Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What Will It Matter 100 Years From Now?

Donald Whitney's book Simplify Your Spiritual Life is composed of 90 2-page chapters, one of which is entitled "Keep a Simple Journal." Here's how it started:

Do you know the first names of any of your great-grandparents? Unless one of your hobbies is genealogy, the answer is probably no. And yet they lived lives as full as ours. They went to school, married, and had children. Most of them worked at their various occupations for decades and played with infants who grew up to become your parents. In all likelihood, your great-grandparents were very much alive less than one hundred years ago. But after all their labors and all the seasons they saw come and go, what awareness is there now that they ever drew a breath? If you, the direct descendant of these eight people, do not even know their names, then it's almost certain that no one else knows them or anything else about them either. They may have lived for eighty years, and not a trace of their lives remains. That's your life in less than one hundred years from today.
What a sobering thought! Don goes on to use this motivation as one of many reasons to keep a journal. It can be an electronic journal (like a blog!), hand-written, or even audio- or video-recorded. You don't have to write in it every day and you don't have to write a long dissertation every time you sit down. Just keep a simple journal to leave some trace of your life.

I have also heard people use this as a motivation for scrapbooking. There are a lot of details we keep in our heads and sometimes those get lost as the years go by. Scrapbooking is a beautiful way to keep those memories alive for future generations. Basically, scrapbooking is just a more colorful form of journaling.

Don sums it up this way:

The simplest way is best. It's the one you're most likely to maintain over a lifetime to build a monument to God's faithfulness. And long after you've made your last entry, it's also the one most likely to introduce your great-grandchildren to your life and faith and to influence them for Christ's sake.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Stuck Like Glue

Something which is glued to another cannot be taken off, but you must tear it; so it is a sign your heart is glued to the world, that when God would take you off, your heart tears.

~ Jeremiah Burroughs from his excellent book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Faithful Shepherd

At Lance's farewell service yesterday, Todd Murray presented a song written as his farewell gift to Lance. The chorus is based on Colossians 1:28-29. The lyrics to the song are below.

A Faithful Shepherd

In your strong, convicting preaching
And your clear, consistent teaching
You have been a faithful shepherd to us.
In your public proclamation
And your private consolation
You have been a faithful shepherd to us.

You warned us we could not afford to be naïve
For all our life is driven by the doctrine we believe.
You called us to be discerning,
To keep growing, to keep learning
You have been a faithful shepherd to us.

And it was Christ you proclaimed to us
Admonishing every man.
And it was Christ you proclaimed to us
Teaching every man with all wisdom.
So that every man could be
Presented in Christ complete.
And for this purpose you labored and strived
By the power God mightily supplied.
For this purpose you toiled, you agonized
So that one day we would stand complete in Christ.

When we fell into temptation
Needing loving confrontation
Still you were a faithful shepherd to us.
In our heartaches and our sighing
In our sickness and our dying
You have been a faithful shepherd to us.

You celebrated all the milestones of our lives -
Sweet conversions, joyful weddings,
And the birth of each new child.
Even when you were rejected
And your own needs were neglected
Still you were a faithful shepherd to us.

(Chorus again)

(c) 2011 by Todd Murray

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Book Review: The Bruised Reed

Richard Sibbes was born in Suffolk in 1577 and started his studies at Cambridge in 1595. He was one of the most influential Puritans in the early seventeenth century and was renowned for his powerful and eloquent preaching. Charles Spurgeon once said of him, "Sibbes never wastes the student's time, he scatters pearls and diamonds with both hands." He wrote many essays and books but he will always be remembered for writing The Bruised Reed. First published in 1630, it has now been reprinted numerous times and has comforted and reassured many a Christian soul. Below is a review of this classic book by our own Debora H.

Like most books written by Puritan writers, this is meaty fare for the truth-hungry appetite of serious Christian readers. Sibbes starts off slowly, in my opinion, and some readers looking for an easier read will be dissuaded if they do not persevere.

Sibbes is not above spiritualizing certain passages, but for the most part, his interpretation of the scriptures is careful and sound. The book is built around a familiar passage, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth,” (Isaiah 42:1-3).

What encouragement this book is for those of us who are sometimes discouraged by our own sinfulness. How reassuring to meditate on the truths Sibbes expounds in this sensitive, yet powerful, message to us.

I especially appreciated the chapter on “Duties and Discouragements.” And as a student of theodicy, I was greatly interested in his chapter, “Grace Shall Reign,” which points to several passages related to the godly purposes of suffering, which I found extremely encouraging. From a counseling perspective, he repeatedly urged us to treat our suffering, weaker brother with gentleness, as Christ did. But he also treats the reader to his own tenderness as he reminds us that we, too, can be bruised reeds and smoking flax.

In fact, by the end of The Bruised Reed, I felt the excitement of a pep rally as Sibbes, with increasing strength and persuasion, motivates our striving for living more godly lives through the hope we find in Christ, our Lord.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Lessons in Letting Go: One Mom’s Experience (Part 7)

This is the final part of Wanda’s insights shared in a recent Wise Women segment on how the Lord dealt with her and grew her faith during a time when her and Joe’s only daughter Amy decided to go to China to teach English. Click on these links to read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, and part 6.

God is still working on me. Even as Amy went back to China in 2005, Joe planned another trip to Burma, Robert went to China over Christmas break for two weeks (I had three family members on the other side of the world in a two week period!), and just as Amy was planning to return home to the states, Robert left for a year of ministry in Hyderabad, India. I have been so blessed to participate in Joe’s, Amy’s and Robert’s overseas ministries.

God did a work in my heart in another way, too, that I must praise Him for. During Amy’s first year in China, everyone wanted to know if we were going to see her. My standard response was, “No, I want her to experience China for this first year by herself and if she goes back a second year, perhaps we can go visit.” My deep heart answer to my closest friends was, “I am scared to death to even think of a trip to China.” I had been dealing with panic attacks, and the idea of being in an airplane for 13 hours was more than I could imagine. Oh, but God is so faithful! He taught me how to deal with those fears and it would take another whole series of blog posts to tell you about that. In April of 2006, Joe and I took a 15-day trip to China that was absolutely amazing. We were able to go to class with Amy and meet her university students (who knew way too much about me and my home from all the pictures and stories Amy shared with them). We were able to sing about God in the classroom and we were able to talk with a young Chinese man about our own marriage and our relationship to God. Later, Dave took this young man, Mark, to church where he bought a Bible and became involved in Bible studies at the university – I trust he will be one of those with us at the throne someday.

If I had to choose one verse that sustained me through these years and continues to do so, it would be Isaiah 26:3-4. In the “Wanda version,” it says:

You will keep in perfect peace, HER whose mind is steadfast, because SHE trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord is the Rock eternal.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Lessons in Letting Go: One Mom’s Experience (Part 6)

This is part 6 of Wanda’s insights shared in a recent Wise Women segment on how the Lord dealt with her and grew her faith during a time when her and Joe’s only daughter Amy decided to go to China to teach English. Click on these links to read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.

One of my favorite Psalms that ministered to me during the days that Amy was in China and the time Joe was in Burma was Psalm 34. It helped me to place my focus on God and not my circumstances, my loneliness, or my fears. Psalm 62 also ministered to me.

By the end of February, I had been encouraged by another mission conference at BCLR, and Amy had made the decision to apply for the University Teaching Program in China for the next school year. My prayer was that God would count me worthy of my calling to partnership with Amy (Phil. 1:5; 2 Thes. 1:11; Col. 1:9), and that He would help me to hold tightly to my end of the rope so that one day in glory we would see the results as we gathered around the throne with those from every nation, tribe, people and language (Rev. 7:9).

Amy’s first blog entry as she packed for China was “How Long is a Year?” In June, 2005, I could say how long a year was. It was one year of birthdays; one year of holidays; one year of email, snail mail, phone calls, and instant messaging. My response: “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father. There is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.” To God be the glory.

I had had mostly good days, some weepy days, but overall, it had been a year of growth in the Lord for me. He had taught me so much. He had drawn me so much closer to Himself. He had given me a better view of the desires for His kingdom and His glory and my part in that. And, oh, He had been so faithful! I had learned so much dependence on Him and Him alone. As much as my husband loves me, as much comfort as my sweet neighbor Betty was to me on our morning walks, as much as Thalia (whose daughter Shannon also went overseas) encouraged me with her notes, I had learned that only with God was I able to share my deepest thoughts, feelings, and fears. Others care for Amy and love her, but not with the depth of my mother’s love, and I can only share that with Him who loves her more than I do. As I learned to hold Amy more openly before the Lord, I felt Him drawing me and holding me closer to Himself and loving me as only my heavenly Father can do.

And so ended the first year of Amy’s adventure to China. She did return for a second year. She went to the same city where she had been at the boarding school, but moved across town to teach at a university. Some of you know the rest of the story. Amy was on a team with a family with three children and a single gal and a single guy. That single guy happened to be Dave, a precious, godly man that God brought into Amy’s life and to whom she has been married for almost 4 years now.

The song that Amy chose for her Dad to escort her down the aisle on her wedding day was a song that had a line in it that had been an encouragement to me for the second year she was in China. The song is “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” There is a line in the song that says, “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do, if with His love He befriend thee.” What marvelous things we had watched the Almighty do these past several years! To God be the glory. I could hardly stand still that day as Amy and Joe walked down the aisle to that music and Dave, who never stopped smiling that day, waited for his bride of God’s own choosing.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Lessons in Letting Go: One Mom’s Experience (Part 5)

This is part 5 of Wanda’s insights shared in a recent Wise Women segment on how the Lord dealt with her and grew her faith during a time when her and Joe’s only daughter Amy decided to go to China to teach English. Click on these links to read part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

One of the hardest days I faced while Amy was in China was February 9, 2005. She had emailed us from Thailand where she was attending the ELIC Annual Conference, and said that she had been thinking a lot about “next year” and wanted us to know there were three openings in the university teaching program at Jingzhou where she had done her summer work. I was not surprised that she was seriously considering a second year in China. However, my emotions got the best of me that day and it was one of the “weepiest” days I had the entire time she was gone. I can look back and laugh now, but it was a hard day. I worked at the church for a while and then decided to go to the mall. I didn’t want to talk to anyone and I didn’t want to be home alone. My car got splattered by some messy concrete water that was spewing from some road construction as I drove to the mall and when I came out of the mall I could not find my car. I thought surely it had been stolen! It took several minutes before I located it – right where I had parked it! I got in the car and cried. I turned my CD player on – probably as loud as it would go, because this was a tendency I had when I was hurting. A MercyMe song came on loud and clear – God’s message to me for the moment.

Another rainy day – I can’t recall having sunshine on my face
And all I feel is pain and all I wanna do is walk out of this place.
But when I am stuck and I can’t move
When I don’t know what I should do
When I wonder if I’ll ever make it through

I gotta keep singing, I gotta keep praising Your Name
You’re the One that’s keeping my heart beating.
I gotta keep singing. I gotta keep praising Your Name
That’s the only way that I find healing.
And can I climb up in Your lap –
I don’t wanna leave. Jesus sing over me.
I don’t want leave. Jesus sing over me.
You’re everything I need. Oh, I gotta keep singing.

Oh, that was just what I needed: a reminder to focus on God. Not my circumstances, not my feelings, but Him and Him alone.

I later learned a verse from Zephaniah 3:17 that perhaps was the idea for this song: “The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with His love. He will rejoice over you with singing.

How precious God was to minister to me that day! He showed me that He is the One I have to go to for strength, comfort, and peace. He is everything I need for any situation.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Lessons in Letting Go: One Mom’s Experience (Part 4)

This is part 4 of Wanda’s insights shared in a recent Wise Women segment on how the Lord dealt with her and grew her faith during a time when her and Joe’s only daughter Amy decided to go to China to teach English. Click on these links to read part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Amy was in California for a week of training before she actually flew to China. We had a lengthy phone conversation on Sunday evening before she was to fly to China on Monday. After that phone call, I confess that I had the biggest cry session you can ever imagine as I began to think of how many miles would soon separate us. (By the way, I never wanted to know the exact number of miles it was from Little Rock to China because as long as I could send emails, mail packages and letters, and talk online and by phone it never felt that far away). The tears that I shed that night were cleansing and comforting, and once again God’s words sustained me and gave me peace and assurance of His love for Amy and for me.

  • Proverbs 12:25: An anxious heart weighs a man down. I prayed, “Lord I give you my anxious heart.”

  • Proverbs 14:30: A heart at peace gives life to the body. I asked, “Lord, I ask for Your peace that transcends all understanding.” (Phil. 4:7)

  • Proverbs 15:13: A happy heart makes the face cheerful. “Lord, I pray to have a happy heart and a cheerful face.”

  • Proverbs 25:25: Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land. Amy was in China for six days before we heard from her. I prayed, “Lord I give my burden, my aching heart to you. I place my faith in You to be the power behind Amy’s trip and the One who is always with her.”

A quote that I read during this time was, “Find joy in this time of new beginnings, for it is truly an incredible moment when we watch our children spread their wings and fly.” Early on in Amy’s adventure, I made a decision. I am NOT going to mope and feel sorry for myself and count the days as they drag by. That would not be trusting and it would not be honoring to God. I was going to commit myself to pursuing what would honor and bring glory to God and continue with my daily activities. Jesus promised in John 10:10 that He had “come to give life and give it abundantly.” I didn’t want to sin by not living the abundant life God had promised with Christ living in me.

Two weeks into Amy’s time in Jingzhou, I wrote, “I am praising God for the peace that He has given me. It is almost scary. I am not weepy, mopey or depressed. I am rejoicing that my daughter is in China. Thank you, God, for the work you have done in my heart.”

Amy participated in the six week summer teaching program in Jingzhou and in August, she moved to Taiyuan, China – a city of 3 million about 6-8 hours west of Beijing. She lived and taught at a Chinese boarding school that had about 3,000 students from kindergarten through high school. She taught English to about 300 third graders.

But God wasn’t finished growing me. My husband Joe was presented with an opportunity to go to Burma. That’s even farther away than China! Yet another opportunity for trusting and obeying on my part. A prayer from a song the choir had sung came to mind: “God help me to trust in You at every turn. Help me to be blind to ME so that I can see what You see and gladly give up my will.” Joe went to Burma that November and Robert and I entertained the 20 family members that showed up for Thanksgiving that year (for a week!).

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lessons in Letting Go: One Mom’s Experience (Part 3)

This is part 3 of Wanda’s insights shared in a recent Wise Women segment on how the Lord dealt with her and grew her faith during a time when her and Joe’s only daughter Amy decided to go to China to teach English. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

In early May, Amy received her summer assignment to Jingzhou, China, where she would be for six weeks. I wrote, “Knowing a specific place makes it more real, the heartache deeper, but the willingness and the faith in You (God) stronger as I feel weaker and more dependent on You to help me through these days. A year is a long time as Amy said the last night she was home, but then she added, “Mom, I have to go.” And with God’s promises, I said, “Go with my blessing.”

At the end of May, after graduation, our youngest child, Robert, left for nine weeks to attend Student Mobilization’s summer program, KALEO, in Colorado. I wrote in my journal,

Years of loving, training, disciplining, and prayer have lead to this day – a day to let go, to turn loose, to strengthen MY faith – as I let Robert go into the world. God help me to let go gracefully; help me to love with long (apron) strings. Help me to continue to encourage and love him as a man and to realize that You love him more than I do, that You are always there for him. God, keep him dependent on You, grow him up this summer into a man of God, ready to face the challenges of the world in a way that will bring honor and glory to Your Name and help him to focus on what is important. Help him to focus on the Master and see himself as the vessel you have chosen to use for Your glory.

By the end of May, Amy was within $500 of raising the funds she needed for her year in China! I was reminded of Philippians 4:19, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory.”

Finally, departure day arrived: June 21, 2004. Amy was 23 years old. My feeling that day? Joy and delight, aching and sadness. How do you feel both? Joy and delight knowing God has called her and she is exercising obedience and I am exercising trust and obedience. Aching because she is precious to me as my only daughter. My prayer that day? “God she is yours. Protect her, love her, guide her, bring her home safely all in accordance with Your will. To God be the glory.”

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Lessons in Letting Go: One Mom’s Experience (Part 2)

This is part 2 of Wanda’s insights shared in a recent Wise Women segment on how the Lord dealt with her and grew her faith during a time when her and Joe’s only daughter Amy decided to go to China to teach English. You can read part 1 here.

So now my confidence was given a real boost, but what happened when real life set in and the time was approaching for her to leave? The test of my resolve to remain steadfast in my trust in God was sure to come. Here are some thoughts that I wrote down during the days after the missions conference regarding letting her go:

  1. I do not want to be a hindrance to God’s work in Amy’s life or my own. If I love Amy more than God, I am not pleasing Him. Matthew 10:37-39 tells me that God should be my first love and ultimate priority. Verse 37b says, “Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” I prayed verse 39b for Amy and myself: “Whoever finds his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Amy had been raised in a church that believed in, taught, and sought participation in world missions. We had sent Amy on every youth mission trip. I could not be a hypocrite now and say to her, “Oh we didn’t mean we wanted you to be a missionary.”

  2. God is in China, too, as well as in Little Rock. I can’t be in both places but He can. He promised in Matthew 28:19-20, “I am with you always.” He can and He will sustain and keep her there and me here in Little Rock. It was always a comfort to me to look into the night sky and know that the same moon that shines here shines in China, too, and the God of creation who hangs the sun, moon and starts in place is surrounding my daughter with His love and grace wherever she is.

  3. Finances: that was a lot of money to raise in a few months for a year in China. At least it looked like a lot to me! But it was a drop in the bucket to God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He gloriously showed us that He was in control in the area of finances, too.

The bottom line on these three thoughts was this: Go to the mission field because God has blessed you with the opportunity to align yourself with His purposes. And these words of comfort came to me:

His hope, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

Well, I began to sink one day about two months after the missions conference. It was two months before Amy’s departure in mid-April. Baseball season was extended because Little Rock Christian kept winning games, and Robert was graduating in May. I was trying to complete a kindergarten-12th grade scrapbook before Robert’s graduation, help Amy with all the China prep (papers, physicals, immunizations, finding long underwear, packing, etc.), and plan a wedding reception for 500 people with tons of food for Shannon’s wedding. The overwhelming flood had hit! God was so faithful and I just praise Him for what He taught me that day. Several times I placed a phone call to a friend to discuss my panicked feelings and seek her advice on getting someone else to be in charge of the reception. She never answered her phone, so I just got in my car and left for Robert’s baseball game. As I was driving, I began singing a Christmas song that I had learned years ago:

Rest, the Lord is near, refuse to fear, enjoy His love.
Trust, His mighty power fills every hour of all your days.
There is no need for needless worry with such a Savior.
You have no cause to ever doubt,
His perfect Word still reassures in any trial.

Rest, the Lord is there, lift up your prayer, for He is strong.
Trust, He’ll bring release and perfect peace will calm your mind.

Then 1 John 4:18 came to mind: “Perfect love casts out fear.” In spite of my reaching out to a friend instead of Christ first, He graciously came to me with His love and gentle reminder that I was to rest in Him. My overwhelmed mind became a mind of peace as God revealed Himself to me as the best friend I would have to walk through this new journey of life with me. An old hymn says it this way:

Can you find a friend so faithful,
Who will all your sorrows share?
Jesus knows your every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Lessons in Letting Go: One Mom’s Experience (Part 1)

A few weeks ago, Wanda shared some insights in a Wise Women segment of our Wednesday night Bible study on how the Lord dealt with her and grew her faith during a time when her and Joe’s only daughter Amy decided to go to China to teach English. This week we will post portions of her talk each day in a series of blog posts.

When Amy first approached us with the idea of wanting to go to China to teach English, I suppose fear and apprehension were my first thoughts. However, as I look back over journal entries for those two years Amy was in China, I see how the Lord grew my faith and trust in Him and how He alone was my sole source of comfort and strength. I have heard Amy say, “I think my mom grew a lot more than I did while I was in China.”

I don’t believe “letting go” is a natural tendency for a mother. It is apparently something each mom must learn to do and it is probably different with each child. I know when our oldest son Matthew said he wanted to move out on his own, I said, “YES!” He had been working an evening shift, was coming home at midnight, cooking breakfast, and staying up watching TV for hours. Of course, I was hearing and smelling everything that he was doing. I was glad he was ready to be on his own. With Amy, it was different. She was my shy child. She would make her younger brother Robert go into McDonald’s with her after school so he could place the order and pay. When she was old enough to drive, she would take Robert to the gas station with her so he could go in and pay for the gas (in the days before debit cards). She lived in the dorm at college, but came home every weekend for two years. She was content to be at home with her parents on Friday and Saturday nights. And now she wanted to go to China!!

After having attended two summer sessions of KALEO and a semester of Perspectives on World Missions, Amy decided that God was directing her to apply to ELIC (English Language Institute/China) to teach English in China. Two events occurred that spring helped me to grow in my trust in God’s will for Amy’s life. First, Amy volunteered to help edit a book that a friend was writing on missions (Amy is a graphic artist/designer.). She told him, “My mom will be glad to do the typing, because she types really fast.” Little did I know the impact that typing would have on me as I typed pages regarding being a disciple of Christ and giving our lives in service to Him.

The second event was the BCLR Missions Conference. Our main speaker that year was Conrad Mbewe of Zambia, and his topic was “Partnership in the Gospel” from Philippians 1:5-6. At that conference, I gained a new perspective on the vision for missions and a confidence in my heart that I could willingly give up my rights as Amy’s mom, to allow her to go wherever God desired her to go and to do what God would have her do, knowing that He would never send her anywhere that His grace would not sustain her. I knew there would be days when I wouldn’t feel this confidence. My prayer those days would be that God would keep me from sinning by having a weakening of my faith, but would instead, as is spoken of Abraham in Romans 4:20, “yet he did not waiver through unbelief regarding the promises of God but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised.”

My new mission was to have a partnership in the gospel with Amy as she took the Good News to China. Conrad spoke of William Carey and his words to the people in England as he left to go to India. He told them, “I’m going down into the mine; I want you to be faithful holding the rope.” The person in the mine (India or China) is dependent on my support. I become a vital component of the work of missions through prayer, giving, and being faithful to persevere and hold tightly to my end of the rope no matter what is happening at the other end. To me it meant planning months ahead to make sure that Christmas box, that birthday box, that Easter box, those popcorn balls (Yes – I did send popcorn balls to China!), etc. arrived on time. It meant being up early to chat online (with a 13-hour time difference). It meant never, ever getting used to the idea that she was in China lest I become complacent and let go of the rope. As a visual reminder to Amy, I actually sent her a piece of rope in the mail – one end was labeled “Little Rock” and one end was labeled “Taiyuan.”