Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Eyes to See

Yesterday I read the story of Paul's conversion.  The first account we have of Paul's experience is in Acts 9.  You may know that Paul (formerly called Saul) was a Jewish Pharisee on a rampage against Christians.  In fact, he was on his way to Damascus to imprison more Christ-followers, when the Lord interrupted his plans.

"As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
"Who are you Lord?" Saul asked.
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied.  "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
The men traveling with saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.  Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing.  So they led him by the hand into Damascus.  For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

I love the way Jesus interrupts our lives sometimes when we're on such a destructive path.  He certainly knows how to get our attention, and we can be sure he had Paul's attention at this point!  But the story gets even better.  Christ led a man named Ananias to where Saul was staying and told him place his hands on Saul's eyes to restore his sight.

"Then Ananias went to the house and entered it.  Placing his hands on Saul, he said "Brother Saul, the Lord--Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here--has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit."  Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again.  He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength."

Every time I read this account I'm drawn to the part where the scales fall from Paul's eyes.  We used to have a pet snake, Legoless, and one of the most stressful times for him was when he was shedding.  He'd struggle for days to get rid of the layer of dead scales clinging to his body, but when that layer of deadness was gone he was like a brand new snake.

Suddenly Paul had brand new eyes.  He could see again, but more importantly, he had spiritual eyes to see the work of God.  He now saw the world through eyes that Christ had given him!  I just think this is so cool, because it illustrates how we really can do nothing apart from Christ.  We rely on him for everything, even the ability to see HIM clearly!

It's obvious from scripture that the eyes are pretty important.  Matthew 6:22-23 says, "The eye is the lamp of the body.  If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  but if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!"  There are several insights we can gain from this passage, but I think one is that if our spiritual eyesight is weak, we will not discern the light of God.  Instead we will be surrounded in perpetual darkness.  On the other hand, if we see clearly the light of God, we will be filled with that same light!  How encouraging this is!

Do you ever feel like you need fresh eyes?  Not just see the world itself more clearly but to see Christ more clearly.  I feel this need on a daily basis since there are so many things in my life that I don't understand and need spiritual insight in.  The eyes to see these things can only come from Jesus.  He is the ultimate restorer of sight!  Ephesians 1:18 says, "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe."  Oh how I wish I had the eyes to see the glory of God!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Changing the Story

Today was a very special day for thousands of children around the world.  Today was Compassion Sunday, a day when sponsorship advocates all over the country shared the blessings of child sponsorship with their church families and encouraged them to become sponsors themselves.  Several months ago the Lord called me to be involved in Compassion Sunday, so I had the wonderful opportunity to share my heart for child sponsorship at my church this morning.

Compassion International is a child advocacy organization, which is involved in ministry all over the world to release children from poverty in Jesus' name.  It is an incredible organization that Patrick and I are proud to support.  I've written several times about the kids we sponsor, and our recent trip to India to visit them in person.  You can read that post here.  Our experience in seeing firsthand the impact of our sponsorship was a huge inspiration for my presentation this morning.  When you've had the opportunity to see with your own eyes the blessing of sponsorship, you can't help but want to share that blessing with as many people as possible.

The slogan for this years' Compassion Sunday was "Change the Story."  This is really what Compassion is all about; giving children a chance at a new life as they are given the resources to rise out of poverty.  Compassion sponsorship gives children resources like education, food, clean water, clothing, etc.  But the most important thing the kids are given is a chance to heard the gospel of Jesus.  It would be easy to meet physical needs and call it good, but meeting spiritual needs is really the crux of the matter.  Meeting physical needs might make people more comfortable for their brief stint on Earth, but until we share the Good News of Christ, we have left their spiritual state unchanged.  It is through belief in Christ that true transformation happens, and real hope is experienced.  Compassion is all about meeting needs both physical and spiritual, and this is what I love about the organization.  Lives are being transformed in all sorts of amazing ways as children are provided clean water but also Living Water.

The Lord did an incredible thing within our church family this morning.  I had received packets for 15 children needing sponsors, and I had been praying for weeks that each and every one of them would have sponsors by the end of the morning.  After the service my sponsorship table was swamped with people whom God had called to be a blessing to a child in poverty.  Within minutes all 15 child packets were gone!

The goodness of God was made so evident to me yet again this morning.  It brought tears to my eyes to think of the joy of those children who received sponsors today, and the way that their story will be changed by it.  Because really, you can't experience Jesus without being changed in incredible ways!

If you are interested in sponsoring a child through Compassion, please check out their website.  There are thousands more children waiting for someone to change their story.  It can start with you!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Who's Holding the Rope?

Lately I've been thinking about the different roles we all play when it comes to missions.  God has a purpose and a calling for each of us in this area, and even if you aren't called to move overseas, you are still called to participate in God's global purposes.  The call to missions isn't one that's answered only by those who go.  Instead, God calls his whole church to be a part of missions by being either a goer or a sender.

Goers are those who pack up and leave behind everything familiar for the unknown of a new country or culture.  Goers are the ones on the front lines of missions, who are bringing the Good News to those who have never heard the name of Jesus.  William Carey was an extremely influential missionary to India.  Before setting off for the mission field someone said to him, "There is a gold mine in India; but it seems as deep as the center of the earth, who will venture to explore it?"  Carey responded with, "I will go down, but remember that you must hold the rope."

Imagine trying to climb down into a mine with no one to hold the rope for you.  You would have no support system, no one backing you up or encouraging you in your climb.  Carey's illustration shows the importance of having senders within the church.  Without their support, there would be no missions.  There would be no one to take the gospel of Christ into the nations.

Senders are those called to "hold the rope" for the goers through prayer and financial support.  Even though they might not be called to the front lines, their commitment to support those who go is crucial.  Though financial support it important, we cannot underestimate the impact of prayer in missions.  I think this is the most important role the senders have.  If missionaries go to another country or culture but their mission is not undergirded in prayer, their work may very well be in vain.

The past several years we have experienced the blessing of "holding the rope" for other missionaries.  We have friends all over the world in the mission field, and we love being part of God's global purposes through prayer and financial support.  It's been incredible to see God at work through those we are sending!

Over the next few years we will be preparing for the mission field ourselves.  We will be transitioning from being just senders to being goers as well, and we're really excited about it.  Excited and a little scared.  The idea of raising support seems daunting, especially since neither Patrick nor I like the idea of asking people for money.  But then I remember that this is what God calls the church to do, and those who support missions are greatly blessed by their giving and their praying.  If we were to go into missions without partnering with supporters we would deprive them of the blessing God has in store for them by being involved in global missions, and we would deprive ourselves of the prayer support critical to keeping missions alive.

We have been praying for and about those individuals and families who will choose to come alongside us and hold the rope for us as we head to southeast Asia to share the gospel.  We cannot do it alone, and I'm excited to see who God will call to be part of our sending team.  We'll be spending a few weeks there this summer to check out some different ministry opportunities, and I'm sure this trip will set our hearts on fire for the lost people there!  My prayer is that the Lord would also set your heart on fire for missions, and that you would experience the blessing of holding the rope!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

On Pouring Out

My heart has been convicted yet again of the fact that I'm extremely selfish.  Specifically, I'm selfish with myself, and with my time.  Ha!  "My" time.  As if every moment I breathe in and out didn't belong to God in the first place.  Where have I gotten this notion that anything is truly mine, least of all time?  Yet how often I find myself not wanting to do things for other people because it might impinge on my "me time."  I'm starting to realize how very empty a life is when hoarding time is my hobby.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the idea of being poured out.  We pour ourselves out when we take time for other people and invest our time in their lives.  We are poured out when we serve unselfishly.  We are poured out when we willingly give of ourselves with no thought of being repaid.  Jesus is the ultimate example of being poured out, because He gave his very life for us.  He gave everything so we could live the fullest life.  At the last supper with his disciples Jesus, "took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, 'Drink from it all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'" (Matthew 26:27)  As Christ followers should we not follow his example?  Shouldn't Christians be known for giving of themselves till there's nothing left?

Perhaps it's fear that keeps us from giving of ourselves the way Christ calls us to.  Fear that if we pour out too much of ourselves for someone, there won't be anything left for the next person.  We think that by pouring out we'll eventually run dry.  Psalm 23:1 says, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want."  Verse 5 says, "You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows."  Ah yes, an overflowing cup.  I shall not be in want.  How often I forget this.  With God we will never run dry.  No matter how many times we pour ourselves out for others, God just keeps pouring more of Himself into us.  There's a song I love by Audrey Assad called "Blessed are the Ones."  In it is a verse that goes something like this:

Let's build a house with turned out doors
So we can share what love affords
Pour ourselves out like the wine we've been saving

What are we saving the wine for?  Why not pour ourselves out so we can reap the blessing God has for us in being filled with his grace again and again?  First Timothy 1:12-14 says, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service.  Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.  The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus."  In these verses Paul is saying that the love and peace of Christ was poured out on him so he could do the work of Christ.  Isn't it incredible how Jesus always equips us for whatever it is he calls us to do?

I am praying that I wouldn't be afraid to pour myself out for the sake of others, and that through the giving of myself they would see the face of Christ.  I pray that you and I would always rest on the promise that God will sustain us, and continue to fill us with his everlasting grace.  May we remember that God is always enough!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Finding Hope in Hunger

One thing I prayed for before leaving for India was that God would open my eyes to the things He wanted me to see there.  I don't mean all the cool monuments and such, but to really see India, to see how He is at work in that country and to see the needs of the people.  I wanted my heart to be broken by the things that break the heart of God.

I suppose I should preface this by saying that I believe that the knowledge of God that comes through Christ is the only way to be redeemed and saved.  I'm sure there are many people who will read this that believe there are a multitude of ways to heaven, but I think God is pretty clear in His Word about how we can have eternal life.  In John 14:6 Jesus says, "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well."  Jesus doesn't say he is one way or one truth.  He says he's the way and the truth.  I don't believe this verse is open to interpretation.

That being said, I will tell you that in India we visited a few Hindu temples, places where I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness.  In the temples there were statues of gods and goddesses set up, and people would come and bow down to them.  The first commandment is "You shall have no other Gods before me."  (Deuteronomy 5:7)  God is very clear that He alone is worthy of our praise and worship, and seeing the kind of idol worship happening in the temples was almost painful.

I could see in the peoples' eyes their hunger to know God, and their hunger to worship, yet their worship of the mute idols in front of them was vastly misdirected.   People pray to mere statues in hopes of finding salvation.  They pray to created things rather than the Creator.  It truly broke my heart.  I think though, that this was exactly what I had prayed God would open my eyes to see.  I caught a glimpse of the great need for the gospel in India, and if anything, it strengthened my desire to become a missionary overseas.  There is a Truth much greater than any man-made idol, and I want to be able to share that Truth with people who are desperate for it.  And yes, I think people are desperate for Jesus, even if they don't know His name.  They are desperate for the One who can save them.  Desperate for Living Water which will truly satisfy their every need.

So even while witnessing the empty idol worship of the Hindu temples, God gave me hope that His name will yet be exalted.  "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." (1 Peter 2:9)  Among the worshipers in those temples are ones whom God is calling into his wonderful light.  It is so encouraging to me to rest on the promise of God that we do not hunger in vain.  When we hunger after the Living God, we find Him in Jesus.   

Monday, April 9, 2012

Catching the Fast Train to Chennai

Patrick and I rarely disagree about anything, that is, until we came to the issue of the train.  You may know that the train is a major form of transportation in India, and that 20 million people take the train everyday.  Since this is such a major way of life for Indians, Patrick decided it was something we should experience for ourselves.  In the beginning I was on board with this idea (no pun intended), but the closer we got to our trip the more I started to dread it.  We had purchased tickets from Trivandrum to Chennai, a trip that would take 18 hours and cover more that 700 kilometers.  The ride would take us from one coast to the other (from west to east.)  Did you catch that, 18 hours on a train.  

The thing about traveling is it can be really eye opening to the areas of my life that are easy to hide when we're at home.  I like to think I'm not high maintenance.  I like to think I'm not a princess, but his whole train thing shattered that illusion.  The more I complained about not wanting to ride in a non-air conditioned train with non-cushioned seats, the more I realized how spoiled I am.  When Patrick asked, "What, you think you're too good for the train?" I saw how proud I am and the sense of self-entitlement that has wedge itself into my heart.  Ouch.  I saw there was no getting out of this one.

Our train journey began at 5:30 in the morning, which meant we were up at 4:00 to leave the hotel and get to the station.  Lucky for us, there were few other travelers at that hour making it much easier for us to find our platform and car number.  For the first few hours of our journey we were the only ones in our compartment so we could stretch out on the seats and sleep a bit.  Though sleeping was the last thing I wanted to do since there was so much to see.  Despite the fact that I'd been a complete brat about getting on that train, God blessed the experience for me.  We saw a side of India that we never would have seen had we flown to Chennai.  Patrick took a lot of incredible pictures, but they still couldn't capture the beauty of God's creation.  I had no idea what a gorgeous country India really is!  The best part of the trip was watching the sun come up over the forest of palm trees and catching glimpses of the ocean here and there through the trees.

I'd thought that it would take awhile before I was ready to say that taking the train was worth it, but in truth it didn't take that long.  Despite being uncomfortable for so many hours, I'm really glad we did it.  I'm grateful that I have a husband who doesn't let me back down from an experience just because deep down I'm a princess who wants to be comfortable.  I'm grateful that God gives me grace when I have a rotten attitude and that He is never finished working in my heart.  I'm grateful for experiences like this one that show me the parts of my heart that aren't totally surrendered to Christ, because it's in those moments that real growth can happen.  Who knew there would be so many life lessons to be learned in Sleeper Class?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Most Precious Children in the World

For over two years we've sponsored Abhinav through Compassion International.  Through sponsorship children living in poverty are able to have access to education, health and dental care, and most importantly, the gospel of Christ.  For two years we've been writing letters to Abhinav every few weeks, getting to know him and what life is like for him in India.  More recently, we've started sponsoring Jeevalakshmi, and we have treasured getting letters from her as well.

Ever since we first became sponsors we'd dreamed that someday we would meet our kids in person.  This was the reason behind our trip to India, and what a great experience it was!  Abhinav lives in Trivandrum, a fairly small city in the southern part of India, right on the coast.  Our translator from the child development center picked us up from our hotel and we drove out to meet him and his family.  We were told that all the children from the center would be there as well.  I wondered if I would be able to pick him out of the crowd of children, and when we got there I had no trouble knowing who he was.  I can't even begin to describe how my heart felt the moment I laid eyes on Abhinav for the first time.  I was overwhelmed at the reality of meeting him in person after so many letters and prayers.  There's just something special about meeting someone you've been praying for for years.  He doesn't speak English, so we had a translator with us the whole time to facilitate the visit.

All the other kids from the center were there too, and were so excited for us to be there.  They all wanted to shake our hands and ask us how we were doing.  We'd been told that we were only the second set of sponsors who had come to that center to visit the kids.  There were 314 children there, so this really broke my heart.  What also broke my heart was hearing that many of the children rarely or never receive letters from their sponsors!  Sponsorship is so much more than sending money every month, and the part that really makes an impact on the child is knowing that someone out there really loves them and is willing to take the time to write to them regularly.  So if you're sponsoring a child now, I hope you'll write to them often!

We had a chance to visit Abhinav's home and meet his mother and younger brother Abhijih.  The boys were so excited to ride in the car to and from their home.  He lives near a canal in the middle of a palm tree jungle.  While there are beautiful surroundings, the living conditions are hard to imagine.  They were all excited to show us the items they had been able to buy with Christmas money we had sent.  It struck me that they were able to do so much with a relatively small amount of money, and it meant so much to the whole family.

We were able to have lunch with Abhinav at the center, then visit the Neyyer Dam nearby, which is absolutely beautiful!  Unfortunately it started raining so we weren't able to stay long.  The end of our visit came too soon, but we were grateful for every minute we had with Abhinav.

The next day we took the train to Chennai so we could visit Jeevalakshmi.  You could see in her eyes how excited she was that we were there to see her!  I was blown away by how beautiful she is, especially because she was dressed in her nicest clothes with flowers in her hair.  The other children were in school that day so we had a much quieter visit with her.  We got to see the center where she goes everyday after school for Bible teaching and help with school work.

We walked across the street to see Jeevalakshmi's home, and many neighbors were there to greet us.  Apparently she'd been so excited that she told the whole neighborhood about our visit!  As a gift to me, Jeevalakshmi's mother gave me bangles to wear on both wrists.  All day long I jingled whenever I moved my arms.  Our next stop was Jeevalakshmi's school, which was still in session.  It was so fun visiting her classroom and meeting her teacher.  I'm looking forward to sharing those pictures with my students when I go back to school this week.

Both of these visits were such a blessing to us, and our prayer has been that the children and their families would be blessed through it as well.  Actually being there and seeing everything that Compassion is doing makes me proud to be a sponsor through their organization.  Christ is truly being exalted among the nations and among the poor because of the work they are doing.  If you are sponsoring children through Compassion or any other organization I would highly encourage you to try to visit them.  You have no idea what an impact it can make on their lives, and what a blessing it is to know that someone really cares about them enough to visit their country!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

India at a Glance

Well, we finally made it home from our two-week trip to India, and what an incredible experience it was! I felt like I was in sponge-mode the whole time just trying to soak up all the details and capture every memory.  Hopefully through these posts I'll be able to re-create some of India for you.  Thanks to Patrick's incredible photography skills, we have many amazing pictures to share as well.

My first impression of the country was how much it reminded me of other places we've been.  The tuk tuks everywhere (in India called auto rickshaws) reminded me of Thailand, while the lack of traffic patterns and street vendors reminded me of Egypt.  Some of the houses even reminded me of Japan.  But the longer we stayed in India, the more I realized it's in a category all its own.  In many ways I couldn't compare it with any other place in the world.

One thing we had been preparing ourselves to experience was the extreme poverty of India.  We saw it more in the northern cities, but there were people everywhere who seemed to just be sitting around waiting.  Waiting for what, I'm not really sure.  We found many people sleeping right there on the ground, no mat or anything.  Despite it all, I was surprised at how few people approached us asking for money.  I had anticipated that we would constantly be surrounded by outstretched hands and hungry eyes, but we encountered relatively little of that.

Another exciting aspect of India is the traffic.  Perhaps exciting is the wrong word.  Death-defying seems more appropriate.  The general consensus seems to be that traffic laws are for sissies.  I figured anyone who is ready to take their life in their hands to risk driving in India had better have made his peace with God.  We were lucky enough to have our own drivers for the two weeks we were there, any they all expertly avoided many an accident.  What is still a miracle to me is how Patrick and I survived being pedestrians.  On more than one occasion I was sure I was about to meet my end at the hands of a tuk tuk or motorcycle driver.

Our first week in India was spent doing touristy things in touristy places.  We saw lots of beautiful monuments and heard a lot about the history of India.  To be honest, this didn't interest me as much as I thought it would.  While I was awed by the beauty of the Taj Mahal (as anyone would be to see it in person), I just couldn't get excited about the old India.  What I wanted to experience was the real, living India of today.  That's why the second half of our trip was so much more meaningful to me.  But more on that later.

As you probably know, the whole point of our going to India was to visit the two children we sponsor through Compassion International.  The story of those visits warrants its own post, so I'll write more details on that later.  Suffice it to say, the few hours we spent with each of our kids was incredible and life changing in many ways.

Now that we're home I feel like my head is still reeling with all the things we saw, felt, and did over the last two weeks.  I think in some ways I wasn't ready to come home, because there was so much of India that we didn't get to see.  You'd have to spend months there to see everything!  God really did bless this trip in so many ways, and I'm thankful for our family and friends who were praying for us while we were away.  Those prayers were certainly felt!