Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Missions Wednesday: Spain

Spain holds over 39 million people, yet this population is projected to decline in coming years. Like the rest of Europe, increased secularism has led to a decline in the birth rate of this once strongly Catholic nation. Catholicism is still considered the official religion, and equality for others (Jews, Muslims, Evangelicals) was only granted in 1992. 40-50% of the Catholic population are considered inactive, so while religion seems to be a strong force, it is often in number only. Once a country of religious discrimination, secularism now prevails.

The Catholic Church is in trouble in Spain. It has increasingly lost numbers and influence. This has created a spiritual vacuum which has been filled with materialism and secularism, cults, drugs, gambling, and the occult. This is not the outcome hoped for as religious freedom has increased.

Ways to pray:
  1. Pray for evangelical growth. The existing churches are in concentrated areas. Pray for spreading and acceptance of the Gospel.
  2. Pray for church leaders. Many must be bi-vocational due to small numbers and high unemployment. Pray for faithfulness and perseverance.
  3. Pray for those yet to be reached: North African Muslim immigrants, the student population (one million), and the 13 million people with no evangelical church in their town.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Understanding the Great Commission

We hear it all the time. Christians need to be about the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). We should care about Jesus’ commands to “make disciples of all nations.” But what exactly does Jesus mean when he says to “make disciples.” I’ve heard a lot about making converts and how many “decisions” were made at a recent revival or evangelism outreach event. I can’t help but wonder, when I hear those statements, that maybe Jesus had something far more involved in mind when he gave us this great commission.

I think Jesus is strategic when he tells us to make disciples. By this point in our reading of Matthew we already have an idea of what a disciple looks like. Jesus’ disciples were invested in by him, they spent time with him, and they knew him intimately. Perhaps Jesus is telling us to engage in something far more profound than simply checking a box on a decision card or coming forward during the altar call.

Jesus is calling us to give our lives for people. Discipleship takes hard work. It takes living life with people, knowing their struggles, knowing their past and present, and it takes getting out of our comfort zones. The command to make disciples is not a lone ranger idea. It’s done within a community of believers, the Church, who love one another. But that doesn’t mean we are off the hook if our church is fulfilling this command, and we aren’t. Even though commands are given corporately, they are also applied individually.

In Colossians 1:28-29 Paul is giving us a picture of the sanctification/discipleship process. He talks about laboring to present people “mature in Christ.” He even goes so far as to say he toils and struggles with all of his energy. When Paul talks about believers it is always as a father speaks to his children. He doesn’t leave them to fend for themselves after conversion. Rather he nurtures them, shepherds them, and stays with them. This is the process of making disciples. This is the Great Commission.

Of course, it’s not easy. It’s much easier to get people to sign a card or make a profession of faith, and then just leave them on their own. But that’s not what we are called to. Living the Great Commission requires us to be like Paul, to labor and struggle with our new brothers and sisters as they walk this pilgrim road to become more like Christ.

The very fact that Jesus tells us to make disciples shows us that there is no provision for us to abandon people at their time of decision. A young mom who is a new believer needs an older woman to walk a long side her and show her what it means to be patient with her kids and prize her husband. A fatherless, teenage boy who just was brought to Christ needs a godly older man to show him what true fatherhood looks like, and help him purge the old sin from his life.
Some of us are called to make disciples of all nations in the far corners of the earth; some are called to do it with our own family members. The point is, we are all called to go and make disciples in the sphere of influence that God has us in.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Missions Wednesday: Singapore

Often when we think of countries that are effective for the Gospel we only think of ones that define themselves as Christians. How could a country that only claims 15% of its population as believers be a place of key ministry training for leaders in other countries? Singapore is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. Located on the southern tip of Malaysia, Singapore has nearly 4 million people packed on this large island (and several smaller ones). The rest of Singapore’s population are Buddhist (majority), Muslim, non-religious, or other religions.

While there is freedom of religion, there is a deep concern and desire to maintain unity among the people—leading to legislations that limits speaking publicly about religious beliefs.

Since 1970, the number of Christians has doubled. This gives great hope for the hearts of the people of Singapore. And among university and medical students the percentage of Christians is even higher.

While the percentage of believers is small, Singapore is a “sending” country, sending over 450 missionaries from their country. According to Operation World, Singapore has one of the best missionary to church ratios in the world (approximately 1 missionary for every 1 protestant/evangelical church).

Ways to pray:

  1. Singapore is very wealthy. Like all of us, the pull to worship the gift of money rather than the giver has taken its toll. Pray that younger Christians would do radical things for God’s glory with their affluence.
  2. Pray for the existing Bible training facilities. There are many seminaries, Bible schools, and theological training programs throughout Singapore. People from all over Asia have come to learn. Pray for continued faithfulness and endurance.
  3. Young people are the most responsive to the Gospel. Pray that they will be discipled and shepherded by godly, older believers and plugged in to a local church.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Joining the Everlasting Song

The other day I was listening to Together for the Gospel Live by Bob Kauflin. While leading the musical worship he said something that struck me. He said, "we may just be beginning our song this morning, but we are joining a greater song that is already going on." When we sing our praises to God, we are joining with the saints around the throne of King Jesus. That made me weep.

When my granpda died earlier this year, I would think of that truth often while singing during the worship service. "He's already there. He already sees fully what I can only see dimly," I would think to myself. It would make me long for that day all the more knowing that someone I loved so dearly was experiencing joy and fellowship that I only can long for. And so is our baby. When we sing praises to God, we are joining in a song that our baby is already singing. Which means that fellowship with God, and with his people, should be the greatest source of comfort for us. It's what he is already getting and seeing.

I know it seems small, but it was huge for me to realize that. Just one more reminder that God is there pulling me through and teaching me more about who he is. One day, I will join the everlasting song with our baby. Until then, I pray that I can worship Christ with all my heart, longing for the day when my faith becomes sight.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hope Found in an Old Story

I always forget how much I love reading the Gospels until I begin reading them again. And then I am struck with the richness of the story. God came to earth. Even grander than that, he came as a little, helpless baby. We get to read this story on the other side of history. For the characters partaking, they don’t know how it will all unfold.

For hundreds of years prior to the time of the Gospels God had been silent. No vision. No prophets. No word from him. Imagine that. All you have heard about your people is that God is with you and then he is just silent—for four generations. That had to be discouraging and troubling.

In Luke 1 we are introduced to Zechariah and Elizabeth. I have always appreciated their story. It’s so exciting. Maybe it stands out to me more now because I can understand (in some small measure) what it means to long for a child that you do not have. I wonder how much more Zechariah and Elizabeth felt that God was absent because he had not opened her womb. God was silent in Israel, but he was also silent (seemingly) in their own personal story. In Luke 1:6 we are told that both she and her husband were righteous, following all of the Lord’s commandments, and then we are told the terrible news, “but they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren” (vs. 7). Being barren was a great reproach, and she bore that shame every day of her life. She just wanted a baby.

And then Zechariah goes to the temple. Our pastor just started preaching through the Gospel of Luke and one of the things he pointed out in this point in the story was how God answered Zechariah’s specific prayer. He did not give Zechariah a grand vision for the people waiting outside. He answered Zechariah and Elizabeth’s cry for a child. It would be this child who would be the forerunner to the greatest story ever told.

God is a personal God. We say that so often and it becomes cliché. But it’s true, regardless of its overuse. God was working a thousand good details in the desperation of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s longing for a child. They just might not have always seen it. I know I often don’t. What Luke shows us, and what the rest of the Gospels show for that matter, is that God is not some uninvolved Father, leaving his children to fend for themselves. Rather he is a compassionate and merciful God, who is always in the details of our lives—even when they hurt. He might not show up in the ways we would like until the twilight of our lives, but that doesn’t mean he is not there, caring for us and working out everything for our good. Lord, help me to believe this daily.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friday is for Food (a little late)

This weekend we had a marriage conference at church, which is why this post is a little late. I signed up to bring a dessert to the Friday evening session. Pretty easy, right. Well, I had been planning on making pumpkin bars all week because it's fall and it's a very "fall-y" food (even though it is 90 degrees and doesn't feel like fall). I went to Kroger on Thursday night to get my ingredients. I searched all over the baked goods aisle to no avail. I could not locate the pumpkin for the life of me. Finally I asked the stocker where the pumpkin was and he said "we don't have it yet. It's seasonal."

What! Seasonal? It's September! 'Tis the season for pumpkin, people!

Anyway, being a novice baker I am not equipped to just figure something else out. So I went to my default desssert, boxed brownie mix. But I went all fancy and bought the Ghiradelli kind because we were going to church. So today's recipe is not the pumpkin bars I hoped for, but it's still good.

I made pulled beef sandwiches in the crockpot earlier this week and we love it! Here it is:

BBQ Beef Sandwiches from Best-Loved Slow Cooker Recipes

1 boneless beef chuck roast (about 3 pounds)
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of liquid smoke
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
10 to 12 sandwich buns

Place beef in slow cooker. Combine remaining ingredients, except rolls, in medium bowl; pour over meat. Cover; cook on low 8 to 9 hours.

Remove beef from slow cooker; shred with 2 forks.

Combine beef with 1 cup sauce from slow cooker. Evenly distribute meat and sauce mixture among warmed rolls.

Enjoy! Happy weekend!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Missions Wednesday: Rwanda

Many of us are not so far removed from the 1990’s to remember the horrible genocide that took place in Rwanda between the Hutus and Tutsis. I was young during the turmoil, but in college I was awakened to what happened while watching the movie Hotel Rwanda. As I learned more about the slaughtering of a million people I was even more surprised to hear that eighty percent of Rwandans are identified as Christians. Even though many would say they are followers of Christ, they have been plagued by years of hatred of fellow brothers and sisters simply because of their ethnic heritage.

It’s easy to look at people across the ocean and turn down our noses. How could Christians do such a thing? They have acted so “un-Christian”. And they have. But so have we. Maybe personally we have not been participants of such violence and murder, but our hearts are wicked. We have “hated our brother in our hearts,” and Jesus tells us that is as offensive to God (Matthew 5:21-22). Granted, this genocide is horrific and overwhelming to say the least. All the more reason to pray for the Holy Spirit’s work in their life, asking God to show our brothers and sister in Rwanda that their hatred of anyone is morally reprehensible and sin against God.

It’s hard to imagine what a tragedy such as the genocide would do to a nation. They surely don’t recover quickly. In Rwanda, many of the people who committed the atrocities are still at large. Families were destroyed. Children lost parents. Churches lost pastors. Parents lost children. Though it has been nearly 15 years since this happened, the scars will linger for many years to come.

Ways to pray:
  1. Pray for repentance. Ask God to bring many Rwandans to repentance for sins committed against their neighbors.
  2. Pray for the church in Rwanda. Many pastors lost their lives during the genocide. The ones who survived were faced with ministering to people who saw unspeakable tragedy. Ministry is hard without something like this. It’s only harder when you are faced with multiple orphans, overwhelming death, and a war torn nation.
  3. Pray for the young people. Many children were left orphaned by the genocide. These children have now grown up, many now entering adulthood. For some they have had to raise their families in the absence of parents. This takes its toll on a person.
  4. Pray that Christians would feel called to go and disciple believers in Rwanda. There is a need for solid Bible teaching in Rwanda. Pray that people would feel the burden to go and proclaim God’s Word in this land.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Suitable Helper

A lot of people, when they hear the word “helper”, immediately think of a servant, low-status, or even inequality. If we asked the average woman if she valued being a “helper” to her husband, we would probably be the recipients of strange looks. For many, being a helper means doing menial work—work that is of no benefit to the one helping. But God doesn’t see it that way. When he fashioned Eve out of Adam’s side he was making a woman perfectly designed to complete and strengthen Adam. As a result, her fulfillment of her created function would only complete and strengthen her (Genesis 2:20-22). The marriage relationship, when ordered properly, brings glory to God and great joy to the spouses. But notice how God never tells us exactly what being a “helper” looks like. He just tells us that he made a helper for Adam. She came with no specific job description.

Before I got married I thought being a helpmate to my husband was a list of already defined tasks. So when he would ask me to help him with things that were outside of my “perfect idea of a helper” I would become easily annoyed. I didn’t know how to help him personally. All I had was a perception of helping him, not an understanding of what he desired and what made him tick.

Being a helper to our husbands is something far more profound than being the most gourmet cook or immaculate cleaner—although that can be very good. Rather being a helper means knowing our husbands intimately, his desires, his needs, and even his weaknesses. It’s often a lot easier to cook, clean, and run errands, than to really understand what it means to be a “suitable helper” to our husbands. We can do all of the outward acts of service and miss the heart behind the helping.

When God created Eve for Adam he was fashioning a woman who was designed for him, to be a helper specifically for him. This is why no two marriage relationships look the same—one husband might be helped by his wife cooking the majority of the meals and preparing his lunches. Another husband might love cooking and be helped by his wife keeping an orderly home. The point is that we learn what helps our husbands and not be drawn into comparing our marriage with others.

Helping our husbands biblically also frees us from the slavery of comparison. It’s so easy to look at another relationship and judge it based on our own. But if we know our husband and serve him based on his own unique personality, then we will have no problems with the way our friend exercises her role as her husband’s uniquely suited helper. God specifically designed us for our husbands, and vice versa.

Although he is talking about submission, I think John Piper’s definition is a good guide in thinking through what being a helper to our husband’s means:

“Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband's leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.”

Our calling as wives is to use every drop of our God-given giftedness to help our husbands thrive in their callings before God—be it secular or vocational ministry. And this is no light task. It requires much prayer, wisdom, and excellence on our parts. More importantly, it requires a daily, utter dependence on the One who created us to be our husbands suitable helpers.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

One Month Later

In some ways it feels like it has been an eternity since we lost our baby, not one month. It feels even stranger to say that it has been 30 days. But it has. Our hearts are healing. And while we grieved in the immediate aftermath of the miscarriage, there are days where it feels like the grief is just beginning. When it first happened I was in shock. I cried for days. But most of the time I was just floating through life, holding on and barely getting my most basic tasks done. Now there is normalcy to our lives again. I want to cook now (which is a huge milestone). I want to clean. I want to make a home and be around people. I don’t cry every day.

And that’s what makes it so hard sometimes. My life is going on—without my baby. There are days where I just wish I could stop the craziness of work, church, and life and just think and reflect. The hardest part is that I can’t stay where I was last month, in the freshness of my lost pregnancy. I have to keep moving. And everything around me has kept moving too. My body no longer makes me eat every two hours, or makes me want to go to bed at 7 pm. These are acute reminders that I am no longer pregnant. One of the strangest things I have heard come out of the mouth in recent days is, “when I was pregnant.” I know what it is like to be pregnant. I just don’t know the joy of holding my baby. And that still kills me sometimes.

I suppose that this is part of the grief process. Moving on with each passing day even when your heart is screaming to stand still and keep mourning. Or maybe you just learn to mourn with the new days, grieving what could have been. It’s a hard balance to find; trying to continue with your life when you have a deep wound that you are afraid could open at any given moment. And I’m still learning the balance.

So that’s where I’m at one month later. Still processing, still crying, and still thinking. God has been here, and I am more thankful for his comforting presence than I ever knew I could be. It doesn’t take the sting away, but his comfort is a constant covering of fatherly care. He isn’t finished with me yet, and he hasn’t left. And that gives me hope.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday is for Fotos

Happy 1st birthday, David Benjamin Tarter. We love you so much! May you grow to trust and treasure the Son of David, our Lord, Jesus Christ.


Uncle Daniel and Aunt Courtney

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Why We Have a "Date Night"

One of the many great things we learned in our pre-marital counseling is the importance of a scheduled date night. Our counselors told us that unless you schedule concentrated time together to draw one another out and enjoy each other; inevitably other things will get in the way.

It’s really easy when you are newly married, or have no kids yet, to assume that planned date nights are not a necessity. You might think to yourself “why would I need to set aside time. Every night is pretty much a date night.” I suppose that could be true for some people. But I know for us every night is not date. Many other things get in our way and take time away from each other. Obviously this is not law for marriage or anything. It’s just some things that I have learned about my own tendencies in my brief time being married.

We choose to schedule a date night on Fridays because if we don’t we will just find something better to do. It’s not that we don’t hang out a lot, or even talk. We make an effort to talk over dinner or throughout the day. But honestly, if we let ourselves, school, reading, blogging, cooking, cleaning, laundry, church, friends, and anything else you can think of will take the place of intentional time together. We have realized that we schedule everything else that we deem important. Since the marriage relationship is the most important earthly relationship in our minds, we try to keep our schedules clear of everything but each other on Friday nights. Once again, this isn’t law, so there are things that come up that we have to do—and if that’s true we do our best to reschedule date night. Our biggest concern for our marriage is our own hearts behind wanting to continue pursuing one another and working on our relationship.

It doesn’t have to be super intense or expensive. We don’t have a lot of money—in fact some months we run out of date night money before the month is over, and then date night is a walk and an evening at home. It can be simple or something fun you have wanted to do together. The point is that you are together, communicating, and growing in your relationship.

For myself, I have had to learn to continue to follow my husband’s lead regarding date night. I used to gladly accept his requests to take me out when we were dating or engaged. In fact I could hardly wait for him to ask me! Now I have noticed that I am the one who tends to find other things to fill our schedules on date night, and sometimes they are very good things—but things that can be done at another time. As the wife, I need to learn to preserve our night together just as much as I desire him to. For me it means gladly accepting our planned date nights as my husbands loving attempts to continue winning my heart. I need to pray for the same anticipation and excitement for our Friday night dates that I had prior to us saying, “I do.”

Planned date nights are not a must to have a good marriage. But we have been encouraged by and admired many godly, older couples who thrive in their marriages because of the active pursuit of each other. This is our goal for our marriage—and one of our preferred means of pursuing each other is a date night.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Comfort in the Storm

"The painful things that come into our lives are not described by God as accidental or as out of his control. This would be no comfort. That God cannot stop a germ or a car or a bullet or a demon is not good news; it is not the news of the Bible. God can. And ten thousand times he does. But when he doesn't, he has his reasons. And in Christ Jesus they are all loving. We are taught this sovereignty so that we will drink it in till it saturates our bones. He is getting us ready to suffer without feeling unloved."

"So when suffering comes, God's children are meant to experience it as God's fatherly discipline. It does not speak well of our faith if we doubt his love or if we become angry at God when he ordains pain in our lives. The story of Ruth (along with Joseph and Job and Esther and others) is in the Bible to prepare us for bitter providences by showing us again and again that God is doing a thousand things that we do not know. And they are meant for our good..."

"That our pain has a loving and wise and all-powerful purpose behind it is better than any other view--weak God, cruel God, bumbling God, no God. To know that in his hands 'this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison' (2 Corinthians 4:17) is profoundly reassuring. And yes, 'light' and 'momentary' meant, in Paul's case, a lifetime of suffering. The excruciating 'lightness' of his suffering was light compared to the weight of glory. And the interminable 'momentariness' of his suffering was momentary compared to the eternality of glory."

-John Piper, A Sweet and Bitter Providence: Sex, Race and the Sovereignty of God.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday is for Food

Daniel gets really excited around August 1 because August means it's almost fall, which means it's almost college football season. And it is now upon us. Last night we watched Ohio State play at the local Buffalo Wild Wings (because we don't have cable or the Big Ten Network). Tomorrow we will watch all of the television programming surrounding the first Saturday of college football season (and Daniel will study Greek vocabulary while watching).

Last year I didn't really grasp how excited he got about it all. I was new to the whole wife thing (and still am!) and I was clueless. Now I know and I am prepared. Daniel loves queso and chips, and I love to eat, so we are in for a feast tomorrow. Here is our menu:

Queso (32 oz pack of Velveeta cheese and 2 cans of Rotel)

Pioneer Woman's Restaurant Style Salsa (best ever!)


Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas (recipe from my dear friend, Laura)
  • 3 chicken breast (cooked and cut)
  • 2 cans of cream of chicken soup
  • 16 oz sour cream
  • 4 oz can of green chiles
  • 1/2 cup of chopped onions
  • 1 bag of cheddar cheese
  • 1 package of flour tortillas

Mix chicken, soup, sour cream, chiles, and green onions in a large bowl. Spoon into individual flour tortillas. Sprinkle cheese inside tortillas and roll. Place in a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 350.

I think I am going to make a spinach and strawberry salad because we need a vegetable. Plus Daniel likes it.

Happy weekend all!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Missions Wednesday: Pakistan

By now many of you are aware of the massive flooding that has taken place in Pakistan. So far 1,600 people have died, and 1.6 million are left without food, water, shelter or healthcare by the disaster. Without immediate help, many in Pakistan face the possibility of death due to disease, starvation, or exposure to the elements. I have heard reports of women having to give birth in horrific conditions, surrounded by flood waters.

Disasters have a way of drawing our attention to a country that is previously not on our radar—and that is to our shame. There are nearly 200 million people living in Pakistan, and 96% of those people are Muslim. Pakistan is an Islamic Republic, and in some areas there are no known Christians. Shari’a law is applied in Pakistan, making it very difficult for anyone who does not adhere to Islam. Christians are increasingly facing persecution. There has been a Christian witness in Pakistan since 1833. In the early days Christians reached out to the “untouchables” of the Hindu castes. Because of cultural bias against Hindus and the caste system, many Pakistanis would not even consider Christianity due to their previous work. Still, in many areas of Pakistan, to become a Christian is a sentence to persecution.

Ways to pray:
  • Pray for Pakistani Christians. They face the greatest threat of persecution and death. Pray that they would have courage to speak about Christ and would be welcomed into the Christian community.
  • Pray that the Church will grow amidst persecution. Fairness is not a reality in Pakistan. Pray that the Church would be strengthened and sharpened even in the middle of fear and hardship.
  • Pray for the unreached peoples. There are over 160 ethnic groups and 40 language groups with no known church or missions plan. Operation World says that “few countries present a greater challenge for missions.”