:7

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?

I love spring. Flowers are blooming. Plants are coming back from the dead. Colors are popping. Life springs up all around me.

But I also love spring because it will always remind me of my wedding that happened nearly a year ago. The warm temperatures bring back memories of anticipation of that exciting day. I am sure many people feel the same way about spring (and other seasons, of course). For them it is a reminder of the day they promised to spend the rest of their life with their spouse. For others it is a reminder of the most expensive day they ever had.

Weddings have become a staple of our culture. For many brides it is the event of their lives. Everything hinges on that one day—and then it is over. A recent news article says that weddings average at $28,000 to pull the whole thing off. Countless television shows are devoted to weddings, wedding planners, crazy brides, and all the fine details of the event. Weddings now have their own market niche, and we are the ravenous consumers.

I doubt that all of the hoopla surrounding weddings today is what Paul had in mind when speaking about the mystery of marriage he said: “this mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32).

As Christians, our weddings should be speaking to this mystery, not speaking to the cultural norm. The Christian wedding ceremony should be a holy place. It should be a worshipful place. It should be a reminder to all present of the great love that our Christ has for his Bride—the Church. The focus should not primarily be on the two people standing in front of us. Rather, we should all be looking towards our Savior.

Wedding ceremonies should carry the same weight for us as a Sunday morning worship service. In holy matrimony, the bride and groom are covenanting before God to live sacrificially with one another (regardless of the costs or the trials) until death parts them. And the believers who are present are standing with them, before God, saying they will hold them accountable and partner with them in this effort.

The wedding should also be a celebration (Rev. 19:6-10). While the covenant is serious, it is also joyous. God delights in marriage. He created it. And the celebration will look different for every person. But it is important to remember that just because we are counter-cultural in our practice of weddings, doesn’t mean we are boring. God’s good gifts are never boring!

To be counter-cultural in an extravagant wedding culture takes a lot of grace. It’s not easy to go against what everyone else is doing. The wedding day should be a picture to a lost and dying world of the great love of Christ for his Bride. It should make the Gospel look attractive. It should make Jesus look like the treasure that he is.

When I remember my wedding ceremony to Daniel I should be remembering something far greater than how much I loved my dress (and I did love my dress!). I should be remembering the covenant made between us, a covenant pointing to something far more eternal than the few years we have on this earth. It is a covenant that gives us hope for our future—and that is far more glorious to remember than the dress that sits vacuum sealed in a box in our closet. Far more glorious.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Resurrection Day Reflections

It’s easy on this side of the resurrection to look at the disbelief among those who followed Christ and think, “how could they miss it?” I mean, they had all they needed, Jesus, the very Son of God, told them that he was the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament prophesy. And yet, it took them a little while to come around.

In Luke 24:1-12, the two men who appeared to Mary the mother of James and Mary Magdalene had to remind them: “He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of God and must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.’ And they remembered his words.”

I find their delayed memory very comforting. How often do I, having heard the promises of God, live in unbelief that he will really do what he says he will. The women in this passage really aren’t that different than me. This was a serious trial for them. Their leader was dead. They watched him die. And in this moment, when he is suddenly not in his tomb, they needed a jolt in their memory.

We aren’t that different really. In the moment of trial and tragedy it is easy in our sorrow to forget that God has promised to always work for our good (Romans 8:28). That is one of the many things the resurrection accomplishes for us—to complete what was promised and provide hope for our futures.

One of the blessings of having God’s word is knowing that the struggles of believers back then are no different than the struggles we face today. The women outside Jesus’ tomb needed to be reminded of God’s promises, as we do today. But praise God that the faithfulness and reliability of God’s word is not contingent on whether I believe in those promises in every moment.

Let us believe and proclaim with our sisters who have come before us. He has risen! He has risen indeed. He has and will accomplish all that was promised. This is hopeful news.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Thoughts on Celebrating Easter

Earlier this week I mentioned to Daniel that I didn’t feel like I had prepared my heart to celebrate the Resurrection this coming Sunday. I realized that I had allowed all of the busyness of life to overshadow the coming celebration. But then I realized something even greater—I never let that happen with Christmas.

Christmas is a whole other story. I schedule Christmas preparation. I make sure I buy presents. I make sure I watch The Nativity Story. I make sure I read about the coming birth of our Christ. But with Easter, I just sort of let it surprise me.

Noel Piper has a really helpful explanation for why this often happens:

“Over the course of the Lenten and Easter season, we are remembering the lowest points of sin and the highest peaks of what God has done for us through Jesus. We have a way, the only way, to the Father through Jesus. That’s worth celebrating! And yet every year somehow it’s so easy for Easter to slip up on us, and suddenly we’re saying, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s Palm Sunday already!’ Although Easter is the highest celebration of the Christian year, it doesn’t have the fascination and thrill that surrounds Christmas. There’s a reason: The death of Jesus was a very somber and tragic event, and we had a part in causing it. But we mustn’t avoid preparation for Easter simply because the sober, contemplative season of Lent precedes it.”

(Treasuring Christ in Our Traditions, pg. 92 emphasis mine)

Maybe you aren’t thinking, “the fact that I caused Jesus’ death makes me not want to prepare for Easter,” but in a lot of ways it just seems harder to celebrate death, doesn’t it? We aren’t accustomed to it. We rejoice when a baby is born, but we mourn when a person dies. The beauty and glory of Jesus’ death is that it doesn’t end there. He rises! And the very fact that he died, bore our sin, and conquered death should make us celebrate in the greatest way. Christmas is meaningless if it doesn’t point forward to the greatest event of all—the event that gave us life. That is why we celebrate.

The fact that I wasn’t thinking about the celebration of Easter reveals a lot more about my own response toward what has been accomplished for me than it does about the event itself. I can sing “Hallelujah, What a Savior” tomorrow morning because he bore the wrath that was reserved for me. And the sad reality is that I don’t ponder that enough.

The days leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday are a call to ponder and reflect. We are so prone to forget. We need the reminders. My prayer for myself is that next year I would schedule Easter like I schedule Christmas—and spend more time meditating on what Christ has done for me.

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”—Romans 5:8-9

Now that is something worth celebrating.