3.20.01 - From my journal. Edited for confidentiality.
[excerpt from book:]
The ultimate plight of the poor is that they are without choices. They cannot determine their living areas, diet, wardrobe, or vocation. Unlike us in the affluent areas, they spend little time wondering, "What are my plans for the week or month?" Their goal is to survive the day.
Earlier tonight I noticed that I had a hole in my pillow and fluff pieces were spilling out. My first thought was "Hm, can I sew this?" My next thought was, "That's too hard. I wonder if I could get Steve to drive me to Target to get a new pillow." Then I read the chapter about people who are lucky to have shoes or a moldy piece of bread and who have no choices.
That made me think that I really could sew my pillow or even go without it.
Today I got a letter from Moses (also from Africa) and it was so refreshing not to have any requests for money or tape recorders or marriage! Instead, he talked about how they'd started home Bible studies in lots of surrounding villages and wanted to start building a church, how they'd been following up on our discipleship groups in Naata. All he asked from me was prayer for his ministry and church construction and to write some "advice and encouragement."
But after reading "If you do away with the yoke of oppression... and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed..." I WANT to send money to Thomas now. Although I'm still worried that he will spend it unwisely.
Many Christians feel the greatest pressure of materialism around the Christmas holidays. Advertising makes us feel that our love for others is directly measured by how much we spend on them, and yet each year we ask ourselves, "Why did we spend so much this year?" Why not beat that system and get into creating giving at Christmas?... Instead of buying multiple gifts for the person who needs none, consider these, given in the name of a person we love: - $60 to pay for one yaer's tuition for a Palestinian child at the Presbyterian Al Amal Child Care Center on the West Bank - Blankets for use in refugee camps: $5 each (etc...)
Today I wrapped Steve's birthday presents and felt ashamed for getting such frivolous, non-simple things. Then I read about giving gifts to charity in someone's name for Christmas and thought about doing something similar. But on second thought, I don't know if I'll get something done by Saturday and I've spent so much on Steve already, that maybe I'll just promise him this time that I won't do it again, and see if there's a particular need that he'd want me to meet. Maybe we could pick one out together.
And I also think about all these weddings coming up, and wonder if it would be too tacky to get them something simple along with "How to be a World Christian"! I think Lucy and Brian would dig it. I'm not saying that couples shouldn't try to set up their house through wedding registries... I just hope that my wedding, whenever it is, will be thoughtful and simple-lifestyle-centered.
Our team of fourteen arrived at the Moffat College of Bible in Kijabe, Kenya almost two full days after we left home... In contrast to other work teams that I had led, traveling with this one seemed almost too easy. The details, transfers, visa checkpoints, and a myriad of other loose ends that make up such a trip were flawlessly accomplished. Twenty-two pieces of luggage rolled off the belt, unscathed, in Nairobi, a miracle on any connecting flight.
When we introduced ourselves to the students at Moffat College, a student leader welcomed us: "For four months we have been praying for you every day, and now you are here. Welcome!"
In those words, we realized that our flawless travel was not due to my leadership or planning. We were on the receiving end of faithful, consistent prayer...
I was also convicted by my faithlessness in praying regularly, and put aside the book to take a little time to pray. Our church claims to be mission minded church but only budgets 10% for missions; I claim to want to learn and grow in prayer but put about 2% -- if even that much -- into developing that discipline. Hm.
During a recent bout with sleeplessness, I tried praying through the alphabet around the world. One night I focused on cross-cultural workers I knew whose last names began with A through Z. I got stuck on X (so I prayed for missionaries who followed the example of Francis Xavier by going to serve in East Asia), but in general, it was a productive prayer time, much more useful than counting sheep.
This is the third time that I've tried to go to bed. But I keep thinking of more things to write down, and this time I finally remember Paul Borthwick's insomnia and how he went through the alphabet with missionaries and countries. I don't know enough missionaries or names of countries to do that, but at least I can go through the list of things I've told people that I would pray for!
What is forgiveness? ...
Forgiveness does not mean that we will cease to hurt. The wounds are deep, and we may hurt for a very long time. Just becauase we continue to experience emotional pain does not mean that we have failed to forgive.
Forgiveness does not mean that we will forget. That would do violence to our rational faculties. Helmut Thielicke, a German pastor who endured the darkest days of the Nazi Third Reich, says, "One should never mention the words 'forgive' and 'forget' in the same breath." No, we remember, but in forgiving we no longer use the memory against others.
Forgiveness is not pretending that the offense did not really matter. It did matter, and it does matter, and there is no use pretending otherwise. The offense is real, but when we forgive, the offense no longer controls our behavior. Forgiveness is not acting as if things are just the same as before the offense. We must face the fact that things will never be the same. By the grace of God they can be a thousand times better, but they will never again be the same.
What then is forgiveness? It is a miracle of grace whereby the offense no longer separates. If a husband ignores his wife, valuing business and all other things above her, he has sinned against her. The offense os real, and the hurt is real. A sacred trust has been broken. We speak rightly when we say that something has come between them. She will never forget this violation of respect. Even in old age she may feel an icy chill at the memory of this disregard.
But forgiveness means that this real and horrible offense shall not separate us. Forgiveness means that we will no longer use the offense to drive a wedge between us, hurting and injuring one another. Forgiveness means that the power of love that holds us together is greater than the power of the offense that separates us. That is forgiveness. In forgiveness we are releasing our offenders so that they are no longer bound to us. In a very real sense we are freeing them to receive God's grace. We are also inviting our offenders back into the circle of fellowship.
I noticed something new when I was reading Ephesians 4:25-5:1, the verses following that passage. 4.25 - 5.1 kind of follow the pattern of "putting off," "putting on," and "new attitude." I'll try to draw it out below (with some of my thoughts).
The Little Way of Therese of Lisieux...
"We may think these tiny, trivial activities are hardly worth mentioning. That, of course, is precisely their value. They are unrecognized conquests over selfishness. We will never receive a medal or even a 'thank you' for these invisible victories in ordinary life -- which is exactly what we want."
And something else from Discipleship Journal, regarding Isaiah 5 (the Song of the Vineyard -- where Israel is symbolized by a vineyard gone bad).
"In the failure of Israel was demonstrated the complete inability of man ever to be a vine to produce fruit for God. This likewise is the reason for our failure. We have been trying to be the vine; we have been trying to find a holiness and a love for others in ourselves and from ourselves that Scripture never encourages us to expect to find there...
"This, then, was the vine with which the Lord Jesus contrasted himself. So standing in the midst of the ruins of the vine that had been such a sorrow to God, He cried, 'I am the true vine.' It was as if He said, 'Man's day of being the vine is over. From now on, I am the vine. From ME now is God's fruit to be found and from nowhere else.' Rightly understood, this is the best news we could have. God no longer expects us to be the vine. We need not even try. The responsibility for producing fruit is no longer ours. God has His own true vine, the risen Lord jesus, who is well able to produce all the fruit God requires for others and to fulfill all the purposes of His grace for men.
"But we -- where do we come in? Simply as branches in Him, the vine. We do not produce the fruit but simply bear what He produces as we permit Him to live in us..."
From "I Am the True Vine" by Roy and Revel Hession, Discipleship Journal issue 120
The heart that
"So long as we imagine that it is we who have to look for God, we must often lose heart. But it is the other way about; He is looking for us. And so we can afford to recognize that very often we are not looking for God; far from it, we are in full flight from him, in high rebellion against him. And He knows that and has taken it into account. He has followed us into our own darkness; there where we thought finally to escape him, we run straight into his arms. So we do not have to erect a false piety for ourselves, to give us the hope of salvation. Our hope is in his determination to save us, and he will not give in."
From Prayer by Simon Tugwell, quoted in The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge
" Some years into our spiritual journey, after the waves of anticipation that mark the beginning of any pilgrimage have begun to ebb into life's middle years of service and busyness, a voice speaks to us in the midst of all we are doing. There is something mission in all of this, it suggests. There is something more.
" The voice often comes in the middle of the night or the early hours of morning, when our hearts are most unedited and vulnerable. At first, we mistake the source of this voice and assume it is just our imagination. We fluff up our pillow, roll over, and go back to sleep. Days, weeks, even months go by and the voice speaks to us again: Aren't you thirsty? Listen to your heart. There is something missing.
" We listen and we are aware of... a sigh. And under the sigh is something dangerous, something that feels adulterous and disloyal to the religion we are serving. We sense a passion deep within that threatens a total disregard for the program we are living; it feels reckless, wild. Unsettled, we turn and walk quickly away, like a woman who feels more than she wants to when her eyes meet those of a man not her husband.
" We tell ourselves that this small, passionate voice is an intruder who has gained entry because we have not been diligent enough in practicing our religion. Our pastor seems to agree with this assessment and exhorts us from the pulpit to be more faithful. We try to silence the voice with outward activity, redoubling our efforts at Christian service. We join a small group and read a book on establishing a more effective prayer life. We train to be part of a church evangelism team. We tell ourselves that the malaise of spirit we feel even as we step up our religious activity is a sign of spiritual immaturity and we scold our heart for its lack of fervor
" Sometime later, the voice in our heart dares to speak to us again, more insistently this time. Listen to me -- there is something missing in all this. You long to be in a love affair, an adventure. You were made for something more. You know it.
" When the young prophet Samuel heard the voice of God calling to him in the night, he had the counsel from his priestly mentor, Eli, to tell him how to respond. Even so, it took them three times to realize it was God calling. Rather than ignoring the voice, or rebuking it, Samuel finally listened.
" In our modern, pragmatic world we often have no such mentor, so we do not understand it is God speaking to us in our heart. Having so long been out of touch with our deepest longing, we fail to recognize the voice and the One who is calling to us through it. Frustrated by our heart's continuing sabotage of a dutiful Christian life, some of us silence the voice by locking it away in the attic, feeding it only the bread and water of duty and obligation until it is almost dead, the voice now small and weak. But sometimes in the night, when our defenses are down, we still hear it call to us, oh so faintly -- a distant whisper. Come morning, the new day's activities scream for our attention, the sound of the cry is gone, and we congratulate ourselves on finally overcoming the flesh.
" Others of us agree to give our heart a life on the side if it will only leave us alone and not rock the boat. We try to lose ourselves in our work, or 'get a hobby' (either of which soon begin to feel like an addiction); we have an affair, or develop a colorful fantasy life fed by dime-store romances or pornography. We learn to enjoy the juicy intrigues and secrets of gossip. We make sure to maintain enough distance between ourselves and others, and even between ourselves and our own heart, to keep hidden the practical agnosticism we are living now that our inner life has been divorced from our outer life. Having thus appeased our heart, we nonetheless are forced to give up our spiritual journey because our heart will no longer come with us. It is bound up in the little indulgences we feed it to keep it at bay.
. . .
" For many of us, the waves of first love ebbed away in the whirlwind of Christian service and activity, and we began to lose the Romance. Our faith began to feel more like a series of problems that needed to be solved or principles that had to be mastered before we could finally enter into the abundant life promised us by Christ. We moved our spiritual life into the outer world of activity, and internally we drifted. We sensed that something was wrong and perhaps tried to fix it -- by tinkering with our outer life. We tried the latest spiritual fad, or a new church, or simply redoubled our commitment to make faith work. Still, we found ourselves weary, jaded, or simply bored. Others of us immersed ourselves in busyness without really asking where all the activity was headed. At one point in my own spiritual pilgrimage, I stopped to ask myself this question: 'What is it that I am supposed to be doing to live the spiritual life in any way that is both truthful and passionately alive?'
" What we want to say in these pages is simply this: Our hearts are telling us the truth -- there really is something missing!
" For above all else, the Christian life is a love affair of the heart. It cannot be lived primarily as a set of principles or ethics. It cannot be managed with steps and programs. It cannot be lived exclusively as a moral code leading to righteousness. In response to a religious expert who asked him what he must do to obtain real life, Jesus asked a question in return:
'What is written in the Law? ... How do you read it?'
" The truth of the gospel is intended to free us to love God and others with our whole heart. When we ignore this heart aspect of our faith and try to live out our religion solely as correct doctrine or ethics, our passion is crippled, or perverted, and the divorce of our soul from the heart purposes of God toward us is deepened.
. . .
" Our heart is the key to the Christian life."
Taken from The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge
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