Monday, April 27, 2015

Join Me at NWMC

For the last several years, I have taken a week's vacation to attend the New Wilmington Mission Conference (NWMC) and I write about my experience the following week. I just signed up for this year's conference and was prompted by the Spirit to invite others to join me. Now you may think that it's not for you...maybe you're not a missionary or perhaps you are concerned because you and I are from different faith traditions. Please don't let that be a reason not to go. It is not just for missionaries (in the stereotypical sense) and it is not a denominational conference. It a time to be renewed and find out where God is calling you into his greater plan for the world. It's a time to make the world smaller by befriending Christians from all over the world. And it is a time of meaningful worship. But most of all, it's my little piece of heaven I want to share with all of you.

Just Another Missionary
This past week I attended the New Wilmington Mission Conference. It was incredible! This morning I woke up thinking of a verse from the song If I Were a Rich Man from The Fiddler on the Roof (one of my all time favorite musicals).

If I were rich, I'd have the time that I lack
To sit in the synagogue and pray.
And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall.
And I'd discuss the holy books 
with the learned men, several hours every day.
That would be the sweetest thing of all.

By these standards, I've been one of the richest people on the planet this past week. During the rest of the year, I often feel like I'm running to keep up and there is never enough time to just stop and be still in God's presence. At conference, I spent every waking moment of the past seven glorious days there through interactive bible study, hearing about what God is doing all over the world during mission hour and at table during meals talking with brothers and sisters in the faith from all over the world and then joining hundreds of believers (from young children to the young-at-heart who are in their 90s) in the worship of our God. And that was just the mornings! I had an opportunity to deepen friendships started last year and make new friends I already miss dearly. I spoke with people from California, Florida, Ohio, Malawi, China, and Iraq learning about the places they call home as they shared about the miracles God is doing there every day. I can tell you from what I heard—Our God's not dead, he's surely alive!!!!! The echo of the praise music calling out to us all over the campus as we walked to the outdoor pavilion near the lake where we worshiped twice a day is still calling in my heart. Never has the song "Surely the Presence" been so tangible for surely the presence of the Lord was in that place and I hope to carry that reality in my heart every day.

I remember in the beginning of the week confiding in a good friend that I wondered if indeed I really
did belong at that conference. After all, I'm not a missionary and know in my heart that I'm not being called to bring God's word to a foreign land. This is my fourth year at conference and I almost felt guilty being there—like I was crashing someone else's party. I'm not a missionary. I'm just a pray-er and not a very good one at that. Early in the week, I was asked the dreaded question: So what's your connection to mission? When I told this missionary to Malawi I was a pray-er, I felt like I was confessing a horrible failure to her. You know—those who can, go and those who can't, pray. Her reaction caught me off guard. She was so happy to meet me and with excitement asked me to pray for her and her husband and the work they are doing and for the people of Malawi. It's like she thought my praying would make all the difference in their mission. I guess I have to look back on those things God has been teaching me about prayer because clearly my heart hasn't gotten it yet.

God has an amazing sense of timing because I confided my feelings of unworthiness to be there to my friend just before the morning worship and less than 30 minutes later, the speaker was expounding on the scripture of the Samaritan woman at the well being the first missionary as she ran home to tell everyone she knew what Jesus had just said and done. The speaker went on to apply that to us saying that we are all missionaries right where God has placed us. When we help our elderly neighbor out with her trash, when we share with a coworker what God is doing in our lives, when we live a life of grace in our communities, we are missionaries and our mission field is right in our hometowns, our schools, our places of work, and our city streets. Where ever we are—we are God's ambassadors to the world. I keep forgetting that!

I am so very grateful to God for this conference—not only for what it does in the world but for what it does in me. It helps bring God's Word and grace to the world by preparing those God is calling to go out into the world, but also, it prepares me for my calling to pray for those who are sent and to be sent myself as a missionary back into my own little corner of the world. I'm looking forward to being able to share the wonderful things God has done in my mission field at next year's conference. I hope you will join me there.

Learn more about the conference at their website:

Monday, April 20, 2015

Do You Know Me?

An old favorite reposted:

In a trial, a Southern small-town prosecuting attorney called his first witness, a grandmotherly, elderly woman to the stand. He approached her and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know me?” She responded, “Why, yes, I do know you, Mr. Williams. I’ve known you since you were a boy, and frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheated on your wife, and you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you’re a big shot when you haven’t the brains to realize you’ll never amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you.”

The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?”

She again replied, “Why yes, I do. I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He’s lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. He can’t build a normal relationship with anyone, and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. One of them was your wife. Yes, I know him.”

The defense attorney nearly died.

The judge asked both counselors to approach the bench and, in a very quiet voice, said, “If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I’ll send you both to the electric chair.”

I laughed when I read this story and then I paused. God knows me even more intimately than that. If I were to ask him, “Do you know me?” would I be able to endure the shame his answer would bring. There are so many things in my life that are hidden and I’m not just talking about the dumb things I did as a rebellious teenager or the greedy, self-serving offenses of my pre-Christian days. At least with those, I have the weak excuse that God hadn’t redeemed my life yet.

Even if God were to concentrate his answer on the years after I committed my life to Jesus, I couldn’t bear the encyclopedic volumes that would proceed from his mouth. Rebellion and sin are deep in my nature and that’s not going to just go away. I’m not going to wake up one day and never sin again. Yes, I am a Christian and my ambition and hope is to obey God’s will in my life, to become more like Jesus and less like the sinful human being that I am, but that is going to be a lifetime struggle.

So often in this world, a Christian’s sin is used as proof of “the deception” of Christianity. Non-Christians build their case against God with the sins of his people. They judge us self-righteous when we obey God’s will in our lives and hypocrites when we fail. How did any of us ever get the idea that “real” Christians are perfect all of the time? Real Christians are just broken people like everyone else. We are people who, by God’s grace, recognize our brokenness and in faith believe God has paid the price to redeem our lives. In gratitude, we offer our love and service to him, but we are still sinful human beings. God’s redeeming work is available instantly, but requires the rest of this lifetime to take root and flourish.

When I stand before the Lord on the Day of Judgment, all of my sins will be illuminated and measured by his holiness. Though I am sinful, I’m not afraid of that day because, just as he is with me now, Jesus will be standing with me on that day blotting out every last one of my sins with his blood. It’s not a lack of sin that make a Christian different from a non-Christian. It’s a relationship with the Savior that makes us different.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Listening to the Heart

This week, without intention or desire, I found myself in the middle of a heated disagreement with a person I love and respect. We were talking and laughing one moment and passionately arguing our individual convictions the next. Once we realized what we were doing, we stopped immediately. After a few moments of reviewing the discussion in my mind, I realized that I needed to apologize because in my zeal to express my point of view, my words were received as at best an accusation and at worst a condemnation. This was never, for a single moment, my intent. Even so, my words hurt my friend so I apologized for the hurt I had carelessly caused.

I feel I failed in some way in my God-given mandate to love and treat respectfully all others and this caused me to lose a lot of sleep trying to figure out how this simple conversation got out of hand so quickly. I think the first thing I did wrong was try to defend my viewpoint. I think we all get misled into thinking that if we just state our position logically and with enough passion, the other person will suddenly see the correctness of our argument and agree. If this life were perfect and everything in it black and white, that just might be the case. But this world isn’t perfect nor is anything in it ever simply black and white. It’s like looking at an exquisite multi-faceted gem from one angle only and refusing to acknowledge the existence of the other facets let alone admit they are part of the magnificence of the gem.

My fault was that somewhere in those first moments of conversation, I stopped listening to my friend’s heart. I heard and responded only to the words that were being said and not the heart of the person speaking. It’s something we see Jesus do in the Gospels all the time—he often heard the words of the speaker, but listened and responded to the heart of those who spoke and he responded with undeserved love and grace. This is what he calls me to do. With the Spirit’s help, I try to listen to and respond to a person’s heart in all my interpersonal interactions. It is an exhausting endeavor, believe me. However it is also the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done—to see the heart of another person with Jesus’ eyes fills my heart with a joy I can’t put into words and sometimes it makes my heart break for their pain.

May God bless you today to see the heart of another with the eyes of Jesus. My hope is that you will know the glorious joy of responding with the same undeserved love and grace that you have received from God himself.

9-10 Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
11-13 Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
14-16 Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
17-19 Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

20-21 Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good. Romans 12:9-21 (MSG)

Monday, April 6, 2015

I'm Just Like Them

Today is the day after Easter and I am wondering, how has Easter changed me? It’s not enough to get dressed up and go to church and share dinner with the family. If Easter, which is the most important holiday on the Christian calendar, doesn’t change me, make me different, better, than I’ve missed the point.

 As I ponder the events of last week, I think about how I recognized myself in the disciples
throughout the Easter week narrative. I see myself in the disciples who fell asleep in the garden while Jesus was praying. I want to be awake with Christ, joining him in his work, but too often I find myself falling asleep in my discipleship. I see myself in Peter denying Christ even after he swore he wouldn’t because when push came to shove, fear won over his devotion to Jesus. Stepping out in faith, even just to share my faith story sometimes, can be scary and too often I give up the opportunity to share about Jesus because it seems safer not too. I see myself in the disciples hiding together behind locked doors in the upper room—I have little contact outside my own little faith community.

Thank God the disciples were ordinary human beings like me because just as I see myself in them, I also see how Jesus responds to them and likewise me. Jesus woke the disciples once but then let them sleep until the appointed time had come. Jesus knew Peter would deny him and told Peter so. After his resurrection, he doesn’t reprimand Peter but gave the opportunity to say he loved Jesus, once for every time he had denied Jesus. He came to the disciples in the upper room even though the doors were locked, not reprimanding them, but to give them his peace and the promise of the Holy Spirit.

How did Easter change me? It helped me to see that I’m just like the people whom Jesus shared his earthly life with. The same people he laughed with, cried with, protected and loved. The same people he worked with and through to change the world in the 1st century. I’m just like them and his relationship with me is no different than the relationships he had with them.