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Innocent As Doves

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The Scriptures
Ephesians 6:10-18 (NIV)
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit,which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
Matthew 10:16-20
16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
Today, it’s just been on my mind to bring our attention back to the armor of God and the fact we need to be wise like serpents, innocent as doves.
I want to speak to the first part, being wise like serpents. Going to Malta helped bring to my attention how much I don’t know about my own country’s politics, the refugee crisis, trusting God, and even God’s word. I feel like I’m doing “better than the average U.S. citizen.” But, in reality, I don’t know very much. And I’ve realized when it comes to engaging in conversation with others, it’s important to have a handle on topics like these.
I.e., talking with my dad about refugees. Having facts and knowing the what the constitution says helps me to better articulate and defend my stance culturally and based by our country’s laws. Knowing about the situation with refugees abroad also helps and is a tool in dispelling the fear which the current administration seems to use to get support to make the calls it’s trying to make both about refugees and immigrants in general.
The second part, being innocent like doves…that’s a hard one for me because I’ve thought in the past it means to be naive. I don’t want to be naïve. But being innocent doesn’t mean you’re naïve. I think it means we guard our hearts and take our thoughts captive. What we put into our minds affects the lens through which we see the world and view the Bible—and it has the power to jade us.
I.e., rape. I know rape is in the world. I know it is destructive. I’ve seen it damage lives. And I’ve seen God redeem. But, what I don’t need to do is read the part of a book or watch a TV series which details a situation of rape. I don’t need to invite that in my mind to “know” about rape. I’m thinking of a book one of my youth group girls was reading. I haven’t read it, but I see how she struggles with her sexuality, her relationship with God, and for a period even suicide. I also see how her parents are okay with exposing her to things that are a bit mature for her age.
Compared to another one of our girls who is aware of what happens in the world, but her parents are careful to protect her from exposure to things which are dark, damaging, fracture her relationship with God. She’s being taught to be innocent, not naïve (or judgmental), and to take her thoughts captive.
Both of these girls come from solid Christian homes. I can’t say for sure that what each of these girls has or hasn’t been exposed to has been the big factor in who they are today, but I think it’s clear it has played a role. No barely 12-year-old girl should be reading intimate details about sex or rape. And while I may think not allowing your 12-year-old to watch Harry Potter could be a little excessive, I see how this other young girl is being shaped to cast her thoughts on what is good and to pursue God in all things.
Which leads me to the Armor of God. If we are sheep among wolves, if we are God’s people aware of the spiritual battle around us, we need the armor of God. We need our faith, especially when we don’t have answers to why God is still good in hard situations, but know that he is. We need the encouragement of salvation when doubt comes into our minds if we are truly loved by God. We need to know the scriptures, not just where to find them in the Bible, but to really be so in-tuned we can recite them when necessary. We need the breastplate of righteousness because frankly, the world is watching.
And with the armor of God and I think it’s important to ask, do we believe in spiritual warfare? Do we believe the world we live in isn’t just made up of cold, hard facts or only what we can see?
When I was talking about spiritual warfare with my friend who’s in Ecuador, she mentioned how we leave ourselves open to it. Every morning we can either be aware that it’s there and pray, or we can disregard it and leave ourselves open. Praying against spiritual warfare isn’t just for the days when we can sense it, but even when we don’t suspect it.
With all of this said, I want to encourage each of us to really grab hold of the scriptures, of God, and for what it means to put on God’s armor as well as to be wise like serpents, but innocent as doves.

God’s comfort

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My family still wrestles with what feels like very fresh grief over my dad’s passing last September. There are moments where things hit us and we feel this ache of his absence.

We know that he has gone to be with his Heavenly Father and no longer suffers from the limitations of this mortal coil. It’s just that sometimes, we miss him. It’s at those times when something happens that reminds us of the hope that we have in Christ our Savior, of our purpose here as followers of Christ, as co-laborers in the Kingdom of Heaven.

These reminders serve as encouragement to fight the good fight, keeping our eyes on the prize. I was thinking of my dad today and decided to read some of the devotionals he used to write for the ministry to which he dedicated his remaining years, Transport for Christ. When his health could no longer allow him to serve onsite as a chaplain, he wrote encouragement to the truck drivers and the chaplains in service.

I can hear his voice in these words. There’s great comfort in his reminder. I share his words with you so that you may also take comfort in a greater plan, and in the hope that comes from trusting God is in control:

“Most of the time, when we grieve, we grieve over something that’s happened in our lives. But there are also times when we grieve over something that hasn’t happened or “what might have been.”

Unrealized expectations and dashed hopes can paralyze us with sadness. We mourn for what we could have had, could have done or could have experienced. We live in a fog as we struggle with our unmet goals and dreams.

Are you wrestling with accepting something in your life? Mourning a shattered dream? Instead of focusing on what might have been, try focusing on what is and what could still be. Revising your dreams isn’t bad. It’s realistic. And the sooner you do, the sooner the weight of grief will let go. The fog will lift. Hope will return.”

testing our sanctification

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There are some people in our lives who test our sanctification.  They hide barbs in their conversations, they open their mouths and pour out contempt on you.  Most of the time, smart people will back away from toxic relationships like this, but sometimes you can’t cut off all connections…sometimes you are related by blood.

I have one such person in my life, and every time there is interaction, I wonder what it will cost me later on…I voiced this thought to a friend of mine and she suggested I take a look at Job.

I was wondering what Job had to do with irritating people, but then Alistair Begg connected the dots for me.  He was talking about suffering and the fact that God is Sovereign–which means that He allows suffering but He is not the author of evil.

There’s an interesting distinction there:  He created the world and it was good….but sin entered and it became imperfect.   He gave us choice to love Him freely—and that’s what this whole story is about.  Do good because you love to do good, not just follow the rules.  It’s a choice to obey.  It’s a choice to disobey.  Obedience has great rewards, and disobedience carries natural consequence…but God is not the author of evil.

When we choose to love God in the midst of suffering (especially when it’s at someone else’s hands), we experience love that is more like Christ’s love–it’s richer, deeper and much more fulfilling…it fills your countenance…there are people I know who have born the consequences of someone else’s sin…and they do it wearing the sweet aroma of Christ…it makes a HUGE impact on everyone around them.  You know who I’m talking about, right?  They’re the people who are so sweet, you could never imagine them any other way.  When they share their testimony, you hear about alot of things that would break most people, shatter most families, and yet, here they are, praising God for His hand in their lives….thanking Him for the sorrow.

I’ll admit I was filled with skepticism when I first met a woman like this.  I was unwilling to believe that she was so content with all the stuff that she had experienced.  The longer I knew her, the more I wanted to reflect Christ like she did…and the more I talked with her, the more of Christ she shared with me.   Before she died, she told me ‘Nothing comes easily in this life.  But the struggle is part of the blessing.  It’s the real test of the light of Christ.  The more you succumb to bitterness, the more your heart closes off to the hope that is in Christ.’

Her words came back to me over and over again when I began walking a difficult path seven years ago.  Grace is never cheap.  Suffering gives us the opportunity to experience intimacy with Him, that transformative power of His sufficiency and His presence that can only come when we love Him and trust Him in all circumstances.

It doesn’t mean it won’t hurt.  Pain is like black paint in a Vermeer painting.  It’s dark, but it highlights the Light–these are opportunities He uses to draw us into Christ-likeness.   These people who test your sanctification?  Let them.  Let God.  Bring it!

my bricks

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This will be a bit of a ramble. I’m flexing my ‘stream of consciousness’ fingers starting…now.

In the daily hustle and bustle of a newsroom, it’s easy to overlook the non-emergency things until they become emergencies.

Some of you might even be thinking ‘been there, done that’…and I find myself taking shortcuts to speed up the things that I have to get done in order to get other things finished.

There are some days I go home and fall into bed exhausted and while drifting off to sleep I find myself thinking “Can’t call it a day yet! I’m not unconscious!  I still have to…..ZZZZzzzzzzzz.”  We joke about this in my family…we’ve even given it a nickname: ‘dooobee’—as in ‘do a lot’ and  ‘busy as a bee’.  In the story of Mary and Martha, I totally ‘get’ Martha.  As a kid, I was always mad at Mary. ‘C’mon! Come help get this meal together! It’s not fixing itself!’ And when she didn’t move, calling in the reinforcements and asking Jesus to get her off her hiney…only to have Him side with her??   I was bafffled. (We’ll get back to this later)

The reality of it is that there are too many times I fall into the Israelite’s way of thinking: I am the sum of the bricks I made today.  You do that too many times, and you start to believe it.  There are a lot of bits in the Bible about rest…it even starts early in Genesis with God setting aside some critical time to REST.  Yet much of His creation is frenetic with the doing, and lost in the ‘being’…which is what happens when you rest.

In the quiet of rest, you can actually hear things.  You can hear our Heavenly Father telling you what a beautiful child you are…or maybe He might be whispering that answer to the question you keep asking (like a toddler: ‘now? now? now? how about now?’).

How do rest and bricks travel down the same road of thought?  I’m not really sure they do.   The bricks can create a false sense of worth, which leads somebody like me into thinking I have to keep producing in order to be valued.  Rest helps me re-new…and I can understand worth far better when I’m being spoken to by our Father through the Word.   Ah…Mary and Martha.   Mary understood knowing Christ.  If she knew His voice and understood what He was saying, it was much easier to obey.  Martha understood the doing end with her servant gifting.  As those gifted this way know, it’s very easy to take on too much and then stress over the details, even if it was originally meant to serve Christ…not being able to BE with Christ prevented her (and us) from the depth of relationship we sought in the first place.

This has to have a conclusion…so I’ll wind up by saying take the REST seriously.   We are not the bricks we make because our worth was summed up in the death and resurrection of our Savior.  Just sayin’.

 

 

 

 

On the air with Janet Parshall

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I had a great time this afternoon with Janet Parshall on her broadcast called, “In the Market” on Moody Radio. I always enjoy my time with her. And, I know why.

Janet is the kind of woman who appears to be very passionate about what she does. Because of her passion, she studies the issues she talks about. She doesn’t ask insignificant questions, she asks probing questions to get passionate answers to encourage the church to do something about it.

Sometimes I wish I had a two hour show to talk about the issues facing missions and evangelism around the world. More importantly, to talk about issue that will motivate Christians to do something for God.

If you didn’t get a chance to listen to our conversation tonight (Tuesday, Sept 14), you can. Listen to it at http://podcasts.moodyradio.org/IntheMarketwithJanetParshall/2010-09-14_In_The_Market__hour_01.mp3.

pics from uganda

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church in ugandamom overcome with emotion at how much she has benefitted from Compassion Internationaldancing in churchlearning a tradebabies in child survival project

learning how to make basketslearning how to embroiderLDP students telling their stories

it’s gonna be really hard to get these pictures id’d correctly.  here goes:

from left to right:

1) picture of a chapel at Child Survival Project UGCS27 Kitimbwa CDC/UG611

2) a mom who was sharing how Compassion International has helped her and introduced her to Christ.  she became so overwhelmed sharing her testimony, she cried.

3) dancing in church…I know. how awesome is that?

4) this same mom is learning how to sew so she can learn to tailor and help support her family better.

5) the moms in this at risk area are learning a lot of things, including how important it is to play with their babies and letting the babies play with each other.

6 and 7) many of the moms have learned a crafting trade so they can make goods to sell at a market.  one mother learned not only how to market her ability, but how to save enough money to buy a pig.  a pig can fetch a good half year’s salary in this area, so she’s learning how to save, invest and build up her business.

8 ) these are just some of the students in Compassion’s Leadership Development Program.  they are the cream of the crop from the sponsored project areas–kids who excel academically and who can handle college-level material.  the LDP program is not automatic for a sponsored child–it’s a high-level program that takes the best in Compassion International’s child programs, sends them to university and trains them to be servant leaders.  of the 300 LDP students attending university in Uganda, Uganda Christian University is educating 153 students.  there are several  attending other public univeristies and at least three studying at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Il…

these pictures represent the ministry, vision and future of Compassion–primarily, they aim to build the kingdom of God.  The Gospel is open and often repeated…and for every child that accepts Christ in Compassion’s projects, leaders say at least 10 others also come to Christ through their faith walk.

…all with the help of a sponsor and $32 a month.

uganda

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Red dust covers everything in Kampala, Uganda.  When it rains, the red earth becomes brick-colored mud and it gets into everything.

As the team from our sister station, WCSG, Compassion International and MNN visited project sites, we tracked it everywhere.  There was a notable difference between our footprints and those of the people who lived in the villages we were visiting.  For the most part,  our footprints were the outlines of shoes. The throngs of kids and some of their parents we visited were barefoot.  A few people had shoes, but they were the rarity.

Why did that strike me?  I felt really gross when we got back to our hotel after a day of trekking through the bush.  I could wash off the mud.  The people whose homes we’d just visited could rinse, but for the most part, the next time they stepped outside of their home, they’d get dirty again…except that was their way of life.

That difference alone was a stark contrast.  The village we visited yesterday was less primitive than some.  Subsistence farmers can eke out roughly $11 a month…stretched to five mouths to feed.   The people we met had a home.  They had a roof, walls and a floor.  One had furniture.  There were three really worn out toothbrushes and a cracked mirror hanging off the front door of another house…whose kitchen was essentially a lean-to in the yard.

Yet to see their faces, they were so happy Compassion International had taken an interest in them.  Before Compassion began their project in Kitimbwa (about 66 km west of Mukono), the infant mortality rate was high.  Few children, if any, got a chance to go to school.  Mothers and fathers struggled not only with their marital relationship, but also with raising the children.

After Compassion launched the Child Survival Program, basic things like hygiene, nutrition, pre-natal care and infant care were taught.  Mothers were encouraged to play with their babies to help them develop.  Mothers began getting together for play sessions.  They were also given the opportunity to learn a trade so they could earn some money to help lift the family out of poverty.  Once a child gets into the CSP, when they turn three, they can get into the Sponsorship programs.  From there, children get food, medicine, love and given the chance to go to school.

Most importantly, these people, once wallowing in poverty and hopelessness, were exposed to the Gospel on a nearly daily basis.  They heard it, they saw it in action with the Compassion staff, and then some of them felt it.  As we spoke with the project directors, we were told that for every Compassion child that comes to Christ, ten other people also come to Christ because of the reality of the transformation they see in that child’s life.

For the staff we spoke with, that transformation is the driving force behind everything they do.

But, kids grow up.  They age out of the school system, and then what?

Compassion International has introduced another program for the best and brightest of the sponsored children: the Leadership Development Program, or LDP.

Once accepted into the LDP, the sponsored student can go to college.  As we’re told, many of them are excited about getting their law degrees, or social work degrees with the express purpose of continuing that transformation.  Some go back to their villages as part of Compassion International.  Others take change outside of their villages and hope to advocate for families in a court of law.  Still others are making a definite footprint on a national level in government.

It’s so exciting to see how $32 a month can give a child such hope.  It’s even more exciting to walk step by step with them and see where their footprints lead.

On Thursday, I will meet with Misac, a little boy my family is sponsoring from one of the project areas near Kampala.  He shares the same birthdate as my son.   I am so excited to share the hope that we have invested in him.  I asked one of the LDP students I met this week, Joseph, to record a quick encouraging word for Misac. Their stories are very similar, and I thought that for Misac to hear that someone was like him at his age, to know that he can rise above his circumstance, that God is moving powerfully through boys like this–and I realize it’s like the story of loaves and fishes all over again.

God takes so little and creates so much for His glory…

some pictures

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i’m going to post some pictures of the people i’ve met and worked with, and of the children who blessed me this week.

these pictures will be from several different orphanages, but they are mostly in the chronological order of when we visited–since i’m having a little trouble trying to get them to download, if you don’t see anything, just know i’m working on it.

that’s it for now…i’m pretty beat.  i’ll post more pics later after they upload.

size 2 shoes

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it has been an intense week in honduras, every day filled with hundreds of kids, vacation bible school, shoes and more activity.

there is so much need that i find myself pulling back a little because i’m so emotionally drained as each kid comes into my room and there’s another with a story that is so desperate.

as a team, we’re the hands and feet of christ in these neighborhoods and it’s tough.  all this week, we’ve seen the most at-risk populations of San Pedro Sula.  We’ve seen the teen girls and their babies, the 34 babies in the state-run orphanage with 1 adult caring for them, the HIV children who are shunned, and a huge range of children who are in a facility because their parents aren’t able to or are no longer alive.

my son is the age of some of these kids.  my heart breaks to see them and only touch them briefly in our time at their facility.  we’ve been going at such a breakneck pace that there has been little time to process anything, let alone really feel it.  in my head, i have a job to do, and i’m going to do it.

today,  we visted the las brisas community project.  many of the kids who were there are from the river communities.  there is a proper name for them, but essentially, it’s a slum community living at the rivers’ edge. the houses there are scavenged from old metal, cardboard and what ever other materials they can find to create a shelter.

there is no running water in any of these homes, and the power they do have is pirated off the main lines.  the children often do not attend school.  many are covered with lice, lesions, suffer from severe foot fungus, and suffer from other health issues. without help, these kids are likely to repeat the cycle that has them living in these harsh circumstances.

according to frances azzad, buckner international’s adviser to honduras, her church decided to step in and help break that cycle.  with their financial and manpower assistance, they’ve created a community project and school specifically for these river children.

it was at this school that our team met the kids in person.  dozens of children, younger siblings in tow, came eagerly for the festivities.  while one team did a bible lesson, another did a craft, or played a game or took them to our room for shoes.

our room  was a green tiled room, not much bigger than a 10 x10, if that.  we had shoes for roughly 80 children in rows, alphabetized by first name, and socks on a bookshelf ready to be paired with the shoes.  three tubs of soapy water were ready to wash feet.  the first of the children came in, and within minutes, one of our team members turned to our trip director and indicated a case of athlete’s foot so severe, that if she were in the united states, she would be taking this child to the hospital for treatment.

at least 6 children had already had their feet in the same water, and our concern was spreading the problem.  we decided to  stop washing feet, and concentrate on matching the kids with their shoes.

the system had been to trace a child’s foot, write his name on the cutout and match it to a shoe. all that had been done before we arrived, so we thought it was a simple matter to find the shoes and give them to the kids.

not so.  many shoes were simply far too big for  the child.  in one case, a mistake had been made and boys were assigned girls’ shoes.  we told everyone to come back later after everyone got their shoes and we would try to swap shoes that were too big with ones that were too small and see if we couldn’t fit the kids better.

key point: we thought.  there is no way to describe the excitement of a child receiving  his first pair of shoes ever, or getting a new pair for the first time in several years.  many of the kids had gotten so used to wearing shoes that were too small, that shoes that fit properly were deemed ‘muy grande’ (too big).   even if they were actually a couple sizes too big, the kids didn’t want to let go of them and promised to grow into them.

then came a  little guy whose eyes sparkled as he came through the door.  he was barefoot, and by the width of his feet, we guessed he had never worn a pair of shoes before.  he was roughly 7 years old, and his smile was peppered with the empty spaces that comes with that age.

he sat down at a desk and we tried to fit him with his shoes.   they were several sizes too small.  he tried to convince us that they fit, but we told him that we would get him some shoes that fit better.  he did not want to take them off, and he didn’t want to leave.  after much persuasion, and promise, he finally did go, and he carried is misfitted shoes with him.  (we told all the kids to keep their shoes that didn’t fit and we would try to put things right after all the kids got their assigned pair)

all he needed was a size 2.  of all the shoes we were piling, we did not have any size 2 shoes in a boy’s style.  i began to worry that we would not be able to keep our promise to him.  he did come back a couple of times to see if we had anything ready to exchange, and each time we turned him away, his face got longer and longer.

at the end, i admitted defeat.  i knew that frances would be back later with more shoes to fit the kids, but i felt like this kid really needed it this time…our door was open now. i asked God to provide–just so that this boy would know that something as simple as shoes was in His power.

a couple of kids came back with their not-quite-right shoes, and we did some swapping out back and forth and the next time i turned around,  there was a single pair of boys sneakers in a size 2 in the box.    and there he was.

we cleaned off his muddy feet, put new socks on them and got the shoes on.  he got up and walked around, then went outside to test them a little more…it was obvious he had not worn shoes before because he was placing his feet very carefully one in front of the other.  the next thing i knew, he had taken off his shoes and was walking arouund in his bare feet again.

i thought ‘shoot. i thought those would work.’  One of our translators told me he took them off to keep them clean because it had been raining, and he wanted to keep them nice a little while longer.   off he went.  i thought that was the last i would see of him, and i wondered what the seed planted would look like in a few years.

as our team prepared to leave, we were surrounded by a swarm of kids, hugs, shouts, waves and general chaos.  i felt a kid at my side, looked down, and there he was, hugging the stuffing out of me.  he said ‘may God bless you for what you’ve done.  thank you for my shoes.  no one has ever done this for me before.’

i knew then, that, with the help of the local believers who have invested themselves in children like these, there will be a different community by the rivers’ edge in the not-too-distant future.  it has God’s fingerprint all over it.

getting ready

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it’s friday–the day before i take off for honduras–

it has been crazy busy getting everything ready to roll at home, get my office stuff packed for the move across the walkway and prep for a big church event that happens when i get back.

i am looking forward to the trip, but i have to have a little time to catch my breath and get my feet under me.

*breathe*