NO UNEMPLOYMENT

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Luke 10:2

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a little over 5% of the U.S. population is unemployed. That doesn’t sound like many people, but if you look at those folks in our country who are over 18 years of age and don’t have jobs, that’s over 16 million people. The statistics are sobering, considering that each number represents a person for whom God has a plan.

While this data is disturbing, juxtapose that with a pundit’s recent comment about a woman who was detained at the aiirport as possibly infected with ebola. “No wonder she’s suing the government. Can you imagine being shut up in a room for 15 minutes without a cell phone [or any technology]? You’d be bored out of your mind.” Really? You don’t have enough creative imagination or thought process to occupy yourself for 15 minutes?

Perhaps unemployment and creativity are somehow related, but as God’s children we should know that we will never run out of opportunities to be “workers in his field.” There’s no unemployment. The needs are abundant, and each of us has been placed in a unique position to touch and love and minister where no one else has been called. There’s not a place to quit, and there’s no retirement from God’s work. Let’s pick ourselves up and keep going.

Oh, and can you think of just 3 things you could do if you were shut up for 15 minutes without your cell phone?

Lord, I ask that you would provide economic opportunities for those who are looking for work. Open doors they never expected and encourage them. And help us all to be diligent laborers in a needy world, many of whose members do not yet know you. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

NOTHING BUT THE BEST

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men… Colossians 3:23 (KJV)

I was quite taken by the comments of a bishop at our workshop this weekend. He said he trains all his people to excel at everything they do for the Lord. He gave an example: When anyone is to read Scripture in a service, he asks them not only to practice but also to memorize the Scripture they will read so that they are totally familiar with the Word and do not have to look down. He encourages excellence in all his parishioners rather than mere compliance.

How many times do we perform tasks in church or at work or at home just to finish the job rather than seeking ways to heartily do what we have been called to do? Wouldn’t we bring honor to God if in everything we do we do our very best? After all, Jesus always gave his best for us. Surely, with love and commitment for him, we can do the same.

I’m a reader this weekend. I’m headed off to memorize my passage.

Father, you have always given us your finest. Stir us to be intolerant of personal mediocrity and to heartily serve and love others as you have served and loved us. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

DISCOVERING JOY

And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord… Isaiah 54:13

When my daughter left for college, she went with two admonitions: “Remember Whose you are” and “Get a job.” Coming from a single parent family, work was nothing new to Tish, but we realized finding a job in a small college town might be a challenge. We prayed.

The first week of school Tish was recruited by a student whose boss was looking for help. From semester to semester, she found work and learned to pray through school and job problems. When work was scarce in her senior year, Tish went into the school placement office and was hired on the spot by the manager who needed a babysitter. One evening Tish called to chat and tell me an experience with her new job.

“There’s been so much to do around here with the children and both the parents so busy, I’ve started helping out with the house and laundry. Mom, there was so much ironing, I knew it would take hours. And then I remembered how we always used to sing while we worked. I pulled out the ironing board and sang one song after another as I ironed, and the work seemed so much easier and was finished before I knew it.

“And you know what, Mom? I felt happy that I could do it. Singing really works. And you should’ve seen their faces when they came home,” Tish concluded.

She should’ve seen my face. (How many times have I been reminded that Tish’s name means joyous Christian?)

Father, your promise is so true: when we train our children and grandchildren in the ways of the Lord, they don’t depart from that. It may take a while, but you are always faithful. Thank you.

INTENTIONALITY

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17 (NIV)

I was having a conversation yesterday with friends in a religious setting. One of them mentioned the need for being intentional in our walk with the Lord. I asked, “Isn’t everyone?” I was mildly surprised when they chorused together, “No.” That set me to thinking…

Intentionality is defined as “done by intention and design” and “done on purpose.” So I ask myself and you, Are we intentional in our walk with the Lord? Do we purposefully seek and choose God’s will above our own even down to the little daily sacrifices that are required in a disciple? Do our lives express the lordship of Jesus Christ or is spirituality an “add-on”?

I challenge you to look at the ways you are intentionally following Jesus today. Then look at the ways in which you indulge yourself. While our human nature may be weak and riddled with failure, we can submit to Christ asking him to constantly increase in us while helping the “me” in us to decrease. It’s up to us to decide whether or not we will be intentional. And then the Holy Spirit will grace us to become everything God wants us to be.

Father, thank you for the reminders your Holy Spirit gives us through friends. Help us to choose your will and your way more and more each day so that everyone sees more and more of you in us, your children. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

A STORY FROM THE FIELD

[They returned,] strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14: 21, 22

Thanks to those of you who prayed for me and my team on our mission to Uganda. Every connection, every meeting, every session was touched by grace. As are the people of Uganda…

Uganda is a place filled with stories, having had more than its share of violence and sorrow. One of our Ugandan teammates shared his tale of being randomly arrested by Idi Amin’s soldiers along with some of his college friends. Joseph and his buddies were rounded up and taken to a military enclosure in Kampala, the capitol. They endured humiliation when they were told to close their eyes and lie face down and then ordered to roll around in the mud for the entertainment of their tormentors. Suddenly, shots rang out, and Joseph felt the spatter of warm blood from his friend’s body, but he dared not open his eyes.

Eventually, the soldiers lost interest in this sadistic activity and then prodded the young men to crawl on hands and knees over the muddy, rough surface of the military compound. For hours Joseph and his friends crawled until their hands and knees were raw flesh while the soldiers mocked and laughed. When Amin’s men finally had their fill, the students were pushed through the gate and told to leave, as unexpectedly as their apprehension.

Had the young men been afraid? Had they felt hatred for their oppressors? Joseph told us that he was traumatized after this (and other) incidents during the reign of the mad man Amin. And he and his fellow Ugandans had even more atrocities to endure at the hands of other despots. But instead of becoming embittered, Joseph determined to grow through these experiences and became an attorney involved in advocacy, human rights issues, and a champion of families and economic development for his country. He and so many other amazing Ugandans have taken the things that would have destroyed them and turned them into a culture for helping others.

The stories are unending just as suffering and violence around our world are unending. Let us pray for those who daily experience the pain of oppressive governments, famine, disease, and afflictions even as we give thanks for God’s mercy.

Heavenly Father, thank you for Joseph’s strong witness of your faithfulness and love. We pray for all those suffering around the world from oppression and violence. May your peace and protection be given and may we be faithful in our prayers and our support. In Christ’s name I pray. AMEN.

INTO THE WORLD

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Mark 16:15

I’ve said goodbye to my dear mother whom I will see in heaven along with all our loved ones who kept the faith. And now my work takes me to Uganda to minister with old friends there as we tell the Story in words and deeds. I won’t be posting to my blog for a couple of weeks, but your prayers would be so much appreciated.

A few years ago a friend and I stood with a group of fellow pilgrims in Israel at the site where Jesus is said to have given the Great Commission (above) to his disciples. In the 2000-plus years since that event, countless millions have heard the gospel from the countless disciples who have been obedient to their Lord. My contemporaries and I looked at each other and prayed that we also would be witnesses as we left this “mountain top” experience.

Yet I sometimes wonder about the extent of my personal obedience. How many have I touched as I go into my world? Yes, I try to seize opportunities to share Good News in a needy world, but still I wonder… And then I remember the words of Henri Nouwen: “The challenge of Jesus is not to solve all the world’s problems before the end of time but to remain faithful at any cost.”

And so, as I go to Uganda, I ask God to help me be faithful to preach and live out the gospel at all times and on all occasions.

Heavenly Father, it truly is a marvel that you have entrusted such a treasure to frail humanity. But with your power working through us, we want to share all your goodness and your love. Help us. In Jesus’ Name. AMEN.

GRATITUDE

In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. I Thessalonians 5:18 (KJV)

That day we had vaccinated 155 dogs and 17 cats as part of a vet team in another country. The hours had been long and intense, but, happily, we had been working in shade with a cool breeze.

We had been told not to expect gratitude, but still something troubled me. Only one person of all the people whose animals we had treated said thank you. That wonderful team of 28 people had given their time and expertise and had spent money to leave their comfort zone to come to help. And only one person was thankful.

The week went by as we moved to various locations with much the same response. On the final night, a local business that had provided transportation, drivers, and warehousing for the medications gave a lavish fiesta for the team complete with delicious local cuisine, entertainment, and gifts for us all. When it came time for me to receive my gift, how did I respond? I forgot to say thank you. All week long I had quizzed myself over the failure of so many who had received so much, and when I was in the same spot, I forgot.

It was easy for me to see something troubling in someone else, but when the same shoe was on my foot, I saw how easy it was to take generosity for granted. God’s standard is higher: “…to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required…”

Father, you have given us all so much. Forgive me for forgetting to say thank you. Work gratitude into my heart so that I remember the Source of every good gift and always express thanksgiving. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

BLOOMING

“…he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit…” John 15: 5 (KJV)

On various occasions I have been given delicate Phalaenopsis orchids, those wonderfully exotic flowering plants that appear to be so fragile. I have learned an interesting principle from these beautiful bits of creation. Given the right light and moisture, they continue to bloom year after year—it is their nature.

I have not taken the time to research orchids nor have I joined the local orchid society. All I do is put a spoon of water in their pots every week, and they faithfully bloom. But this is not about orchids.

I have noticed that there are some people who, like orchids, can always be counted on to bloom. Somehow, they stay in the Light, stay connected to the Source of their growth, and they constantly seem to be watered by the Spirit. Because they are intrinsically beautiful, they beautify their environment, and they bring joy and encouragement just by being.

I think that is what is meant by abiding.

Father, keep us in you so that your beauty shows through us. Amen.

HOSPITALITY

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

Webster defines hospitality as “generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests.” The Bible tells us we are to practice hospitality; that a church leader is to be hospitable; and that we are to be hospitable without grumbling. One might almost think hospitality was expected of its members by the early Church.

It’s easy today to think that being hospitable requires gourmet food, elegant table settings, decorator appointed rooms, and professional entertainment. But Webster indicates hospitality is determined by the way we treat people. The Greek definition of hospitality in the Bible is being friendly. That sounds like something we can all do—be friendly and generous in the way we treat people. It doesn’t take money; it takes an open heart and an open door.

Lord, use my home as a place where people will feel welcomed and loved. Fill it with your presence and your joy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.