Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Missions and Helping

"If you have come to help me,
you are wasting your time,
But, if you have come
because your liberation is bound to mine,
let us work together"

-Lila Watson, Aboriginal Australian Activist

What a quote to start off my first day of May Term. I'm taking a three week Spanish course entitled "Latino Immigration and Community Service". Besides the time we spend in class learning about pertinent issues, we also complete 30 additional hours of community service within the Latino Community. While i was nervous and a little overwhelmed with the amount of time this class will take, I can not WAIT. The above statement and even the discussion from this first day have inspired me. Ah, i LOVE when the Lord provides words, an event, a person, etc. that gives you so much passion and desire to learn more or do MORE. I have a heart for missions. But this is a prompting and definitely awakening me to the STIRRING and restructuring i feel the Lord doing in my life - regarding my mindset, my heart, and how i view missions.

After giving my opinion about what i thought this quote meant, my teacher pointed to my summer mission plans (representing missions in general) as an example of potential ignorance - when we go to "help" people, what does that say about how we view them? I think the word 'help' may sound innocent, from the perspective of the missionaries and people reaching out. But what about those we reach out to? Is it saying that we perceive them as lesser or weaker than us? That they need our help? That we are in a place to offer help and they are not? Think about it. We ask God for help because He is significantly greater, All-powerful and bigger than us. We cry out for help when we are in distress and in our moment of need. Asking God for help acknowledges His greatness and our dire need for Him. It also emphasizes that He is more than us. Could this perhaps be the outlook of those we reach out to - that we are reaching out to them because we think we are "greater" than them or know better than them? That we are superior?

I have much, much more praying and meditating to do. I ask that the Lord will open up my eyes during this course and during my travels and missions this summer. After the class and throughout work, my mind was exploding with questions and countless, interconnected thoughts. My heart was brimming with joy and God-given passion. I crave to know more and see more and experience more so i can better know 'missions'. Here is where I'm at, for now. I am looking for and asking for feedback, thoughts, questions, ideas, and where you see God's hand in the following places:

1) My coworker is from Mexico. A few months ago, he ranted about how stupid short term mission trips are. He claimed that mission trips seem to be a place for missionaries to 'feel good about themselves' and increase their self-esteem by taking pictures of themselves holding a kid at an orphanage or building a house. In some ways, his views are valid. I so appreciate his outlook, as it takes on a similar perspective to Watson's quote. It is true, short term mission trips can only do so much (in relation to long term mission trips. However, i am not undermining God's power and ability to work in His timing :)) - there is a time constraint as far as building relationships, serving the community and reaching out goes. However, short term mission trips, if sought out with the appropriate state of mind and heart can be extremely powerful and good. Even one day in another country reveals the needs of others, affirms the abundance of blessings we have as Americans in the United States, breaks down walls of ignorance and feeds a deeper passion and calling. I truly believe the Lord works in short term mission trips. He is there before us, working in the hearts of those we meet; we are merely His instruments. And the biggest visible change may take place in the hearts of the missionaries, as we become aware of Christ and the dire needs of this world. Had we not ventured out of our comfortable teeny-weeny part of the world - with fast food available on every corner, the security we have and the excess amount of..stuff available to us - how could we know of our ignorance, our wealth and our blessings? It is necessary to open our eyes to the needs of the world. It is essential that we thank the Lord for all He has given us. BUT, we can not stop there. When we are made aware to the needs of those around us, when our eyes are OPENED to the depravity, we must ACT. And, if our hearts seek the Lord in the missionary field, short term missions shatter the walls of ignorance in front of our eyes and stir the passion to serve everybody everywhere.

2) Is there a difference between 'helping' and 'serving'? When i say i want to serve others, does it still come off as, "I'm better than you?" Being a servant requires you to go lower, to take a spot of inferiority, to devote your life to serving others. I think the root issue of 'helping', 'serving' and other words is the condition of the heart. When we reach out to others, is it because we feel we are 'better' and 'superior'? Or do we acknowledge our own depravity and serve others with a humble heart? Do we reluctantly give because we feel pressured based on our wealth? Or do we give with a glad heart, knowing the Lord has blessed us abundantly and wanting to bless others instead of hoarding what He has given us? Our actions and serving will glorify God if we acknowledge that we are not 'better', but rather in the same state of need and dependence on God - in a moment, our comfortable way of life could be stripped away. That is, I think, what Watson means when she says, "let us work together" because "your liberation is bound to mine". We are all one body, our lives are bound to one another.

3) Another question - what is the best way to share the love and salvation of Christ as a missionary? Can we merely interact with a community and serve them by building houses and doing more hands-on labor? Should we solely be sharing the word of the Lord? Or must the labor and God's word be shared together? Are building relationships necessary in sharing the Good News? Should we build houses and communities and/or equip peoples with the skills to help themselves? What of the saying, "Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime"? There probably isn't one right or wrong answer. Mm, but my prayer is that we lean not on our understanding and seek the Lord as we serve and reach out.

One thing i am certain of - as we give, we receive. The Lord moves in us - He breaks down our misconceptions, demolishes prejudices and humbles our hearts. Missions teach everyone involved. We are exposed to a new way of life and living. For those of us that are going on mission trips, whether internationally or locally, short term or long term, this summer or eventually, may we learn to BEHOLD the Lord and His hand. May we enthusiastically embrace the new cultures, ways of life and traditions of those we serve. May we excitedly LEARN just as much as we teach and share. May we look past the obvious and the seen and delve into the unseen - learn what is behind the cover. And may Christ be the center of it all.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ultimate Satisfaction

"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him" This is the very idea of Christian Hedonism. I have just started reading "When I Don't Desire God" by John Piper, after a friend so graciously bought it for me a few weeks ago. While my desire for God and God alone has increased in the past few months (solely by the grace and mercy of God), the book is definitely still relevant and teaching me so much. I love the theology behind Christian Hedonism.So often as Christians, and even as non-believers, i think we perceive the calling of Christ as a task or as our life's purpose, but we fail to acknowledge the unsurpassable joy that accompanies following that calling. As Piper points out, "Christ is to be cherished, not just chosen" [Piper,19].To cherish is to hold something dear, or think of something longingly. In our following of the Lord, it is essential to adore Him and thank Him for everything. Sometimes, we stop at simply choosing God and fail to truly long for Him and cherish Him. It is my prayer that our eyes be opened to the beauty of Christ - that the beauties and wonders of His creations bring us joy, point to His glory, and allow us to truly cherish the Greatest Treasure.

Ultimate satisfaction in the Lord cannot be shaken, even amongst great trials and persecution. True joy in the Lord is so steadfast on His hope and His foundation, that we learn to rejoice amongst despair and persecution. Easier said than done, i will wholeheartedly admit. "[Finding satisfaction in the Lord] will happen when Christians don't just say Christ is valuable, or sing that Christ is valuable, but truly experience in their hearts the unsurpassed worth of Jesus with so much joy that they can say, "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil 3:8)," [Piper, 21]. We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance (Romans 5:3)

After reading this first chapter, I was reminded of a couple things. First off, a couple weeks ago, a classmate and i got off topic in class and started discussing Christianity in relation to his Atheistic beliefs. When he asked me what i thought the purpose to life was, I responded that it was seeking Christ with everything I am. To him, and to other atheists i'm sure, this sounds like a sick and twisted game. I do not know with complete certainty nor will not claim to know what the purpose of life is - only God does. But i do know, my life has purpose in living for Christ. Not just living, but finding ultimate satisfaction in Him, for it is then that He is most glorified. Finding that satisfaction is a lifelong purpose, as it is more difficult to find satisfaction and joy amongst trials. However this, i believe, is the ultimate calling - sustaining and living for Christ through any and all things. Though our faith will waiver, He will not.

Another thing i thought about was a conversation with a dear friend after a church service last summer. She was "turned off" in a sense, to what seemed like strict rules and regulations that accompany a life with Christ. In the service, the works of the flesh were listed and compared to the fruits of the spirit: "Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity...drunkenness, orgies..etc." -Galatians 5:19-23 I could tell my dear friend felt judged, ashamed and hurt by what seemed like religious intolerance. Being able to comfort her and shed understanding on the beautiful redemption and reasons behind these "rules" has been something I've since been praying about. After reading this first chapter, I feel like choosing to live not out of the flesh acknowledges our satisfaction in the Lord. Living and bearing fruits of the Spirit rather than choosing to live of the flesh is a choice - when we choose God, we acknowledge that living for Him is so much more fulfilling than anything else. Our desires are shifted, replaced, as we seek the constant source of Joy and Satisfaction. Instead of perceiving the lifestyle that chooses to abstain from sex outside of marriage and refraining from drunkenness as judgmental, strict and prude or getting angry at the restraints, think about knowing the Ultimate Reward - our Sole Desire. "Christ is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him" - not the things of this world. They will pass and perish, but a relationship with Christ will not. As we grow in relationship with Him, as we open our eyes to our great disparity and dire need for Him, we learn to trust that His ways are perfect. The "rules" that we follow when we choose life with Him are because we trust that He is working everything for our good - He is protecting our hearts, and desires for us to know Him. I want to be most satisfied in God throughout anything life throws at me, so i choose to follow His ways and not the ways of the flesh (imperfectly, of course) that lead to confusion, distraction and destruction of my life's purpose.

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
-Psalm 90:14

Lord, in any and all seasons, You are God. May we be satisfied in Your steadfast love and truly be glad all our days - through all trials and persecutions, God. May we truly LONG for You, may we crave life in You and acknowledge our dire need for You, Lord. Let us glorify You by being satisfied in You. Shed light on the love and purpose behind living in the Spirit and not in the flesh, God. Shed light in the glorious purpose of life in You.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Beautiful Bridal Shower

The murmur and laughter of women sharing in the joyous season of my beautiful friend Jodi simply warms my heart. I just got back from a wedding shower thrown by her church family - it was WONDERFUL! My favorite, favorite part was that it was God-centered - even the cleverly constructed Jeopardy game! What an encouragement it is to see the body and support God has provided for her and Grant as she enters into this season. I'm taking pointers for the next showers i get to plan - prayer circle is a definite must! What a better way to send the bride-to-be/couple-to-be off than with prayers, blessings and glory to God!

I am so thankful for the women God has placed in my life. Being able to spend time with Chana and Zach after being away from them for so long has been so great. And knowing that my dear roomies, Jod and Rach, though they are no longer roomies, are still available and dear friends is encouraging beyond belief. Thank you GOD for these three. Thank You, GOD for today and Your glorious sunshine. Thank You for coffee ministry with my dear friend, thank You for all You are. You are my everything. Continue to guide me and lead me - wherever and whenever that may be. I love You, i love You.

Check it: My Hope is Built by Shane and Shane: Click HERE

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Habit of Having No Habits: Oswald Chambers

I love Oswald Chambers' wisdom. So often, the Lord uses Chambers' words to speak to the very place my heart is at or the situation i find myself in. Here is yesterday's (May 12) My Utmost entry:

The Habit of Having No Habits

"If these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful..." (2 Peter 1:8)

When we first begin to form a habit, we are fully aware of it. There are times when we are aware of becoming virtuous and godly, but this awareness should only be a stage we quickly pass through as we grow spiritually. If we stop at this stage, we will develop a sense of spiritual pride. The right thing to do with godly habits is to immerse them in the life of the Lord until they become such a spontaneous expression of our lives that we are no longer aware of them. Our spiritual life continually causes us to focus our attention inwardly for the determined purpose of self-examination, because each of us has some qualities we have not yet added to our lives.
Your god may be your little Christian habit - the habit of prayer or Bible reading at certain times of your day. Watch how your Father will upset your schedule if you begin to worship your habit instead of what your habit symbolizes. We say, "I can't do that right now; this is my time alone with God." No, this is your time alone with your habit. There is a quality that is still lacking in you. Identify your shortcomings and then look for opportunities to work into your life that missing quality.
Love means that there are no visible habits - that your habits are so immersed in the Lord that you practice them without realizing it. If you are consciously aware of your own holiness, you place limitations on yourself from doing certain things - things God is not restricting you from at all. This means there is a missing quality that needs to be added to your life. The only supernatural life is the life the Lord Jesus lived, and He was at home with God anywhere. Is there someplace where you are not at home with God? Then allow God to work through whatever that particular circumstance may be until you increase in Him, adding His qualities. Your life will then become the simple life of a child.
-Oswald Chambers

Lord, break any habits that we have established, either consciously or unconsciously, that keep us from knowing You in all areas of our life. Keep us from worshipping the habits and let our hearts worship You and You alone. May we be immersed in You, so lost in Your infinite and mighty being that we are not aware of ourselves. Instead of hoping to gain spiritual pride, i ask that our time with You humble us further. I ask that as we spend more time with You, we become more aware of our shortcomings and our dire need for You.

My Utmost online: http://www.utmost.org/

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The ONLY Constant

All flesh is grass,
and all its constancy is like the flower of the field.

The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;

surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

-Isaiah 40:6-8

Nothing is constant but the word of God. Nothing will endure or stand the test of time but the unending, unconditional and STEADFAST love of the Lord. Human words will fail. Our promises are feeble. Our love is broken. Our hearts are futile.

Relationships will come and go. Friendships will be prominent in one season and fade in another. Spiritual leaders will be with us for a time. There will be seasons of joy and seasons of sorrow; those too, will fade. The ebb and flow of time, of seasons, of emotions - they are all fleeting.

Our God is the only constant. Our God remains while people in our lives do not. His word is the only thing we can count on. In Him alone should our hope reside; on God, our Solid Rock alone should we build our fortress and find our refuge. Through Him we have life; apart from Him we have nothing.

Do our hearts truly trust this? Do our hearts find peace in knowing the Lord is our only constant? Or is it so unconceivable, as everything around us comes and goes? Let us not perceive the Lord's constancy, the solidity of the Rock based on our inability to comprehend eternity. Instead of resorting to hopelessness and distrust in the Lord's constancy when people enter and leave our lives, may we find a renewed hope and a restored passion in Our Only Constant. Lord, let our hearts rest in your constancy. Let us praise You and Your consistency, Your steadfast love, in and out of seasons. You. Are. Constant. You will never fail or forsake us.

As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.

But the steadfast love of the Lord is from
everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him...

-Psalm 103:15-17

You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth
in the beginning,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment,
like a robe you will roll them up,
like a garment they will be changed.

But you are the same,
and your years will have no end."

-Hebrews 1:10-12

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Let Hope Rise...here in the Now.

Name above names,
Lamb that was slain,
Beautiful God.
You're King above kings,
God of all things.
Beautiful God

There's no other name like Jesus
We give You all of the praise, O Lord Jesus
Let HOPE rise and DARKNESS TREMBLE in Your holy light...

-With Everything, Hillsong (see video)

What a cool version of one of my favorite songs. I stumbled across an album entitled Awakening - Passion 2010. There are several songs from Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Christy Nockels and others! SO AMAZING. Check it out here and buy it on Itunes!

God is teaching me to find hope in the here and now. Often, we get so lost in thinking about the future or drown ourselves in the sorrows of the past that our present here and now becomes meaningless. We are only certain of the here and now - right now, in this very moment. Why worry about the future? Do we not believe it is truly in God's hands? By learning to live in the here and now, we allow ourselves to further develop a trust in the Lord and His character. When we live life one moment at a time, we can ask the Lord for guidance in our present worries while fully appreciating the beauty in each moment.

"Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is it's own trouble" -Matthew 6:34 (ESV...sounds like Yoda's version)

I'm nearing the end of Manning's Ruthless Trust. My favorite chapter thus far is his chapter entitled "The Geography of Nowhere". In the journey towards ruthless trust in our King, Manning emphasizes the importance of living in the present: The music of what is happening can be heard only in the present moment, right now, right here. Now/here spells nowhere. To be fully present to whoever or whatever is immediately before us is to pitch a tent in the wilderness of Nowhere. It is an act of radical trust - trust that God can be encountered at no other time and in no other place than the present moment. Being fully present in the now is perhaps the premier skill of the spiritual life" [Manning, 150].

The here and now the past few days has been rough. But the Lord has provided and showered me with blessings i do not deserve. I had a rough Monday, even concentrating on the worries of that day alone. As i headed down to my car to meet some friends, i dreaded having to fill it up with gas. Turns out - my brother had filled it up completely and wrote me a note - "Happy 1/2 birthday. Love, Luke". I cried. My brother's random act of kindness spoke multitudes of encouragement and love into my crappy day and downtrodden mood. If anything, I've taken a lot of my situation out on him - only for him to repay me with love and generosity. THAT broke me more than a mean word or a cold shoulder ever could.

Living in the here and now, I've spent some amazing time with two of my dearest friends (and married couple) - Chana and Zach. They just returned this week from studying abroad in Venezuela. Spending time with them has given me so much joy and been a HUGE blessing. I love their hearts, i love to see and hear about what the Lord has done in them as a married couple. Chana shared with me their "desert" experience. It's neat to see how God stripped so much away from their lives - brought them out of their comfort zone - only to emphasize His love, His power and His sameness everywhere, while growing them TRULY into "One - Husband and Wife - a triple braided cord". Their relationship is so beautiful - a testament to the faithfulness of the Lord and His plans for them for the advancement of His kingdom. I love these two more than they know.

Living in the here and now has been tough. When my mind wanders to the future, it requires surrender and acknowledging the Lord's power as the single source that can keep me trusting Him with the moment i am in. Right now. When i broke down on Monday, i received texts of encouragement and phone calls that seemed so random. An "Unknown" number called me as i lay in bed Monday night. Turns out, it was my best friend, Kim - calling from AUSTRALIA. Just to check in. I could not believe it. And i am still in shock. Ah, the Lord's timing. He's blessed me with so many sources of encouragement.

I want to worship the Lord in the here and now. Wherever my heart is at, i want to cry out to Him. I want to soak in the present, hope for the future and release the past. I will run through the halls of my empty apartment - full of bittersweet memories - and worship my Savior. Mm, and how much easier it is to live in the present when our mind is stayed on the Lord - the only constant :).

"When my mind is replaying past glories and defeats or imagining unknown tomorrows, the music of what is happening is muted. When i spin fearful scenarios about the future, my agitation prohibits my awareness of the living present"[Manning, 151].

"The effort to free ourselves from concerns and the willingness to put aside fuzzy distractions involves a kind of death in order to take up the cross of the present moment"[159].

"Being in the now removes us from endless and fruitless self-analysis. Morever, in the absence of self-observation, guild and shame mysteriously disappear. Removed from the sphere of our feelings, thoughts, and analyses, we are free to hear the music of what is happening. Lost in the Nowhere, we are found in the infinity of the eternal Now" [154].

Real living is not about words, concepts and abstractions but about experience of who or what is immediately before us [156].

Live in the now.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

So Much More Than a Valentine...JP

I'm sitting in my dark bedroom at home - blinds closing out the light of day, the faint glow of the computer screen barely shedding any light. After catching up on some blog reading, I started reading John Piper's blog. He's the man...only because he brings so much understanding and glory to the Real Man, if you know who i mean ;). I scrolled through tiny snipets of his words of wisdom, and came across a valentine blog he wrote to Noel, his wife. It is amazing - the words reflect so much more than that day. There are pictures and memories and so much...love behind his poem. Simply beautiful.

Check it: A Valentine for My Wife in Picture and Rhyme by John Piper