ABOUT HELPING

Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.  Proverbs 11:25

 

 

The majority of my work is cross-cultural; I work with people whose lifestyles, behaviors, and world view is often different from mine.  I am a professional servant.  My job is to direct, teach, fund, recruit, orient, pray, and do numerous other ministries in preparing missioners for being the hands and feet of Christ in other countries.  And conversely, I work with indigenous folks who are our partners in mission.  There are other activities in which God has placed me:  mentoring, teaching, showing hospitality, encouraging, and living out the faith he’s placed in me.

I am still amazed after all these years to discover that the helping, the mentoring, the teaching, the orientation, and all the things I mentioned frequently seem more directed toward transforming me than flowing out of me.  Although I know God has various tasks for me, he often has to stop me short to see that the challenge I’ve accepted is more for my benefit and growth than it is for the person I think I am helping.

When John admitted that he must personally decrease so that Jesus could increase in him, he, more than likely, didn’t realize that he would be facing death for the cause of Christ.  And that’s what God calls us to more and more—death to ourselves, our desires, our indulgences, all the non-Christ-like-ness that remains in us.  While we may think ministry is all outflow, I’m thinking that God’s grace assures that the flow goes two ways—out and in.

It’s really humbling and wonderfully joyous to be caught up abruptly and made to recognize that something we take on in faith and perhaps a bit of apprehension is just another vehicle through which God will form us into his image while he’s pouring out his blessing for another.  Instead of complaining about that person who doesn’t understand, doesn’t cooperate, doesn’t do it right, is different, has different ideas, and so on, perhaps we might begin asking What do you want to teach me in this?  What spiritual fruit might be needed for this ministry?  How can I humble myself so that Christ’s love flows out for his purposes rather than my ideas of best practices?

Helping goes both ways.

 

Father, when we find ourselves in uncomfortable positions when we think we’re helping, cause us to realize that you are also working in us and not just through us.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

TRUTH

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate…  John 18:38

 

Do you remember the old story about the blind Indians and the elephant?  The king was discussing the nature of truth, and someone suggested he bring in all the men born blind from a certain province.  After touching various parts of an elephant, the men were asked to describe the elephant.  Those who had touched the head described the elephant as a large round jar; those who had felt the ears said it was like a winnowing basket; those who had felt the tusks said it was like a plow; those who had touched the body said it was like a granary; those who touched the feet said the elephant was like a pillar; those who touched the back said it was like a mortar; the tail was like a pestle to others; the tuft was like a broom.  Then began a great dispute among them all, and finally a wise man said, those who “perceive only one side of a case disagree with one another.”

Jesus defined himself with one of his “I AM’s”:  “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).  Truth as in reality, actuality, factual.  An absolute, universal, non-variable Truth.  But have you ever considered the possibility that you do not yet know all Truth?  That you possibly only understand “one side of the case?”  Paul said, “Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture!”  (I Corinthians 13:9)

I could barely make it to my car before the tears began to flow after I’d just concluded teaching a Bible study.  Our topic had been God’s love, and my students had the temerity to suggest that God’s love was more than intellectual and spiritual acceptance of us as his children.  That God’s love could touch our emotions and soul and could wrap us in his warmth while healing our brokenness.  I was so frustrated with their lack of understanding God’s majesty and position of authority over us.  How could they be so frivolous and bring God down to our level?

And that’s when I began studying and learning about the incarnation:  God becoming man, experiencing and understanding humankind, touching and loving us with eternal love, living and dying for us to bring transformation unavailable in any other way.  That Bible study with those ladies whom I thought were so unlearned revealed to me another “side of the case” that I’d not even considered.

So, how about your truth?  Is it all locked up in a box and secure against any fresh revelation, any new work of the Holy Spirit?  I am NOT talking about compromise with God’s written Word.  I am speaking about arrogant, close-mindedness in which we think we know it all—like Job’s friends.  When you are confronted with “another side,” can you listen with love and patience thinking that this might be a fresh ministry of the Spirit to reveal even more of God’s precious Truth?

 

Father, you are so infinite that we will never be able to grasp more than a fraction of your truth until we meet you in eternity.  Guard our minds against deception, but keep us always open to hearing your Truth even through the mouth of a little child.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

LIKE HIM

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.  I John 3:2

 

 

This week in chapel our preacher was relating his enthusiasm for the New Year and his plans for a fresh start.  To begin with, he decided he was going to get to work early.  On Monday morning he walked out the door at 7:30 fully motivated only to realize that he had forgotten to shave.  When he went inside and admitted his oversight, his wife replied that, although this might be a new year, he was still the same person.

And that’s our problem, isn’t it?  We have any number of wonderful intentions, but we find over and over again that we’re still the same person.  We keep trying, and we wind up with Paul’s lament:  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18, 19).

But Paul doesn’t leave us there.  He writes in his letter to the Philippians that he who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (1:6).   If God initiated his work in us by his Holy Spirit, he will continue it, not abruptly abandon us because he’s run out of patience or we’re not yet perfect.  Then in Philippians 2:13 we’re encouraged that God works in [us] to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.  God himself sets out to mold and shape us after his plan for our lives while strengthening us to become like Jesus.

Going back to Romans, in the narrative of chapter 8, after Paul has bemoaned the struggle with his human nature, he announces that because of Jesus, There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (verse 1).  The whole eighth chapter of Romans is full of God’s promises of what he will do in and through us when we take up residence in him.

The first verse cited above (I John 3:2) refers to resurrection and end times.  But I think we can apply it to our everyday life with Christ.  After all, he is the Creator Christ who was in the beginning (John 1:1), and we are new creatures in him (II Cor. 5:17).  Every single day we can experience his transforming power as we realize the changes his Spirit is affecting in us (II Cor. 3:18).

Instead of being discouraged that we’re not yet everything we want to be, we must remember that it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him (I John 3:2).  Every single day…more like Jesus.

 

Father, make us like Jesus.  Thank you that you daily give us opportunities to grow into his likeness.  Have your way.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

GROWING UP

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  I Corinthians 13:11  (NIV)

 

In South Texas we’ve experienced years of drought—until this year.  And now we have an abundance of rain, so much so that our aquifer here is filling, and we are having a reprieve from years of rationing water.  Which reminds me of the years when my children were small…

As a preschooler my son Christopher had a little yellow, plastic, inflatable boat.  It was just the right size for him to crawl into, lie down, and float.  In those days Christopher stayed on the lookout for rains, showers, any precipitation that would bring enough water to flow down our street.  When those happy events occurred, out came the yellow boat.  We’d go outside to the curb where I would launch Christopher and his boat down the quiet residential street, and he would gleefully float to the end of the block where we would pick up the little vessel, retrace our route, and begin again.  This was the height of childhood fun until…

Christopher got bigger and older.  The little yellow boat didn’t hold him any longer, and floating down the street no longer interested him although he had a habit of saying, “Mom, I will always…”  Christopher was convinced as a young person that his interests would stay the same, that life for him would be static.

As young Christians, sometimes even more mature ones, we think various activities and life styles, ministries, interests, and vocations will always be the same.  Then God starts to rock our boat; circumstances shift; relationships end; life brings about transitions.  Nothing stays the same.  But we worry that God will take things from us, and so we cling to what we know forgetting that as we change, the old and the familiar lose their charm.  Essentially, we grow up.  And as we grow, we can trust God to bring what is needed for this new phase.

Corrie ten Boom said we should hold all things loosely lest God has to pry them from our hands.  Don’t be afraid of letting go, of giving things up, of making sacrifices.  God always has something better.

 

Father, give us courage to trust you through every phase of life knowing that you always intend everything for our good and your glory.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

A NEW NAME

 

…I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.  Revelation 2:17  (NIV)

My husband’s parents, like so many before them, came to this country seeking a new life filled with opportunity.  They followed a time-honored route from Lebanon to South America and eventually settled in New England.  As an initial step in becoming full Americans, they Anglicized their family name, el Khoury (the Priest), to Curry.  A new language and a whole new lifestyle were other changes that would follow.

With all the current interest in immigrants at home and abroad, I’ve been thinking about our own status as Christians.  Most of us were grafted into God’s family, as Paul refers to Gentile believers, and it has become our duty to learn the lifestyle and behaviors of the new Kingdom.  For us, the change is not usually physical relocation—instead, become new creations (II Corinthians 5:17-21) in Christ Jesus.  We are given new opportunities at life and fresh beginnings.

Most of all, I love the idea of having new names.  Throughout the Bible, much is made of names.   The names of biblical people revealed inherent character, and changed names reflected transformations of character.  Just look at Abraham’s grandson Jacob (usurper) who cleverly took his brother’s birthright and blessing and whose name was later changed to Israel after he wrestled with the angel, clinging until he was promised God’s blessing.  Or Simon (he has heard), that impetuous disciple of Jesus who was swift to listen and equally quick to act, whose name Jesus changed to Peter (rock).  God knew what he would do through both these men, and he knows what he will do through and in us.

Besides new names and new potential, we are continually being transformed with new  outcomes awaiting us.  Whatever threatened or diminished us in our old habitats is now addressed by us with our new Ruler, as we learn to embrace and assimilate into God’s Kingdom.  And for us, the assimilation is not just a one-time activity.  Paul tells us that as we contemplate him, we are changed into his image (II Corinthians 3:18)—new name, new person.

Do you know what your name means?  Are you living up to the promise it holds?

 

Father, thank you that you love us enough to continually work in us making us more and more like your beloved Son, Jesus.  We joyfully submit to your ministrations.  In Jesus our Lord.  AMEN.

GOD’S AMAZING LOVE

 

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.  Lamentations 3:22  (NRS)

 

Reading about Rahab in the book of Joshua this morning, I am again amazed at God’s mercy.  Rahab was a prostitute whose house was built into the wall of Jericho, that city famous for its walls that came tumbling down.  Spies had been sent to reconnoiter the city prior to an attack by the Israelites.   Of all the houses they could have visited, God led them to Rahab’s.  She welcomed them and hid them from her own townspeople because she knew God was with the Israelites.  In return she and all her family were spared and assimilated into the conquering Israelite nation.  Not only that, but she eventually married a man from the tribe of Judah and became the great grandmother of beloved King David.

 

And then there were Abraham and Isaac (who both had a tendency to tell untruths in tight spots), prideful Joseph, cowardly Gideon, and fearful disciples.  Peter denied his best Friend three times and came back to be a leader and founder of the Christian Church.  God’s love and forgiveness transformed his flawed children when they turned to him.

 

One of the great Father-Love stories in the Bible is that of the Prodigal Son who brought pain, grief, humiliation, and loss to his family.  When all the community (and especially his own brother) would ostracize him, his loving father has apparently been waiting for a sign of his return.  When he finally sees him trudging down that familiar path, he doesn’t wait, bitterly expecting the boy to come groveling.  Instead, he runs to welcome him home.  The boy’s betrayal and repentance are understood by his father’s love with celebration for his return.

 

Again, we read about the shepherd who has a large flock of sheep and leaves them when he discovers that one is lost.  He is willing to give his life for that one lost sheep, and he’s overjoyed when the lost is found.  He’s so happy, he puts him on his shoulders and carries him all the way home. What profound love.

 

I suspect we’ve all been unfaithful or disobedient or thoughtless or rebellious at one time or another, and yet, while everyone else looks at our bad (sinful) behavior, God sees our hearts (I Sam. 16:7).  He sees our desire to please and follow him even as our human nature pulls us in other directions.  And he rescues us and gives us grace to repent and be changed.  Talk about love…

 

Father, your love has been abounding.  Cause us to accept all you have done for and in us through Jesus Christ and not look back.  May our identity increasingly be in you and your glorious plan for us that you may be honored.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

JESUS IN THE MIRROR

…we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. I John 3:2 (NIV)
“Every day I look in the mirror to see if I see Jesus there,” remarked my friend Lynne. We were talking about what we’re doing to become more like Jesus. In the course of the conversation, Lynne mentioned some of her personal disciplines and how she is trying to intentionally follow Jesus.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Lynne’s comment. Years ago I placed myself in God’s hands when I put my faith in Jesus and committed my life to him. But I am wondering what I should be seeing when I “look in the mirror,” searching for Jesus.

Jesus said he always did those things that pleased his Father (John 8:29). Am I intentionally, eyes-wide-open, looking to do those things that please God? To paraphrase Hannah Whitall Smith, Am I loving God’s will?

Jesus said he came to fulfill the Law and not to abolish it (Matthew 5:17). Then he went on to give us those passages we call the Beatitudes (those attitudes that should be part of our intrinsic nature as his children). Am I seeking to obey him in all things and live out the Beatitudes, even when doing so would be uncomfortable or inconvenient?

Jesus said he would ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit who would teach and remind us of all things that he told us (John 14:26) and that the Holy Spirit would counsel us and convict us of sin (John 16:8). Am I staying filled with his Spirit so that I follow his direction and resist sin in my life? Is his Spirit producing fruit in my life—that supernatural love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control (Galatians 5:22, 23)?

There are so many descriptors of Jesus’ incarnational life on earth. Will I ever be like him? And then I am reminded of Paul’s wonderful word to the church at Corinth: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (II Corinthians 3:18 NIV) It is God who is working in us to make us like Jesus (Philippians 2:13). All we have to do is trust, obey, and let him work.

And so, as I think, ponder, and reflect on “the Lord’s glory,” as I center my thoughts and my life on him, I, too, will be changed into his likeness and, with Lynne, will see more and more Jesus when I look into the mirror.

What’s in your mirror?

Dear Lord, thank you for this wonderful encouragement that as we cooperate with you, you are making us more and more like Jesus. THANK YOU. AMEN.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. I Peter 4:8

With five grandchildren, I am pretty well familiar with all the Disney movies and songs. But my hands down favorite is Beauty and the Beast, the old tale of the handsome prince whose beast is cleverly hidden beneath the trappings of privilege. When he refuses to help an old woman (a fairy in disguise), she turns him into the beast that he already is. The only cure is true love—within a specified time frame.

You know the story. Beautiful Belle gets lost and winds up in his castle. Of course, she is terrified when she first sees the Beast, but in time, she gets to know the person inside that dreadful shell, falls in love, and watches the Beast’s transformation. Part of the lyrics say:

Tale as old as time
Tune as old as song
Bitter sweet and strange
Finding you can change
Learning you were wrong
Certain as the sun
Rising in the east
Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
Beauty and the beast.

Edwin Markham once wrote: “He drew a circle that shut me out-Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle and took him in!”

Father, this world is full of people who are ugly when they do not know love. Strengthen us to get beyond ourselves and our affinities to become transforming agents through your love. And, Father, we confess that in loving others, we ourselves are transformed. In Jesus name. AMEN.