A Year-End Thank You

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Father, I praise you and thank you for how great and wonderful you are.  You live in unapproachable light and yet you chose the still darkness of a silent night, a pitch-dark stable to make your appearance so that your light could speak for itself--so your messengers, your angels could come and proclaim the miracle of your birth.

You are the one whom no one has seen or can see, yet you made your appearance in the most vulnerable way possible--a squirming, hungry, fussy little baby--you allowed us to behold your glory.  Your first heavenly message came, not to the religious officials, kings, queens or diplomats, but was announced to a very scared and very young woman and an uncertain but somehow remarkably strong man named Joseph and finally, to a group of men who were considered so unclean that they had no place even close to the temple.  Your glory became abased for us, your splendor wrapped in strips cloth and your majesty confined to a tiny little stable and yet you, like your Father, love the world.

There are no words to say but "thank you."

Now we bow our heads and we humble our hearts and we reflect on a year of how good you are, how you pour out your love in big and small ways--how we, if we pause can find the greatest gifts in our own home, sitting next to us on the couch, munching cereal at the breakfast table and requesting toilet paper from the bathroom door.

We say "thank you" for the moments of "oh my goodness!" and for the moments of sheer "help me." Because you are you and you never leave us, never forsake us because you live in us.  Amen.

Five Characteristics of a Strong Woman

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Life, or society or this thing that we are doing has appeared very confusing lately, with seeming injustice, tension, strife, all we want to do is throw up our hands and shout, "Who's in charge?"  Truth is, when we leave justice in the hands of men and women who are not following after God, we, as a nation suffer the consequences, but I don't want to go too far down that road here, rather, I want to concentrate on how we, especially as woman can do the things that God has appointed us to do.

Little A and I were reading in Judges 4 and 5, and, after coming out of the final chapters of Joshua with lots of names and places, it's pretty neat to see how things are progressing for the nation of Israel, God is still pursuing them, just as he always pursues us, He wants the best for them just as he does for us, but chapter 4 begins with the admonition that again, Israel did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that the last godly judge God had appointed to save them (Ehud) died. So, the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, with Sisera, the commander of his army (who happened to possess 900 iron chariots) cruelly oppressing the Israelites for twenty years.

They cried out, the Lord heard. And he had a plan for deliverance, only it needed execution.

Enter our examples of what God can do through the hands of two incredible women.  

First, is Deborah, a prophetess in Israel at the time; she held court where the Israelites could go to her and have their disputes decided.  A woman being assigned to this position was indeed unusual, but as my commentary pointed out, this position was a reflection on the weakness of male leadership in Israel at that time.  Second is Jael, but we'll come to her in a bit.

Let's take a look at these women and see what we can learn:

1) They are chosen

The people cried out for help in the midst of their oppression, God assigned Deborah.

God has chosen you, for this very point in life in this very role for a very important purpose, whether you are a mother, a doctor, a humanitarian or all three, God has put a passion in your heart for something, follow it and clamp onto it like a dog on a bone.

God would deliver the nation of Israel, but he needed a few good men:

She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, " the Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: 'Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor.  I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.'"(4:6-7)

And one of those men needed a good woman:

Barak said to her, "If you go with me, I will go; but if you don't go with me, I won't go."(4:8)

2) They are available

"Certainly I will go with you," said Deborah. (4:9)

Deborah had a choice, stay in the place that God appointed to her to do a very significant job for the nation of Israel or become available to Barak.  You see, Deborah herself made the prophecy that God would lead Sisera's nation into their hands, but Barak lacked the confidence and asked her to go with him.  This was not without the admonition that this victory would be credited to a woman :) 

I've been in Barak's position before, it's scary.  I cannot tell you how grateful I have been to friends who have been available to me in the past when facing some of life's giants, or even those who have physically gone with me in a particularly difficult situation to judge what is right.  They couldn't DO much; they just came with me, prayed with me, prayed for me and were present. 

3) They are confident

Once Barak had gathered his tribes and 10,000 men and Deborah was with him, word spread to Sisera.  Deborah rallied Barak with the words: "Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands.  Has the Lord not gone ahead of you?"

4) They have a plan:

We all have a plan: calendars, daily planners, phone reminders, etc., sometimes I feel like a walking calendar.  These are all good things; it's how we stay focused and how we get things done.  But we've got to be open to the bigger PLAN too; the vision to execute exactly what God has placed in our hands to do.

Introducing our second strong woman: Jael.

After Barak routed Sisera's troops in battle, killing all of them by sword, Sisera managed to get away on foot to Jael's tent because there was an alliance between Jabin and Jael's family.

Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, "Come, my lord, come right in.  Don't be afraid."  She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up.

Stand in the doorway of the tent," he told her.  "If someone comes by and asks you, 'Is anyone in there?' say 'No.'"

But Jael, Heber's wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted.  She drove the peg through his temple into the ground and he died. (4:19-21)

Remember, Jael didn't have to use force or coercion--maybe a little trickery--but she welcomed this bone-weary leader into her tent, offering him refreshment and at exactly the right time, God's appointed time, she delivered a fatal blow that led to victory for Israel.

On that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites.  And the hand of the Israelites pressed harder and harder against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him. (4:23)

...Then the land had peace for forty years...(5:31c)

5) They give credit where it is always due 

Deborah and Barak begin their song in Chapter 5 with praise to the Lord:

When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves--praise the Lord!  Hear this, you kings!  Listen, you rulers!  I, even I, will sing to the Lord; I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel in song.(5:2-3)

My heart is with Israel's princes, with the willing volunteers among the people.  Praise the Lord!(5:9)

The river Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon.  March on, my soul; be strong!(5:21)

Our Sisters in Africa

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Take a hop, skip and a jump over a few continents and you find a tiny transformed village.  By plane, by bus and lastly by foot, we reached Adacar this past July and oh, what an amazing sight it was.  Our time there was short, relatively speaking, five full days and when I say "full" I mean it.  One of the most special times there was the visit to our sponsor children's homes. I could go on and on, but I want to share this story about one of my sponsor children's (Martin's) mom, this lady is pretty amazing and after my visit to Adacar this summer, I find myself praying for her almost every single day because she's got a huge job ahead of her...

As far as I can tell, Martin has four brothers and sisters and at least three of these, besides Martin are sponsored through Children's HopeChest.  Martin looks just like his mother, ebony skin, high cheekbones, searching eyes, distinct nose, but I noticed that his other brothers and sisters didn't resemble the two of them too much.  Slightly peculiar, but I know families there can be just as blended as ones here. The children adapt and life goes on, right?  Sorta. 

Martin has a slightly younger sister (15 or 16) named Betty.  Betty is beautiful, sweet, kind, lights up a hut.  Her and Martin seem to be very close, then comes Nicholas, talk about all smiles...an amazing kid and then the littlest (can we say cutie-cakes?) is Lucy and, as far as I can tell, they have one more brother.

As Martin led us to his hut, he signed something to our team member, Maddie.  She translated, "Martin apologizes for the appearance of his home."  What?  I thought.  A hut is a hut. We got there, waited a while for his mom, hung out with the neighbors and their children--and waited a little more, finally Betty piped up and said (in Ateso), "Mom went to get the water jug fixed."  Their only source of "running" water had sprung and leak and mom was out trying to get it repaired.  I don't know where or exactly how, as it's not like Target is just a mile down the road, but about 10 minutes after that, I hear, "Yiyiyiyiyiyiyi!!!!!" --a customary joyful expression of the women in Adacar--getting closer through the bush.  Music to my ears.  Martin's mom comes running through the tall grass with the water jug on her head and embraces me.  It was a pretty cool moment.  We chatted a little while through the interpreter, she showed me around their homestead, a large dirt circle about 15 feet in diameter with three sturdy huts around it and one hut (possibly used for food/grain storage) in need of repair.  For the middle of nowhere, I have to say it was pretty beautiful.  Simple. We were taken to Martin's hut, yes, it appears that the oldest child gets their own hut--a cool custom.  We chatted some more and I gave her the few gifts I got from the small town store for her.

This year's visit to Adacar and seeing Martin's whole family set things in a tailspin because their story is deeper and more complicated than I initially thought, in a story recounted by Betty to one of my teammates (cutie-pie Lucy's sponsor): Martin's biological mom and dad married and had two children.  At some point Martin's father left Martin's mother and married another woman, and had three children with her.  This woman died, and now Martin's mom has taken charge of ALL the children. The father is nowhere in the picture. It appears, though, that his dad is still alive, because Martin gave me his cell phone number...

Wow.  Here is a woman, day after day, cooking, cleaning clothes, providing food and water and caring for three children that aren't even her own ON HER OWN.  I'm astounded and challenged by her strength, love and her selflessness. 

I know this isn't an isolated case, though, there are woman all over the CarePoint who are loving and providing for children who aren't biologically theirs because one or both of their parents have died, either from HIV, or malaria and may have just left.  The enormity of their generosity puts me to shame and at the same time energizes and pushes me forward because I can see the supernatural strength that God has given to these women--and how their Maker, their Husband is providing for their children.  It sends chills down my spine to see the gospel in action: the Father of the fatherless, the Defender of widows setting the lonely in families, it makes me want to send up a couple of my own "Yiyiyiyiyiyis." 

This got me to thinking, when do I feel the most secure, the least worried, and close to zero on the tense meter?  When I know my child is being provided for, mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally, when I don't have to struggle to get these needs met. 

There is something tangible that you can do to give our sisters hope: support their children.  Imagine living in a world with no government subsidies, no free education and your food source heavily dependent on the weather and what you've been able to grow with your own hands.  The odds seem overwhelming.  But here is what HopeChest, through sponsorship, does in lightening that burden in very tangible ways, by providing:

-school fees and money for their uniforms
-regular Christian discipleship
-each sponsored child yearly physical exams and helps pay for medical emergencies
-one hot meal a day, sometimes, the only meal they get
-each child in the program also gets a goat, which can be used for trading in the market place

I know I've written sponsorship posts before, so maybe I'm a broken record. 

Over and over again, we are admonished in Scripture to put feet to our faith:

"What is it my brothers if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds, can such a faith save him?" James 2:14

"...and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." Isaiah 58:10

I'm going to be honest here: I tout Children's HopeChest because I have SEEN the results with my own eyes: I have seen the hope, the life, the change it has brought about in these children's lives and in their parent's lives.  I have seen the TRANSFORMATION of an entire community in just a four years and I have seen what hours of prayers and commitment and love and traveling just once a year to say "hello" will do, and this verse in Isaiah LIVED OUT.  It is amazing and indescribable and just. Wow. God.

So yes, I want you to sponsor a child, but I also want you to accept them into your heart and into your life, into your family's lives.  I have two sons: Martin and Paul who are growing into men who will one day be husbands and fathers and have important jobs to go to every day whether that is in the field or in the classroom or in an office somewhere in a big city. 

We all share a very important job, let's roll our sleeves up and get to it.

You Give Them Something to Eat

Thursday, November 13, 2014

There is something simple and unassuming about Luke's account of the feeding of the 5,000.  To me, the whole story begins with Jesus' words:

You give them something to eat.

Here we are waiting for a miracle, for the earth to split open for it to swallow all the bad people whole, to rescue the abused, the fatherless, to make sense of all of this nonsense, when the answer lies in us:

You give them something to eat.

We wait for our friend to accept Christ, for the marriage to repair itself, for the child in the wheelchair to start walking, but we miss the real miracle of this friend watching you live out a real faith that is genuine and steady and faithful--God gives the increase. 

There is the marriage that may never be glued back together, but the family whose Maker and Husband is the same.

There is the testimony of the father who tirelessly wheels his son up to the preschool teacher's door Sunday after Sunday as it opens to give God's gift of love hidden under the over sized cardboard blocks and between the plastic foods circa 1982.

You wait for the miracle as you drive past women who wait strategically next to budget hotels, abandoned gas stations and sex shops, some so frozen by what they have done time and time again, that they don't look at a new morning with the hope that others have.

You give them something to eat.

You, yes you, the person who sees and feels their limitations day after day, their lack of pedigree, education or experience, the one who could use a little self-esteem boost.

You give them something to eat.

Finally, we can give and give until our well runs dry, until we have to stand back and ask the question: Who am I doing this for?  Me? Them? God?

You give them something to eat.

Something that will not bring riches as we know it, fame or recognition, but the bread, the bread of life--John 5:35: I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry...

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