Grandma’s Reflections: Romans 8

Grandma’s Reflections: Romans 8

“Abba! Abba!”, cried a little boy, who raced with his arms lifted high towards a man across the terminal. His Daddy caught him up for a joyous reunion. My son, knowing Whose he is, witnessed this scene upon his arrival in Israel. It was the first of many “Ah! Wow!” moments he and his wife experienced during their visit to that land.

… but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry “Abba! Father!”

Meanwhile, on another continent, their children were with me and my husband. While those words from Paul’s letter to the Romans warmed his soul, that same letter was impressing me in another way.

Their youngest, not yet talking, expresses herself with finger jabs and movements reminiscent of a rider on a trotting horse. Then a glottal stop releases into a nasal grunt-squeak. Incomprehensible. But she is insistent. Her gesticulations becomes more rapid. Her brow furrows. Her eyes dart back and forth between this Baba and Grandma as if to say, “I know that you know what I’m saying so why don’t you just — respond accordingly! What’s with you gray-hairs anyway?”

…the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we don’t know what to pray for as we ought …

Frustrated, I don’t understand her. I want to answer her request appropriately but, more than that, I want her to just stop it! My frailty knows the temptation to lose patience, to tune out or to (imagine!) be offended that she isn’t acting “properly” towards me, almighty adult that I am. It occurred to me that my Heavenly Father never loses patience with my stuttering in his ear, nor takes offense because I dare to approach Almighty God with my limited understanding of Him.

The incident passed, on to the next need to be met … (God feeds mothers of tiny ones, and babysitting Grandmothers, in little bites as they go along. Quiet, alone- time for prayer might not happen every day.) Honesty, the next need to be met probably had to do with the trash. More incomprehensible than the baby’s whining was how to dispose of the cellophane on the cardboard packaging, or where to throw the metal jar lid. There must be five or six receptacles in every German home, each receiving its own, specific type of “throw away” item. They call it recycling. I call it crazy. I met a lady who, after her first visit to this place, returned home with her used dental floss in her suitcase because she didn’t know how to dispose of it in Germany! I didn’t even understand the booklet, written in English, explaining the system. I fear that if I ever return the immigration officer will scan my passport after which a siren will sound and a warning will flash across his screen: “Plastic container found in rubbish bin after last visit. Danger to society. Apprehend immediately.” But I digress. Romans is not about being patient with babies. It’s about the privileges granted to God’s true children. The message is not“recycle”, but restoration.

…but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God …

We are weak in prayer. We don’t know how we should pray because we don’t fully comprehend God’s will and can’t pray in agreement with HIm. We don’t know what to ask. We are shortsighted and very much biased in favor of the flesh [our nature that seeks to gratify our self]. We are distracted, poking our finger here and there, uttering insistent, loud noises, thinking that we know what we need. But the Spirit of God knows us better than we know ourselves and he knows God’s desires and plans. So, His Spirit in us (given freely to only those who accept adoption) helps us, or ‘heaves/lifts with us’. He interprets our requests, and Christ himself intercedes on our behalf. When our soul is so troubled that articulate prayer is impossible, the Spirit knows our heart and knows how to line it up in accord with the will of the Father. What patient attentiveness! That He should take the cries of His children so seriously; that He should have made such a perfect way for them to approach Him, anytime, anywhere and in any circumstance; that He should attend to them; that He brings his divine character to bear upon their case, unfolding His response so that all things work for the good of His children and for His glory — this is a certainty for us to dwell upon, to rest in.

The opening chapters address sin, God’s wrath and judgement, our darkened understanding and rebellion against God, the brokenness of all His creation, and what we all justly deserve. The message is doom for those not in Christ. And then it surges into hope, redemption and the guarantee of restoration, addressed to those who receive Christ. The restoration of creation is the greater theme. Why, in our moments of quiet solitude, do we detect a whisper of unnamed longing in our soul? Every request is fundamentally a prayer to restore a body or a relationship, to restore fruitfulness to our fields, to mend a broken vocation, or our honor, or the government, the economy, society, to return our joy, to give back to us what we had before sin entered the world … “Restore!” is the cry of our soul. We long for the promised consummation of our redemption and the complete restoration of all creation, perfect and complete. The Father who hears and takes seriously our babbling is the same Father who will return to this earth as the victorious, resurrected One, the Vindicator, the Just, the One who will ultimately, finally, restore all that concerns me and all that concerns Him. He understands our groaning in prayer for what it really is. “Abba! My own Daddy! Please come make everything all right.” At just the perfect time, He will.

—————-
photo: 2nd generation spoon licker
extra-biblical source: Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary

Glory For Me!

Glory For Me!

That which gives you your sense of worth
is your glory.

“Glory!” What comes to mind when you hear the word? I think: jaw-dropping awesomeness, perfection, God, and Christmas. “Glory!” What do you see? I see angels, white and blinding light, glitter and sparkles. Glory. It’s one of those Bible words that we don’t use much nowadays, unless it’s December and we’re singing about it. But the word does appear in the Bible over and over. I was seeing the “glory” theme so often that I decided I’d better take a closer look and understand what is actually being said.

The glory of God is easier to define, even from a brief dictionary definition. glory – n. 1 high renown or honor won by notable achievements 2 magnificence; great beauty; a thing that is beautiful or distinctive; a special cause for pride, respect, or delight. Granted, this only scratches the surface of what the prophets and apostles mean when they speak of God’s glory but at least our understanding is pointed in the right direction. What really threw me was the passages that quote a human being saying “my glory”. What is that about? Take Psalm 16, for example, where we listen in as David alternately prays to God and talks to his own soul. Towards the end he says,

“Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices…”

Now, if you are using a modern paraphrase, you probably won’t see the word “glory” here. The translators have accommodated our self-imposed, limited vocabulary. I’m sorry about that because I think the meaning intended in the original manuscript holds layers of richness that contextualised translations miss.

One commentator, Matthew Henry, explains that “our glory is that within us that makes us different from the beasts”. Our tongue, our ability to speak, distinguishes us from animals. Therefore, in the case of Psalm 16 David audibly, with speech, rejoices in the Lord. But speech is not our only distinguishing characteristic. There’s a deeper layer of meaning to “glory”.

We differ from animals in that we are aware of the self. We think about our self. We consider our image and we ponder the level of satisfaction we have attained. We are conscious of our self, of our soul. So now I invite you to read Psalm 84 with that in mind. Notice that in David’s self-awareness, he directs his soul to God. David is the king! He sits on a throne and lives in a palace! But this is not where he finds his worth. “The Lord will give grace and glory”, he assures his soul, “no good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” We see here, then, that “glory” also carries the meaning ‘the weight of significance, honor, esteem’. And here is the point. David, for all his talents, skills, wealth and power derived the weight of his significance from the Lord who gives it to those who trust in him! What freedom this truth has given me from the bondage of self — of having to assert myself, to protect and look after the measure of my worth and significance!

Do you see the powerful truth here? If you trust in the Lord Jesus your identity, self-esteem, value and worth is wrapped up in him. He shares his glory with you. In Him you live and move and have your being. Our personal glory is centered in our Savior, the only truly Glorious One.

Now, when you read your Bible and come across the phrase “my glory”, don’t rush over it. Amplify the meaning with “my esteem” or “the weight of significance” and catch a glimpse of the further glories that await you and I! Go to John 17 with this in mind and you’ll be blown away! Christ’s glory, which He has given to us, is for the purpose of unity among us, His followers, to the end that the world may know God sent Jesus. I am identified with Christ, sharing in his worth, not to realize my self but to manifest the truth of the gospel, God’s glory, to the world! Genuine significance lies in an absence of pride in the “me” that I love, and finds its pride and worth in God’s glory.

There is an old hymn I sang as a child that comes to mind. Sing along with me (or say it) and in your mind think “significance or esteem” when you sing “glory”.

When all my labors and trials are o’er, and I am safe on that beautiful shore,
Just to be near the dear Lord I adore, will through the ages be glory for me.

[chorus] Oh that will be glory for me, glory for me, glory for me. When by His grace I shall look on His face,
That will be glory, be glory for me!

When, by the gift of His infinite grace, I am accorded in Heaven a place,
Just to be there and to look on His face, will through the ages be glory for me. [chorus]

Friends will be there I have loved long ago; Joy like a river around me will flow;
Yet, just a smile from my Savior, I know, will through the ages be glory for me. [chorus]

Perplexed, but

Perplexed, but

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart…we are perplexed but not in despair …
II Corinthians 4:1, 8

Perplexed: baffled, bewildered, there is no accounting for it. Perplexed – it suggests humility; accepting that I don’t have all the information. Therefore, I will wait. “Perplexed but” suggests hope. There is light at the end of this tunnel. The situation is still in process. There is an answer, a response, a reason, and I simply don’t know yet what it is. Closure will come, in time. Therefore, I need not despair. Despair has made the decision, passed the judgement and pronounced in all its pride, “This is the final word. It is hopeless. I quit. It’s the end.”

One element of ministry that perplexes me chronically is the language barrier. Mary invited a few ladies to her house for a simple Bible study. I was to show them how to read for comprehension leading to life transformation. Though church go-ers, they had rarely read the Bible with the expectation of understanding it. My role in the group was a small one, and was made even smaller by the fact that the ladies and I did not share a common language. So, Mary recruited one of her sons, a young adult with English language ability, to interpret. Through him, I gave the brief instruction. They were to read the story, repeating it until everyone understood the content. Then they were to say what the text tells us about God, about humans in general, and about themselves in particular. The young interpreter caught on immediately and began adding his own responses. He later told me he could imagine doing this kind of study with his friends.

The next week, another one of Mary’s young sons interpreted. Like his brother, he engaged in the process until, soon, I was completely left out of their conversation!Forgetting to interpret for me, he joined them in their study and helped them look for the meaning in the text by answering those three, key questions. We were in Mark’s gospel, hearing about the dinner at Levi’s house. Jesus was there as a guest, rubbing shoulders with the despised tax collectors and sinners. “What do we learn about Jesus here?”, I asked, in English. Only my interpreter heard me.

The complex language situation, the fact that various languages are spoken and each woman I know feels strongly that I should learn hers, is chronically perplexing. These “language wars” bewilder me. What’s more, the nature and duration of our assignment here does not lend itself to intentional language acquisition. To choose, then, not to learn a local language works death in me. It isolates me, prevents me from engaging in what I have always considered “viable ministry”. I lose my default mode of communication – verbal. It’s like seeing and hearing everyone through a thick wall of foggy glass. This is so perplexing as to lead, in the natural, to despair.

“We are perplexed but we don’t despair”, declares the apostle Paul. I’ve learned that the slide downward from perplexity to cynicism/despair happens as I begin to look for a way to avoid perplexing situations. I do this when I turn my thoughts towards my personal, unmet “needs”.  I need: to play my cello, a choir to sing in, a class to teach, to express myself, a better way to use my abilities, a better ministry plan … Did you notice that the great missionary Paul never went that direction? He doesn’t run back to the things that gave him widespread credibility and affirmation. Instead, he is proud to carry about in his body the death of the Lord Jesus. This death to self is at work in him to bring life to those who are being saved.

The response tumbled out of my young interpreter’s mouth, “Jesus was friendly! People, especially sinners, liked to be with him and he, with them! I never knew that! I, and all my friends, believe Jesus to be very serious and not someone you would want to be around. Now I see that he would even probably like to be with us! Hey, can I keep coming to this study?”

Wow! And now I see how this death in me is working life in Mary’s family. Her sons may not have responded to an invitation to attend a youth Bible study. But because their mother needed an interpreter, and they like to use English, they were poised for the Spirit to touch their hearts through the living word of God. Seeds were planted and, who knows, they may lead a movement of young people who become transformed by the gospel. My weakness could actually be God’s Plan A to train up a particular godly leader!

Whatever role you and I currently have – as followers of Christ we are, by vocation, ambassadors of reconciliation within our respective spheres of influence. I especially think of the mommies among us – ambassadors to your children, husband and all who cross your doorstep. You have probably laid aside a part of you in order to minister to your family – maybe you left a fulfilling career, the mental challenge of academia or the applause of an audience and all the personal affirmation and identity these things bestow. When you are perplexed beyond words, bewildered and baffled by the death of that brilliant side of you, wait! Don’t despair! Don’t insist on reasserting that self. Let perplexity work humility. Turn your thoughts to consider what Christ gave so that you could have life. Consider the death to himself that Paul embraced, for the sake of the young believers. Consider how putting to death your demand for personal satisfaction is working life in your children, your friends, your co-workers, and in your own soul.

Your and my perplexities are light compared to the eternal weight of glory awaiting us!

Philippians 3:4-7; II Corinthians 4:7-18; 5:18; Colossians 1:24

Pizza Night

Pizza Night

There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless -a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil … Job’s sons would take turns preparing feasts in their homes, and they would also invite their three sisters to celebrate with them. When these celebrations ended – sometimes after several days – Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” Job 1:1-5

It’s Friday! I head to the kitchen to begin the ritual that has engaged me almost every Friday afternoon for the the past 30 years.

I begin by finely dicing a couple plum tomatoes.

Family traditions have eluded me over the years. I love tradition, but it’s hard to keep one going when you find yourself in a different country, a different culture, with different friends and different shopping options every few years. Seasons don’t line up right, either. That tradition we tried to institute in place L just doesn’t fit in location M. And then there’s my own mind that simply doesn’t remember, what with all the changes in our situation. SpoonLicker3 (see My Turn to Lick the Spoon) turns 13 and I ask myself, “What did we do for SL1 and 2 on this birthday?” Beats me. That was a continent and a language ago. But Friday night pizza? That has stuck.

The tomatoes slide into the saucepan where a tablespoon or 2 of tomato paste awaits to receive them, along with a bit of water, several heaping spoons of freshly minced garlic and an equal amount of Italian herbs and a bay leaf. Then, a spoon of olive oil. Put to the heat, it simmers gently. This is when the household members inhale deeply and I hear, “Yay! It’s pizza night!”

We discovered that, especially when living cross-culturally, good family times don’t always come naturally. After a rough week of language learning, or repeated failed attempts to meet with that key person, or when you don’t have running, the roof leaks and the power lines have been bombed again … an intentional “good time” tradition is essential to spiritual health. Thus began pizza and game night. We, and our friends who had the same kind of week, needed to have fun together.

I start chopping and slicing. The toppings all depend on where we are. Today I’m in northern Namibia. Local fresh produce available: tomatoes, onions, squashes and root vegetables. A grated carrot periodically finds its way onto my pizzas but a squash or potato has yet to appear there but …

… I’ve frequently allowed left-overs to sneak onto a pizza. After all, given enough garlic and cheese, who’s to know? But fish from the day before wouldn’t be concealed. That Friday, in Nampula, Mozambique, we took the pizza to a friend’s house for that “good time” we’d waited all week for. Jacob, a dear missionary friend who likes to call my cooking “earthy”, took one bite of the pizza and hollered, “This is horrible! What’s in this?” I think it’s the only time one of my pizzas was declared an abject, unredeemable failure. That threw some cold water (or maybe I should say cold fish) on our Friday Fun Time. My SLs have their own homes and ways to “do pizza” now.  I wonder if any of them are baking one tonight, or maybe picking it up in a box?  But my hubby still prefers my pizza, thankfully. Probably the person who likes my pizza best, though, is … me!

Some great Portuguese sausages are sold here; I thinly slice a link. Most food is imported from South Africa so I have mushrooms and green pepper to slice up, in addition to a sweet onion. I like a lot of toppings. (You know the pizza wasn’t hearty enough if the kids want a bowl of cereal for dessert.) Oh, the sauce has simmered down to a spreadable, but not runny, consistency. It is set aside to cool.

I ponder good times in hard places. We have a SpoonLicker who very frequently prayed: “… and God, help us have a good time.“ This SL hoped for a life a little less hard, and with a lot more fun. Living in a war-torn, foreign country meant that home life was more about building character than having fun. We tried to teach our children that God could and would use the stresses for his good purpose’ to make them holy.  Another SL, gone from his Africa home and not having fun adapting to western culture, bellowed: “I wish God didn’t care so much about making me holy!”  He had learned to recognize the holiness training ground.

Now for the crust. I like to use as much whole wheat flour as possible in the hopes that it will be more healthy and filling. Making dough is simple: a couple teaspoons yeast sprinkled into 1 1/2 cups of warm water – add a tablespoon of olive oil and gradually stir in four or more cups of flour plus a couple teaspoons of salt. I turn the dough out onto a floured counter top and begin kneading.

Fold, press, turn. Again and again and, for some weird reason, Job’s children now come to my mind. Apparently, they liked to have a good time too. They were grown, each with their own home and families, but the guys would take turns having’”pizza night” at their house. They always included their sisters, too. These grown kids just enjoyed being together. They had fun, I’m thinking. The Bible seems to indicate that Dad Job didn’t go to these events. Maybe he knew they’d have more fun without him.

I roll out the dough and lay it in a sheet pan that I’ve liberally sprinkled with cornmeal. Building materials in place, construction begins. I spread the sauce, then carefully place the vegetables, sausage and kalamata olives evenly, out to the very edges. In other places gouda was the only cheese available. But here there is mozzarella and feta, and both go onto this one. I powder the top with a little parmesan, carried over in our suitcase as we can’t get it here. Ta-daah! Another work of art is displayed on the counter top until the dough has risen and it’s ready to bake.

I don’t think Job was at all opposed to his kids having a good time. Parents like to see their children getting along, desirous of each other’s company, especially as adults. But he was more concerned that they be holy, that the way they live would be acceptable to God. He didn’t pray, “Help them have a good time”, or “Help them be happy” but “Make them holy.” He offered sacrifices on their behalf towards this end. Old Testament sacrifices all pointed to Christ – to his person and to his work on the cross. They illustrated that being holy and accepted by God is a gift offered only by Jesus Christ’s own sacrifice. If Job had lived on this side of the cross, his prayers might have been something like this: “God, may my children know their sin and go to Christ for forgiveness. Cover them with the blood of your sacrifice. Make them holy. Keep them from careless, thoughtless words and actions while they’re having fun. Cause them to want you, to love you and be hungry and thirsty for intimacy with you. Protect them from the evil one and his lies that tempt towards atheism, agnosticism, humanism and fatalism. May they be more Christ-conscious than Self-conscious.”

My daily and continuous prayers for my own children when they were young was that they would believe and trust Jesus Christ as their Savior, the One who died on the cross for the ungodly – them. As they grew up, I added, and continue to add to that prayer: when they are sinking in despondency, I pray they will experience Christ their Hope and Counselor; when their heart is hurting, that they experience Christ the complete Comforter; when they need guidance or direction, that they find in Christ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I pray that they will be more conscious of Christ’s sufficiency than they are of their own deficiencies. I pray that they will look less at themselves and more at Christ.

J.C. Ryle of the 19th century said, “In all true saving religion Christ is all: all in justification, all in sanctification, all in comfort, all in hope. Blessed is that mother’s child that knows it, and far more blessed is he that feels it, too.”

Pizza’s done! We snuggle up side by side with the computer in front of us on the coffee table, large slabs of pizza on our plates. We’re hoping to find something good to watch on YouTube and that internet will be fast enough to stream it in tonight. We’re ready for a Friday Night Good Time!

Recommended link:   http://www.biblebb.com/files/ryle/christ_is_all.htm

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

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.

Created for Place

Created for Place

The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden,
and there He put the man whom He had formed.
Genesis 2:8

Upon arriving at a new home, whether it’s a home for a week, hotel room for a weekend or home for the foreseeable future, the first thing I do is search for a corner that will be my place. I scurry from one spot to another, trying out the leg room, the lighting, the “feel” of it. On this piece of floor, against this spot of wall, I will sip my coffee each morning (procuring the coffee is sometimes a bit of a concern!), read my Bible, tell my heart to be quiet, listen to my heavenly Father and, yes, even daydream. Like an African mama, I stretch my legs straight out in front of me and lean against my spot of wall. Later in the day I may rest myself there with a novel, or a bit of crocheting. There isn’t always an extra bedroom, office space, desk, or even a cozy chair in the house/hotel/transit lounge where I find myself. But there has always been a floor and a wall rising from it at (usually) a 90 degree angle. It isn’t home; but it’s a place He has suited to me. It is from this spot, this tiny little place-of-mine, that I come to grips with the environment beyond my feet.

How am I to think about this strong desire and need for a “spot”? Who’s going to explain myself to me? The professional who just wrote a book about missionary issues? A therapist who designs his method of soul care around new studies? I think not. God, my Creator, explains me to myself very adequately within the first pages of His word, the Bible. In fact, the only pure and complete source of everything God wants me to know about Himself and about my soul is in the Bible. God has given to us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Jesus Christ, which can be found in every verse between and including Genesis 1:1 and Revelation 22:21 as the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see and ears to hear. This being the case, let’s look at the first pages of Genesis with the conviction that God wants to, and will, bring truth to anything we need to understand about our need for place.

God starts right out informing us of His daily activities that resulted, after six days, in an entire Earth suitable for human habitation. Imagine that! He was preparing a place for us, thinking about us and our needs and the desires he would delight to plant within us (according to His own likeness) – all before we even existed! What love! What foreknowledge! What infinite, meticulous planning! Then, he breathed life into His masterpiece creation, Adam and his excellent helper, Eve. He gave them Earth! He essentially offered them the world! I’d say their domain took in quite a bit of territory, wouldn’t you?

But wait! God shares with us in more detail. (Remember, He wants us to know what He is like, His character, and the nature of humans.) God planted a garden, a real place, in a real location, in real time. A place that occupied a small spot on the expanse of perfect planet. He purposefully, deliberately placed His two first people in that one, relatively small spot. This would be their place. And He said it was good.

My dear missionary colleague, precious TCK, wandering Christian, we, too, were created to occupy a material, tangible location. God created the desire in you and me, as well as the capacity to thrive in a place. Because of the historically recent fascination with human behavior and emotion, there are a lot of voices out there saying that this is a new truth, and they have new ways to help you in your pain and struggle with displacement. Please do not let these “professional helpers” distract you from the truth that never changes: To be in a place is the nature of His image, stamped on your soul. It is good. Don’t let an idolatrous insistence on being or feeling at home rob you of the joy He gives in a “lesser place”.

Thank the Creator for the piece of earth where you stand; abide in Him, feast on His word. He alone will sustain you in this place He has provided for you.

Thank you, my Father, for this spacious length of tiled floor and sturdy, concrete wall rising straight up from it. Thank you for “my spot” where I meet you and where my soul thrives. Thank you for lovingly fashioning me to thrive in a physical place.

Genesis 1 and 2; 2Peter 1:3-4; Psalm 119:128; Psalm 33:15