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.

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

Is That ALL?

Is That ALL?

“Is that ALL?”, I fairly shouted at God. After asking Him, beseeching Him earnestly for rain; after days of watching the storms come close but then skirt our town, the thunderheads rolled in. I had been watching them all day as they slowly crawled up to us. Before evening they arrived, and the rain did fall, hard and promising. I stood at the kitchen window to watch this answer to prayer unfold. Audibly, I thanked the God who sent it our way this time. However, the yard of sand was barely wet before the clouds released just one, final dribble, thus ending what had barely begun. And I was incredulous. I heard a loud whine – “Really, God? Is that all you’re giving us after such a long and hopeful wait?” Oops. That voice was mine. …

“Is that all?” It’s December 26th. Maybe you heard the whine from a child. Or maybe you thought it. The post-Christmas let down. Then there’s a hazy, nagging disappointment at the close of a happy event, meeting or conversation. You had somehow expected — more. And then there are the large and looming disappointments, like:

the end of a relationship – “Is this it, then? After all these years is this ALL?”,
or looking back on years of living in hard-to-be places so that some might come to know Christ Jesus, and asking “Is this it? All my life for this small handful of fruit? Really, God?”
or studying hard for that one degree that will get you that job that will get you that career …but it doesn’t work out that way and you sputter “Really, God? Is this ALL I’m to expect?”

Ah, you and I, once young, rising stars who could go anywhere and do anything. The older, wiser ones nodded and smiled, and waited to see what we’d become. The brightness has now faded into a glow. We are ordinary after all. Are you tempted to disappointment? “Is this all, Lord?” Had we expected more fruit, or more affirmation, or to be more cherished, or for more in our 401K? Let’s be careful that the questions we pose, silently or audibly, do not stem from a bitter root of chronic disappointment.

A chronically disappointed person is, at the root, a person in rebellion against God. Pow. Pretty strong statement there, but I didn’t make it up. From Genesis (or at least Exodus 16) all the way through to the apostles’ specific teachings (especially Hebrews 3:7-19) to those of faith in Christ we are warned: ungratefulness = unbelief = disobedience = rebellion = sin (= death). A chronically disappointed heart is a complaining heart. Complaining isn’t really against other people or circumstances; it is really ultimately against God. It is saying, “I am not getting my due, so therefore God isn’t really good. I would do it differently, better. I would be a better god than God.” Does this ring a bell? Know of anyone who has taken action on that premise? So, yes, this is serious stuff. My innocent outburst against the rain stopping may not have been so innocent. Our spontaneous expressions of exasperating disappointment are red flags that direct us to peer into our own hearts and identify sin that may be hiding there. Due to the eternal goodness of God, He is eager to grant us repentance.

So what does repentance look like in this case? Romans 2:4 is a good start. First, you and I must own up to our unbelief. This is called confession. Repentance means to stop going one way, to turn and go a different direction. God’s goodness is meant to turn us. We want to choose the road of chronic gratefulness instead.

… I clapped my hand over my mouth, and went to study my wall map, which is a visual tool I’ve created to help me cultivate gratefulness. This is where I note the ways God’s goodness is clearly visible to me. The map is quickly filling with notes of gracious over-and-above blessings, the sequence and timing of each one truly remarkable, gifts with my name on it from my Heavenly Father. The little “overflowing bowl” icons I draw by each note far outnumber the little icons identifying activities and outcomes that might be in the “Is this all?” category. Clearly, then, God is more interested in sustaining, supporting and encouraging me than he is in waving successes and fruits of my labor before my eyes. His will for you and me is to believe Him with a thankful heart. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord [have you?], so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving [italics mine].” Col. 2:6, 7  I am amazed, humbled. How dare I not believe in His sovereign goodness. How dare I not overflow with thanksgiving?

“It this all, then? That’s IT?” Yes, for some things it is. The time comes to recognize the end of some events, some seasons. It is with thankfulness that we do so because we know that God is good in all He does. “Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! [That would be you and me.] For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.” Ps. 107:8

At the edge of my map I have written these verses:
My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure. … Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it. Is. 46:10, 11

This is NOT all!, the Only Just, Righteous, Good God has declared! There is more! He is not finished! No one, nothing, will derail or stop Him from completing His good plan for you and me, and all His creation. So, hold your tongue when the rain stops – unless it speaks from a grateful heart.

One of Those Days

One of Those Days

I’m wandering slowly, aimlessly thoughout the house, trying to think of an activity that will get my limbs moving. But not so much as to whip up all the hot air around me, making the heat even harder to ignore. I’d been sitting for quite some time, writing out long-hand my notes for the presentation I’m scheduled to give at a women’s conference later this week. I was tired of sitting so, after peeling my glowing arm off the paper, I stood. And made my way to … where? Oh my, it’s that 3 p.m. slump that presents itself most days at exactly this time. I usually weather it pretty well but when it’s this hot, I don’t weather much well. I’ll begin this sweaty, slump with a cup of coffee. A small one, because I don’t really yearn to drink it as much as I crave the ritual. Now, at least, I can wander slowly and aimlessly with coffee in hand.

Maybe I should go online, again, for the sixth time today, or the tenth. I lost track. I go online about as often as my husband dashes into the shower for a quick cooling. I have given up on that method of feeling good because the lovely, cool feeling doesn’t last long enough to get me from one side of our modest house to the other, making me feel quite cheated. Back to my idea of checking email again – I must exercise a bit of self-discipline. I pick up my Kindle instead, which doesn’t require hardly any effort to turn a page, and open to Colossians. I’m putting the text to music – for my personal benefit only. No one else would want to sing it as I’m certainly no composer.  I review a few “stanzas”.  There. That has reset my soul and I’m in a good place. What shall I do next?

Dust the sills. This doesn’t require hardly any energy and it always needs doing. The window sills are particularly disgusting. When the sand pit we call our yard blows daily into the house, I think 50% of it must make its landing on the sills before the remainder hits the floor. On my “full steam ahead” days, when I sweep and mop and do laundry and dust and bake and write and everything – I scorn the sills. They are speed bumps that curb my domestic enthusiasm. I have to actually slow down to dust them because of all the burglar bars that interfere. It is a tedious chore. Mindless. And just the thing for this hour.

Next? Here I sit, obviously. It really tells you something when a body is too languid to do anything but dust the sills and a mind too fried to do anything but write about it.

But behold! What is this? The wind is picking up! Do I hear thunder in the distance? Might this oppressive heat be a portent of a refreshing shower?

It occurs to me that quite a few people here are wilting under the oppression of the Enemy of their souls. Their spirits are languid, they are floundering, aimless, not knowing which way to turn. They are sheep without a shepherd, seedlings without water. On Friday I am bringing buckets of water to scores of women, many are plants of the Lord Jesus. I’m going to douse them in Colossians. We’re going to jump in, get washed up and stay in the cool water of God’s word for two days straight. I’m hoping to show some how to swim. It might be intolerably hot under the tin roof of the church building. I sure hope not, but if it is, we’ll need the cool water from heaven all the more.

The Silent Talk Show

“Hey, lets get a pizza over at Debonairs and see if their TV is showing the World Series!” (We don’t have TV. If something big happens, like hurricane Matthew, we race over to the 2-counter food court and ask them to flip the channel to BBC News.) It had been a full day and the house was just too hot to even make a sandwich in the kitchen. Besides, Debonairs has air conditioning! It didn’t take me any time at all to convince my husband this was a good plan. He was languishing (did I mention the heat?); he grew up in a Chicago suburb; his baseball team hadn’t won a World Series in over 100 years (he missed that game) and today the final game would be played. The winner would be the champion. So, just maybe, this one game would make world news. The food court it is.

Three men were chatting away on the wall screen. No green field, no ball players, no cheering fans. Just three men flapping their mouths up and down talking about … well, the management had it on mute but we soon surmised that this was a sports talk show, most likely out of neighboring South Africa. Then, suddenly, we were looking at a Cub’s game. “Look! It is the World Series!” But alas, it was just a 5 second Cubs clip followed by an equally short clip of the Bulls in action, and then five seconds of the Bears running a play. Then we were back to the three chatty men. At least they must be talking about Chicago teams! Then there was a clip of a CEO-looking man break dancing on a soccer field, surrounded by the players watching his demonstration. The stands looked empty. Must have been a private party. Or maybe that’s how the players spend their practice time … and maybe these commentators are discussing the rigorous training and discipline characteristic of the Chicago teams … in comparison to the fun and games that comprise soccer training camp … What??? Well, we couldn’t hear a word and we don’t read lips, so we can make up anything we want, right?

Later, I got to thinking about that. Just that morning I had attempted to train several bench-fulls of men and women in a “simple” way to read the Bible for understanding – understanding that leads to application and a transformed life. Several readers of language Lu were identified. There is a Bible published in the Lu language and they had their Bibles with them. The participants were divided into small groups, with a reader in each group. The reader was instructed to read the two verses, aloud, several times to their listeners. I instructed them to identify one thing those verses tell them that God desires, or wants. I smiled to see them lean in, listen to the word being read, then discuss it. Some had the response I was hoping for. However, most gave one of three responses: 1. the reader stood and just reread the verses with no comment, or, 2. if I repeated the question the group attempted to quote the verse from memory, or 3. someone would make a [possibly] true statement about God that was totally unrelated to the verses read.

Were the readers simply decoding the words, unable to recognize punctuation and use voice inflection that lends to accurate communication? Were the listeners hearing the same way I was “hearing” the chatty men on TV? Most of the people we train have not grown up learning to think critically, rather, they are trained to obey instructions from the top, from the big chiefs (or the pastor) whose role it is to do the thinking. Words are read off the page but it is the job of someone in a “higher position” to give the words meaning and explain the sense of it. And so if pressed to answer the question “what does this verse tell us about God?” the field is open for imaginative interpretation in the event there is no answer-man around.

It’s a hallelujah moment for me whenever a woman, especially a woman, catches on. What freedom there is in being able to read the Bible herself, to know God is speaking directly to her in his word, and to learn from God when she’s alone, not being limited by a lack of available “teachers”. But whether she is a critical thinker or not, only the Holy Spirit can open ears that have been deaf to his word. I can’t make this happen. How freeing this is for me! I present the opportunity to hear the word, the Author makes it come alive. He releases the “mute” button and brings up the volume.

We woke up this morning to the online news: “The Cubs did it!!! They won!” Now I wonder what those chatty men are saying. “Wow, can you believe it? I’ve seen a lot of games, and teams and I’ve seen a lot of cities. But Chicago is the best and has the best! .. Maybe we should move there. Maybe their local station would hire us … I can break dance …”

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

Let Them Eat Meat!

Let Them Eat Meat!

While on our home assignment some dear friends took us out for dinner. This was no small expense for them, we being a family of 7 with four growing boys. What’s more, this brave couple chose a steak house and said, “Order whatever you want.” Naturally, one of our young carnivores chose the largest, most expensive steak on the menu. Like many families on limited income, I didn’t cook much red meat so when the boys had a chance for some real man-food, they took it, much to my embarrassment.

But nothing compares to the Namibian meat eaters! Game (think kudu, oryx, eland) biltong (like jerky only better) is a routine snack. Game, as well as beef, are main staples of the diet here. Whereas in other African countries you can buy peanuts, roasted corn, coconut fudge, sugar cane or samosas from curb-side vendors, in Namibia you buy Russians (I don’t refer to people trafficking but to the local version of our Polish sausage), or bits of grilled beef. Recently an acquaintance returned from a hunting trip. My husband was invited to the ritual in which all real men participate: dressing the game and butchering, mixing the marinade and putting the biltong meat to soak. My man came home with pounds of game filet and a tub full of marinating strips, which he hung to dry according to instructions. What will last us for months, would disappear after a few weeks in the more carnivorous households around us. These folks know how to chew meat. To say they desire it is an understatement!

I am looking for people who crave God’s word like that. People who chew on the meat of His truth revealed with an insatiable appetite. If you have tasted that the Lord is gracious, desire the pure milk of the word, just like a newborn desires milk, so that you can grow. The apostle Peter so pleads with the first century church-goers. (I Peter 2:1-3) We live among a people who have tasted that the Lord is gracious. The good news of salvation has come to them. They have said “It is good!” They share in the benefits of grace in belonging to a local church: they are baptised, partake of the Lord’s supper, they are comforted by prayers and visits when they’re sick, are helped in trouble and, seemingly most important, they are guaranteed a well attended funeral service officiated by an ordained minister when they die. Yes, they taste of the good gifts God bestows on His covenant family.

Peter, as well as the other apostles, urge the people in all the places they preach to go on from tasting to desiring. He longs for them to crave God’s word the way a baby desires to nurse. He thrives on this milk until he grows up and wants to chew. Peter says that this should be the church’s response to the tasty morsels of grace they sample. The gracious gifts of God’s presence among His people should stir up a yearning, a hunger and longing after Him and His strong words, like it did for David (Psalm 119:9-16). He exhorts them to grow up and chew on the meat! They should be returning continually to the word and meditating on it, storing it up in their memory, pressing it into their heart and bringing it to bear in their lives. They should be filled richly with Christ’s word in order to teach and correct one another; to comfort and encourage one another. (Colossians 3:16-17) Their counsel should come from Scripture (Ps. 119:25). Husbands should be showering their wives with God’s word (Ephesians 5:25-28) and building their marriage and homes according to God’s ordinances.

But instead, these converts to the faith, these tasters, were absorbing themselves in comparisons, divisions and criticisms. They were full of malice, envy and hypocrisy because they contented themselves with tasting, just lounging on the fringes of grace. They stopped short of actually feeding on God’s word— they had no craving or desire for it. Those noble people of Berea, however, loved God’s word and fed on it, instead of preying on each other. And so they discovered the truth and believed that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.

This past Sunday in Rundu, a local minister declared to his congregation that their denomination is unwell. This dear man of God has recognised that neither the laity nor the ministers yearn for God. Most disregard His word, rarely read it (or hear it read) and meditate on it even less. They, too, like those early Christians dispersed throughout Asia and the Mediterranean, are absorbed in controversies, rumors, fear of the spirits and idolatries of their past. Most, it seems, do not hunger to know Christ, and so they lack wisdom, godliness and the graces that abound in one who nourishes his soul on the word. They are unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ, shortsighted, blind, and have forgotten that they were cleansed from their old sins. They attend church, but they are unwell. Their souls, in fact, are in great danger. (See Hebrews chapter 6.)

Our soul’s meat is the everlasting, unchanging word of God. “Father, as a dear pants for the water; as a newborn cries for milk; as a hunter craves meat, may we hunger for you. May we nourish our soul on the solid food of your word. Thank you for your Holy Spirit who makes your word alive and active to convict us of sin, bring us to repentance, comfort us, teach us, guide and nourish us, to make us healthy in spirit. The kudu filets in my freezer will run out one day. But your word, your truth and satisfying nourishment, will last forever! Amen and amen.”

A soul that thirsts for God, is a soul that hungers for His word. Don’t ever apologise for eating The Meat. Choose It. Rejoice over It. Savor It. Desire It. Over and over again.

II Peter chapter 1; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; Psalm 119:57

A Guide for the Descent

A Guide for the Descent

Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, our first Spoon Licker boarded a plane in Kenya and flew away to college life in the U.S.A. His high school graduation marked the end of the season when we, all seven of us, lived in Africa … until this month. For almost eight days we lived together again on the continent we had all called “home” for so many years. Our seven has multiplied to twenty-one and there we were, under “one roof” again. During those short but glorious eight days, we visited, played games, sang, read God’s word together, prayed, cooked, shopped, washed clothes and even got a little sleep now and then. And we went places.

We had a guide who led us on each of these outings. These men knew the roads and drove us safely to the day’s destination. Our safari drivers knew where to find the animals and took us right to them. A family our size, with members from babies to grandparents, can be cumbersome to move. Our guides were patient as they periodically reminded us, gently, that “we need to be going now”.

One fine day, a knowledgeable, local man led us on a trail through his village at the base of majestic Kilimanjaro. The path was well beaten, so we probably wouldn’t have gotten lost by ourselves but our guide stopped us along the way to describe the flora and fauna and traditional customs and practices that related to the things we were seeing. Our journey was enhanced by this expert who had been this way hundreds of times before. He was not only knowledgeable, but enthusiastic about his mountain home.

We trusted him to lead us safely. The path was usually wide enough for just one person; it often bordered the very rim of a ravine. Caution was necessary. One of our small ones slipped, falling over the edge only to be immediately caught up by our watchful guide.

The views of the lush valley, the living compounds and the terraced gardens were reward enough for our exertions. However, the real prize and goal of the long hike was the waterfall at the end. And we weren’t disappointed. After splashing in the water and slipping on the rocks, it was finally time to get off the mountainside. Mothers threw their calls to the head of the line, “Junior, I said walk! Don’t run!” (Names have been changed to protect the guilty.) Going down can be treacherous and the risk of falling is greater than on the ascent. The guide walked in front, a barrier to stop any bodies whose legs moved faster than their heads.

It’s suddenly over. This epic Africa reunion, this mountain top experience, is history. I am required to leave the peak, but don’t know how. My human guides were exactly suited to their job, and their job is over. I need a different Guide for this descent. Planning this event took years. It was challenging and exciting. But coming down afterwards can be perilous. I’ve stood at the top with my husband, children and grandchildren, together. I gloried in the unity expressed as we worshiped our Lord Jesus together, sang and laughed, played and prayed; as I observed our members demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit in self-control, in patience and in overlooking the faults of others. Together we pressed into the moments and tasted joy. How do I come down from this? My Lord Jesus— patient, knowledgeable, eager to lead me— takes me safely down.

“Father God, give me your mind and your thoughts. Orient my reflections. Monitor my emotions. Correct any wrong impressions I may carry with me. Keep me from slipping on these small pebbles that become little wheels under the weight of my foot, sending me careening. Control the speed of my descent – not too fast lest I race over a word or deed worthy of a longer look; and not too slow, lest I become distracted from the present joys, morosely mourning the end of the peak experience, dishonouring you and distrusting your goodness by coveting more.

“You have done great things for us. May I remember with a thankful heart. May I keep Christ, the wisdom that is his, before me at every turn. Remind me that the gathering, though so personally satisfying, was ultimately about you. Our coming together was not an end in itself for our sakes alone, but served (and serves still) to exalt Jesus as Lord and Saviour so that you, Lord God, will be known by those in our respective realms of influence. With this mind, I will descend safely and my foot will not stumble. Amen.”

I Corinthians 13; Proverbs 3:19-26, Psalm 87:7; Psalm121; Philippians 2:1-11

A Spoon Lickers Memory

A Spoon Lickers Memory

 It’s winter in Namibia. The wind bites outside and the ceramic tile floor is cold inside. I know of some North American ex-pats, living in this part of the world, who actually celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas in July because that’s when it feels right. Our family never went so far as that, but I did try to keep as many of our traditions as possible. Over the years, bit by bit, I modified my expectations. I remember one very hot December 25th we even had chicken and noodles (homemade at that!) for our holiday feast. Christ’s birth brought hope and joy to the world and our home, just the same.

So it is fitting that I post, in July, an article one of my SLs wrote about a Thanksgiving at home almost 20 years ago.  I am delighted to present …

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Lessons from an Ill-fated Holiday Feast

by Heidi Carlson

A naked, fluorescent bulb dangled from the ceiling. The power source – a dusty car battery – lay on the red cement floor. Figures in varying stages of acute fatigue cast shadows on the cement block walls that were hosts to various shades of deteriorating white. Humidity engulfed them as they quickly stripped off every possible layer of clothing, only preserving the most minimal, acceptable amount of modesty. A mosquito whirred its wings in dizzying flight on the window screen. In a split-second, a gecko expertly ran down the screen from the top corner and ate his hearty meal just as we were beginning ours. This was not the setting of a military interrogation, but the setting of our Thanksgiving dinner.

How did it come to this? How did we get here, across the days and miles?

A school bus, two plane rides, a crowded-goats-included public bus, the back of a pick-up truck over the mountain along the lake, across no man’s land by bicycle, a hitchhiked ride in a businessman’s Land Rover, and, finally, a twelve-hour journey in the “first class” car of a very slow train. What it amounted to was complete exhaustion. I have since felt similar exhaustion in the days that followed the birth of each of my children. That delirious exhaustion is notorious. I also have felt the same weary, travel-induced walking coma in Portugal when, after several flights and time changes, our hosts treated us to a traditional Portuguese feast of bacalhau com natas (creamed cod) at 10 pm. The feast was impeccable. I remember every delicious bite – before I rudely crashed back on the sofa and surrendered to my primal need for sleep.

But this post-train ride Thanksgiving was a joyous homecoming with a feast fit for the prodigal son. Mom had waited for months, then weeks, then days and hours for our return from boarding school and had prepared traditional American fare – almost.

Helmeted Guinea FowlTurkey was not available in Mozambique, so she marinated and roasted a local guinea fowl. Pumpkins? Not available. How about sweet potato pie instead? There was an assortment of other dishes spread across the table in the buzzing glare of the bulb. With few words and weak smiles, I forced myself to be gracious and eat something before I crawled under the mosquito net and went to bed. Locally grown guinea fowl sounds like a foodie-gourmet-heritage breed kind of thing to eat. But this wild guinea fowl? Not so much. The first few movements of the jaw brought out the rich flavor enhanced by the marinade. The following 20 or so chews failed to break down the tight sinews. It was like chewing gum, but guinea fowl gum. After the flavor was gone, the muscle was still there. Really good flavor, we kept saying sincerely. It was true. But it didn’t mask the toughness of the wild fowl.

Then there was the sweet potato pie, the other item on the menu I remember distinctly. It tasted just as a fine sweet potato pie should taste. That is to say, it doesn’t taste at all, and should not be substituted for, the expected pumpkin pie. The two are not remotely related.

I felt so guilty. We were forcing grins and trying to keep our lids open for a meal Mom had prepared with great love in expectation of our return. One could say it was a complete flop as far as holiday meals go, but I don’t think so. We took away several lessons. First, don’t try to recreate food from the home country with inadequate substitutes. Early members of the vegetarian movement can relate to this. No, tofu does not taste like chicken, so don’t tell me it does. Use available ingredients to make something delicious that stands on its own without having to be compared to a dish from yesteryears and yestercountries.

Second, ill-fated meals often become the most memorable. We can look back and laugh at the comedy of this event and the perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances. At the time, we were not laughing. There were probably some unkind words spoken, considering we all just wanted to get some rest and start a new day. But now when my fish bake is overcooked and mushy (nasty!), I can laugh about it and regret just the foul flavor, not also a foul attitude.

And the third lesson is for parents of children in boarding school who may have traveled many miles and perhaps even days to get home: Hold your horses and let the kids get some rest so they can give the proper attention to a meal they’ve waited months to eat.

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Heidi and her husband, now with their own SLs, travel the world together.  Periodically they live awhile in one place before moving on.  Read about it all at willtravelwithkids.

The Making of a Nation

The Making of a Nation

Down through the ages, since the beginning of time, nations, countries and governments have come, and gone. One will shine while another’s light will dim to a flicker. God has ordained the exact number of years, to the day, that each nation will flourish. And He has a specific purpose in doing so.

And God has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,…

God brought forth the nations. What’s more, He governs every ethnic, language and people group. God has marked out the physical, geographic boundaries allotted to each one and has ordained that they live within these borders for a specified season of time. These are political borders separating one government from another, as well as natural borders of mountains, rivers or oceans. The Maker of nations determines their entrances and exits, their locations and their relocations. He determines human migrations from one place to another. And He does this for a purpose. It is

so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us… Acts 17:26-27

If we could stand back into space and watch our peopled Earth, I imagine we’d see this orb pulsating with movement. There would be streaks of rapid transport from one continent to another, and slower masses floating on the water from one shore to another. There would be fleeing and chasing, trudging and riding from this end to that. Back and forth. From here to there. Walls going up, walls being ripped down. Fences and tunnels. In and out. Stumbling in the dark. Looking for the Light.

The media, and our textbooks, will tell us this to and fro-ness is due to war, to famine, to politics and persecutions. Individuals seek asylum, or simply a better life. But these are only the conditions in which movement seems expedient. The purpose is other. The purpose is God’s.

We call them “displaced” peoples. But in reality, God has strategically placed the peoples.  Though the conditions may be unjust, they are not senseless.  God repositions peoples and boundaries so that they will be pressed to look for Him. He shows us His intentions in the “so that”. When up until now, His pleasant and bright gifts, so abundantly given, have not caused a nation to worship the Giver, He then may bless it with crisis. He offers the peoples afflictions so that in the dark days of their nation they will grope for the One True God and find Him. He is not far; He doesn’t hide. He will make sure the seeker finds and is found by Him. Thus, God relocates entire nations, as well as individuals, so that they might know Him, the God and Savior Jesus Christ. For there is salvation in no other, for there is no other name under heaven, given among men by which we must be saved.

I don’t know how Brexit will change the face of Europe. I don’t know how the next U.S. president will redefine the nation. I don’t know who will, or won’t become “great again”. The coming decades may bring upheaval the likes of which we can’t imagine. This is not a doomsday prophecy but a declaration of hope! Eyes of faith see evidence that God is at work transferring people from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His glorious light. The King of kings and Lord of lords is deposing some, empowering others – changing demographics all over the globe – in order to create a nation composed of members from every people group who will walk in His light. A new nation. A nation of people who He calls His own and who worship Him exclusively.

If you are not worshiping God, He may take you to where you don’t want to go in hopes that you will finally look for Him.

Do you worship Christ, the God of the nations, the only Savior of the world?Consider that He may relocate you to where someone is seeking Him; that you are being strategically placed to turn someone from the darkness to light.

Amidst the changes, let us not fear calamity. We must pray against it, we must engage in our democratic processes, of course; but never panic. Rather, let us recognize and glory in God’s mighty power to save; in His activity in the world to accomplish His will. The Lord does reign! Let the earth rejoice; let the coastlands be glad! Though his strategies may be obscured to us, know that He is righteous and just and He will accomplish His purpose. He is preparing a people who are His own to live forever in His light!

Among the gods, there is none like You, O Lord; Nor are there any works like Your works. All nations whom you have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name; for You are great, and do wondrous things; You alone are God. Psalm 86:8-10

A closer look: Acts 4:12; Colossians 1:13, 14; Revelation 21:22-22:5;                  Psalm 97;    Job 12:23-25

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