Monday, February 21, 2011

Christ is Alive... Even in China and Iraq

When I hear someone say "missionary" I immediately think of mission trips to Nicaragua and Peru or people I know living in the mission field, living in relatively safe places, spreading the Word of God. However, when I hear of people like Shane Claiborne and Brother Yun... for whatever reason, I feel like the word "missionary" doesn't quite fit. Yes, of course, they are missionaries... but they seems more like superhero missionaries... going to far off places where the people desperately need to hear about Jesus... but willingly putting themselves in harms way in the process.

Brother Yun

When I first read his story, I could help but draw immediate and apparent similarities to the Apostle Peter. I envision him sitting in a prison cell, always faithful, but I'm sure, also wondering how in the world God was going to work out his situation, so to speak. I remember reading this to my kids a while back, only to have the oldest ask, "Is that true?" My answer was somewhat sarcastic: "What? You don't think it's possible for angels to release shackles, let sleeping guards rest undisturbed, and have Peter escapes prison walls without being detected?" In her most serious disposition, eyebrow arched high, she simply said, "No." The only word that justly reassures is... miraculous. Brother Yun's life... his entire life... in my opinion, magnifies this word, as only God's grace can. To be held in a maximum-security prison in China, legs beaten until crippled, only to walk out six weeks later... through gates and barriers, usually closed, that were "miraculously opened." Now, Brother Yun travels the world sharing his story with countless others, encouraging them to preach the word of God in countries where such actions are punishable.

Shane Claiborne
Shane is in his late twenties (maybe thirties, by now), living in one of the worst communities in Philadelphia. As a resident of A Simple Way, Shane works with other residents to expose elements that foster poverty. Chan writes that "their lives are about loving the very poor and broken in one of America's hardest cities" by feeding the hungry, spending time with neighborhood children, running a community store and planting community gardens in areas once described as decrepit. Shane travels around the country sharing his life with others. He stays with a host family when he travels and requests no money for his time... he only asks for those in attendance to give what they can to A Simple Way. In 2003, Shane also went to Iraq with the Iraq Peace Team. While there, he visited sites that were bombed daily, as well as hospitals where the injured were taken. He attended worship services with Iraqi believers.
Lives given over to God... am I the only one terrified by this? Obviously, these stories are the lives of others, not meant to be replicated by us, but still... What have I given over to God? What part of my life have I surrendered... completely? Where am I following Him... completely? I'm still living in that precarious place where the fear in my head is weighing down... suffocating at times... this love and willingness in my heart. I'm still holding on to things of this world because I'm fearful of what letting go really means. I "know" that following God and claiming His promises for my life is far better... far richer... far more sustaining... but I'm still afraid to let go...
This one is for me gang... but, by all means, join in!
I'm going to spend some time tonight talking to my husband about the things of this world that I'm refusing to let go of... also asking him to do the same. I'm not looking forward to the conversation... but I'm anticipating some growth to be born out of my certain discomfort!

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Saint and the Prayer Warrior

The next two lives we'll look at make me take pause. (Not that the others don't, mind you!) But, these two stories are really amazing to me because they speak to things that I frequently struggle with: forgiveness and trust... forgiveness of others and trust in God.
Rachel Saint
By our societal standards, Rachel Saint grew up relatively poor. She was one of eight children growing up in a family that had very little food. However, at the age of 18, Rachel received what many would consider a "golden ticket." A wealthy, elderly woman took Rachel on a trip to Europe and offered to make Rachel her heiress... if she agreed to be her companion for the rest of her life. Tempting offer... and Rachel seriously considered it. But, in the end, she knew that such a life was not for her. Instead, Rachel spent 12 years working in a halfway house for alcoholics and then became a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators in South America... eventually working with the notoriously dangerous Waorani Indians in Ecuador. While many might view this as brave... or crazy... in context, in my opinion, it's miraculous... for you see, Rachel's brother, Nate, was killed by the Waorani people. Such a horrible tragedy might turn many people away from God, but not Rachel... "it only sharpened [her] desire to tell these people about the love of Christ." It took many years for her to finally meet and live with the Waorani people, but she ended up living with them for 20 years... sharing her faith and leading them to the Lord.

George Mueller
George didn't become a Christian until he was in college. Before that, he was known for gambling, drinking and other "escapades." But, through the power of Christ, his life was transformed. He eventually married and became a preacher in England. That's where he and his wife decided to open an orphanage for children living on the streets... free of charge. But, moreover, the Muellers decided they wouldn't even ask others for financial contributions... they would trust God to provide for their every need. (Now, I don't know about you, but having pretty extensive knowledge on how non-profits work... "financial contributions" are the life-blood of most, if not all, of these operations. The thought of not soliciting financial support for such an endeavor is... well... crazy!) Chan writes the following: "Many people were incredulous, and so the Muellers' purpose in starting the orphanage became twofold: The first was obviously to help the orphans; the second was to show people what it looked like to trust God for everything." p. 158. Relying solely on prayer, they opened the first orphanage. By the time George died in 1898, over 10,000 orphans had been cared for in the five houses the Muellers' built... and a million and a half pounds, in monetary donations, were given.

So, today's blog boils down to forgiveness and prayer... I wish it was that easy! For many of us, these two things are big hurdles we need to cross... and conquer... in our efforts to become obsessed with God. This past weekend, we had family in town. It was the kind of visit that stirs up feelings I often equate with having a root canal... anxiety, frustration, physical pain. It just so happened that my eldest daughter's daily devotion for one of the days of the visit was about forgiveness. This started a very interesting conversation about how difficult it is to forgive... and how important it is to forgive... God does have a sense of humor. The person in question began telling my daughter how she finds it more difficult to forgive those she doesn't know compared to her family. This struck me as odd because I feel the complete opposite... and I told her so. She looked at me as if I had three heads, not understanding how that was even possible. I went on to explain that...right or wrong... you don't expect family to intentionally hurt you... maybe because you hold them to a higher standard... maybe because Norman Rockwell has subliminally made us believe that family-togetherness is the thread that binds. Regardless of the reason, a betrayal by family is a bitter wound to heel... because it's personal. Betrayal by a stranger is easier to forgive... at least for me... because I can rationalize that it wasn't personal... they don't know me. So, who's right? Well... it doesn't really matter, does it? Because the issue of forgiveness still lingers. I don't know if this person understood what I was saying... or that I was addressing a particular issue I had with her. But, again, after YEARS of building resentment... I have to really ask myself, does it matter? My "issue" is nothing compared to that of Rachel Saint. Reading her story made me realize that my lack of willingness to forgive is MY obstacle to overcome and until I'm willing to lay it down, then my growth in Christ will be stunted. That's a hard pill to swallow... but I think George Mueller's philosophy on prayer holds the key. If prayer can build orphanages and change the lives of thousands of children... then it can change my heart... if I'm willing to let go of being "right."


Is forgiveness a stronghold preventing you from a deeper relationship with Christ? Do you find yourself constantly "harping" on something, or someone... just not willing to let it go? If so, spend some time in prayer, asking God to work on your heart.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Rock Star and Rings

This might seem an unlikely pairing... and I have to admit that the only reason I originally put these two together was because of their order in the book. However, these two men do have a lot in common. Yes, one is a famous Christian singer known for turning his back on fame and money in order to focus on his pursuit of God and the other is "an ex-convict, ex-addict, and ex-alcoholic." But, both men, taking drastically different paths, found themselves giving everything they had to the Lord.

Rich Mullins
Rich grew up in the Quaker church and, at an early age, discovered a love for music. In 1985, he recorded his first album and for the next 12 years, spent his time making music, touring and ministering. While most people, still today, primarily know Rich as a musician, he didn't consider music to be his primary purpose in life. He merely saw it as a way to teach other people about Christ. In 1995, he moved to a Navajo reservation in Arizona to teach music to the children that lived there. Even though many of us would assume that such a "luxury" was afforded to him because he could live off the profits of his music, this simply wasn't the case. All the profits from his concerts and music went directly to his church and in return he received a small salary. Rich was killed in a motor vehicle accident in 1997.

This is the second time I've read about Rings. He was also mentioned in the book, Under the Overpass, which I've also mentioned on the blog. Rings lives in Ocean Beach, California. He isn't necessarily someone many would assume is a Christian: ex-convict, ex-drug addict, ex-alcoholic. But, he is a testimony to the healing hand of God... and the power of salvation...of redemption. Every month, Rings receives a check. Instead of using the money on himself, he goes to the local grocery store, buys coolers full of food and heads off to feed the homeless from the back of his truck. As he prepares the food, he shares the Gospel with anyone that will listen... telling them what God has done in his life... sharing with them what He can do in theirs.

The portraits that God so beautifully created of these men have stark contrasts... yet, are so incredibly similar. They took different paths in life, but God used them, their life experiences, to touch the lives of countless people... people from all walks of life. As I go back and "dissect"... if you will... the testimonies of the people highlighted in this chapter, I can't help but compare myself to them... and between you and me, I don't stack up. And, YES... I know that I shouldn't compare myself to anyone, but how can you not help it when you look at the lives of these people. And, for the record, I'm not really comparing my life to theirs... I'M COMPARING MY WILLINGNESS TO THEIRS! The past few weeks have been a spiritual struggle for me... and I don't think it's by chance. The closer I get to moving in the direction God is calling, the more conflicted I feel about certain things. Maybe conflicted isn't the right word... it's more about the realization that I'm not "all in"... I'm like a stubborn kid that stomps her feet, indignantly folds her arms and makes a grumpy face. I've wanted to serve God for a while, but it's always been on "my terms": when I'm ready, what I want to do, with people I want to serve with. When I really get down to it... my focus isn't on serving God... it's on serving myself while I'm doing things for God... and, in my opinion, this is the glaring obstacle that prohibits me from becoming obsessed.


As the book...and blog... come to an end in the next few weeks, think about the obstacles in your way. What is keeping you from being obsessed with God? Even if the obstacle is you!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Women Living Boldly For Christ

I love the next two examples... and not just because they're about women. One is about someone that defied all societal expectations in her pursuit of God and the other is a woman who turned her back on all that society places "value" on in her faithful pursuit of serving the Lord. One thing I've learned this past year is that I'm not made of tephlon. I do have pretty "thick skin"... and to be honest, probably 95% of the negative comments I hear have little or no effect on how I live my life. HOWEVER, despite my ability to shrug things off pretty easily, the one exception has been when others have something to say about how and why I serve Christ. I take offense... sometimes I even become defensive. But, worse than that, I start to wonder if the "naysayers" are right. The reason I love these two testimonies is because they prove the "naysayers" wrong. Being a Christian... truly living as Christ called us to live... in this society... isn't impossible. Hard, maybe... impossible, definitely not! And these women prove it!

Jamie Lang
At 23-years of age, Jamie took $2000 from her savings account and headed to Tanzania. Her original plan was to stay until her money ran out and then return back home. But God had other plans. Six months into her stay, Jamie met an 8-year-old girl carrying a baby boy whose mother was dying from AIDS. Jamie began buying formula for the little boy, in an attempt to help improve his health. Before the baby's mother died, she had the opportunity to thank Jamie for all she had done for her son and said that she wanted to be saved. After the mother passed away, Jamie spent the next six months trying to adopt the little boy and then another five months getting him a visa through the US embassy. (The incredible thing here is that Tanzania doesn't allow international adoptions. However, because Jamie had lived there for over six months, she could establish residency... thus allowing her to adopt the baby!) After a year and a half, Jamie returned home with the baby. While many other women her age would never dare dream of taking on such a responsibility... adopting a child (from another country nonetheless), not married, and I can only assume no immediate employment upon her arrival back to the US... Jamie still adopted this little boy because she knew it was part of God's plan for her life. Now, Jamie is married, has a little girl and is moving back to Tanzania to work with Wycliffe on translating Bibles... definitely part of God's plan.

Marva J. Dawn
I think it's probably safe to assume that Marva is an intelligent woman. She has four masters degrees and a PhD. She has written several books, is a gifted musician and speaks at conferences around the world. And while it might be easy to assume that she's pretty well set, financially speaking.... you might be surprised to hear that Marta gives away all the profits from her books. Despite having many medical problems, Marta and her husband live on his salary as a teacher... which isn't much. She even drives around in a 1980 Volkswagon Bug, with a broken heater, as a reminder to be more focused on prayer and to better identify with those in need.
As I spend time reflecting on these two women and the lives they lead, I can't help but think of my own life. What am I doing in my life, or what do I have in my life, that helps me focus on prayer... that helps me identify with those in need? Have you ever thought about that? Chan talked about it in an earlier chapter. Is there any area in our lives where we live by faith? That's the big "Rubber Meets The Road" question. Through this process, I've come to learn that living by faith is the catalyst of change for which I have desperately been searching... where being a Christian isn't something I just "do"; instead, it becomes who I am. Right now, I have a myriad of opportunities to live by faith, but it would be so much easier to just "do" a few "Christian things" from time to time... when it's convenient... when I have time... when I want to. But, that's not really living by faith, is it?
Lately, I've been struggling with this question? When faced with faith-building, life-altering changes that would undoubtedly force us to grow closer to Christ, do we wait for Him to change our hearts... to make them softer, more willing to follow (in effect, MORE COMFORTABLE with the direction He's taking us)? OR... do we step out in faith... because we know that it's the direction He's leading us... when we don't want to... when we aren't ready... when we are not yet comfortable with the "process"... is it really faith when it's on our terms... or when we're "ready" to take the step?
Think about what I wrote in the last paragraph. Answer that question for yourself!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Serving the Lord... on the Other Side of the World

You know, it never fails. Inevitably, when I talk about what it might look like to live an obsessed life for Christ, someone always equates such a "drastic" decision with selling off all worldly possessions, packing up the family and moving into a grass hut somewhere in the middle of the African continent. For most, it's a feeble attempt at humor, but, for some, it just underscores their ignorance and/or arrogance. But, today, I want to talk about two men that chose to serve Christ in such a way. One man was born on the other side of the world and the other moved there. But both men, despite the obvious differences in their life circumstances, made a powerful choice... to live an incredible life for Christ.

Nathan Barlow
Dr. Barlow was a medical doctor who spent more than 60 years of his life in Ethiopia helping people that suffered from a condition called mossy foot. (It was primarily found on people who worked in the soil of volcanic origin.) Eventually, Dr. Barlow returned to the US when his health started to deteriorate, but he longed to return to the people of Ethiopia. So, he returned to spend his last days there. One of the things Chan shares about Dr. Barlow really stood out to me: "Once, Nathan got a toothache, the pain of which was so intense that he had to fly away from the mission field... he had the dentist pull out all of his teeth and give him false ones so he wouldn't slow God's work in Ethiopia."

Simpson Rebbavarapu
Simpson was born into a poverty-stricken, lower-caste family in India. After two unsuccessful attempts to end her pregnancy, Simpson's mother gave birth to him. Eventually, his parents took Simpson to an orphanage because they were painfully aware that he would have a better life there. Now, as an adult, Simpson spends his time between an orphanage he started and an evangelism ministry that he uses to spread the Word of God through the use of audio bibles for those that are unable to read. Simpson receives no salary for his work, citing that he would rather have that money go to the continuation of God's work. Simpson said that "living this way, he has to trust that God has His hand on his life and will keep taking care of him. He also says his dependence keeps him in prayer and close to God."

So... this past week, I've spent a lot a time really focusing on what God wants me to take away from these stories... these people. Like I said in the earlier entry, we are not to emulate the lives of others. We are to live the life we are given... the life that's unique to us. But, having said that, there is a common thread that runs through the lives of all these people. I've read these stories several times, but there is a new clarity, a different perception, that I'm taking away this time through. When I look at the life of Dr. Barlow, I can't help but acknowledge the difference between doing a "good deed" and living a "good deed." So many times, I will spend my time "doing the deed"... only waiting for it to come to completion so I can return to the other "things" in my life. Dr. Barlow was so consumed by God's work that he obviously fell in love... not only with the work, but with the people he served. (Not to mention the fact that the man had ALL of this teeth pulled...JUST IN CASE there was a chance they could interfere in God's work!)

In the case of Simpson, for me, what speaks the loudest is his complete dependence on God...especially for his finances... realizing that such a complete surrender requires complete dependence. I don't know what that looks like, not really. But, it's becoming painfully obvious that this is where I need to begin!


If you get a chance, take a look at these websites that provide more information about these men and the work they have done for the Lord.