Saturday, July 30, 2011

Book Review: Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney

"Discipline has become a dirty word in our culture," but the practice of spiritual disciplines as a road to godliness cannot be ignored by Christ followers.  While in the store looking for this book a guy asked what I was looking for.  When I told him the title he said, "Oh, so are you a seminary student?"  After thinking about this comment I realized how ridiculous it was.  The spiritual disciplines are not for lofty spiritual thinkers, but are meant for every believer.  We are not to be lazy in our faith, but are to strive towards Christlikeness in all that we do.  There is Biblical basis for each of the disciplines Whitney discusses in this book.

The theme verse for the book is from Timothy 4:7 saying, "Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness."  Verse 8 goes on to say, "For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come."  My last post was about sanctification, and I believe that the process of becoming more Christ-like happens through our pursuit of the spiritual disciplines.

Whitney discusses 10 disciplines including: Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning.  In each chapter he explains what the discipline is, gives Scriptural references for that discipline, and offers insights into application for our lives. This incredible book will encourage and inspire you to cultivate an eternal perspective on how you spend your time on this earth.  If we are not striving daily to be more like Christ, then we are wasting our time.  "By neglecting the spiritual disciplines, we face the danger of bearing little spiritual fruit."

In the concluding chapter, Whitney encourages believers to persevere in the disciplines even when life is busy saying, "The spiritual disciplines have always been what can make a Godly person out of a busy person."  He explains the role of the Holy Spirit, fellowship, and struggle as a means of achieving godliness through the practice of the disciplines.  As Christians, we should constantly be striving and laboring for godliness by disciplining ourselves in the above areas.  I would highly encourage anyone to check out this excellent book and continue along the path towards godliness!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Old Has Gone, the New Has Come!

One thing I love about being here at the recruit depot at Parris Island is that it gives me a glimpse into the process of mere boys becoming US Marines.  You see platoons of recruits with their drill instructors as they practice drill, go through obstacle courses, PT, and oh so much more.  It's a painful process and it is by no means easy.  Not everyone makes it through.  Part of the purpose of boot camp is to tear down the boy and build him back up into a man who is worthy to defend his country.  The training destroys old habits and instills new ones that make the Marine disciplined and ready to meet new challenges.  By the time they graduate after 13 grueling weeks of training, they are "smartly disciplined, physically fit, basically trained Marines" (according to the drill instructor pledge.)

Today while driving around on base seeing the recruits march around, I thought about how as Christians we are constantly in training as well.  We are in training to become more and more like Christ everyday.  This process is called sanctification, and is something God promises to work out in us.  King David understood this when he said, "Create in me a clean heart oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me."  When we profess Jesus as Lord we are justified by faith before a holy God.  The old is torn down and the Spirit begins a new work in us.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"  How glorious this truth is!  The rubbish of our lives is wiped away; our inequities are blotted out.  Our sins are forgiven and we are given freedom in Christ.  Jesus opens his arms to us and bids us come, be like him.  "But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written, 'Be holy, because I am holy." (1 Peter 1:14-16)

Paul's words to the Philippians are also true for us when he says, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."  By our daily pursuit of Christ we are transformed into his image.  2 Corinthians 3:18 says, "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."

Let me be clear; we are not saved by our own efforts to be holy.  Salvation comes through Christ's redemptive work on the cross, and our faith in Him alone.  Through our profession of Christ we become justified before a holy God, but sanctification is the process by which we are transformed into the likeness of Christ. "For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.  Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8)

The last sermon we heard Mark preach at the Harbor was encouraging believers to press on towards the goal of Christ-likeness.  I loved how Mark said, "No one drifts towards holiness; we must train as if in a race."  How true!  Though the Holy Spirit is always at work in our hearts to bring us closer to the image of Christ, we must also pursue holiness through spiritual discipline.  We have to recognize that sanctification is a process that continues our whole lives.  Never do we become spiritually perfect, but we can strive towards the goal of becoming more like Jesus everyday.  We do this through the study, and meditation of scripture, prayer, worship, service, and stewardship.  (I will elaborate more on the spiritual disciplines in a later post.)  

Just like Marines, we are in training.  As Christians we are preparing for an eternity of glory with Christ.  How is your training going?   

Friday, July 22, 2011

Joyful Anticipation

View from the bridge
I think if I had to put a title to this chapter of my life I would call it "Joyful Anticipation."  Since we left Japan we've been in a state of transition, and I'm very much looking forward to finally being settled here in Beaufort.  We're scheduled to get our express shipment later today and our TMO might come next week.  Everyday we're one step closer to getting down to the business of living here.

View from our front porch
Unfortunately the job front is bleak for me.  There have been many budget cuts in the school district so there are many teachers looking for jobs.  I'm not surprised that the seasoned teachers are being hired instead of a newbie like me.  I'm not discouraged by this, because I trust that God has a plan for me while I'm here.  Lately I've taken comfort in this verse from Ephesians 2:10, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."  It's not bad luck that I haven't gotten a teaching job.  The Lord clearly has something else in mind for me, and I'm content to find out what that is.  Despite the fact that I don't know too many people here yet, I feel called to start some kind of a women's Bible study.  During my devotional time as of late I have felt God speaking to my heart saying He wants to pour into me so I can pour into others.  I know that He has much for me to learn, which will prepare me for ministry now and down the road.  It will be exciting to see all that He has prepared for me in the coming months!

Going out for my b-day dinner
In other news, this past Tuesday was my 27th birthday.  Usually my birthday is my absolute favorite day of the year, so much so that I like to celebrate Birthday Week, or even Birthday Month.  This came about while living overseas because b-day cards would come in at random times throughout the month so it was a mini celebration everyday.  Well this year was a bit of a disappointment since Patrick had to work all day and I don't know anyone here, so I ended up spending most of the day by myself.  We celebrated Monday night by going out to dinner in downtown Beaufort.  We also got my birthday present, a new bike.  As we went in to Walmart I was so excited Patrick said it was like taking a little kid into a toy store.  Probably not too far from the truth.  It was a great birthday present, and I'm looking forward to putting lots of miles on it as I cruise around Beaufort!  
My sweet new ride

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bowling from Heaven

As a child I used to be absolutely terrified of thunderstorms.  My dad would always sit out on our screened in porch to listen to them and I would beg him to come inside, convinced the lightning was going to "get him."  If the storm happened at night, one crash of thunder would send 5-year old me scurrying into my sister's room to hide under her covers.  Somehow the fact that she was three years older than me made her my protector from all things scary.  My parents would tell me that the thunder was just the angels bowling in heaven.  From then on whenever there was a really loud "thunder boomer" I would tell myself they just got a strike!

Last night we had a pretty spectacular thunderstorm, which kept me up for a good part of the night.  Now I love thunderstorms.  In fact, when we moved to SC one of the first things I asked the realtor was if there were good thunderstorms here.  (During our four years in Okinawa we maybe had 3 good storms.)  Anyway, whenever I hear distant thunder there is always a sense of excitement.  The lightning was so brilliant it hurt my eyes even though they were closed.  Some crashes of thunder were so loud it sounded like the sky itself was splitting in two!

While listening to the storm with my covers pulled tightly around my chin (some habits die hard), I thought about the ways storms reflect the nature of God.  All things in creation were made by His hands, and, like any piece of art that reflects something of the character of the artist, so too does the natural world reflect a part of who God is.  I kept coming back to the fact that God is sovereign over everything.  This simply means that God is in control.  Paul writes so eloquently in Romans 11:33-36, "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord  Or who has been his counselor?  Who has ever give to God, that God should repay him?  For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever!  Amen."  

Just as lightning permeates the sky, so God's presence is felt and seen through all creation.  He knows all there is to know, about the past, the present and the future.  He knows your words before you speak them, and your thoughts before you think them.  He knows who will choose his path of salvation before they ever submit their lives to Jesus.  Here some may stop and say, "Wait!  What about free will?"  The beauty of the gospel is that we have the choice to make whether or not we will follow God.  He reveals himself to us through his creation and through His Word (the Bible), in which he lays out his plan for salvation (Jesus taking on our sins and dying on the cross.)  But then the ball is in our court.  Will we choose to follow Christ and have eternal life?  Or will we choose our own path to destruction and death?  God knows your ultimate decision, but it's still your choice to make.  He will not force you to love him, but He is waiting for you with open arms.  "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."  (Matthew 7:7-8)

The sky outside is cloudy and the forecast calls for rain.  I wonder if the angels will be bowling again tonight.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Releasing Children from Poverty in Jesus' Name

I recently wrote a book review on Too Small to Ignore by Wess Stafford, president and CEO of Compassion International.  I promised to elaborate on child sponsorship, so here you go...

Compassion is an organization that works with children in poverty all over the world to give them the tools and the means to rise above their circumstances and become independent Christian adults.  They do this through providing health care, education, life-skills training, nutrition, and opportunities to hear about and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Sponsorship does much to enhance this whole process for the children because it puts the child in contact with someone on the other side of the world that is supportive of them and loves them.  It is clear from the life of Christ that Jesus loved children deeply.  In Matthew 18:10-11 Jesus says, "See that you do not look down on one of these little ones.  For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven."  Obviously Christ cares about kids, and if He does, we should too!

We began sponsoring Abhinav, an 8 year old boy from India, two years ago, and we have been blessed by him as I'm sure he's been blessed by us.  We write letters frequently back and forth, and we love to hear about what he is learning and what his life is like in his rural village.  Recently the Harbor partnered with Compassion and challenged the church to sponsor 50 kids.  So back in April we began sponsoring our second child, an 8 year old girl also in India named Lakshmi.  We are waiting to receive our first letter from her and we're both excited to get to know her as well!  Patrick and I are hoping to travel to India in the next few years to visit both children.

It might be easy for Americans to brush off the idea of sponsoring an individual child and opt instead to just send money to organizations like Compassion.  But sponsorship has benefits for us too!  Not only to we get to connect with a child and invest in a relationship through letter writing and in-country visits, but it also puts a human face to the problem of poverty.  I know for me the issues of hunger and poverty seem overwhelming, and I feel like there's not much I can do to exact global change.  But by sponsoring children, we are able to make a difference.  Over time we get to see those kids released from poverty and begin making a positive impact on their own communities.  It's only by investing in the younger generation that we will truly overcome the problem of poverty.

If you are interested in what Compassion is all about or want to learn more about child sponsorship, check out their site below!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Home Away From Home

For the most part, during our four years living overseas I stayed too busy to get too homesick.  There was always one thing that I missed though, and that was spending time with my amazing mother-in-law (whom I lovingly refer to as Mrs. Mom.)  Some of my best memories of home were lazy Sunday afternoons at the Steward's drinking mint tea and chatting with her.

I'm blessed to say that I have the most amazing, godly in-laws a girl could ask for.  I know a lot of people who prayed for good husbands, but beyond that I always prayed for a good family to marry into, and God certainly blessed me in that area.  I think a lot of who I am now is due to the guidance and love from Mrs. Mom.  She has taught me so much and encouraged my faith, and I will forever be grateful for her and thankful that I can call her family.

One way in particular that I want to be like Mrs. Mom is in the realm of hospitality.  For as long as I've known the Stewards (since before I was one) their home has always been open to friends and family from all over.  Seeing this kind of ministry in action has been a blessing to me because it has given me a basis for the kind of home I want to establish (or in our case multiple homes.)  I want our doors to always be open and our welcome mat to be well worn.  I want our home to be a place of refuge and refreshment; a place where the name of Jesus is worshiped and the presence of God felt. The best part about creating a home like that is it doesn't matter how big a house we have or how many nice things we have to fill it.  It is a matter of following Christ and being willing to serve others humbly in His name.  Thankfully love doesn't come with a price tag.

I believe opening your home to others is a wonderful way to minister to them and show them the love of Christ in a very tangible way.  There is a scriptural basis for the practice of hospitality as in Hebrews 13:2 which says, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it."  Christ intended for us to pour into others as He has poured into us.  We are truly blessed when we are in the business of blessing others!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Book Review: "The Hour that Changes the World" by Dick Eastman

I'm normally a bit wary of book titles that exaggerate their purpose, but this book is true to its title.  The Hour that Changes the World  is a book devoted to prayer, and if anything can change the world, prayer can.  The cornerstone verse is Matthew 26:40-41.  Jesus is praying in the garden of Gethsemane with three disciples and comes back to find them asleep.  He says, "What, could you not watch with me one hour?  Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."  I've always thought that it would be nearly impossible to spend an hour in prayer everyday, but I believe that prayer is a scriptural mandate for all Christ followers.  It is during our devotional time that we commune with our savior and receive power to face life's trials.  It is when we sacrifice our own time for the Lord that He is able to bless us beyond measure by knowing Him more intimately.  When I stop to think about it, what could be more important that spending time with the Living God?  What could be so demanding of my attention that I not make time for prayer?

Eastman outlines 12 areas of prayer to focus on for 5 minutes each totally one hour with the Lord each day.  I'll give a brief synopsis of each.

1.  Praise
"Praise produces a forgetfulness of self," which is exactly where we should begin our devotional time.  God is the focus of our prayers, not ourselves and praising God for who He is reminds us that God alone is worthy of praise.

2.  Waiting
Waiting is different than listening because during this portion of our prayer we bask in the presence of God and silently glorify Him.  As Eastman writes, "Praise cries boldly, "God I see these excellent qualities in your nature."  waiting says softly, "God I love you."

3.  Confession
Confession is recognizing our shortcomings before a holy God, and repenting of our sins.  God is willing to forgive our sins when we are willing to recognize them and turn from them.  One of my favorite verses from Psalms is Psalm 51:10-11 which says, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me."

4.  Scripture Praying
The Word of God is powerful in our prayer time.  Reading and praying the Word engrains it in our souls and allows us to more deeply understand it.

5.  Watching
Watchfulness in prayer is a way of becoming aware of how Satan is at work against the plans of the Lord in our lives and around the world.  We also are to be alert to the work of missionaries throughout the world, and how we can best pray for them.

6.  Intercession
I love that as believers we have power to intercede for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and also the unsaved.  We are able to do much to thwart the plans of the devil through intercessory prayer.

7.  Petition
Eastman defines petition as, "the confession of helplessness in a specific matter."  God is always faithful to give whatever we ask when we do so in a way that aligns ourselves with His will.

8.  Thanksgiving
We have much to be thankful for, and it is necessary to have a grateful heart before God.  We can thank Him not just for physical blessings but for spiritual blessings as well.

9.  Singing
While singing is not something I regularly do in prayer, there is a scriptural basis for it.  The Bible says that Paul and Silas sang hymns while in prison.  Without printed hymnbooks, which weren't published until many years later, it is likely that they sang their own songs in praise to God.

10.  Meditation
Here Eastman encourages us to spend time contemplating one theme such as God Himself, the Word of God, or the works of God.  "No meditation is really valid unless it leaves us with something to which we can return during the day's business and find it helpful there."

11.  Listening
"To listen during prayer is to mentally absorb divine instructions from God concerning specific matters for that day."  To truly hear God's voice we must practice the art of silence as we listen for His still small voice.

12.  Praise
We begin and end prayer with a time of praise.  Eastman says it well when he states, "Our goal beyond the closet (of prayer) is to magnify God's name in all we do."

This incredible book has offered a great many insights into the importance and power of prayer, and the enormous blessings that come from our willingness to engage with the Lord for an hour.  I would encourage you to read it and see how it will affect your prayer life.

A Day Trip to Hilton Head

I remember some of my favorite vacations as a child on Hilton Head Island, and now one of the best parts of living in Beaufort is HHI is only an hour away!  Yesterday Patrick and I drove down to visit the island and spend the day enjoying all there was to do there.  The best part of Hilton Head is the nearly 50 miles of bike paths, so naturally we had to rent bikes and check them out.  Patrick estimates that we biked about 15 miles and according to my sore legs that's probably pretty accurate.  The weather was perfect for biking; not too hot but still sunny enough to get a tan.  (How was it I came from a tropical island this pasty??)

We also spent some time on the very crowded beaches.  Patrick loves to people watch and there was plenty to see since it seemed that just about everyone within a 100 mile radius was hanging out at the same beach. I enjoyed watching the waves there too.  In Okinawa at the beach we used to go to, there were practically no waves at all, so this was a nice change.

During our bike ride we came across a mini golf course so we stopped to play a round.  The place is run by Christians, and my favorite part was that at each hole there was a verse of Scripture on a plaque.  It's encouraging to see God glorified even on the golf course!

Overall it was great to get out and experience a little more of South Carolina.  Lately we've been cooped up in our mostly empty house, which eventually was starting to drive me crazy.  We still don't have either of our shipments from Okinawa, and I'm starting to think they will never show up.  I've been getting a little ansty since I'm such a nest builder, but have nothing with which to build our nest!!  I've been praying for contentment in this area and God is showing me that He alone is enough to sustain us, not all our "stuff."  I have a feeling that I'll look back on this time and long for the simplicity of it.  With fewer distractions it's easier to spend more time in Bible study and prayer.  So for now, I will enjoy what God has given us: the gift of time!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Review: "Too Small to Ignore" by Wess Stafford

One thing I want to do with this blog is write reviews on the books that I'm reading.  Books are a huge part of my life, and much of what I read influences me a great deal.  One such book is Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most by Wess Stafford.  Stafford is the President and CEO of Compassion International, an organization committed to releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.  It is an organization that Patrick and I are proud to support through the sponsorship to two children in India.  But more on that later...

The book chronicles Stafford's life growing up in the Ivory Coast as the son of missionary parents.  What we would consider as hardship in a remote part of the world, this little boy relished with every part of his being.  He tells stories of scaring off the baboons with slingshots and helping his father translate the New Testament into the native language.  Though the stories are fun to read, the purpose of the book is to show the importance of children in our world, and how we should not see them as second class citizens or even just for their potential as "the future," but to cherish children for the contributions they are able to make even as youngsters.  He highlights many instances in the Bible that God used children to accomplish His purposes on earth.  During a discussion among the disciples on who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus calls a small child to himself and says, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 18:3-4)

Stafford goes on to issue a challenge for the church to shift its priorities to its littlest members.  Research indicates that the majority of Christians accepted Christ as a youth.  So why aren't more resources being used in children's ministry?  Why is it so difficult to staff the children's sunday school classes each week?  As adults we are called to minister to children and teach them the truths of God's Word.  It is when we touch the life of a child that we are able to touch the whole world.

This is an incredible book that I would highly recommend to anyone who has kids, works with kids, or has even been a kid.  Hopefully as you read it you will be spurred on for the cause of children around the world.  I know I was!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"For I know the plans I have for you" declares the Lord...

I have always been an avid journal writer.  In fact, I've written in my journal every single day since February 16, 1996.  I have 15 5-subject notebooks that I keep in a box in my closet.  I can't go to sleep at night until I've written at least a few lines.  For some reason I've always been somewhat obsessed with the preservation of memories.  (That also explains my fanatacism about taking pictures as many of you have experienced.)  There's a part of me that just doesn't want to forget where I've been and how that has shaped who I am.  The most important part of my journaling has been looking back at my life and seeing how God was at work in different ways.  When you're in the moment and life is tough, it's sometimes hard to see God's hand in it all.  We all have examples of that in our lives where we get too caught up in the individual threads that we don't see the larger tapestry that God is weaving.

Often I wish I could go back and re-do certain parts of my life, but then I hear God saying that it was through my mistakes that He was able to show me a deeper part of Himself, and that He has brought me through it as a stronger follower of Christ.  It's only when I look at my life as a whole that I can more clearly see God's plan.  Jeremiah 29:11-13 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture.  It says, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you see me with all your heart."  Though we don't always know how or why God works in certain ways, we can be sure that as believers, God has a plan for our lives, and through that plan we will bring Him glory.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New Beginnings in South Carolina

I never thought I'd be one for writing a blog, but now I think I'll finally try my hand at it.  More than likely I will have few (if any) followers, but that's OK with me.  If nothing else this will serve as a way for friends and family to stay updated on our adventures in South Carolina and beyond.

Beaufort doesn't quite feel like home yet, mostly because we have no furniture save what we've bought since moving in last week.  We also haven't found a church home yet so we haven't made any solid connections with other believers.  For me the hardest part of moving has been leaving behind such a wonderful group of friends in Okinawa.  Proverbs 27:17 says "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."  This verse played out in incredible ways over the last four years and I feel truly blessed to have been surrounded by such strong believers.  While it's always difficult to move on, I trust that God has prepared a place for us here, and in time He will lead us to new friends and new ways to serve Him.  I'm excited to see where God leads us over the next 12 months!  Thanks for joining me on the journey!