31 December 2010

when a new year explodes into the present

God gave the marvelous, amazing gift of His Son ~ which we should celebrate year round, but which we specifically remember at Christmas...

And then immediately gives us the gift of a year closing - full of lessons learned
and things He is working out in our lives...

Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:10-11 (NIV)

Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.
Isaiah 40:31 (NASB)

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
 Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV)

He also presents us with a new year, a re-beginning, a fresh start,
and almost infinite opportunities to learn of Him, to become more like Him...

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)

"Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart with new and right desires, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony heart of sin and give you a new, obedient heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so you will obey my laws and do whatever I command.
Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NLT)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
1 Peter 1:3 (NIV)

The unfailing love of the LORD never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. I say to myself, "The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!"
Lamentations 3:22-24 (NASB)

Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act. Don't worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.
Psalm 37:7 (NLT)

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised... Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
2 Cor 5: 14, 15, 20a (ESV)

"For I know the plans I have for you," says the LORD. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)

No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.
Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)

This bright New Year is given to you 
to live each day with zest,
to daily grow...
to try and be, by God's grace,
your highest and your best!

Our family
wishes you a joyous and blessed New Year!

(A very tiny disclaimer - These photos were taken by Tim, but not here in Niger... rather at the 4th of July celebration he attended with several of the gang, just days before we flew back to our desert home. We always hear backyard fireworks going off as well as rumors of some sort of organized display, as each new year begins. We've never actually seen anything. However, I thought Tim got some pretty "soo - pair' cool" - said with your best French accent -  photos, and I wanted to show them off use them. Since I didn't do so right away... New Year's has been my next reasonable opportunity! New Year's greeting/quote attributed to William Arthur Ward.) 

30 December 2010

"What, like a garden, never stays the same?"

And with this riddle, so begins this delightful migration through 19th century Iran, glimpses of life lived as a Sufi Moslem tribal nomad, and a young woman who desires a bit of a say in her future.

Anahita is told by her father that a local tribal leader, the Khan and a much older man, has asked for her hand in marriage... her father thinks this a good idea because the Khan is a wealthy man, lives nearby and politically, this arranged marriage will help guarantee secure migratory passage and water rights for the tribes livestock. Anahita, however, is dismayed. She wants a say in her future. She dreams of marrying someone who shares her love for her land, her people and the nomadic lifestyle.

She devises a plan... to which her father and the local religious leader finally agree... She will weave a riddle into her wedding rug. Whichever man comes closes to discerning the meaning of her riddle is the man she will concede to marry.

The events in this story take place over the course of that year - from the time she finds out she must marry until she knows who the man will be, and during that year, she learns many lessons, including the fact that this path she has chosen will have unexpected and unimagined consequences for people she never dreamed would be impacted by her decision. She also learns that often the traits we detest most in others are traits we dislike about ourselves... that self-preoccupation makes even what seems most desirable truly unattractive.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, found fascinating looking into a world and a culture that is so far and different from my own and being personally challenged by the wisdom of Jalaluddin Rumi, a 13th century poet and scholar. I mean, just think for a few minutes of the astuteness of this statement: "Be melting snow. Wash yourself of yourself."

I can't wait to pass Anahita's Woven Riddle on to my girls... to hear what they think of and learn from reading this book.

28 December 2010

Have you ever done anything to help poor people? Have you ever done anything to hurt them?

"The average North American enjoys a standard of living that has been unimaginable for most of human history. Meanwhile, 40% of the earth's inhabitants eke out an existence on less than two dollars per day. And from inner city ghettos to rural Appalachia, pverty continues to inflict pain, loss, and despair on the North American continent itself. Indeed, the economic and social disparity between the 'haves," and the 'have-nots' is on the rise both within North America and between North America and much of the Majority World (Africa, Asia and Latin America)" (p. 13) is how the preface to a book I just finished reading. It is another book that deals with our responsiblity as Christians to impact the world around us - spiritually, of course, but also physically... materially... tangibly.

Loaned to me by a friend awhile back I finally found a few extra minutes to read When Helping Hurts, and want to recommend it to others who've seriously considered how God would have them show compassion to the less fortunate around them, as well as to the materially and spiritually poor all across the globe. And thus the book begins by asking two questions:
  1. Have you ever done anything to help poor people?
  2. Have you ever done anything to hurt poor people?
Most of us, in general, would answer a confident "Yes!" to the first question and a confident, "No, not that I'm aware of," to the second... yet the authors of this book would challenge us to look at our ideas and practices, some incorrect and presumptuous, as we've attempted to obey and follow Jesus, practically living out Matthew 25.31-46, 1 John 3.17, as well several other similar biblical passages, in our daily lives.

This book has challenged me on two levels - generally as I seek to make an impact for Christ in this desperately poor world literally right outside my very doorstep. The first chapter contains a "true story," where one of the authors describes something that happened to him. He was in Kampala, Uganda, teaching a biblically-based small business training class in one of the local slums, working through a Christian leader and translator and under the auspices of a local pastor and national church ministry. Through the course of the class, they experienced a dramatic conversion by one of the local witch doctors who forsook her life of darkness to follow Jesus. One day, this woman was conspicuously absent. A few questions helped them to discover that she was very ill. In most traditional African societies (at least based on my own personal experience), when you hear a friend or acquaintance is sick, the proper and polite thing to do is to go and visit them, so this missionary and his translator friend went to visit the ailing woman. Arriving at her one room shack, she was obviously very sick... she had come down with tonsillitis and because she was HIV positive, had been refused treatment at a local medical center. She gave a neighbor some money and then had that neighbor cut out her tonsils with a kitchen knife. The translator told the missionary that the ex-witch doctor probably needed penicillin or she would die. The missionary asked how much it would cost, the translator told him, he gave her the money for the medicines and headed out of the slum because night was rapidly approaching. The translator headed for a pharmacy, purchased and delivered the antibiotic to the woman. The next week, that woman was back at the small business class. (my summary from pages 21-24 in the book).

This book asks its readers to examine this situation and others like it, and determine... did the missionary truly help or hurt by his words and/or deeds. Did his actions help move everyone involved into a closer, righter relationship with Almighty God, or did they hinder that process? What do you think? How would you answer those questions and why? His assessment is that his actions probably did more harm than good... on all accounts.

Do you find the missionary's personal assessment sobering? I did. The authors describe "help" (material and spiritual) in three broad categories:  relief- "the urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering from a crisis"; rehabilitation -" restoring people and communities to the positive elements of their precrisis condition;" and development - "a process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others and the rest of creation." (p. 104) He saw all three forms of assistance as legitimate needs in this particular situation... however they were applied... he and those assisting him applied them... in a hurtful, rather than helpful manner.

But this book has not only challenged me in the area of ministry to Nigeriens and those in the community around me. bit I've also been challenged in how I look at "development" in a broader sense. If you define development as "a process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others and the rest of creation," then as a person, a wife, a parent, a Bible study leader, a teacher, a friend - I should be continuously and intimately involved in development work, every day, wherever God has placed me. If I walk into this development process assuming I have all the answers and that God is going to "fix" others through my efforts, then I'm missing a huge part of that definition. Development moves ALL people involved... i.e. myself, too - closer to those right relationships. Thus, whoever I'm deeming poor, in God's economy is probably a fix for some "area of poverty" in me. In light of this, when I pray about and search for how God might want me to be involved, maybe my focus should not be on needs... but on assets (i.e. what talents, abilities, contributions, etc., others can bring into this developmental equation)...? I can let God deal with the needs side of things, letting Him reveal the needs He knows are most important, not the wants that seem obvious or interesting to me. What if our focus changed from "What is wrong with you," to "What has God already gifted you with, and how can those gifts be used to further develop you as an individual and to help your community?" I know that if I relied on that mindset at least in the areas of parenting and teaching... I might come closer to following the principle of "training up a child in the way that he should go."

So, as I get ready to pass this book back to my friend... these are the thoughts rolling around in my head. What do you think? I'd love to know...

27 December 2010

Multitude Monday - 1000 Gifts: Phenomenal Family, Friends and Heavenly Father

"Family faces are magic mirrors. Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present, and future."
~Gail Lumet Buckley

This last week has been a hard week that has just gone on and on... The Lord decided it was time for Tim's precious mama, our kids' grandma, a dear woman who was so much more than just a mother-in-law - I truly consider her godly example, mentor and a wonderful friend - to celebrate this Christmas with Him in heaven.

We do rejoice for her,  but our hearts ache for us: we will miss her... we were, in fact, already missing her...

We aren't the first missionaries who've walked this road: losing a loved one while far from home and not able to return for the funeral or memorial service. I'm quite sure we aren't even the only ones for whom God has ordained this path this Christmas season. As we watched her health deteriorate from afar, as Tim made the trip home to spend a few weeks with his parents just last month, we had to contemplate this possiblity. A fellow missionary friend told me how valuable it is, if you an make the trip home to be with your family during those initial days of grieving... maybe because I knew it wasn't possible for us, I somewhat dismissed her comments and figured we'd be okay... we'd figure it out.. or something...

Now that this time is upon us, I understand the wisdom of those words. For our extended family, grieving together back home - they have the privilege of being together, of stepping outside their normal routine to take that time to grieve, to remember, to laugh and cry, to share hugs. It is much harder to do that here - people don't as easily understand why you aren't fulfilling obligations if you haven't left to attend the funeral; it is hard to feel a part of what we want (even need) so badly to be a part of when there is an ocean and several time zones between us. It is hard to find time in busy routines to be still, remember, mourn and celebrate the life of an amazing woman when there is no gathering of family and friends, no one coming to pay their respects, no funeral, no special meals. We know it is real... yet it all feels so surreal...

And then a still, small voice deep within reminded me that my Lord and my God does know all about this... He's walked this road in a much deeper, more intense sense. God sent Jesus... His perfect missionary... to this world. Christ became sin for us and then died, a profound separation for those who'd always enjoyed perfect unity. They sorrowed alone, apart from the one they loved most.

It isn't that bad for us. We do have each other. We have a beautiful famiy who's loved and prayed for us from afar. We have amazing folks here who've loved us. We also have this privilege of knowing that God has allowed us to glimpse, to know just a little bit, the loneliness of sorrwoing apart, a path He chose to know for our sakes ~

#662 lots of pictures and treasured memories

#663 one of those images, forever etched on my heart: shortly before we left the States, we tried to go see the local team play baseball... the game ended up being rained out. And we had so much fun. As the kids and their friends ran like wild ones all over the grass waiting for the game to be called, Grandma and Grandpa sat snuggled together under a tarp and umbrellas, watching, laughing and enjoying. We called it the night we had more fun because the game was rained out... and I'm so thankful that is such a vivid picture of Mom and Dad together...

#664 the example of a dad who loved so very well, taking such good care of Mom, watching over her and protecting her the very best he could

#665 big brothers

#666 good advice

#667 tears shed by strong men

#668 realizing once again just what a beautiful young woman she's become and why we wanted our little one to share her name

#669 the sound of a Menonite choir

#670 the knowledge that death has been swallowed up in victory, and that its sting, while sharp, is only temporary

#671 the promise of a future and a hope

#672 film projections where many experience the story of Jesus and His message for the first time in their heart language

#673 Christmas Eve Sunday School programs and remembering the miracle of His incarnation

#674 Christmas morning praise and worship, followed by potluck and fellowship

#675 Reconfirmation from heaven that even though we aren't necessarily physically where we wish we were, God has placed us here and we are part of His plan to reach this land with His Gospel.

25 December 2010

the Final Word

You and me we use so very many clumsy words.
The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard.
When the Father's Wisdom wanted to communicate His love,
He spoke it in one final perfect Word.

And so the Father's fondest thought took on flesh and bone.
He spoke the living luminous Word, at once His will was done.
And so the transformation that in man had been unheard
Took place in God the Father as He spoke that final Word.

And so the Light became alive
And manna became Man.
Eternity stepped into time
So we could understand.

He spoke the Incarnation and then so was born the Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born the baby who would die to make it mine.
(Michael Card)



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