Monday, December 2, 2013

Christmas Lights

One of my favorite things to do during Christmas time is drive around and look at Christmas lights. House after house is lit up with an array of color and bursts of twinkles that shine brightly against the contrast of the cold and dark evening.
There is a neighborhood near my hometown that is affectionately labeled “candy cane lane” during the holiday season. Nearly every single house is lit up during the season and as I drive down the streets, I become a little kid again: wide-eyed, slack-jawed, expressing my joy with the variable ‘ooh’ or ‘aah’ as I view each home’s personally decked halls. It’s such a fun evening, complete with carolers and a live nativity. It’s always a night to remember.
Whether you’re bundled up and walking around with a warm cup of coffee or comfortably sitting in a car driving around the neighborhood gazing upon the cacophony of merriment, one thing is certain: as the evening winds down and we start to talk about our “favorites”, we barely give a sideways glance at the houses who chose not to participate.
When a home blends into the darkened background, it’s easy to look past it. Just as when we, as Christians, look just like the world around us, who is going to take notice? Who will give us a second thought when we look, act, sound, and react just like everyone else?
Jesus said in Matthew 5: "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” [Mat 5:14-16 NKJV]
Be reminded, dear brother and sister, that we are meant to stand out, just like a well done Christmas light display. But remember, we aren’t meant to stand out so people will look at us and say “wow, you’re great!” We are meant to shine Christ’s light. We are meant to shine brightly into the night and as people take notice of the joy and wonderment in our lives, they will do as the scripture says: ‘...glorify your Father in heaven.’
Let us live glorifying lives. Let us live bright lives, set apart from the world and with every intention of having people see Christ in us.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Short-Term Missions

What do you think of the classic "short-term missions trip"? You know the ones: get a team together and do a VBS for a week...or build a house...or do outreach concerts. It's generally 2-weeks of chaos, excitement, and morning devotions.

I heard it said once that a short term trip should focus on the encouragement of the long-term missionaries and church staff. It should be a way to build up the believers that will still be there after the team leaves. Short-term trips should leave the body of believers feeling encouraged and built-up, not run-down, exhausted, and left with loads of mess to clean up after they say goodbye to you.

I read this article and wanted to share it. As I don't want it to be a public tar-and-feathering of Short Term Missions (because that's not its intention), I thought I would post it here and see what you all thought?

Why You Should Consider Cancelling Your Short Term Mission Trips (this is just one article in a series you can find through clicking on the link)

Don't worry, the title is meant to have shock value. To give you my summary on the article: the author shares why our idea of short-term trip is doing more harm than good. There is a place for short-term missions in the church, but it might not be what we think it is. Helping better someones life, bring about long-term relief, and a higher standard of living takes a lot longer than two weeks, a bag of new clothes, and free child-care.

The quote that stood out to me was:
We want to get things done quickly. We prefer microwave ministry to the slow cooker. Ministry that can be done quickly is not messy and does not cost much.

I have seen short-term ministry done very well...and very poorly. And that's just in the book of Acts! (Compare the simplicity of Acts 11:19-26 to the vastly different Acts 14:8-18). I'd like to know your thoughts, too. Remember, this is a discussion, there are no wrong answers when said out of love. =)

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Prodigal & The Lost Sheep

---The Prodigal---
Then He said: "A certain man had two sons. "And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.' So he divided to them his livelihood. "And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. "But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. "Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. "And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. "But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 'I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, "and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants." ' "And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. "And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.' "But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 'And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 'for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' And they began to be merry. - Luke 15:11-24 NKJV
This story in Luke's Gospel tells of a man who had two sons...one son decided he wanted to take all that was due to him (his inheritance) and leave. The father concedes and the son goes into the world and wastes away all his possessions. Everything that was given to him was quickly lessened to the clothes on his back and a likely emptiness in the pit of his stomach...and in his heart. He had nothing, he was far from anyone who loved him, and he had to feed pigs and eat what was left from the pigs slop to survive. But, His father never went after him. He had to find his own way back home.

And when he finally repents, turns home, and seeks out his father and his forgiveness, everyone stopped what they were doing and celebrated. 


---The Lost Sheep---
"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? "And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. "And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' "I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. - Luke 15:4-7 NKJV
Here, a shepherd is counting his sheep one day and discovers that one of his sheep is missing. He leaves behind the 99, knowing that they are still together as a flock, and begins his frantic search for his one missing sheep. The shepherd found the sheep, put it on his shoulders, and carried it back to his flock.

And when the sheep was found and the shepherd brought it back to it's flock, everyone stopped what they were doing and celebrated. 

Both the father and the shepherd found reasons to celebrate: their loved lamb and son were home again.


---The Difference---

There is, however, a difference in these stories that is worth pointing out:

The prodigal, choosing for himself the life that he thought he wanted, had to make the choice to come home on his own.
The sheep, being lost, hadn't realized what it had done and strayed from the flock.

The prodigal knew the difference between the right and wrong decision.
The sheep didn't know that what he was doing was wrong.

The prodigal knew that the inheritance would come, that his father would one day give it to him (as was the custom of the time), but he still asked for it.
The sheep didn't understand the consequences of his actions (death, despair, pain) or the comfort that he left behind.

The prodigal turned his back on the love, comfort, and hard work that came with being a part of a family and having that rich inheritance.
The sheep turned away, likely because he thought that where he was going was the proper path to take, or because he didn't know any better.

The prodigal's father didn't chase after him, but let him choose for himself whether he wanted to repent and come home, or stay away in a world that only took from him and left him feeling empty.
The sheep's shepherd stopped everything the moment he was found missing and pursued after him as quickly as possible because his sheep had gone away into a place that would hurt him if he weren't protected by his shepherd and with his flock.

The prodigal chose his path but knew his way home...and had to come back himself. His father was waiting with forgiving and open arms for him, but he had to make the decision to repent and turn back. 
The sheep got lost but didn't know his way home...and had to be found. His shepherd searched for him with open arms, not to discipline him but to bring him back into his flock. 


You see, in both stories, when the lost loved one returns home, the celebration is similar. There is a rejoicing knowing that a loved one is restored back to it's rightful place: in the family and in the flock. But the difference is in the circumstances leading up to the celebration. The difference is whether or not that returning loved one chose to turn it's back or simply strayed.

Yet, whether the Lord has brought a prodigal or a lost sheep to your mind, keep praying knowing that no matter which it is, the celebration will be the same and the rejoicing will be glorious when they are returned to their proper position in the body of Christ. The love of the Lord doesn't waver and the grace and mercy He gives to each and every one of us will last a lifetime of prodigal or lost sheep moments. 

Through the LORD's mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I hope in Him!" - Lamentations 3:22-24 NKJV

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

He Heard His Voice (thoughts on 1 Samuel 3)

Now the boy Samuel ministered to the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation.   1 Samuel 3:1 NKJV

(Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor was the word of the LORD yet revealed to him.)  1 Samuel 3:7 NKJV


When Samuel was a young boy, ministering at the house of God, the country of Israel was seemingly going through a period of time where God's voice was rare. Eli's sons (priests at the time) were corrupt, didn't know the Lord, and didn't care to follow the customs or priestly expectations (1 Samuel 2:12-17). Eli himself didn't seem to have a grasp on his children, and the two verses above give a pretty stark realization of what was happening.

Yet, the one thing that continues to go through my mind as I read this chapter was that, despite Samuel not knowing the Lord, despite the lack of widespread revelation, despite the role models Samuel had in the temple...He heard God's voice.
He heard God call his name.
He heard his voice calling him in the midst of the darkness surrounding him.
And Samuel didn't know it was God's voice.

Three times, Samuel heard God call him and didn't know it was Him. It wasn't until the third time that Eli finally realized Who was speaking to Samuel and gave him direction.

I could walk away from this saddened by the fact that a priest and a priestly intern (for lack of a better word) didn't know it was God who called him.
I could walk away from this in awe that, of all the people God chose to speak to that day, it was a boy and not the priest.
I could even make an apologetic argument regarding how God speaks to each of us and not just to priests, pastors, and teachers. His voice is for all to hear.

But you know what I keep going back to?

Simply that, even without Samuel knowing the LORD yet or there being widespread revelation in that time, Samuel heard God's voice.
He heard! And I am so encouraged.
Encouraged that even in a country where a person does all the right things, says all the right things, and reads all the right things--but still doesn't have a personal relationship with the LORD--that person can still hear Him speak.
Encouraged that God doesn't "need" people to speak truth into someones life, He can do that on His own (but He does choose to use us).
Encouraged that God can use flawed people like Eli (and me) to finally tell someone "hey, that wasn't a coincidence, that was the Lord telling you that."

So, today, I walk away praying for the Samuel's around me. Praying that God would speak to them. Praying that the Eli's in their life would finally realize and share with them what it is they are hearing. Praying that God would use me and that God would use these "Samuels" to speak truth to this nation.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Scotland Update 6

I'm writing this in the midst of a "UK Heat Wave"...or, a beautiful winter day in California (it's 75F here right now).

We are currently enjoying some beautiful weather and I have been soaking up every minute of being outdoors and in the sunshine.

Rest assured, though, If you've emailed me in the past week or two and I haven't responded yet...it's not because I've been playing hooky in the sunshine. It is, however, because this past few weeks have been a blur of craziness and unexpected twists.

Visitors
Please continue to pray for the adjustments/changes we are experiencing here. Pray for those who are now back in the states obtaining the proper visas and for their prompt return.

Discipleship
Also, I have started two separate discipleship relationships over the past two months. I will be sharing more with you about this in my newsletter I am currently writing. In the meantime, be praying for both of these relationships to go further, and for the prospect of new ones to come.

Social Media
As part of my day-to-day tasks, I have begun learning the social media for the church. This includes live-streaming the messages (you can watch here), helping with the video and audio during services, updating Facebook and Twitter...I've never considered myself a "techie" but, let me tell you, I am getting a crash course in these things! I am praising the Lord that I can fill these gaps, and praying He guides my steps and fingers as I learn more and more about these things!

Hazel
Hazel was one of the first people that quickly became a friend when I first moved here. When I found the flat that I now live in, I was told that she lived just a few blocks away from me and we quickly met and started walking home from church together. This let to me being invited to her house...first to pick flowers for my living room, then eventually to stay for tea (my first true "tea" experience here in Scotland). Every time I leave Hazel's presence, I feel refreshed in the Lord. She has loved the Lord for most of her life (i think she's in her 60's) and always has a way of bringing the conversation back to Him.

A few weeks ago, Hazel's back (which has given her trouble for 20+ years), went out and she herniated a lower disc. She is home-bound for at least 4 more weeks and, as you can guess, she is hungry for fellowship and teachings. I bring her the recorded teachings each week and am able to sit and talk with her as well, but please keep her in your prayers: that she would physically heal as she finds spiritual comfort in the Lord.

Thank you so much for your continued support and prayer for the Lord's ministry here in Scotland. Without your enthusiasm, encouragement, support, and prayers, none of this could happen. I am forever grateful and thankful for you all!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Spreading Like Fire

"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."
Matthew 5:14-16 NKJV
"So, why Scotland? Aren't there already tons of Christians there?"

Since moving to Scotland, I have been asked this question more times than I can count. Maybe even more times than I've been asked "where are you from?"

I hold my breath a little when I hear it starting to form in the conversation. Generally, my answer is short, sweet, and vague: "Well, this is where the Lord has called me, so I came out of obedience." This is mostly because I haven't found a better answer.

But, the thing is, I know that I was called here out of more than just obedience. Many of you know my story and my deep love for Scotland and the salvation of this nation. Many of you have heard me talk about my serving, seen me get excited about the ministry, pray for me as I send my prayer requests out.

Finally, last week, sitting down for coffee at another church and meeting a silver-haired saint named Ken, the question came up and I knew that I needed a better answer. Ken wouldn't take my vague "He called me..." response. He reminded me a little of jovial grandfather figure in Aristocats (all smiles and inquiries) and I knew he would want to know why.

So, I prayed for direction as the other missionary there gave his answer (I wish I could tell you what he said, but I was so concerned about what was going to come out of my mouth that I tuned him out). And, as I prayed, the Lord gave me a beautiful picture that I shared with Ken and those at my table.

Imagine a fire.

Multiple fires, actually. Of a darkness being pierced by these fires with many people gathering around them. It is a picture of people, tired of trying to find their way alone, in the dark, being attracted to these fires as though it were magnetic. And the fires are spreading. Those gathered at the fires are teaching others how to make more fire. Then some of those gathered would take what knowledge they were given and walk into the darkness to make another fire.

Soon, the small fires start spreading farther and farther into the darkness. Reaching beyond what the eye could see. The darkness is now dissipating and the light is growing steadily brighter.

But then, where the first fires once glowed bright, they start to dim. From a distance you could see the new fire's glow is still magnetic, but here, the light from where the fires once burned bright and attractive is now a mild glimmer: a memory of brightness. It was growing cold and dark again.

Did too many people leave and there was no one to stoke the fires? Did those who knew how to start, stoke, and maintain the heat and warmth move on? Were there just not enough people to keep the fires burning and so they slowly started to die out? Did they forget the warmth and brightness and grow accustomed to a lukewarm and dimly lit life?

I don't know the answer to the why's...only God does. But what I do know is that Great Britain was once a bright furnace of Christian faith, glowing and attractive to those around them. That faith, their fire, spread outward. The faithful took what knowledge they knew of the salvation of Jesus Christ and lit that fire around the world. Their light spread. The fire warmed. The skills were taught and more people learned how to start, stoke, and maintain the Christian faith.

But here in the UK, somewhere in the yesterdays, the fires lessened. The light and the warmth weakened. Yes, it's still there, and yes, there are still fires being made. The glow is still recognizable. But what once was bright and glorious and unable to be hidden from the rest of the world is threatened to be snuffed out.

Where fires were once prolific and the knowledge of keeping, growing, and multiplying these fires was second nature, there are now just a faithful few seeking to maintain the remnants.

This is why the Lord has called me here. This is why the Lord has called and/or raised up many others here as well. This is the Lord still at work here in the UK...

We are here, with the fire that only comes from the Lord, piercing the darkness and calling people to know who the true Light is. We are seeking to show others how to build up that warmth and brightness so that this 'city on a hill' (or, island on the Atlantic) can once again shine bright, not hidden from the world, but available for all to see.

Recently, I heard an American pastor speaking at a conference here and he started it with this statement (loosely paraphrased from what I remember) "It is an honor to be here today. I owe my Christian faith to you. Christianity didn't spread from the west to the east, it came westward, to America, from here. From you. For this, I am indebted to you and thankful."

So I, being just another indebted and thankful believer, consider it an honor for the Lord to call me here to serve. I have my torch in hand and pray that He would use me to once again pierce the darkness, brighten the dimly fading light, stoke fires, bring His salvation, and set this "city" back on a hill, not hidden from anyone.