That is so true. Is this where the Word divides between soul and Spirit? Bolivia has many Mennonite colonies, believers who came from Russia and Germany for religious freedom but have since been ‘absorbed so as to forget the first principles of Christ.
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Now that we are into December I feel I can write a few blogs about Christmas. This first one is an amazing open door the Lord gave me and it reminded me so much of the birth of our Saviour, not so much in a strange land, but in a strange place.
My daughter, Cheryl, was teaching ESL here in Moose Jaw a few years ago. I had the privilege of meeting many of her students, eating in their homes and inviting them to special events in the city. One young couple were newly arrived from Africa and they were working hard at learning English. They were also expecting their second baby.
One day Cheryl came to me with a problem and asked if I could help. That couple had been sent to the hospital for a tour and to learn about the birthing process here in Canada. They were frustrated, not understanding half of what was told them and the birth was fast approaching. Things here were not at all like having a baby in Africa. In their culture aunts, cousins, grandma’s and mothers were near and ready to help. But the fathers were not involved at all.
“Mom, there is no one to go into the delivery room with this young woman. Would you be willing to do that?” Cheryl asked. I had five children so I knew what to expect and agreed to be there. She talked the father into at least being there as long as Cheryl was there to explain in simple English what was happening.
I walked into the hospital and was introduced to this young couple. The father sat in a corner of the room, huddled in a chair while Cheryl sat near him explaining everything that was happening. I stood at the bedside of one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. Her chocolate brown skin was silky smooth and she kept a tight grip on my hand through the ensuing hours. I wiped her face and even though we didn’t know one word of each other’s languages, we bonded in the fact that we were women in a process that has been around since creation.
There were other women giving birth that night so it was a busy place. At the last minute the doctor was busy so a nurse caught the screaming newborn baby boy. What a miracle to hear a baby’s first cry. After the usual weighing, measuring and washing of the baby, the nurse came to us carrying the swaddled, toque-topped infant. “Who gets the baby?” she asked and the father quickly put his hands behind his back. This was not his cultural norm. “Give him to grandma,” and he pointed at me.
Into my arms was placed a beautiful, mocha-skinned, curly-haired baby. What a precious bundle. As I kissed and cuddled him I realized that this little boy would grow up in Canada. Probably learn to play hockey and love football. I turned to the father and surprised him as I placed he baby in his arms. “You are in Canada now,” I told him.
As I walked out of the hospital that night my heart overflowed with joy that the Lord had allowed me to show love to this couple alone in a strange land. No words were needed. I couldn’t help but think of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem on the night when our Saviour was born. Was there a woman who came in to hold Mary’s hand and wipe her brow? If I had been there, I would have gladly done that. Thank you, Lord, for granting me such a precious memory.
For several weeks I’ve been mulling over how to put some old thoughts into today’s words. Finally the answer came. PAY IT FORWARD .
When an expert in Jewish law asked Jesus “Which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses,” Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important; Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37-39). In today’s language – PAY IT FORWARD.
This is similar to the covenant the Lord made with Abraham. The Lord said He would bless Abraham, make his family a great nation and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through them. The last part of that covenant indicates that Abraham’s descendants would PAY IT FORWARD.
For hundreds of years the nation of Israel protected itself from other nations of the world while they looked for a Messiah to deliver them. They didn’t realize that their Messiah, one of their own, was going to PAY IT FORWARD on their behalf to fulfill that final part of God’s covenant with Israel. Jesus said in John 12:32: And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself (He was indicating how He would die.) God loved the WORLD so much that He gave His one and only Son so that EVERYONE who believes in Him will have eternal life. John 3:16 NLT. All nations!
Saul was an expert in Jewish law. He killed Christians and encouraged others to do so too. He didn’t understand that their Messiah had already come to PAY IT FORWARD until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus and realized the Messiah had come. His life was transformed and he spent the rest of his life PAYING IT FORWARD to non-Jews (us).
The ‘church’ has not replaced Israel as the true people of God, we have joined them. To be “in Christ” means we have joined a new human race that cuts across cultural, racial and gender lines. Paul expands on that in Galatians 3:28-29: “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus and now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.” That also means that we are to PAY IT FORWARD. “Go into all the world and preach the God news to everyone.” Matt. 16:15.
And how about the ‘love your neighbor’ aspect? In the story of the good Samaritan, the neighbor turned out to be a person from a nation that Israel despised, that they protected themselves from. There are some deep lessons imbedded in this passage for us. Any culture, ethnic group or anyone with a different sexual orientation that you despise? Jesus calls them neighbors. God didn’t tell us to join them He told us to love them. If you take food to a friend who is grieving or ill – find a ‘neighbor’ to bless in that way too. Do you shovel a sidewalk for a friend? Find a ‘neighbor’ and PAY IT FORWARD.
I heard a song the other day, new to me, but it quickly became a favourite. Love is a Verb, by John Mayor. Love is not a thing, love is a verb. The song ends with this phrase: “So you gotta show me, show me, show, me, that love is a verb.”
The bottom drawer in my bedside table holds an eclectic assortment of items: my blood pressure monitor, a wrist brace, neck brace and a couple stretchy exercise bands, among other things. In the long run, there was little reason for me to even look in that drawer unless I was having a problem.
This week I was having a problem of my own making. I was attempting to watch four football games over the weekend and that added up to a painfully stiff neck. Time to dig out the neck brace. I opened the drawer and gasped. Hundreds if not thousands of dried up weevil husks littered the drawer. With much shuddering I picked up each item and shook off the debris. Thankfully I didn’t see a sign of anything still living but so far I noticed no reason for the infestation.
Then I got to the bottom of the drawer and discovered the problem: a home-made microwavable heat pack. We all have them: filled with wheat, beans, corn or rice, like mine. It had often brought comfort to a stiff neck or shoulder but It wasn’t bringing comfort to me now.
A few things I would have preferred to keep, I tossed into the garbage, tied up the bags and heaved them immediately down the garbage chute in my building. I vacuumed until not one trace of a weevil was left in the drawer, under the drawer, in the drawer above or on the floor around the area. Since my vacuum is the bag-less I washed out the container and put the filter in the bathroom sink to soak overnight, maybe even for a week or two. Wow! Did I ever learn a lesson from that experience.
Then I began to see a spiritual application in this. Psalm 19:12 says: How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? I’m sure there are sins that I intended to deal with and forgot. Is there is someone who I try to avoid? What sin in my heart is providing fodder for that ‘weevil’? On the sermon on the mount Jesus said: If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Matt. 5:23. But in Col. 3:13 we are told “forgive anyone who offends you”. so no matter who is to blame for the tension, I am the one who needs to make it right. I shudder to think that finding weevils in a drawer is more horrifying to me than harbouring sin in my heart. The second part of Psalm 19:12 says, Cleanse me from these hidden faults.
Psalm 19:14. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Me, Myself and I used to be a well used statement and as I think about it, it has to be the height of selfishness. Not long ago I heard a message on salvation and selfishness. It had never occurred to me before that when salvation enters a life, selfishness must leave because selfishness is sin.
That makes perfect sense to me now. Salvation means having Christ as the center of my life. Selfishness means I am at the center of my life which brings with it greed, self-righteousness, pride and a host of other selfish characteristics.
One of the times when I was at my most selfish was when our five children were all seven and younger. It was during a church service in our very small church and I ended up in the tiny nursery, a room with a variety of well-used toys and out of hearing of the message. I looked around and realized every child in the nursery belonged to me.
“What on earth are we doing here?” I asked myself. Without another thought I gathered up my children, left the church and walked home, carrying one and coaxing the other four along. Home was a two-mile walk on a gravel road and I had lots of time to grumble and complain along the way. Why do I even go to church? I never get to hear a complete sermon. It didn’t occur to me that the Lord was listening to all my selfish thoughts until He said to me, “Church is not about you!”
What? Once that statement sank in, the Lord had a few more comments for me. “Church (at this time of your life) is about teaching your children how to worship. It is about building a firm spiritual foundation into their lives.” I could add a dozen other thoughts that came to mind but you get the idea.
The next Sunday I was back in church with all five kids but with a changed attitude and a different focus: make church a happy place for my children. Today those busy little children are grown with children and grandchildren of their own and all active in their churches.
I won’t say that I have never had another selfish pity-party in my life, but at least now I recognize selfishness as sin and deal with it as sin. That day comes to mind when I hear people complaining about the loud worship music, the lack of old hymns, the seeming lack of respect or the casual dress code and into my mind pops the statement, “church is not about YOU.” James 4:1 asks “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires within you (selfishness)?” James goes on for several verses talking about wanting what will give us pleasure.
In John 13: 34-35 Jesus says to us,” So now I am giving you a new commandment. Love each other just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” So if I am selfish what is the world seeing and thinking?
I enjoy doing word puzzles and especially Cryptograms, where the letters are in code to be figured out. This week I decoded one that stated, “Love is what is left over in a relationship when the selfishness is gone.”
Yesterday I finished a week-long Kairos course on God the church and the world. I went into the course thinking I had a great world view, I prayed for missions, didn’t I? I kept up on world affairs, I have friends of other cultures and am comfortable in their homes and with their beliefs. I even gave to support missionaries. What more could there possibly be?
What a shock to discover that I wasn’t even in the same hemisphere as far as a world view is concerned. So here are a few of the things I learned and am still trying to assimilate.
I learned that there are over 6,000 unreached people groups in the world, people who don’t even know there is a creator God who loves them and a Saviour who died for them. Why is that when we have the internet, cell phones, jet travel and lots of money in our pockets?
When Watchman Nee first heard about Jesus, he asked, ‘How long have you known this?” When the answer was hundreds of years he asked, “Why haven’t you told us before?” Nee’s father spent his life searching for that message and died without hearing it.
I learned that when Christians in our culture improve their income (myself included), we usually eat better, dress better, renovate our houses and upgrade to a better vehicle, but seldom increase our giving to missions.
I learned that the countries that I have always considered our enemies, are ones Jesus died for and wants to reach. They don’t know about the great love God has for them. They think force is stronger than love and that they will win by killing Christians but they don’t know that, “the blood of the martyr is the seed of the church.”
I learned that there are countries in the world that were once almost 100% Christian but now need to be reached again.
I learned that in our culture we separate salvation and mission but Luke 24: 46 & 47 say, “…it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all the nations beginning from Jerusalem.” THAT IS ALL ONE SENTENCE.
But most of all I learned what a genuine world view means. It means seeing what the Lord sees, it means having an overwhelming love for ‘my’ enemies, it means being delivered from selfishness and greed and it means having a generous heart.
To say the Kairos course changed my life may be a bit of an understatement. It changed my way of thinking, my emotions, my ambitions, my goals. In short, it changed my ‘Christian’ beliefs. It will take time to transform my selfish ways but at least now I know what the Lord expects of me.
There is more to prayer than, Lord bless them. There are things I can pray that will change the world. I can pray for wisdom and revelations for Christians working with refugees around the world, with Ebola patients in Africa or working with aid groups to people in crisis around the world. I can pray that the Lord will give the Christians in refuge camps, in prisons, in dangerous situations, an overwhelming love for their fellow refugees, prisoners, sufferers and boldness to share God’s love.
Most of all I can pray that our affluent Christian culture will recognize that WE are the ones the Lord wants to use to accomplish His will.
The story of the prodigal son is one we have heard so often that it is easy to tune it out. But one day while reading the story in Luke 15, 11-31 the Lord stepped in. The last half of verse 20 jumped out at me. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming.
Two things struck me. First, the father was watching the road, and second, he was obviously watching in faith. It’s easy to slide into a feeling of hopelessness, to doubt the Lord’s ability to change our prodigal’s mind. I had to seek the Lord; confess my sin of doubt and ask Him to increase my faith. Then I began watching the road again, in faith, and I began see tiny little things happening. I learned to silently say thank you to the Lord and step back to let Him work. I had planted enough land mines on that road and I needed to stop.
Sometimes a prodigal quits phoning because they know they’ll get a sermon. We had to stop talking and start listening, not just to them but also to what we said to them. When our loved one asked a question, we learned to give a simple answer and then rejoice in private. If an unexpected Happy Father’s or Mother’s Day card appeared, a simple thank you was sufficient without any snide comment thrown in. When they let slip that they had gone to church or chatted with a Christian we swallowed our comments.
The worst thing we can do is to think they’re standing on our doorstep, when really they are barely visible on the horizon. Hosea, chapter two, became my reference point. In verse 6 (speaking about Hosea’s unfaithful wife), the Lord fenced her in with thornbushes, blocked her path with a wall to make her lose her way…but then in verse 14 He says I will win her back again.” We must ask the Lord to put a hedge around our prodigal and let Him do it; allow the Lord to work until they come to the end of themselves and even then, only the Lord can win them back. If we silently watch, peeking out from behind the curtain of faith, we will see them slowly coming up the road.
Too often as parents we bail them out of tough situations, cover for them or allow our minds to think up an alibi for them when what we really need to do is admit they need the Lords help. We need to give the Lord permission to deal with them, even if it seems harsh. He loves them more than we do and He knows where they are. He is also the only one who can disintegrate stumbling blocks and heal bruised emotions. That’s why Christ came.
Put them in the Lord’s hands today.