Monday, July 30, 2012

NWMC - Grace and Glory

NWMC 2012, Photo by Jean Heller
Once again I was tremendously blessed this past week as I attended the New Wilmington MissionConference. I arrived on campus sore (one hour drive + herniated disc = extreme discomfort) and empty. I admit that I’ve been starving myself like a spiritual anorexic, coasting through daily life on spiritual fumes for much too long and needing to rest in God’s love and grace for a while. Even as I went in an attitude of condemning myself for my general lack of spiritual fervor of late, God and his people there received me with open arms, with love and understanding. Over the week, the Spirit enabled me to let go of my self-judgmental attitude and I began to enjoy the freedom of God’s grace. He reaffirmed my call to prayer and work with the grieving. He nourished me with the reading of his Word and renewed my spirit with songs of praise. Any words I write would pale in comparison to my experience this week, but I do want to share a small snippet of my week in the hope that it might be a blessing to you as well.

NWMC 2012 Labyrinth, Photo by Jean Heller
All week long, the speakers were phenomenal – like the family storytellers coming home from exotic trips and telling of their adventures – I was on the edge of my seat glued to their every word. We learned from Pastor Mangal from Nepal that in the 70s there were only 1000 Christians in all of Nepal and today there are three million. In 40 years, he went from being one of five Christians in his region to being the pastor of a church that holds four worship services every Sunday with 58 daughter churches planted by his congregation.

Christ has given all of us the great commission to go out and share the gospel, make disciples at home, in our neighborhoods and out in the world. We are made new in Christ and it is in the DNA of this new person, one missionary explained, to share the good news of Jesus. I used to think evangelism and mission work was for the specially called or educated, the theology majors and ministers. But I can’t make that silly assumption anymore. In the 70s, Pastor Mangal wasn’t a pastor. He was just an ordinary young man attending school where a British soldier shared the Gospel with him and he in turn shared the Good News he received with those around him. Today, 60% of Nepal is illiterate, unable to read or write, but they share with their family and villages what God has done and is doing in their lives. Sick people are being healed and seeing the power of Jesus in prayer offered by everyday ordinary people of God. People awaiting execution, by God’s grace and the power of prayer, are being released unharmed. God is doing incredible things in Nepal through ordinary everyday people – many who can’t even read His Word.

NWMC 2012, Photo by Jean Heller
“One year, three year, six year” is a phrase Pastor Mangal uttered that is still echoing in my ears. He explained that until recently in Nepal, if you become a Christian you would be put in jail for one year and would be forced to return to your previous Hindu or Buddhist religion upon release. If you were caught sharing the Gospel, you received a three year sentence. If you baptized anyone, you would receive six years in jail. He told of one pastor that was found guilty of 32 individual cases of sharing the Gospel and was sentenced to 96 years in jail. However, by God’s grace, under the new system of government, he was released along with all the rest of the religious prisoners in 1991-1992. The new constitution no longer has the law against becoming a Christian, but does still prescribe a three year jail sentence for those caught sharing the Gospel and a six year jail sentence for those caught baptizing others. And still three million people courageously step out in faith to share the gospel and baptize new believers. Their commitment to Christ is not now nor will it ever be taken lightly in their own hearts and lives because there is so much at stake.

I am so blessed to have the freedom to believe and worship as I choose. On behalf of my brothers and sisters around the world who don’t know that freedom, I hope to be more committed to exercising that freedom, more passionate in worshipping Jesus and living a life pleasing to God where I am, sharing the Good News of what Jesus has done and is doing in my life and joyfully giving him the praise and glory.

You too can hear Dr. Mangal speak as I did in this audio recording of his time at NWMC.

About the pictures:
I was unable to use my camera because of the herniated disc so my friend Jean let me feature a few of her photos taken at the New Wilmington Mission Conference this year. Thanks Jean.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Answered Prayer

If you read last week’s post, you know that I have been praying for recovery from herniated disc issues and hoping this healing would occur in record time so that I would still be able to attend the New Wilmington Mission Conference being held on the Westminster College campus this week. While I am not completely out of the woods yet on the disc, I am going to be able to attend – Yeah God! And thank you everyone who prayed with me. 


If you had told me four years ago that I would be fervently praying to attend this conference, I am sure I would have laughed until I cried in utter disbelief. After all, I’m not a missionary and, to the best of my knowledge, I never will be. It all started three years ago when a friend who was introducing me to the game of golf suggested I go to the conference golf outing held every year. He wasn’t trying to convince me to attend the conference or become a missionary or anything like that – just play golf on a regulation golf course which I had never done before and was eager to experience. Never having been to Westminster College before, I drove up on Sunday to see where I was going and attended the evening meeting. The speaker caught my interest as he shared about what God was doing in the mission field – so much so that I drove up and back (two-hour round trip) every evening after work because I didn’t want to miss any more of the conference than I had to. (And by the way – the golf was fantastic!!!!)


Last year, I was ready – I registered for the whole week – staying on campus so I didn’t miss a thing and was so incredibly blessed by those who spoke and the new friends I made. The Holy Spirit was so very present in that place and I sensed that he was pointing my faith journey toward prayer ministry, with a focus on the grieving and on those in mission. I adopted a mission family for which I pray for and send money to if I can and I began reading about prayer ministry and volunteering with grieving families.

Of course, it seems like most of that was put on hold over the last six months as I’ve been dealing with my own personal issues and I’m at a point now where I am empty and need to soak in the grace and glory of God. I am counting the hours until I set my foot on campus again to see what new things God is doing in the world through missionaries and through those who send, support and pray for them.

What do you do and where do you go to soak in the grace and glory of God? If you’re empty and moving through life on autopilot – don’t wait any longer. Spend some quality you and God time right now, this week. And you will know the peace that surpasses all understanding!

About the pictures:
New Wilmington Mission Conference - Westminster College Campus (July 2011)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tell God Your Plans If You Want to Make Him Laugh

I am a planner – gifted by God to be an organizer of all the silly little details that the big picture people don’t see or have time to be bothered with. It serves me well in my calling as a church secretary. I’m always trying to think three steps ahead so that the unexpected conflicts, roadblocks and blunders are eliminated, avoided or traversed before the big picture people come anywhere near that junction of God’s work. I pick up the slack when they leap from one mountain to another. If there is something I don’t know, I research or I ask until I know because when the questions start flying – they all land on my desk.

I’m not telling you this to blow my own horn. Those who know me know the truth of that – it’s just not in me to seek the limelight. I’m telling you this so that you have a better understanding of what I am writing about today.

I have been having issues with my herniated discs again and this past week, and though my pain tolerance is pretty high, it finally surpassed my ability to contain and I’ve been stuck at home for the last four days with constant pain that rivals a dislocated shoulder and a knife in the back. Sitting for any length of time is impossible – so much so that I am actually typing this standing up. This is not the first time I’ve had to deal with this problem and I doubt it will be the last. I’ve even factored these kinds of incidences into my work plan so that if I need to miss a couple of days, I will not fall so far behind as I can’t easily catch up. Even as well prepared as I try to be, this could not have happened at a worse time as I have for the last twelve months been looking forward attending the New Wilmington Mission Conference beginning next Saturday. In my current condition I will be unable to attend.

I have been planning this for a year, since I came home from the last one (which I wrote about last year Missionaries and Me at NWMC.) I found the conference to be a place where I can retreat into God’s arms, hear his words, be renewed by his Spirit, and sent out to do his will and I have been feeling a little tapped out in that area lately. See, just like every other person in a relationship – my relationship with God is constantly changing (God isn’t changing, I am and the intimacy or lack of intimacy we share is constantly fluctuating because of me). Like any relationship, it takes hard work to keep it vibrant and growing. If I’m not intentionally seeking God, interacting with him on a daily basis, our relationship grows dim and lifeless, just like any other. These last six weeks, I’ve been holding out for the conference to jump into the river of God’s grace and presence again. I’ve been planning on it and never thought it wouldn’t happen - - - but now, only God knows.

I am still hopeful that God will heal me in time to attend. But if not, I have to believe it is because God’s plan for that week is not what I had in mind. I learned a long time ago that it’s silly to try to convince God of how much better my plan is. However, this is the first time that I feel as if I can accept it before my plan is unrealized and not after. I’m not saying I won’t be disappointed if I can’t go, but I trust that God knows what I need and how that will be best realized in my life far better than I. I trust God’s plan is better than mine.

Actually it’s been a long time since he and I talked about the future and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given my care over to him in the last two days. Perhaps God just wanted to get started a week early. I don’t know how this will turn out, but I’m sure that if God has anything to do with it, and he does, it will bring us closer together and glory to his name. Blessings and may God’s plans be fulfilled in your life this week. Amen.
About the pictures:
Oakland, PA (July 2009)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Changes

I thought it might be fun to look back to July 30, 2009 for today's post. It's as pertinent now as it was then. Enjoy!


I've been thinking a lot about change. The kind of change that gives us an opportunity to learn and grow. Somewhere this week, a marriage crumbled. A life-saving surgery took place. A job was lost. A child was born. A loved one died. You may look at this list and see some good changes and some bad changes. I look at it and choose to see God's gifts.
 
When something comes along in my life that's devastating, I hate it just as much as anyone else, but I've learned to see it as a gift from God. This precious gift is an opportunity for me to lean on him and relay on him even more than I do when life is favorable. There is a closeness and familiarity that comes only when I'm weeping in his arms and seeking his comfort. I learn more about who I am as a person and often times find things in me that need changing that I wouldn't have seen otherwise. It's in those unhappy, unwanted circumstances in my life that I grow in character and maturity. His strength in my weak moments leaves me stronger and more secure in good times.


When adversity takes a vacation and life is good, I need to praise God for the accomplishments he has given me in my life. I need to share that joy with those around me for no victory can truly be celebrated to its fullest alone. I need to be ever mindful that things are always changing, and hard times will come again but through it all, the good and the bad, God's Spirit is with me. That one thing will never change.

He is my constant companion. He is my protector, my guide, my comfort, my joy and my hope. Time and again, he has proved his love and dedication to me and only asks that I love him in return. How could I not? When all about me is in chaos, he is my rock. When all is calm, he is my peace. Nothing and no one else in all of creation or history can measure up to his perfection. So I choose to give my heart to God because I refuse to settle for second best.

Thank you Jesus for teaching me how to love you by loving me first.
 
About the pictures:
Pittsburgh, PA (June 2010)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Work in Progress

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)


This week I’ve spent some time looking at who I am as a person, as a child of God. Just like you, I’m a work in progress…God’s masterpiece, envisioned by the One who spoke the universe into existence – he is lovingly crafting me by his skilled hand. Good thing that’s his job and not mine!

What I observed is that I am good person with a big heart. I like that about me. But I’m also way too involved in the details of my life, often letting too much precious time slip by in useless procrastination and distraction. In the past, I would come down hard on myself, condemning what I consider my faults and failures. Then, feeling guilty, I would “try harder” to be better and inevitably fail leaving me to start the cycle all over again. As a completed project, this would be unacceptable, but as a work in progress…my flaws and failures are just rough spots the Master still needs to smooth out and chip away.


Just like me, the people I encounter in my daily life are works in progress. They too have flaws and failures awaiting the Master’s touch. Here’s where God invites me into his work. I can be like the Pharisees and Sadducees and choose to condemn them for their imperfections or follow in the footsteps of Jesus and accept them, in grace for who they are, reflecting the love and forgiveness he shows me every day. I want to say that I will always choose to act in grace, love, and forgiveness but I’m still just a work in progress and it’s not going to happen. Grace is not something we as human beings can summon within ourselves. Grace is God’s amazing gift to us – a gift that is complete only when we learn to pass it on to others.

If you think grace is easy – go ahead – try to put it into practice. Think of something that you just can’t stand in a person, something that grates against your sensitivities, your conscience, and accept them fully, just as they are, in grace and love. I'm not talking about tolerance, but loving others with Christ's heart. God doesn't tolerate us. He loves us. This is my challenge and my goal – to love as Jesus loves me. And I can only do that in the power of the Holy Spirit.

About the pictures:
Pittsburgh, PA (May 2010)