Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The American [Bad] Dream

We are "living the American dream". [By we, I mean Richard and me.]

We have what people work for and dream of. We have what people leave other countries and move here to pursue. We own our home [or at least we're buying it from the bank]. We have a beautiful, healthy baby boy. We have an awesome boxer dog. We have two vehicles and a [semi] fenced in back yard with a big front porch. Our family lives close and we see them often. We enjoy our jobs and make enough money to do the things we like at least occasionally. We are debt free and have traveled extensively in our short 24 years of existence.

But it's not enough.

If this was all we had to look forward to, if all we hoped for was a raise so that we could take a better vacation next summer, if we were striving for a bigger house, a newer car, a nice retirement.... I'd be depressed. Like, prescribe me some meds because I'd be perpetually down in the dumps.

Why? Because the American Dream is a lie from the devil himself. And it's a powerful lie that is permeating the church and burying itself deep into modern Christian culture until it's even become a part of doctrine among some believers. We teach it, sometimes unknowingly, to our children and from the pulpit on Sunday morning. We diminish missions to a program and pat ourselves on the back for "exposing" people to missions. And it's wrong.

And satan smiles.

We buy our children toys and games and movies and cell phones and electronics and the latest gadget that starts with a lower case "i" and cars and prestigious education and the list goes on.

We build our churches with massive steeples and fancy buildings and cushioned pews and the latest in sound and video technology and our toilets flush themselves and the list goes on.

And then we encourage our kids to put a quarter in the Salvation Army pail at Christmas time and to fill a little shoe box with cheap toys from the dollar tree for a poor child in Africa and we pat ourselves on the back.

And we take up an offering and give it to missionaries and if we're really bold we go on a mission trip where we stay in air conditioned hotels and come back and have presentations to talk about the "great" work  we did and we have mission "conferences" to display the missionaries that we support and we say things like "Wow, I could never do that!" and we laugh and return to our comfortable, easy, complacent lives.

And Jesus did none of those things.

We tell our children to be thankful that our parents work so hard to give them nice things.
Jesus said you must hate your mother and father to follow me. (Luke 14:26)

We say that we are blessed to live in such a great nation.
God says not to be prideful about our "riches".(1 Timothy 6.17)

We want well-rounded children and smart children and healthy children and children who have opportunities that we don't. Meanwhile thousands of children die everyday of starvation while we save up for our children's education and "opportunities".

And satan smiles. He smiles because that's exactly where he wants us: comfortable and self-absorbed.

As we prepare to sell all that we have to move to a far away place, my heart is very full of many different emotions.

I look back on the journey that has brought us to this point and it's been a lot of things that I didn't expect. It's been challenging and growing and stretching and even painful at times. But it's been so very, very good as we learn to release control of our lives to God and watch as He orchestrates a beautiful picture of His love for all mankind. And to think that we can be a small part of that picture... well, that's true joy.

Two years ago I thought we were ready to go. I thought we could pack up everything and head to this foreign place, but God in all His wisdom knew we weren't ready. So we've waited, and we continue to wait. We wait on His timing because we know it's perfect.

We've visited dozens of churches and shared the vision that God has given us about the uncontacted and lost and dying and most of the time it's fallen on deaf ears. But it's those few seeds that have taken root that put us on our knees in humility before God, thanking Him for putting together the team He has. Thanking Him that only He can take the credit for the literally hundreds of stories of His provision and direction in our lives.

It's God that has brought us to this place where the American Dream is more like a bad dream. It's God who has taken off the blinders and revealed to us that there is so much more to this life than our comforts and our dreams and our goals and our needs and that the eternity of billions is at stake. And that we will have no excuse before God one day when we had the resources and time and money and health and breath to do something about it.

And so we pray. We pray that God will continue to take the blinders off the millions of Christians that are still believing the lie that God wants us to be comfortable and happy. God wants to give us joy unspeakable, but it doesn't come from what this world has to offer. It comes for surrendering all to Him, whatever that may look like.

And we pray that He will keep our hearts and minds focused on Him. We know that there will be distractions and "voices of reason" telling us to find an easier way, to look for something a little "safer". But that's just it: this is the safest place we could possibly be.

And we pray that in all that we do and all that we pursue, our lives will bring glory to His name.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thankful Thursday/Journal Entry Combo

It's been, well, Thursday. I have been trying to decide all day what I want my Thankful Thursday post to be about. It's not that I don't have anything to be thankful for. I have a ridiculous amount of things to be thankful for. I'm just in a bit of a slump. You've been there, right??

Anywho, I decided to go back through some of my journal entries from our December-January Trip and, well, it seemed to fit right into what I needed today.

December 20, 2010

It's really cool to serve the God of the weather. Today's been a lonely day. I was on the boat all day alone with Elliott, Ian, Vivi, and Jesse. That meant if a storm were to pop up, it would be up to me to handle it.

Well, a storm popped up. It was huge in the distance and at first I was freaking out on the inside. We closed all the flaps and even started up the engine (which I had no idea how to turn off, but that's another story.) That storm subsided though so I had the kids go ahead to their rooms for nap time. I went up top and watched as an even bigger storm seemed eminent. So I did all I knew to do--pray. I asked God for wisdom and I asked Him to break up the storm. Then I just sat down and watched as the storm got closer and closer. But the funny thing was that there was this little break in the clouds right over where I was sitting on the front of the boat. It stayed there until the storm broke up and blew right past me. I think I even got a little tan. I smiled. It's really cool to serve the God of the weather.

Things really seem a lot more exotic when you aren't there. I'm lying here on the back flap of a house boat on the  River looking up at the full moon peeking through the clouds and listening to the frogs and crickets as they sing their songs. It's beautiful and spectacular as I see the lightening in the distant storm. But my mind is still fretting. That's the story of my life, isn't it? I'm always living in the future. I don't really struggle with the past except sometimes the immediate past when someone has upset me. I'm instead always looking at the future: worrying, fretting, anticipating. Yet, what happens is, I get to that distant point and I'm disappointed because it's not what I thought and then I'm right back anticipating the next event. When will I learn? Will I learn? I think one thing God is trying to demonstrate to me is living here and now. Enjoying life and loving the little pleasures He allows. Things like Elliott's smile, Richard's amibition, the sights and sounds around me.

Life's about the journey, not the destination.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Unity in Christ

I (Richard) had an awesome opportunity to lead a group doing some disaster relief in Tuscaloosa, Al. I had been with this particular church before and had been impressed with their servant’s attitude and heart. As a matter of fact, the first time we worked together, I was in charge of leading their team of 42 jr. high students – anyone who has ever spent a week with that many jr. high students can understand what I was thinking I was getting myself into- I was amazed at the maturity that each student showed. We spent one whole day picking up trash in a housing community……oh yeah, and the heat index was 111 degrees with NO shade. I didn’t want to be there, but I never heard one complaint from these kids.

Fast forward and one year later we are going back to the heat of Alabama but this time with an adult team. The trip was great and God used them in many ways. Everybody was included on this trip, BRAND new Christians that were still really trying to figure out the whole God thing to lifetime churchgoers.

There was one person in particular that really encouraged me. She had been saved for just a few months and took it upon herself to find a church to start attending. She was an adult with no real religious background but she said she got to the point where she knew there had to be something more in life (that’s Jesus drawing her to him but that is an entirely different blog post). She accepted Christ and has since started her own ministry working with the homeless (all in the past 5 months). Wait, what?? She can’t do that! She barely knows about Christ herself! She has never been to seminary! She isn’t equipped to run a ministry sharing the gospel and Christ’s love with others! – Really? She’s not? I’ll just be honest with you; she taught me more in her attitude and love for the Bible that week than I have ever learned from a sermon. How is it that someone who has known Christ for less than 6 months has a grasp on the deep relationship that she does? –It is all about Christ. She’ll tell you right now that it is nothing she has done, she has a past but God is now using that for His glory! She doesn’t need to regret or be ashamed of the things that she has been involved in in the past, you want to know why? “Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life has set you free from the law of sin and death!” Rom. 8:1-2

We are now slaves to Christ and in HIM we find life, no longer are we subject to the law of sin and death!

Here is my favorite part, that church that I worked with. It’s not the same denomination I was taught and grew up in (let me put in a quick bit here, their fundamental core beliefs are the same, I do not think it is right to work or encourage the work of those that don’t teach Christ as the Gospel (2 John 9,10) but that is certainly not the issue here) yep, we actually had true unity and spirit as we worked and served Christ. They allowed me the privilege to lead their devotions. I, a Baptist, worked with them, Methodists, to serve Jesus and be his hands and feet. Yeah, we may come to different conclusions on certain (non-Gospel) topics of the scripture, but here is a tidbit of information. Christ was neither!

I was encouraged as we were brought to unity under Christ and served him. New believers, youth pastors, people struggling with addiction and difficulties, and missionaries all came together and presented the body of Christ to those who needed it most.

I am convinced that if we could quit bickering and work together with those who truly bring Christ Gospel, we can reach the world! Jesus teaches us in Luke 9:49/50 a very important lesson. “John responded, Master, we saw someone driving demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he does not follow us. DON’T stop him, Jesus told him, because whoever is not against you is for you!”

Let’s get over ourselves and our self-righteousness and work with those who are “not against us” to share Christ with the world!

(Sorry, for those of  you expecting another awesome post by my wife, you were undoubtedly let down by this one but thank you for reading what was on my heart! : )

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Don't Pray for Health or Wealth

I used to pray for Elliott like this:

"God, please protect Elliott. Keep him happy, healthy, and strong. Keep him safe and I pray that he will one day meet a beautiful, godly lady and that you'll bless him with a family and that they will serve you and live to be 100 years old." (Yes, I really did pray that he would live that long.)

I thought God would respond to that prayer a little something like this:

"Of course I will protect your precious baby boy. Of course I will keep him happy, healthy, and strong. Of course I will keep him safe and bless him with a wife and children and he will live a full and long life. I'll do that just for you, Ashley, my sweet child."

But, quite frankly, that's not what He said. Like, at all.

Since the day Elliott was born, I began a journey that has involved my whole being: mind, body, spirit, and soul (can I get a witness, fellow parents?). It's been tiring, challenging, encouraging, exhausting, fun, exciting, energizing, refreshing, exhausting, transforming, stretching... did I mention exhausting?

I think that more than anything, though, being a parent has begun a spiritual transformation in me that I never anticipated. Maybe that's been the main source of the feeling of exhaustion that I've faced time and time again.

Sure, the late nights and long hours in the beginning wear you down when you're up every hour, on the hour to those cries of hunger or thirst or that cry that you can't seem to figure out. Of course it pushes you to your physical limits when your husband, child, and yourself are sick and it's 3am on a house boat in the Amazon Jungle (ok, maybe that one's a little specific....) Who wouldn't be worn out after working all day then chasing a one year old all evening trying to get dinner ready and keep the house at least functional?

Physically, I get tired.

But it's those spiritual lessons, the ones that I seem to be in need of learning over and over again... those are what really take a toll. If I'm honest, though, I'll admit that it's not really the lesson that tires me. God's Truths don't exhaust me. His "yoke is easy and [His] burden is light." (Matthew 11.30) No, the part that wears me down is my pride, my wholehearted resistance at times to what His Spirit is saying to me. Things that, in my ignorance, I don't want to hear.

When I was praying for Elliott like I said in the above prayer, I longed to hear a response like the one I mentioned. I wanted so badly for God to tell me--promise me--that He would protect my child from hurt or harm. That He would keep him safe and make him happy.

So when His response instead was, "Pray according to My will, not your own." I was frustrated. This was my child that God had entrusted to me so I needed to know he would be safe.

Still God's reply each time I prayed that way was, "Pray according to My will, not your own."

I didn't understand. Shouldn't it be His will, too, to protect my baby? Shouldn't He want that too?

My mind goes back to the Gospels where Luke describes the scene in chapter 22 when Jesus is praying to His Father shortly before He was to be taken and crucified.

39. Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41. He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me;”

But He doesn't stop there. He continues:

"Yet not my will, but yours be done.”

Matthew gives us another insight in chapter 26. Jesus didn't ask God once, but twice:

42. Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

So there it is. Jesus is about to face the most grueling death one can imagine. He was going to feel real pain--real, tormenting pain. Yet His prayer was, "Yet not my will, but yours be done." 

God spoke to me very clearly on this one evening as I rocked Elliott to sleep. It was almost as if He was looking at Elliott with me when I felt His Spirit say to me once again, "Pray according to My will, not your own."

Again, I didn't want to hear that.

Why was I so resistant?

Because I know what my will is. I know that if it were up to me, Elliott would never hurt, never cry, never be in pain... and neither would I. But I don't know what God has. I don't know God's plan for his life.

For a long time, I still refused to pray that way. I didn't want to let go because I was afraid that as soon as I did, something bad would happen. Something out of my control.

Then I took another look at the example that Christ gives us when He was praying to His Father. He didn't pray, thanking God for the pain He was about to suffer. He didn't pray that God would carry through with the plan. He prayed that God would take it away. But the key is, he went on to say, "Yet not my will, but yours be done."

It hit me. It's OK to pray that God protect my child and keep Him healthy... as long I'm willing to accept that He may not do that. And that is faith. That is faith because I'm trusting in the fact that God is good and God is sovereign. That indeed He does have a plan for Elliott's life and it's a good one. It may not look like what I have in mind, but if it were up to me, Jesus wouldn't have had to die on the cross. To my human mind, that's not fair.

But to God, it was good.

God sees the big picture. He sees a humanity that is utterly lost and broken. A people that need a Savior and redemption. A people that are empty and fallen. And He loved us so much that He didn't take that cup from Jesus but followed through so that you and I could know Him and the power of His resurrection.

And that is good.

So now, I pray differently. I don't pray for health and wealth for Elliott. My prayer goes a little something like this:

"God, thank you for this beautiful boy that you have entrusted to me. Thank you for loving Elliott enough to send your Son to die so that he has hope. Please use this little life to glorify You. Whatever that looks like, whatever that may be, I want his life to glorify You. I know that you have a plan for his life and that it's a good one. It may not be what I would choose, but it's a good one that will honor You. I want him to be healthy and strong and happy. Yet not my will, but Yours be done."

If I'm honest, I don't pray this every day. Some days I can't because I don't really mean it. I'm still holding on to my pride, thinking that I know what's best for him.

But each time God ever so gently reminds me of the beautiful story of a Savior who wanted the will of His Father more than His very life and the redemption that followed when He surrendered knowing that God's will was the best.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Thankful Thursday: The Grandparents

So, I only have 8 more working days until I officially become a stay-at-home mom and I couldn't be more excited! But I can't help but look back over the last year and think of how blessed we have been that Elliott has such great grandparents!

Cindy (Richard's mom) has watched Elliott nearly every weekday since he was 6 weeks old. I can't begin to express how thankful I am that she has been there to take care of him. It gives me such a great peace of mind knowing that he is in good great hands! Not only that, but she has taught me a lot as I navigate the waters of parenthood. She and Bruce (Richard's dad) have given of their time and resources to make sure he is well taken care of and to help expand his little mind.

And I kinda think they like it ;)

I'm so thankful that my mom lives close. So many times she has been there when I call feeling totally lost and overwhelmed, especially when Richard has been out of town. She's been such a great mom to me and her example, advice, and listening ear have helped me tremendously. Not to mention she always encourages me and helps me see the big picture of parenting!

Whether it's keeping Elliott for a few hours so Richard and I can have a date night, buying him a special toy, giving advice, or, most importanly, just loving him abundantly.... well, they're awesome!

And we are so thankful and so blessed.
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