Meet the Press

Meet the Press

                        We are hard pressed on every side,yet not crushed;                                                  we are perplexed,but not in despair;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed…

The heat did press in on us, and we were pressed together under a large tent, open on the sides. We consolidated ourselves under the shade provided. My husband and I were placed in chairs at the front, next to a well-dressed couple, also special guests.

The service began. The desert winds rushed in our direction. Sand and dust whipped in under the tent and landed, silently, on all of us. We sweated. We drank from our water bottles. And sweated some more. After about three hours, the lady next to us took a rag out of her purse and handed it to her husband who immediately began wiping her neck, right there in front of God and everyone. “Interesting”, I thought. But, after all, they’re new.

A lunch had been prepared for us and several other guests, including the aforementioned couple. We were led to a tidy, one-room mud house where a table had been spread. For one who has lived in Africa for years, I could tell the hosts had blessed us with their best chairs, nicest tablecloth, their cleanest environment and special food. It looked good to me.

The rag lady, sour-faced, sat down and, once again, took out her rag with a kind of flourish. When our serving girl arrived, she thrust the rag toward her and demanded, “Go re-wet this.” The girl did as she was told. The lady then proceeded to give herself a more thorough sponge bath, wiping arms, legs, and any skin showing. The other guests politely ignored her. I felt very embarrassed for her and, what seemed to me, her culturally inappropriate behavior.

The food came. She glared at her plate, then at her husband’s. A fly lands on her potatoes. Immediately, grumbling, she sent her plate back for a replacement. I watched and listened in amazement as she continued to mutter complaints under her breath, pick at her food and eat off her husband’s plate.

Culture shock. The online dictionary definition is: a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange, or foreign social and cultural environment. Lately, the term “culture stress” has come more into vogue and is defined much the same way except you substitute “living life in” for “suddenly exposed to”.

I know I am experiencing this state of bewilderment and distress when I sob in the shower, scream into my pillow or just generally feel like I don’t fit in my skin. The empathetic colleague might soothe me with “Don’t worry, it’s just culture shock” and then kindly direct me to the suggested reading list we all received at orientation before we left our home countries. “These books may help you navigate culture shock.”

The insinuation is that the Bible doesn’t really address this issue on a deep level, and we certainly need help on a deep level here. But nowhere do we find “culture shock” specifically mentioned in Scripture. Furthermore, reading between the lines in the recommended books on the subject, we are led to believe that this circumstance is outside the scope of Scripture, especially if you’re approaching the “despair” end of the spectrum. We deal with it in any manner from treating ourselves to a cappuccino and pedicure, to gulping down our morning antidepressant with a few Bible verses thrown in to help us “feel better”.

Is it really true that God’s word is silent on the subject? What about Abraham to Canaan. Moses in Midian. Joseph to Egypt. Paul to Corinth. Most of all, Jesus to Earth. The One who crossed the widest cultural gap Himself told us to cross cultural boundaries and preach the gospel to all people.  [Mark 16:15] The apostles and early Christians lived the faith and testified to the gospel in places foreign to them. Likewise we are sent to other cultures to do and be the same. How is it, then, that God’s word would not tell us what to do when we are bewildered or distressed while in such God-ordained circumstances? I contend that God’s word speaks directly, specifically and sufficiently to those of us who are distressed in a cultural environment foreign to us.

The biblical definition of culture shock might be: the state of bewilderment and distress in tribulations that Christ’s followers experience as they live in the world. Paul crashed into the Corinthian church. A foreign place, culture and people. He was hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. This great missionary continually circulated cross-culturally. Added to his burden for the spiritual welfare of the fledgling churches, the arduous journeys and unfamiliar environments also caused stress. [I Cor. 4, II Cor. 6 and 11:22-29] He was subjected to the Press.

In a press, hard surfaces come together, squeezing something softer between them. Whatever is inside the thing being squeezed will come out. It may burst out in a loud, massive mess or it may be a slow, silent leakage. But what’s in there will come out. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. [Matt. 12:34-37] What we think and believe and do in secret is the measure of who we really are. Just as we learn our own face by seeing it in a mirror, so we learn our true character as we hold it up to the mirror of God’s word while experiencing culture stress. [Prov.27:19] When we are comfortable, we ignore the dark corners of the soul but the Press will force out whatever is hidden there.

When culture stress, or any other stress, presses us to an uncomfortable response, or to lash out at others, we must ask ourselves: What do I love? What am I longing for that my Lord never promised? What do I want that I’m not getting? To what hopes do I cling that are not eternal? Our response to the press of a foreign culture reveals to us what we truly value, desire and think we can’t live without. And those are the things our Lord Jesus wants to change in us. May we judge ourselves rightly, confess idolatrous loves, expectations and our precious non-negotiables, repenting of them. This press is the tool the Holy Spirit uses to transform us into people of whom it can be said, “They have been with Jesus.”

If we don’t respond in this way to culture stress, our only other option is to defend or excuse sinful attitudes and behaviors with “It’s culture shock, after all. I’ll get over it.” We deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re not all that bad. “I don’t know what got into me … this isn’t really me … I can’t believe I’m thinking this!” Culture stress does not crush, cause despair, or hopelessness. However, resisting the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts will.

The lady with the sour face and rag was not experiencing culture stress. Turns out she is a local lady and this is her environment, her culture. The press is the Press everywhere; the human heart is the same worldwide. Her heart’s secrets oozed out.

Culture stress isn’t the reason we respond the way we do. These circumstances are simply the press that serves to lay open the secrets of our hearts. Almost daily, I awake to the Press. If my tongue is sharp, or if I am despondent, I take a deeper look at those things I’m demanding of God and confess them. He mercifully forgives me, keeps on transforming me, wrapping me in His grace, which is sufficient for this day. And at the end of the day, I desire the Press to reveal the strength of Jesus Christ made perfect in my weakness. [II Cor. 12:9-10]

Still going out for a pedicure and cappuccino? Hey, wait for me!

II Corinthians 4:7-12

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Someone’s Hometown

Someone’s Hometown

A Lesson In Joy

I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy.
Yes, your joy will overflow! — Jesus to his disciples
John 15:11

My Spoon Lickers grew up in Africa. But they left there and began to establish themselves in the U.S. once they graduated from high school. One of them, dismayed and bewildered in the university environment, cried, “No one knows me. No one here has any comprehension of my past. I feel like the real me is a total stranger here.” He had many friends, an active social life. Yet, his life lacked a friend with a shared history.

We crave the society of those with whom we have a history. To know, and to be known, is human. Knowing and being known is an activity of the soul, part of God’s image stamped on us.

This is brought home to me as I meditate on Jesus’ words recorded in John’s gospel, chapters 14 – 17. Knowing and being known is a characteristic of the Godhead. What a privilege to listen in to Jesus as He talks to His Father (chapter 17)! There is a transforming truth here and I’ve tried to memorize it to facilitate my meditations but there is so much of “what’s yours is mine, and mine is yours, and they are yours, so they are mine …” that I can never get all the words perfectly straight! That is reason enough to ponder deeply.

Just think. God the Father and God the Son share the same story, the same history. There is a profound “knowing” between the One that is beyond words. We can not comprehend such eternal shared history, eternal fellowship and oneness. The Godhead, within His nature, is fully known, and knows fully. Now here is where our joy bursts forth. Jesus says to his disciples:

“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”

And in His prayer to the Father:

“These things I speak in the world, that they [those who love me] may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.”

His joy is the Father’s joy. The Father’s joy is His. He is in us, us in Him. We share the perfect joy that is also His. This joy is mine. God, by His Spirit, has given it to me and will never take it away. I rest in it. This joy that comes when the Joymaker has made His home with me – this joy that is the response of a soul that is known by God – this joy frees me to know the joy of others.

Some of us live in a faraway, foreign place, where we are not really known by anyone, nor do we really know anyone. The gifts and blessings that are normally associated with joy are few and far between. Excluded from shared history with the locals, we can be included in God’s forever story. Our gift of joy is to know and be known by the Author of Knowing.

Thus, our hearts respond joyfully to the temporal gifts received by those around us. We may not be blessed with that particular gift, but we have a joy unspeakable and full of glory, that will never end. We are not missing out. Our joy is full.

Galatians 5:22; John 14:23; Romans 12:15

Someone’s Hometown

A car passes by my house and I think
“To someone inside, these streets are familiar.
This is their hometown.”

Young students laugh and call to each other in the street, and I think
“They’ve been laughing with these same friends, in this same place, all their lives.”
This is their hometown.

They’re firing up the grill across the fence. Any minute the kids will arrive –
They don’t have far to come.
This is their hometown.

People next door, in the shops, on the streets, regard this place as home.
It’s where they return to when they’re all done going.
It’s where they have friends, family, school, work, church –                                                       It’s where they tell jokes their friends get, tell stories their brothers remember;
It’s where they have history.

When I ponder this, Rundu and it’s people seem a little less foreign,
a little less threatening,
a little less intimidating,
a little familiar somehow,
Because, though it will never be mine,
It is someone’s dear hometown.

Runner, Not Victim

Runner, Not Victim

He was wearing a light blue shirt, shorts, and his new cowboy boots. We stood by the driveway of our beloved little Cape Cod style home, purchased less than two years before.

I had explained to our son, barely four years old, the meaning of the “For Sale” sign planted in the yard. This little man looked straight at me, his eyes telling me he understood more than I gave him credit for. Articulate, to the point, he punched out every word of his question: Does this mean I am leaving all my friends?

The memory is poignant, often pushing itself into my conscious thought, and even more so since my husband and I accepted the call to return to Africa last year. Just as my son, with all the concern of a child, looked into my face over three decades ago, I now look into my Father’s face. And I punch out every word: Does this mean I am leaving all my children, my grandchildren and my brothers?

Oh, my soul, and my dear colleagues, and precious MKs, run immediately and quickly to Jesus. Seek Him early in the pain of separation, of alienation, of aloneness. Don’t even glance at the suggestion that you are a victim. Reject the philosophies of our culture that tell you the right to choose is sacred and undeniable; that you know what is best for your own well-being; that you can choose your own “best life” and attain it — and if someone else denies you that right, you are destined to second-best, and that ‘God certainly wouldn’t want that’.

Our comfort in this trial is no more and no less than His very word, which gives life. The Holy Spirit counsels and comforts us with his life-giving word found in Hebrews. He tells us:

You are not a victim. You are a runner.

Let us run with endurance the race set before us.

This is your race, and it is now, whether you are four or forty. God is the One who has set it before you, complete with circumstances, trials and what the world disdains as “second best”. God engineered each rise and bend for His glory and your ultimate reward. Jesus set a race before Peter, for example, putting him in the lane of His choosing. Peter turned his head aside to see what was going on in the lane next to his. “That runner, that lane, is no business of yours”, Jesus told him. “Here is your lane, yours alone. I ran it before you. You follow me.”

Yes, but how can one endure it? We haven’t left home for a vacation to soon return to intimate fellowship with friends and family. Such uninterrupted intimacy is not part of our course. Here, also, the word of God instructs us:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,

Let the Holy Spirit instruct you as you reflect on the race that each of those witnesses ran. Ponder Isaac, the son who was born into pilgrimage but embraced God’s promises; consider Joseph, who was thrown into a slavery no one would choose, yet he is not portrayed as a victim; learn from Moses, who actually denied a first-choice world and chose suffering because he considered Christ a greater treasure than all the riches of Egypt.

let us lay aside every weight,

Matthew Henry’s amplification clarifies and convicts. “All inordinate concern and affection for the body, this present life and the world is a weight.” The victim occupies himself with his grieving. The victim rehearses injustices done to him. Sadly, most of our counselors are likely to caress and embellish these weights. They encourage us to run towards self-fulfillment, self-esteem and self-assertiveness. Jesus said to deny our selves, and follow Him. Throw off the weight of self and find you are strengthened!

and sin which so easily ensnares us,

Just as we each have been set in our own lane, there is a temptation that particularly entices each of us. Search your heart. With what sin is your heart most familiar, that you can almost predict will trip you up? Pride, fear, sexual sin, anger, unbelief? It is not the actions or decisions of other people that disqualify you, and I, from the race. It is the sin in our own hearts. Toying with sin saps our strength.

looking unto Jesus …

And finally, we endure by fixing our gaze on Jesus, the Runner before us, the designer of our lane and the one who planted faith in us. He enables us to reach the finish line. In fact, unless our faith be in Him and His gospel, we are not even in the race.

“Does this mean I am leaving all my friends?” By faith, I knew Jesus was planting faith in my son; that he would come to believe no treasure is worth more than life in Christ, that pain is not second best and that he is not a victim, but a runner.

I answered, “Yes.”

By faith, I run with my Father’s answer to me ringing in my heart: Yes.

Psalm 63:1, 119:50; Hebrews 11 and 12; John 21:20-22

Everything is Enough

A warm hello to all of you who share my same faith in God our Savior Jesus Christ. There is a feast set before us; a feast of grace and peace for our soul, heaped up, overflowing and never running out! The bowl is never empty! Let’s savor a lick from the spoon scooped out from the bowl of II Peter.

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”…His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us…”  [The … means that you really need to dig into all that comes before and after this small lick.]

All things.   Life.    And godliness. That about covers it.  Sweeping. Broad. It leaves out nothing that is of enduring significance either for this life, or the next.

Life. My circumstances, situation, the conditions in which I live, move and function. Life. The way my mind thinks about my situation; my soul’s response to circumstances.

Godliness. A particular response of the soul wherein God makes me to be at peace with Him, with others and with my own conscience. Godliness. Understanding and interpreting life from the vantage point of faith in Christ and all He has promised me here, and forever.

Dear reader, let this truth settle into your mind and heart. God’s divine power has [already] provided for you everything that you need to live in your present situation. He has already given you all that your soul requires to be at peace, to act wisely and to escape being wounded in spirit by the corruptness that is all around.

How is this wondrous, blessed condition brought about? God has already made the Way for you to know Him. Twice it is written here. The grace, this peace, is in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. It is through the knowledge of Him that we lay claim to the feast for the soul. The soul’s resource is in knowing Jesus. Period. It is that simple. This life-giving knowledge of Jesus is revealed in God’s word, the Bible. Only. Exclusively.

I wonder if the apostle Peter wouldn’t say something like this: God’s divine power has given me everything I need to cope with persecution as I get to know the crucified and risen Christ better and better.

A refugee fleeing for her life, physically, can say, “God’s divine power has given me everything I need to encourage my soul and not succumb to hate or despair as I learn more and more about Jesus from the Bible, and believe everything it says about Him. A U.N. camp can not offer my soul any remedy that the Holy Spirit does not already offer, through the Word.”

One soldier survived when all the others were killed by a roadside bomb. If that dear one has his faith in the Lord Jesus, he already has all he needs to heal his soul and mind of the trauma. Healing, comfort, hope and a future is granted to him through the knowledge of Christ and His promises.

King David, the first disciples, the ancient Christians, those Christ-followers down through the ages all knew something we seem to have forgotten in these recent decades. Many have become absorbed and fascinated with the human idea that we can study and understand the soul apart from the Creator and Designer of it. What’s more, we are being told that God’s word is not sufficient to meet the real, deep needs of the soul. The knowledge of Christ, as He is revealed in the Bible, is supposedly shamefully simplistic and irrelevant to the deeper, larger issues that humans face today. Heart and soul conditions have been renamed with labels we don’t find in Scripture. These labels may help us categorise human behavior but they tend to send us in the wrong direction for wisdom and help in need. Human philosophies of the soul undermine our confidence in God’s word as the sufficient and authoritative, first and last word on the soul.

I can testify with the cloud of witnesses who have gone before me that, indeed, God’s divine power has provided me with every encouragement, exhortation, every teaching and all nourishment that is necessary to my soul; this soul that lives in a foreign culture, this soul that yearns for a home, this soul that is tempted to think of myself more highly than I ought, to replaying horrific conversations, and, this soul that is hungry for God. Feasting on Christ, to know Him as He is made known in God’s word, always has been, and is, complete and sufficient nourishment for this, my soul.

One of my Spoon Lickers, a TCK (third culture kid = one who’s parents raised him in a culture that was not their own, a new culture to the whole family) recently told me that the most important thing he learned growing up in our home was that “God’s word is enough.” He has obtained faith, the Holy Spirit lives in him. He has a Bible. Therefore, he is confident that he has everything he needs for his soul to really and truly live, anytime, anywhere, in any situation.

Do you believe that the knowledge of Christ is sufficient to address your circumstances, the issues of your soul? Do you believe that the Bible is God’s word, given to be our sole source of this knowledge? How would your life change if you really did believe this? What changes would you make in your reading material, your online searches, the people you talk to about your problems? What changes might your children see in you?

You can give your children nothing more valuable than a steadfast confidence in God’s Word as the one and only, the totally sufficient resource that trains the soul to truly live.

II Peter; Colossians 2:8; Ps. 119; Hebrews 1