Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful Thanksgiving Thursday

Works out well that Thankful Thursday is on a Thursday and so is Thanksgiving :)

Today I'm thankful for God's grace. My life apart from it would be miserable and hopeless. We always spend Thanksgiving with both of our families. We spend the first part of the day and eat lunch with Richard's family and then eat dinner and spend the evening with mine.

As with anything, there are seasons and life is no exception.

Earlier this month, Richard's grandfather passed away unexpectedly and ended a season in their lives. It was tough for the entire family. Thanksgiving was always his favorite holiday and I can remember every year for at least the last four hearing his story about how broccoli casserole sent him to the hospital one year. It always brought a mixture of smiles and sighs as each person at the table could probably tell the story just as well as he did.

But we didn't hear it this year. I know for me I thought of it as I was eating my broccoli casserole and couldn't help but smile and thank God for His grace. Without it, we wouldn't have the peace of knowing we would one day see Papaw in Heaven... and maybe we could all eat some more broccoli casserole and hear the story again.

About three years ago ended a wonderful season for my extended family also. Every year since I can remember we would all get together, all my aunts, uncles, cousins, and my grandmother, and spend the Thanksgiving weekend laughing, eating, playing games, and just being together. With close to thirty people, it was always a lot of fun. It was the highlight of the year every year!

Unfortunately, as things sometimes go, a family dispute surfaced that Thanksgiving weekend of 2007. I remember telling my mom that very day that our family would never be the same. And it hasn't been.

But this year I was thankful for God's grace. I was thankful that even though we as humans sometimes don't find it within ourselves to ask for forgiveness or to forgive, God does. Regardless of how many times we hurt Him, He not only forgives, He forgets. And I was thankful for the memories and that some of my family was able to get together and just enjoy each others company. There were only nine of us this time, but we laughed and ate and it was a good time.

So I'm thankful for God's perfect grace. His grace that gives us reason to hope and laugh. His grace that forgives and brings life.

His grace that is sufficient through all the seasons of our lives.

God is good.

Papaw, Elliott, Richard, and Bruce
Four Generations
Father's Day 2010

Med, Justin, Jason, Richard, Elliott, Me, Julie, Shel, and Marlene
My goofy family
Thanksgiving Day 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thankful Thursday: My Little Brother

Ok, it's lame. I know. You don't have to tell me.

But for some reason, I'm just not a big fan of Thursday. I know a lot of people loathe Mondays for the obvious reasons. But me? If I could cut one day out of the week, it would most definitely be Thursday.

My main issue with it is that it is just in the way of Friday. If it weren't for Thursday, Friday would be sooner, you know?

Anyway, I was thinking today that I should make an effort to think of specific things I'm thankful for on Thursday... hence the cheesy, cliche "Thankful Thursday".

So today I am thankful for my little brother. He's just a really good kid. He's a Senior in high school and was nominated for the "National Merit Scholarship". I don't really know anything about that except that it's something really good that you want to be nominated for.

Anyway, I'm thankful that he has an open heart and mind when it comes to his future. He has a gift with chemistry and wants to somehow use that to spread the Gospel. He doesn't know how it's going to happen, but he knows that God has given him skills to use for His glory and that's what he intends to do. I'm excited to see what God has in store for him.

I'm proud of him and I'm thankful for him. He and I used to fight a lot when we were younger... mainly because I was the big sister and he was the obnoxious little brother... but now we kind of like each other I guess. :)

Jason and me at Six Flags, October 2007

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Confessions of a Missionary

The CallingThis is what I hear all the time: "Surrendering to the call to missions is the hardest part."

My response? "Wrong."

The hardest part is no doubt:
The WaitingWe had no problem surrendering to go to a foreign country somewhere to spend the rest of our lives, however long that may be, serving God and reaching the unreached. The hardest part has been the waiting period that we're in, anticipating the foreign field.
Most people don't understand missions. That's a fact. It's foreign to them and is generally thought of in the form of slide shows of poverty stricken Africans shown once a year during "Mission Week" at their church. For that reason, I've encountered several facts on our journey to the field that have taught me lessons and challenged me.

Here they are:
1. Most people don't care.This is a lesson you learn very quickly as a missionary... and it's a pretty painful one at first. Imagine pouring out your heart, having a passion for the calling that God has given you: a passion to reach the lost and dying. The ones that you have seen with your own eyes. You know the need, you know the faces, you know their destination if they don't hear of Christ... and you get 3 minutes to share it. You do the best you can to convey the message and desperate need in that unreasonably short time.

You set up a booth with pictures and facts and artifacts. Few people stop by and even fewer ask questions. Most people don't care.
2. Most people don't respond.One of the things they teach you before you start ministry is to keep people informed about your ministry. So, we send out e-mails, update our blog, send letters and cards all in an effort to remind people regularly of what God is doing in the Amazon and the great need that there is in the area.

It's rare to get a reply. I've often wondered to myself, "Are these e-mails going to a junk folder?" Most people don't respond.

3. Most churches are too consumed with themselves.
When we first got started on our journey to the field, we sent out over 100 packets to churches in the area and called and/or e-mailed each missions pastor. We got three replies. Three. And those were all, "We will hold your folder for future reference."
That's church language for, "No thanks."
Obviously we don't expect to have every church let us share our vision. But to send packets to over 100 churches and not to have a single opportunity to share the need of thousands of unreached people who are dying and going to hell... hm. Without getting on too much of a rant, it's hard to be told that a church can't afford to take on more missionaries when they just built a multi-million dollar building with toilets that automatically flush. Just sayin'.

I've often thought of writing these churches and saying, "In the future, please just slap me in the face instead of telling me that you can't afford missions. That will be less painful. Thank you!"
4. A lot of people don't do what they say they will do.
If every person and church who has told us that they would support us actually supported us, we would be at about 75% of our support (we are at 50% right now).

We've had pastors tell us to our face that they will give us the opportunity to share with their church if we just tell them the date. Fast forward one week later when we try to tell them the date that works for us: no replies to our e-mails and no call backs to our messages. Hm.

The same could be said for individuals. "Life just gets in the way." A lot of people don't do what they say they will do.
Now, before you think I'm being judgmental. Let me tell you the lesson these four points have taught me.

1. Most of the time, I don't care.
How many times in my life has God tried to tell me something. He's given me His Word and the beautiful world around me. He's blessed me beyond all reason and poured His Son's blood out for me. He loves me desperately and wants me to know Him and talk to Him, to ask Him questions and hear from Him.

Sometimes I'll read His Word and pray. Most of the time, I don't care.

2. Most of the time, I don't respond.
I have probably four Bibles, not including the two on my ipod. Four Bibles. Four. There are places in the world where people cling to one PAGE of the Bible. There are other places where people rely on what they have memorized of the Scriptures. If that were the case for me, I'd be in big trouble. God speaks through His Word, but most of the time, I don't respond. I give Him a few minutes a day and ask Him to bless me for it. Most of the time, I don't respond.
3. Most of the time, I'm too consumed with myself.
I try to think back on my life and all the times that I've been too busy for God... then I get overwhelmed because there have been so many times! I tell God I can't do more for Him because I don't have the time or the resources. But yesterday, I made sure I got on Facebook and I bought a $4 drink from Starbucks.

I wonder if God would rather me slap Him in the face than tell Him I can't do more for Him...

Most of the time, I'm too consumed with myself.
4. A lot of times I don't do what I say I'm going to do.
I'm glad that God is faithful to forgive us when we ask because there have been countless times that I have not done what I told God I would do. If I did all the things that God has told me to do, I can only imagine what He could have done through me and who He could have reached if I had kept my promise.

"Life just gets in the way." A lot of times, I don't do what I say I'm going to do.

What's the lesson I've learned from this journey (or at least one of them)? I'm just like everyone else. And I'm really, really thankful that God is merciful and gracious to me.

So, anytime I get overwhelmed or frustrated with people and how they let me down, I just remind myself how often I let God down and yet somehow He forgives me and loves me just the same. That cures my ill-will pretty quickly.
"Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is a log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."- Jesus Christ


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dying for Living Water

I opened the refrigerator a couple of days ago to get some water. I pulled out the pitcher and there was less than an ounce sloshing around in the bottom. I caught myself as I started to say, "Uh! Who didn't fill up the pitcher??"

Really? Who didn't fill up the water pitcher that purifies the clean water that flows from the tap every time I turn the handle?

I was surprised at myself considering I had just spent 10 days in a place where clean water is scarce and water-borne illness is rampant. A place where people not only drink dirty water, they die from it.

My mind went immediately back to the Sunday morning we walked up into the tribe to receive word that the night before an infant had died.

At first the details were unclear. We knew that the child had been dehydrated but that was about it. Then we found out that our friend and photojournalist Rachel had been invited to attend the funeral. To our knowledge, she is the first "outsider" who has been asked to attend this intimate ceremony. Her experience gave us a unique look into the culture and a shocking reality of their need for the Truth.

Rachel was able to gather some details about the child's days before his death.

This particular culture is very spiritual and they believe there are good spirits and evil spirits. When this child become ill, they believed that an evil spirit had come upon him. He had diarrhea and desperately needed water for hydration. The parents chose not to give him water, believing that was a source of evil spirits.

Where would this thinking come from? Why would they associate something so vital with evil?

Keep in mind we are talking about a place where the only source of water is a river that is filled with bacteria and a people with no way to purify it. They drink it because it's all they have and it's all they know. Obviously drinking dirty water leads to illness. So this tribe is accustomed to seeing people become ill and die from drinking water. Unable to make the connection between hygiene and illness, myth and circumstance have led them to the belief that evil spirits live in the water and come upon a person at their own discretion.

So was this case with this child.

We were told last year that the leading cause of death in this region is dehydration caused by diarrhea. That tells us that this is no isolated case. It also reiterates the importance of what we had come to do: give clean water and through that share the Living Water.

(SIDE NOTE: Some argue against meeting physical needs before spirtual. Those people have never seen first hand tragedies like this and they've never read the New Testament. A major part of Jesus Christ's ministry was healing the sick. Besides, it's really hard to share the Gospel with someon who just died of dehydration.)

When this happened, the team had not yet begun construction of the water purification system, but it gave even greater motivation for them to get in and get the job done. The system was installed in the home of a missionary by the name of Jhon. Jhon is one of the godliest, most humble people I have ever met. Time wouldn't permit me to share of his giving heart and servant spirit but I'll suffice it to say that God is using this man in a great way to reach this village with the true Living Water.

The reason it was installed in his home rather than a central location in the village is two fold:

1) Because the people don't recognize or understand the value of clean water, it's unlikely that they would care for and maintain the water system adequately at least until they are taught the importance.

2) The people are very relational, meaning they highly value personal communication and family. By installing the filtration system at the home of the missionary, the people will have to come through Jhon to get clean water and therefore will need to communicate with and build a relationship with him. THIS IS KEY to reaching this people group!

Below are some photos from the funeral taken by Rachel. As you look at them, of course thank God for His blessings, but also ask Him what you can do and what sacrifices you can make to bring truth to these tribes.

A father watches his older brother build a coffin for the child who died of dehydration during the night.

Family members surround a baby boy during the wake.

A baby lay surrounded by candles at a wake. He died of dehydration.

Iranda mourns the loss of her child before walking to the cemetery.

Family members carry the coffin to the cemetery on top of a mountain.

Missionary Jhon scoops dirt out of the grave with a plate.

A father says good-bye to his baby son. It is very uncommon for men in this tribe to show such emotion.

Iranda and her husband weep before burying their oldest child.

The father and his brother lower the casket into the grave.

Family surround the grave and light candles before saying a final goodbye.

A bowl of fish and farinha sit on a grave of the recently buried child. The families leave things associated with their loved one's life with the belief that they may need them in the afterlife.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bring on the Rain!

Ever heard the phrase, "When it rains, it pours"?

We found out the truth behind that on our recent trip.

When you think of the jung|e, you likely think of rain.... lots and lots of rain! And for most of the year, this is very applicable. Someone once told us that the difference between rainy season and dry season is that during rainy season it rains all day and during dry season it rains every day. In other words, it's always raining!

But, as with anywhere in the world, there are still dry spells. And it just so happens that the area we were installing the water filtration system was having a dry spell. This was good for the team as they were working on a dirt covered hill and rain would have only served to complicate matters. It wasn't good for the locals, however, as they relied on the rain for their "clean" water source. No rain means no water.

Now, water is something that we ALL take for granted here in the States. As a matter of fact, most of us flush our toilets with cleaner water than most of the rest of the world has to drink. One of the ladies in the village told me that during times that they were without rain and unable to go upriver to buy fresh water, they would walk to the river, fill a bucket, let it sit for 24 hours to allow the mud to settle, and then drink the top half that was "cleaner". They don't have electricity or gas so there is no way to boil the water. They just drink it and pray they don't get sick.

This seems like a good time to insert a picture of what this water looks like:

Notice you can't see this kid from the chest down? Now, think on the fact that everything--EVERYTHING-- goes into the river. People bathe in it, do laundry in it, wash dishes in it.... and yeah, they see it as a giant toilet.

Would you drink it?

Before you say no, remember, there are times when it's that or nothing.

Anyway, it hadn't rained our whole time in the Jung|e. It was Wednesday night and the men had just completed the water system that day, giving the village 5,000 gallons of water storage and a system to clean it.... something they had been praying for for YEARS.

We were having our evening devotional time together and sharing about how good God was to allow everything to go so smoothly and with no injuries. It was decided that the only thing left to do was to pray that God would send the rain to fill the three huge water tanks.

Everyone was tired so it was off to "bed": hammocks for most. Keep in mind, it's nighttime and we're on a houseboat in the middle of the river. Within two hours, we started to hear the sound of rain drizzling down the boat. Then the wind starts to pick up. Then the lightening commences.

Then comes the rain!

Next thing we know, water is pouring into the sides of the boat through the windows. Michael, the missionary whose boat we were on, was pulling up the anchor and heading up river to keep the boat from being tossed too much. The speedboat attached to the side of the big boat was taking on water, so my hubby and Andy had to jump in the boat in the pouring rain and lightening to bail it out.

This hard rain lasted for about 30 minutes. By the end of the storm, everyone was soaking wet, the boat interior was soaking wet, and we were wide awake at midnight (including our 6 month old baby boy)!

What was everyone's first reaction to this abrupt awakening?


The next day we were back at the village and found out the tanks were filled almost completely. The water filtration system worked like a charm. And for the first time in years, the missionaries had clean water to use and to offer to the village.

And guess what. It didn't rain the rest of the time we were there.

Isn't it good to know that we have a God who controls the rain and sends it at just the right time?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Amazon September 2010

Ok, so I plan to write some really detailed blogs, but I wanted to go ahead and get a general one out because we have so many people asking about our trip!

If I could summarize it in one word..... well, it would be impossible to do! It was by far the best trip yet and God's hand was all over it from start to finish. I'll just give some highlights and elaborate on some of the biggest blessings in future blog posts:
  • Absolutely no trouble going through the Bogota airport! With a group of 11 and big containers of water filtration systems, an inverter charger, and lots of other potentially "scetchy" looking items, we thought for sure we'd be held up in the Bogota security checkpoint. Nope! Got through without so much as a box being opened.
  • We were going to have to pay over $500 in extra baggage fees on our Bogota-Leticia flight and the lady who checked us in completely waived the fee! It worked out perfectly because we ended up needing that money for supplies later on the trip.
  • No one got sick on the trip! Between a new environment, hard work, lack of sleep, food we were unaccustomed to (though very good!), and bug bites galore, we anticipated some sickness during the 10 day trek, but God protected our immune systems the whole time!
  • The entire water system was set up in 5 days and the filtration system worked like a charm!
  • No one was injured (aside from some cuts and bruises) and there was plenty of opportunity for injury!
  • Richard was able to attend a tribal council meeting with several influential tribal leaders to share the reasons behind our efforts to bring clean water. This meeting also helps us get a name with the tribal leadership for the future of our ministry. HUGE!
  • The team worked GREAT together and each evening we had an awesome time of sharing and connecting. This was the first mission trip for 5 of the guys and they were all flexible and I don't remember hearing a single complaint even though we were packed tight on a houseboat and the heat was intense. God brought together a great group!
  • One evening, the houseboat was stuck on the shore. For 2.5 hours the group worked to free the boat and God miraculously made it happen! (More to come on this story!)
And the stories go on and on of how God provided! Thanks to EVERYONE who prayed for us. We have no doubt that God is going to use these efforts to further his work in the region.

Please stay tuned for more detailed updates!

Our Home for 8 Days

Friday, September 10, 2010

God's Training Ground

I think sometimes I tell myself that I'm more spiritually equipped and ready for what God has for me than I really am.

Let me explain.

Our trip is in less than a week now and my mind has not slowed down for days now. There has been, is, and yet will be a LOT of planning and coordinating involved in this trip. There is an unbelievable amount of materials to bring down with us and a lot of logistics to take into account. So I found myself yesterday excusing myself for not spending some quiet time with God. After all, I have a lot to prepare for over the next several days....

Even typing that I out now I realize just how absurd that thought process is. We are preparing for a trip that could potentially have an eternal impact on the people we are going to work with and I tell myself that I'm too busy to spend some time with an Almighty God because I need to prepare for it?


What preparation could possibly be any more important than me seeking God in His Word and being on my knees in prayer that God's hands will be all over this trip making it more fruitful and "successful" [whatever that may mean] than we could even imagine?

That's when I read this devotion from Oswald Chambers in his famous "My Utmost for His Highest" book:

If I don't praise God and "make time for Him" while I'm on His training ground, what makes me think I'll be ready to stand when the time comes to stand?

Thank you God for once again giving me a spiritual slap in the face.

I am so thankful for a God who loves us enough to pursue us.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

When God Pays the Bills

Have you ever prayed to God to provide food for you and your family?
I don't mean that little, "God, thanks for this food. Please bless it to our bodies. Amen."

I mean literally prayed that God would provide food because you have no idea where your next meal will come from.

I haven't.

And I'd venture to say that very few, if any, of us have.

That hit me the other day as I was praying to God. I remember stopping in mid sentence while I was talking to God and saying, more to myself than to God [though I think He overheard], "What's wrong with me? What am I praying for?" This thought came to me because I realized how selfish my prayers are. It's all about: God, please do this for me and please do that for this other person. Thank you, Amen.

I realized that I, in the life I lead right now, don't NEED God. I never pray for clothes to wear. I never pray for food to eat or clean water to drink. I never pray for a place to sleep. I never pray that I'll have the strength to get out of bed or the courage to stand up for what I believe in. Why? Because I have never needed to pray for any of those things.

When I go to the kitchen, I know there will be food. And not just food, but choices about what food to eat. And if I don't see what I want there, then I'll run to the store or pick up my phone and order food to be delivered right to the front door.

I've never prayed for a clean water source. As a matter of fact, I buy a filter to filter my clean tap water.

I can't think of a single time when I've prayed for somewhere to lay my head....except maybe that one time when our air-conditioner went out in the middle of summer and the part was on back-order for 3 weeks. Then I was begging for some relief for my "discomfort".

So what's the big deal? If I have no need to pray for these things, why should I concern myself with them?

Maybe the problem isn't so much that I don't ask God for these things, but the fact that I don't thank Him for them either.

I expect them. I take them for granted, day in and day out. I think our spiritual state in America makes it pretty clear that if we continue to live at this comfort level, we will need God less and less. And now that we've redefined Christianity, we think it's ok to be comfortable. We think that God has blessed us for us.

When Richard and I started our Radical Journey, we told God together that we wanted to suffer for Him. Why would we pray that?? Because suffering brings true fellowship with Christ. As Paul put it in Philippians 3.10, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death..."

That's a pretty bold prayer to pray because I think it's one that God will answer. And I wouldn't say He's answered it yet, but I have noticed Him testing our faith on numerous levels: including financially.

This is somewhere that I struggle: trusting God in the area of finances. Like many people, I find security when our bank account and savings shows a certain number. There's just a certain peace that I get when I check it and everything seems in order. So, naturally, if those numbers aren't quite within my "comfort range" there's a certain uneasiness that follows.

In other words, I have no faith in regards to money.

Without going into a lot of detail, we've had some big expenses come up as of late. Things that we weren't expected like car problems (oh the stories I could tell) and some other "inconveniences". I've watched as our savings have slowly dwindled well below my preferred number and I've felt that stress level begin to rise.

You know what's been great about it though? Seeing how God steps in and says, "How about you just trust me."

So I thought I'd give that a try... you know, let God take care of us instead of trying to figure it all out. Novel idea, right? After all, my worrying doesn't seem to accomplish much.

And guess what. He has provided. In marvelous ways that glorify HIM.

Richard sold his truck to the first person he showed it to (who does that??). His flying schedule has been out of control [in a good way] for the past month. I recently got a bonus at work that couldn't have come at a better time. We've seen the random generosity of several people who have given directly to us or towards our mission trip coming up.

And we've been able to give more to missions than we ever have before. Praise God!

What have I learned? Well, for one, it sure is nice to be able to relax in God's hand when unexpected bills and expenses come along knowing that, while they may have come as a shock to us, He knew about them all along.

And at the end of the day, regardless of what the numbers in our bank account are, God is in control. And our situations and frustrations and trials and heartaches are all designed to bring glory to Him.

But even more than those things, it's nice to know that even if we didn't have food to eat, a place to sleep, good health, or clean water and even if we didn't have the money to pay the bills....God would still be a good God. Because He is God. And good is one of the things that defines Him.

God didn't meet these needs so we could be happy and content and say, "Thanks God." God met these needs so we could tell others what a great God we serve and it's by Him and through Him and in Him that we have all that we need.... and more.

"But God doesn't call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn't come through." -Francis Chan

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Trash Into [Eternal] Treasure

Please tell me we aren't the only ones with a "junk" room!

You know what I'm talking about. That room that's sort of a catch-all for all the stuff you have that doesn't really have a place but you don't want to get rid of it because you "might use it one day". That room where you throw anything that's just laying around when a last minute guest is coming by and then it ends up staying there permanently. Maybe yours goes by the name of a "storage building" that you pay monthly for. Yeah. You know what I'm talking about.

Well, we had a room like that and it was bad! We just celebrated our three year wedding anniversary and this room had grown exponentially since that time. It started out with just some boxes from when I moved in after we got married. Then it started piling up as we would just put things in there to "go through later". It started out in our office but eventually it moved to our spare bedroom to make room in our office. Then, we had our son so it all moved back to our office to make room for baby.

It was basically a mobile dumpster of stuff that neither of us had any desire to go through.... so we didn't.

While reading "Radical", we were convicted about how much stuff we have. Things we don't need and don't use that just clutter our home. But not only the things in our "junk room", but the surplus of dishes, pots, pans, towels (yes, you can have too many), clothing, shoes, bags, etc. Seriously, once we sat down objectively and evaluated, we were blown away by how much we really had.

It took us taking off our "American eyes" and seeing it from a Biblical perspective. By "American eyes", I mean the way that we look at what we own and somehow justify it because we don't have as much stuff as "that other guy". Sure, compared to a LOT of people in the USA, we don't have a lot. But compared to the majority of the rest of the world, we have enough for several families!

So once again we were faced with a choice: get rid of the excess and use it somehow for good, or keep it and let it take up space in our homes, serving no purpose but to make our lives more stressful. (If you're like me, clutter = stress.)

We chose Plan A and here's what we did:

  1. Cleaned out the cabinets. We had so many dishes, pots, pans, appliances, and utensils that we never used. Who needs 3 skillets, 3 sets of dishes, 4 spatulas, 2 coffee makers, 2 deep friers, 3 crock pots, and cups and glasses out the wazoo?? A hotel maybe? Anyway, we downsized our kitchen big time! We left only enough dishes for us plus two in case we had friends over for dinner and got rid of any duplicate appliances and more than half of our cups and glasses.
  2. Got rid of some towels. When we got married, it seemed everyone thought it important to give us towels. "You can never have too many," we were told. Turns out, that's not true. More than 15 towels for two people (Elliott has his own, too) seems a bit on the excessive side. So we cut those down to less than half. This gave us a wonderful amount of space in our bathroom closet, not to mention cut down the towel load for the washer tremendously! (What can you do with used towels, you ask? There are animal shelters that are constantly asking for towels and bed linens. Or, as in our case, you may have a family member whose son just moved out and took most of theirs! ha!)
  3. Emptied the closets of excess. I think Richard was most happy about this one. We don't have a lot of closet space in our house (read: one closet), so it's hard to organize and maintain organization unless you're on top of it daily. And, well, sometimes organizing apparel isn't No. 1 on my to-do list if you can imagine that. So, prior to even setting foot into the closet, I determined to get rid of any clothing I hadn't worn in the last 6 months (besides winter clothing since I obviously hadn't worn that within that time frame). It was hard, but I stuck to my goal and literally got rid of three full boxes of clothes between me, Richard, and Elliott. I had no idea we had that much clothing and most of it we hadn't worn in well over a year! I also downsized on shoes, purses, and bags. There were plenty in that category that we never used as well.
  4. Got rid of the "we-might-use-this-one-day" stuff. This included, but was not limited to a dart board that we had won at a "Chinese Christmas", keepsake boxes, photo frames, unused wedding albums, jewelry, some furniture, vases, random decorative items, etc.
So by now you're thinking that we are some super pack-rats, right? Well, if you had walked into our house prior to this proverbial detox, you would have thought our house was organized and clean (aside from that one room we never opened). But it's like in our spiritual lives, if you start digging deep, you start finding things that you didn't really notice were there before. Things that need to be cleaned up. And it was amazing how the more we got rid of, the more we wanted to get rid of because it was very liberating! (Cheesy, but true.)

Anyway, after clearing through every room in the house and putting every must-go item into our dining room, we had to decide how to best use this "junk" for good. And what better way to get rid of junk in a productive way than to have a yard sale??

We did just that and decided that no matter how much we made, it would all go straight to some missionary friends of ours who have some upcoming needs. We were so happy when the yard sale was over and we had made a decent amount and could surprise our friends with this love offering.

Now, everybody knows that you don't sell everything at a yard sale (much to your dismay, no doubt). So in our hunt for a good charity to give our leftover items to (besides the catch-all Goodwill), we heard about one nearby that gives free items to families who have lost their homes in natural disasters as a way to help them get back on their feet. We loved that idea so Richard's mom took all of the excess to this organization and they were happy to take it off of our hands (apparently in this economy, people don't give like they used to and a lot of charities are suffering).

So, maybe this isn't really a "radical" change in our lives...more like a "practical" one. But it was good to know that the junk that had been weighing down our home could be used to lay up eternal treasures instead by giving to those in need who are doing the work of the Lord.

And we're still getting rid of things and trying to pay better attention to the needs of those around us. We've found if our hearts are tender and our eyes are open, it's a lot easier to see that we are surrounded by those in need... not of our "stuff" per se, but of the Savior who died for them. And sometimes that Savior's love is expressed by our tangible giving.

Stayed tuned because I get the feeling that soon God's going to call us to do something really radical for Him!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Trying" to give more.....

Picture this: It's Sunday morning and your church has brought in it's "monthly missionary" and given them 5 minutes to share what God is doing on the field. (Five minutes is generally long enough to introduce themselves, but hey, don't want to "bore" the congregation with missions.) After hearing, and possibly even seeing, the needs, you feel a tug in your heart. You think to yourself, "I really wish we could afford to give to causes like that. We just can't."

The service moves on: you hear the announcements, shake hands with the people around you, listen to the sermon. As the service comes to an end, your stomach is loudly announcing that it's lunch time. So you meet up with "the usual gang" and try to decide where to go eat and life proceeds as usual.

This is the scene across America every Sunday morning. I know it well because I've been a part of it for so long.

Something that the book "Radical" has really brought to our attention is how we are all quick to agree with the fact that something in American culture needs to change, but we are very slow to act on it.

For example, everyone would agree that we need to do more for missions, right? I'd say as long as children around the world are starving we'll be willing to admit that's the case. But how many of us sacrifice--really sacrifice--to give to missions?

That was a reality that hit home for us. As missionaries ourselves it's really easy to get frustrated when we see the lack of giving. We justify it and say, "Well, we give this amount so we're doing our part." But are we?

We hear preachers teach that we are to tithe and then "try" to give above and beyond to missions.

In my short 24 years of life, I've discovered that if we set out to "try" to do something, the likelihood of ever actually doing it is slim to none. We have to decide without question that we will do something. Besides, I'm unable to find anywhere in the Bible where God says that 10% plus "trying" to give above and beyond is what He asks of us. Isn't the question not so much how much of our money are we going to give to God, but rather, how much of God's money are we going to keep for ourselves?

The problem with giving 10% and a "little more" to missions is that we start to think that's ALL we have to do. We convince ourselves that as long as we're doing that, we're good.

Hm. I think God frowns on that.

In light of this, God did some serious convicting in our own hearts. We took a look at our monthly expenses and, while we were giving above the "typical" 10% of income, we were comfortable there. There was no sacrifice. The truth is, we were spending a lot of money on luxury eating out. It's hard to justify saying, "We can't afford to give more to missions." when we spend so much on unnecessary things like that.

So, we had a choice: ignore what God was saying to us or do something about it. And, well, ignoring God is not recommended. My hubby came to me one day and said, "If we can afford to eat out, we must be able to afford to give to missions. Period."

I was on board with that. "You're right," I said. "Good point."

"So, from now on, anytime we eat out, we will match that to missions," he continued.

"Oh. Um. Ok. Yes. That's right. That sounds good," I replied. But in my head I'm thinking, "That's a little "radical" isn't it?"

That's the point!!

So, beginning August 1, we started following through with that commitment. And the results weren't what I anticipated!

Several things have happened:
  1. We've started eating out less. We literally could not afford to match in giving what we had been spending in eating out. It was a big wake up call to us about how much money we "wasted" eating out when we had plenty of food at home (we were just too lazy to cook!)
  2. We've discovered that it's a lot of fun to cook together! Trying new recipes and cooking together is really underrated!
  3. But most of all we've learned that there is extreme joy in giving sacrifically. Each time we have eaten out, we've said, "Ok, who's this gonna go to??" Yeah, we had our budgeted giving. But what a blessing to be able to give "a little something extra" to some missionaries who have some transitions going on in their lives or to a ministry just getting it's feet off the ground!
So, we're only about two weeks into it, but it's been an exciting time already. No doubt it's a challenge because who doesn't like to just sit down at a restaurant after a long day and let someone serve you?! Eating out is definitely part of "our culture". But when a luxury like that prevents us from reaching the lost for Christ, something doesn't add up.

That's where we are. Looking forward to more radical changes in our lives!

What radical thing is God calling YOU to do?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chandler, Platt, and Chan: A Good Dose of the Bible

Have you ever just come to the place where you say, "Ok, God. I hear ya."?

Generally for me it takes a while before I say, "Oh, you're talking to me!" This past March we were at a missions conference in Alabama when we met Tracie and Josh Lansford. They are church planters in Austin, TX and have a strong passion for reaching this city for God. During one of our conversations, they mentioned the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan. That wouldn't have really been a big deal except for the fact that was the third time within about a week that someone had suggested to us that we read that book! I told her that and she said, "Well, I think we have a copy in our car. Let me go get it!"

So, with a copy in hand, I had no excuses.

I love to read, but it's easy for me to get started on a book, read about half, and never finish it. (I know, not a good habit.) But this book was different. I couldn't put it down!

After finishing the book (which I highly recommend), I had a new perspective on God. I realized that for too long (ie my whole life!) I had been putting God into this little box, limiting Him with my lack of faith.

And so began a journey for Richard and myself that over the last 4 months has included tears, lots of prayer, several "ah-ha!" moments, and a whooole lot of Bible reading. And it's a journey that continues on... and hopefully one we will never come to the end of while living on this planet!

But in addition to all of these things, it's a journey that we'd like to share. Why? Because it's thanks to people like Francis Chan (author of Crazy Love), Matt Chandler (The Village Church, Dallas, TX) and David Platt (The Church at Brookhills, Birmingham, AL) who were willing to share what God has done in their lives with their congregations and, really with the world via the internet, that has challenged us on levels that we've never been challenged before. And we hope that you will be challenged by how we are challenged!

I think that the title of David Platt's book most accurately defines this journey: Radical.

God has called us to this. Sure, our ultimate goal is to reach the lost on the foreign field. But He has called us to live radical lives, right here, right now.

I hope you'll join us. It's an awesome ride!

(Here are some books we recommend: Crazy Love by Francis Chan and Radical by David Platt.... but only read them if you want your life to change :) Oh, and while you're at it, go ahead and "youtube" Matt Chandler. God is using these men in a big way!)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Faith We Don't Have

I've seen it happen on more than one occasion.

God moves. The Spirit leads. Hearts are tender. We're willing to give, to go, to pray.

Then the emotions fade. The music stops and the three point sermon is forgotten. The bills come. The vacation is around the corner. And it's just not doable right now.

Oh that we would keep our eyes on the Lord! It's so easy after a spiritual high or after a faith commitment to be persuaded by the lures of satan. When we are at our highest spiritually, he's on high alert. He knows that he can quickly dilute our ambitions with the slightest trial. He can't have our souls, but he can sure keep us from bringing other souls with us.

We are so easily persuaded.

I heard a pastor once say, "There is always someone waiting on the other side of your obedience." How many times was that person left waiting because we decided to take the safe route? We decided it would take too much to do what God had asked. It was too risky.

My prayer lately is that God would help we take that leap of faith. That leap where I have absolutely no clue where I'll land, all I know is that God is waiting on the other side to catch me, to show me great and mighty things, and to teach me. He wants to show me that He can. He will. I just have to let Him.

That's where I believe the church is today. It's comfortable. We have our buildings. We have our cushioned pews. We have our landscaping and paved parking lots. The numbers are up. The giving is steady. So we're good.

Where's the faith?

Where's the part of us that says, "Ok, God's provided our needs, so lets see just how much we can give!" Instead we budget for the luxuries. We have the fancy flyers to lure them in so our numbers will grow. We have the programs and we say, "Well we have to do these things in order to appeal to the people. If we don't do these things they won't come."

Jesus never printed fancy fliers. He never put on a show. He never took a poll to see what color sandals He should wear to be accepted. He never begged people to follow.

He just said, "Follow me." And you either followed or you didn't. Your choice. You didn't get to customize your journey or decide where He took you or when. He just said, "Follow me." If you didn't like it, you didn't have to follow.

I don't think that message has changed today. But we've somehow come to the conclusion that we need to appeal to people. Is that not us relying on ourselves rather than God? It's like saying, "God, you're really not enough to draw these people in. We need a little somethin' extra."

Maybe that's why we're stale and stagnant. We've preoccupied ourselves with pleasing people and we've lost sight of God. We've lost sight of His plan and His ways. We're more concerned with the program than with the people. We're keeping up with the Jones'.

Missions is a great example of this. It's estimated that only 5 out of every 100 churches are involved in missions. How disgusting that must be to God. The purpose of the church IS missions. That's the great commandment! That's what Jesus commanded we do! Yet how many churches are satisfied with reaching just their own congregation? How many churches give to missions but aren't engaged in missions? What a shame that the average person in the church pew has no idea the need and the importance of missions. Missions is nothing more than a slide show and a 5 minute spill every so often. May God have mercy on us, how we've failed.

It takes the average missionary three years to get to the field. Three. Years. YEARS! Why? Because so much of their time is spent begging for someone to catch their vision. Pleading their case to reach the nations. They are often put in a position where they basically have to sell their vision in hopes of gaining someone who will partner with them. Someone who will see the need and accept the call.

Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't the church be searching for missionaries to send? Shouldn't they be so intent on reaching the nations that they don't care if the grass is cut and the lines in the parking lot are repainted and the people are pleased with the carpet color and the bulletins are printed each Sunday? They don't even care if "the budget allows". They just want to be sure that the nations are reached before it's too late. They're willing to step out and take a leap of faith and trust that God will provide the resources. He will meet the need because it's His heart to reach the lost. That is after all why He sent His one and only Son to die for the sins of the world.

Not so we could be comfortable when we sit in the pew on Sunday morning, but so the lost and dying around the world could hear the Good News. So the children dying of Aids in Africa could have hope. So the rejected widows in India could have life again. So the lonely men and women in the cities of Europe could have joy. So the oppressed women and children of the Arab nations could have a redeemer. So the complacent and self-centered American could have something REAL to live for.

So the WORLD could have eternal life.

God have mercy on our comfort-driven, complacent selves. May we catch HIS vision before it's too late.
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