Monday, December 17, 2012

The Comfort We Offer To Connecticut

No doubt you've been upset and deeply saddened by the terrible shootings at the school in Connecticut.  I find I just can't get it out of my mind--and my heart hurts for those who have lost a precious child and those families of the adults who were slaughtered.

How do you handle this spiritually?  Over and again I've asked God, "What possible good can come from this?  Why would you allow innocent children to be murdered?"  Maybe you don't have these kinds of questions, but quite honestly, I do and I admit it.  I'm confident our God is big enough to handle our questions and we are not condemned for asking them.

This horrible incident is in front of us, on our televisions and in our newspapers, and everyone is talking about it.  But it's not the first time innocent children have been slaughtered mercilessly.  I thought of the massacre at Bethelem, when innocent baby boys were killed by King Herod in his attempt to annihilate any challenge to his throne from a baby born a king.  Just because Mary and Joseph had gone to Bethlehem and Jesus had been born there--all of which was according to God's plan and fulfilled prophecies of old--those moms who had infant boys had to watch them killed--probably in front of their eyes--for no reason except one man's evil  paranoi.  Don't you imagine they asked "Why?" too?

In Matthew 2:18 we read:  "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”  I can well imagine that any mom--any parent-- would refuse to be comforted after losing a child in this way.  And no doubt for the moms and dads who are grieving in Newtown, CT today, there is little that any person can do to comfort them.

But we who know Christ have this promise from 2 Corinthians 1:2-4:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Probably none of us know the parents or relatives of those who were killed, but if we know the God of all comfort, let us pray continually for these dear people, who no doubt are "refusing to be comforted," that they will come to know the God of all comfort during these terrible days.  It's the least we can do and the most we can do.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Teachable Moments

I guess if I had one regret in my life it would be that I never pursued a career in teaching.  I have always wanted to be a kindergarten teacher but didn’t follow through with my dream.  Well, God is good and He had a better plan for my life and He blessed me with two beautiful granddaughters and another granddaughter to be born in January. 

I never let an opportunity go by without teaching them something.  So, I thought I would share a ‘teachable’ moment with you and in hopes of you doing the same activity with someone in your life.  What better way to teach your grandchild about the light and love of Jesus during the month of October than by using a pumpkin.  I got this idea from Mary Whelchel, the founder of The Christian Working Woman. 
As we began to get the pumpkin ready, I told Gabby (who is 7 years old) that God picks us up, washes all the dirt off of us, opens us up and cleans us from the inside out just like we were cleaning up the pumpkin. He removes our yucky stuff like when we are angry at someone or jealous of what someone else has, pouting about what we don’t have, holding a grudge, lying to someone or taking something that doesn’t belong to us; maybe it’s talking bad about someone…things like that.  She said, “yeah, like when we talk back to our parents or have a bad attitude”.  “Ahhh, yes” I said “now you’re getting it… just like with the pumpkin, we have to get rid of all the bad things that fill us up.” 

After we cleaned out the pumpkin, we carved a happy face. I told Gabby, “Just like when we bring all our problems to Jesus, he can help us to be joyful for who we are and all the blessings in our life.”
Then we were ready to put the light in the pumpkin – I explained to Gabby, “This is what happens when we ask Jesus to come into our heart.  He puts a light in us so we can let our light shine for everyone to see.” 

She said, “Thanks Grandma.  I can’t wait to tell my friends about the light of Jesus”.
Do you allow God’s light to shine through you regardless of situations in your life?

Matthew 5:14 You are the light of the world a city on a hill cannot be hidden.
To download a copy of the pumpkin booklet please click here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Do I Walk Like Bob?

This is Bob our office visitor and Mary's Grand-dog.

Do I walk like Bob?

I’m dog-sitting my Grand-dog, Bob, this week, and we take long walks together.  He loves to walk and he begins at a very fast pace, dragging me along behind.  But about half-way through, his enthusiasm wanes, and he just decides to sit down in the middle of the Prairie Path.  Although I’ve carefully explained to him that you cannot sit down in the middle of the path, he has little regard for the “rules of the road.”

I was thinking today how often my walk with God is like Bob’s.  I can start out very enthusiastically, but when the going gets a little tough, or when fatigue sets in, I just want to sit down spiritually.  Paul wrote:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7)

Finishing well is so important.  How many of us start our “walks” like Bob, but eventually end up on the sidelines?  In the next verse Paul tells us that the crown of righteousness is for those who finish well.  I don’t think I’ll ever train Bob to finish well, but I sure want to have a crown of righteousness to cast at Jesus’ feet when I see him in Heaven.  Don’t you?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What's Your Excuse For Not Praying?

The Bible says to pray about everything. The Apostle Paul wrote:

"Pray continually" (1 Thess 5:17).
"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests" (Ephesians 6:18).
Yet not many of us really pray about everything.  Why not? Here’s one common excuse:

1. "I forget."
Forgetting to pray about something or someone is very easy to do.  That's the reason that I advocate using a Prayer Journal, to help us remember what and who to pray for.  If you've never used a Prayer Journal, I've designed one that you can order from us, and you may find it helpful.
If I did not use a prayer journal, I would forget so many that I really want to pray for.  So, I really encourage you to use some type of a prayer journal to help you remember.

2.  "Seems too trivial."
First Peter 5:7 says:  "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."

We have a misconception of God when we think he's too busy to be involved in the little things.  God has infinite capacity.  He doesn't experience burnout like we do!  Trust Him!  He can handle all your trivialities!

3.  "Don't know how to pray about it."
Romans 8:26b says:  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

Isn’t that a marvelous promise?  The Spirit intercedes for us when we’re at a loss for words.  When you're baffled, when you're too emotionally involved to be objective, when you're totally discouraged or confused, ask the blessed Holy Spirit to pray for you in words that you cannot express.

4.  "I know God is displeased with me because I have not obeyed Him."
Psalm 66:18 says "If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened." 
Cherishing sin is when we know what God wants us to do and we haven't done it.  In other words, disobedience.  I strongly encourage you to deal with any areas of disobedience in your life at once.  If you don't, prayer becomes futile, because God is not listening. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Don't Let Your Name Be Ichabod

How would you like to be named Ichabod? Ichabod means "The glory is departed." In 1 Samuel 5 we read that Phinehas' wife named their son Ichabod, because the glory of God had departed from Israel. Through sin and disobedience, they had lost the glory of their position as God’s chosen people.

In our vernacular today, we might say, “That person is a has-been.” It’s possible to be spiritual "has-beens.” I can think of many Christians I know who used to be mightily used of God. It could be said of them that they "have been" this or that for God, but now the glory has departed. Through sin and disobedience, Ichabod is now their name.

Could it ever be said of us that we have been in the past a person of love and compassion, but it's no longer true? Have we lost the zeal we once had for Jesus? Have we been in the past a strong witness for Jesus Christ, but now we’re just a “has-been”, an Ichabod?

No, for sure none of us would want to be called Ichabod -the glory has departed. Is God's glory still evident in your life to all who know you? If not, you can be restored to that original glory. Don't let your name be Ichabod.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Can A Christian Be Humble and Successful?

How can a Christian be humble and still be successful? Is the Bible's challenge for us to humble ourselves, as Jesus said, or to wear humility, as we read in Colossians 3, compatible with our desires to succeed in our careers? 

I believe the answer to that question is yes, when we understand the real meaning of humility.  What most people think of when they talk about being humble is not the real meaning of the term, but rather a false humility. 

For example, refusing to accept compliments graciously is not real humility.  Saying degrading things about ourselves is not a sign of humility.  Refusing to accept reward­s or recognition for what we've accomplished is not a sign of humility.

True humility is a natural outcome of learning who we are in comparison to who God is.  When we are in a life-long process of constantly learning that everything we are and everything we do is because of who God is, then humility becomes a natural characteristic.  But it does not make us into a doormat nor does it keep us from achieving goals and ambitions.  Indeed, true humility helps us in the business world.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

He Won't Let You Go!

Some years ago, on a hot summer day in South Florida, a little boy decided to go for a swim in the old swimming hole behind his house. In a hurry to dive into the cool water, he ran out the back door, leaving behind shoes, socks, and shirt as he went. He flew into the water, not realizing that as he swam toward the middle of the lake, an alligator was swimming toward the shore.

His father working in the yard saw the two as they got closer and closer together. In utter fear, he ran toward the water, yelling to his son as loudly as he could. Hearing his voice, the little boy became alarmed and made a U-turn to swim to his father. It was too late. Just as he reached his father, the alligator reached him. From the dock, the father grabbed his little boy by the arms just as the alligator snatched his legs.

That began an incredible tug-of-war between the two. The alligator was much stronger than the father, but the father was much too passionate to let go. A farmer happened to drive by, heard his screams, raced from his truck, took aim and shot the alligator.

Remarkably, after weeks and weeks in the hospital, the little boy survived. His legs were extremely scarred by the vicious attack of the animal. And, on his arms, were deep scratches where his father's fingernails dug into his flesh in his effort to hang on to the son he loved.

The newspaper reporter who interviewed the boy after the trauma asked if he would show him his scars. The boy lifted his pant legs. And then, with obvious pride, he said to the reporter, "But look at my arms. I have great scars on my arms, too. I have them because my Dad wouldn't let go."

You and I can identify with that little boy. We have scars, too. No, not from an alligator, but the scars of a painful past. Some of those scars are unsightly and have caused us deep pain or regret. But some wounds, my friend, are because God has refused to let go. In the midst of your struggle, He's been there holding on to you. The Scripture teaches that God loves you. You are a child of God. He wants to protect you and provide for you in every way. But sometimes we foolishly wade into dangerous situations, not knowing what lies ahead. The swimming hole of life is filled with peril and we forget that the enemy is waiting to attack.

That's when the tug-of-war begins and if you have the scars of His love on your arms, be very, very grateful. He did not and will not ever let you go.

You just never know where a person is in his/her life and what they are going through. Never judge another persons scars, because you don't know how they got them. Right now, someone needs to know that God loves them, and you love them, too. Enough to not let them go.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Staying Positive

How can we stay positive in a negative world?

You know, we all have a limited amount of emotional energy to spend in any given day.  To have a good attitude, we have to do those things that keep our energy re-supplied—like enough sleep, exercise, lots of laughter and most importantly, time with the Lord each day.

Then we have to be careful how we spend that emotional energy.  Often we waste a lot of our energy unnecessarily.  We yell at traffic or go ballistic over a computer failure or get our feelings hurt by an insensitive person. We can spend all our emotional energy on things over which we have no control, and then we lose control over our attitude.  It goes south because we don’t have any energy left to fight back.

Here’s a question I often ask myself, "Mary, what difference is this going to make in 24 hours?"  I have discovered that most of what bothers me won’t matter in a short 24-hours, so then I tell myself, “Don’t spend any energy on it; it’s not important.” 

Watch how you spending your emotional energy, and keep asking, "Is it worth it?"

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Difficult People

All of us need to know how to deal with difficult people.  Jesus certainly did.

When his home-town crowd was so angry, they wanted to kill him, Jesus knew it was time to leave, so in Luke 4 we read "he walked right through the crowd and went on his way." Sometimes we need to walk away instead of trying to have the last word or convince someone that he or she is wrong. 

There were other situations where Jesus dealt with difficult people very directly, but I notice that Jesus was  never out of control.  And he was always motivated by what was good for others, not for his own selfish reasons.

When direct confrontation is necessary, we should be ever-so-careful to do it under the Holy Spirit's control.  It can be forceful and direct, but it should never be cruel or vindictive or personal. 

As believers in the workplace, dealing with difficult types gives us an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Jesus - real love that puts the other person's needs above our own.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Pouring God's Word

I wonder, could you honestly say that most of the time you're in positive mode and that you don't criticize and complain a lot?  Do you find most people likable?  Or would you have to admit you tend to be more critical and complaining?

What kind of attitude you have says a lot about you, and a lot about your walk with God.  A Christian with a growing relationship with Jesus is bound to be more positive than negative.  If you are consistently pouring God's Word into your mind and applying it to your life, you just couldn’t be a complaining, critical, negative person.  It's like oil and water; they don't mix.

So my challenge to you this week is when you sense a negative or critical spirit to stop and pour God's word into your mind.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Faith leads from a tent in the middle of nowhere to a beautiful setting.

Thursday, July 19, 2012
Our first of three days conference at the Good Shepherd Church in Kigali, Rwanda began today.  This church is especially dear to me, as my dear friends, Simon and Kedress, began this church from “scratch” shortly after the end of the genocide.  God gave them this piece of property, which at the time was in the middle of nowhere, and Simon put a large tent on it.  For years they met in that tent—cold on cold days and very hot on warm days!  Now this property is in one of the most exclusive areas of Kigali, surrounded by expensive homes, nice roads, and a beautiful setting.  And after many years of praying, and great faith on Simon’s part, they are finally in their permanent church building.  It is not totally finished, but it is good enough to meet in it.

 The Rwandan women are much more reserved than Kenyan women when you speak to them.  They don’t offer a lot of verbal or visual response to the message.  But they are far more animated when they sing – again with lots of dancing.  They really love to dance—women and men (but not together!).  However, my interpreter, Jacqueline, made sure I understood that even though they may not appear to be responding, they are taking it in and really listening.  I believe that to be true.

 About 60 of the more than 300 women who attended today are sleeping at the church tonight.  They have come from far and this is the only way they could attend.  So, Kedress and others are at the church now to make sure they have food to eat and mats to sleep on.  Can you imagine?  But Kedress assured me she loves to do this, and besides—it’s the Rwandan way!  They are way ahead of us when it comes to hospitality.

I hope to get better pictures tomorrow.  Please continue to pray.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dance Like No One's Watching

The women gathered from several churches to attend today's conference.
Today is the first day of ministry in Rwanda, and we traveled about 50 miles out of Kigali, the capital, to a small town where a sister church is located.  The women gathered there from several churches in the area for this day of conference, and I challenged them to “grow up” in Christ by faithfully reading their Bibles. We talked about how to pray scripture and make it alive in our lives. For many it’s a new idea—to read your Bible and pray daily—even for some of the pastors who were there.  They were enthusiastic in their response.  I pray it will bear much fruit.

Dancing with Praise
Rwandan women worship somewhat differently from Kenyan women.  For one thing, they LOVE to dance and they dance with great energy.  Their songs are quite different, but their enthusiasm is similar.

My host and hostess for this week are Simon and Kedress Nzaramakinga, long-time friends who I met in Kenya where they lived for many years as refugees from Rwanda.  After the genocide Simon returned to start several churches and begin the difficult job of forgiveness and reconciliation.  Rwanda is an amazing country.  Their President is a man of integrity and his leadership is helping them to grow very fast.  Their infrastructure is amazingly up-to-date.

Bible Drills
In the picture to the left, I taught the women what a Bible drill is and encouraged them to teach their children, so they can learn how to use their Bibles.  Their were four women who volunteered for the Bible drill.  (I'm the very white one.  I smiled at a toddler little girl and she cried and ran away!)  Tomorrow we begin a three-day conference here at the Good Shepherd Church in Kigali, and then I speak to the congregation on Sunday.  Your prayers are again needed and appreciated.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wisdom from Proverbs

The book of Proverbs is the best management and employee relations book ever written. Let's look at Proverbs 22:10.  It says, "Drive out the mocker and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended."

A mocker on the job is the person who makes fun of others, who ridicules people and organizations, who is arrogant and causes problems seemingly on purpose.  When there's a mocker in the group, the work environment can be pretty miserable.

Does that mean that a manager needs to get rid of an employee who fits this description? It may sound cruel, but a person who is intent on offending others - and some people are - can have very detrimental effects on an organization. 

Of course, as Christians, we still must care about people regardless of how unlovable they are.  And though we can never change people, the Holy Spirit can, so we shouldn't give up praying for them.  But that doesn't mean we allow them to ruin the working environment for everyone else.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Do you know how to pray with an Eternal Perspective?

The group picture from Nairobi

Our three day conference here in Nairobi ended Saturday afternoon, and once again there was evidence that the teaching is reaching their hearts and minds and making a difference.  Most of the women who attend this conference are mature Christians and many have been with us for several years.  So, it’s good to reconnect with them. One young woman said that this was her third year to attend, and the conferences have completely changed her life by showing her who she is in Christ.  That's very encouraging to hear.

This year I emphasized the need for our own spiritual growth, and shared some teaching on the prayers of Paul, and how that should influence the way we pray.  This was a totally new teaching to them, and they really grasped the importance of praying with an eternal perspective.  These women know how to pray, but much of their praying is focused on everyday needs—of which there are many.  Paul’s prayers teach us to focus more on what will matter for eternity, and they caught that.

Elsy, my dear friend and the chair of the Nairobi committee.
Tomorrow I travel to Kigali, Rwanda for five days of teaching there, and then home on the 24th.  Your prayers for my time in Kigali are much needed; a very different audience there with tons of “baggage” from the genocide.  I pray I will bring them some hope and encouragement.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Importance of Digging Deep in God's Word

We completed the first day of our conference here in Nairobi, held at International Leadership University (formerly Nairobi International School of Theology). Our theme for this three day event is Digging Deep, Growing Strong, Reaching Wide. We had about 100 women in attendance, and while the number was small, the interest and participation was very strong. I've been teaching this conference for several years, and some of the women who have attended all of them thought that this morning's sessions were the most powerful and helpful of all. Praise to the Lord. I taught on the importance of digging deep in God's Word for ourselves, giving examples of how to read the Word for all it's worth, and then focused on the prayers of Paul. I believe God used it to help the women see new areas of growth in their own lives. Most of these women are leaders in their churches, and they will take these teachings back and multiply them many times.

I look forward to the next two days with these loving women who are so open to hear and learn and grow. They challenge me.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Looking for two good teachers

Last Friday, was the final day of seminars for the women in the Tabitha Bible studies, and it was in the poorest part of the surrounding countryside.  You can tell by the pictures that the church was a primitive-type structure, and it was small.  And these women truly have little to nothing that they can call their own.

Before we arrived at the church, we were obligated—by African culture—to visit the public school next door.  Many of the children had never seen a white person, so we were an “event.”  They welcomed us into their truly insufficient school house, gave us chai and bread, and then presented Linda with a written request for funds to help them hire two more badly-needed teachers.  Linda said this was all pre-arranged, as the word had spread that we would be at the church next door.  Linda and her husband are constantly asked for help from many, many people—as are the other doctors/workers here at Tenwek Hospital.

Once we were able to pry ourselves away from the school children, we went next door, where the women were already filling the church and singing.  They brought in benches from the school, put them in the aisle and filled every inch of the church, so that I hardly had room to stand to speak. For the afternoon session we moved everyone outside, where they sat in the sun while I spoke.  We estimate about 350 women were there, and not one of them showed any sign of impatience or irritation at the crowded conditions, including crying babies.

But in the midst of what might appear to be moments of chaos, they listened intently to the message and responded with enthusiasm.
There is so much more I could tell you, but it will have to wait!  I go now to a seminar here on the campus of Tenwek, where I will be speaking three times.  I had hoped without a translator, but I learned last night that they want to use a translator so some women who don’t speak English can attend.  Flexibility is an absolute must here.

Thanks for your prayers.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

No room in church?

Our fourth seminar was held in a town called Silibwet, which is near Bomet, so an easy commute.  This was our largest group yet—close to 600.  By the time everyone arrived, there was not one space left in the church, and at least 50 women were sitting on the lawn trying to listen.  Many walked two and three hours to get there.  But they never complain.  They are so happy to have an opportunity to get together with their sisters in Christ, and the fellowship they share is really wonderful to observe.

In this group almost all of them had earned their Bibles, and they quote their verses heartily.  Not only do they memorize 16 verses to earn a Bible, they are encouraged to memorize one verse every two weeks of Bible study.  They are currently studying Joshua, and each day one of the groups has presented a drama from the stories in Joshua – mostly Joshua 9.  They LOVE to present dramas, and they can be very creative.

As I listened to them quoting so many verses today in unison, my heart was so touched.  I thought how difficult it seems to be to inspire Bible memorization in the States—and how lazy I can be about it as well.  Yet these women really love to do so.

There are so many stories that I could tell you about some of the women who have been in Tabitha since it’s beginning in 2006—how it has changed their lives.  Many of these women have husbands who are not believers, many alcoholics, and their lives are hard.  But they devote themselves to the Bible studies and it has given them courage and strength.

You will see them standing in line to get lunch—rice and beans.  They each were asked to bring their own dish and spoon, and then they sat on the lawns and enjoyed eating together.  The mid-day meal is usually their largest meal.

Thanks so much for your prayers.  We are praising God that already a generous gift has been given to buy some Bibles, but more is needed, so if God touches your heart with this opportunity, you can direct your gift through The Christian Working Woman.

God is good—all the time!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Walking four hours to attend church

Yesterday, Wednesday, was a very long day, with a long commute on some difficult roads, but at the end of the ride the women were already gathered, waiting for us, singing as we arrived.  With flower petals strewn along the pathway all the way to the church, they escorted us into our seats.  It is typical African hospitality, and it is lovely.

The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful here in “tea country.”  I tried to capture some of it in this photo, but it doesn’t do it justice.  If you can imagine, the women walked from the fartherest hill you can see in this picture – some walking four hours – to reach the church.

Each day the message I give is clearer, I trust, but yesterday it was sad to see that only about half of the 400 to 500 women there had Bibles.  Many have already memorized their scriptures and are awaiting their Bibles.  Others still have verses to recite.  Each Bible cost $8; they are very nice Bibles in their native language of Kipsigese.  But Tabitha Ministries is waiting for more funds to come in so these Bibles can be purchased.  There are a total of about 1000 women waiting on their Bibles.  You'll see some of the Bible study leaders pictured here.
If you would like to help Tabitha purchase these Bibles, you can donate money through The Christian Working Woman for that purpose.

Last night we had a Fourth of July celebration cookout here at Tenwek for us Americans, with hamburgers and all the trimmings.  It was very nice and quite delicious, in spite of the pouring rain that suddenly came down.

Today we expect one of our largest groups at Silibwet—which is a short drive.   I’m praying my message will stay fresh and truly touch lives.  Your prayers are much appreciated.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

When did you receive your first Bible?

Today, Tuesday, was another beautiful sunny day here, warm with no humidity, and we held our seminar in a little town called Goitabsilibwet, very near Bomet.  The church was less than a mile from the main road, so it made for an easy day.  Commuting to the churches is not always simple!

This seminar included seven or eight of the individual Bible studies of Tabitha, so the number attending was smaller, about 200.  It filled the “open-air” church and we had a blessed day.  Based on yesterday’s experience, I altered my messages a bit, with suggestions from Linda, and I believe I communicated more clearly today.  The women were open and attentive, as always, and at the end of my second message I asked for a commitment from them to spend daily time “feeding themselves” from God’s Word.  This was after demonstrating how to do that.  Most of the women made that commitment and we had a prayer of dedication.

Most of these women have earned their Bibles by memorizing the verses, and I asked how many of them had a Bible before the one they earned through Tabitha.  The great majority of them indicated that this was their first Bible.  Can you imagine getting your first Bible as an adult, and having to learn how to read it, how to apply it to your life?  I showed them ways to learn their Bible and to teach their children and young people.  I taught how keeping a journal can enrich their Bible reading.  Please pray that the ones who made the commitment to spend daily time in the Word will keep that promise, beginning tomorrow.

I look forward to another day tomorrow, with a much, much longer commute over almost impassable roads!  But at the end there will be several hundred women there, walking long distances for the seminar.  So how can I complain about a very bumpy, long ride?

A very rewarding 1st day in Bomet, Kenya

Our first event with the women of Tabitha Ministries was yesterday in a church at Kitoben, near Bomet.  Many of the 150 Bible study groups were present at this seminar.  The ride to the church was, as always, an adventure of its own, but Linda Spreigel, my host and the founder of Tabitha Ministries, is quite good at driving these impossible roads.  The countryside is beyond beautiful, and we arrived at the church after an hour or so.  Around 10:30 there were maybe a dozen women there.  By noon the church was totally packed with women sitting on the outside.  Our best estimate is 500 women crammed into a church built to hold maybe 200. 

The preliminaries are always lengthy, with many introductions and many welcoming speeches.  I began my first message, Growing Up in Christ, at about 12:30, with Peris translating for me.  We ended at 1:45, then lunch was served—rice and beans, cooked outside.  Each woman was advised to bring her own dish and spoon, and they enjoyed sitting outside and eating together.  It was a beautiful sunny day, about 75 degrees, I think.

After lunch I gave my second message, showing the women ways to read their Bible and pray scripture, and allow God’s Spirit to make them more and more like Jesus.  We gave each woman a notebook and pen for the purpose of journaling.  There were several pastors present from nearby churches, and they took it all in.  In fact, the lead pastor asked me to please come back and give the same message to the pastors in the area.  You see, many pastors have had no training at all, and they have never been taught some of the most basic disciplines of the Christian life.

 Most of the women had won a Bible in their language by memorizing 16 verses of Scripture, and they quoted the verses many times during the conference.  For most of them, it is the first Bible they have ever owned, and learning to read and apply what they read is a totally new idea to them.  But they are willing learners.

Almost every woman walked to this conference, and some walked for three to four hours, up and down hills and valleys.  I never cease to be amazed at their willingness to walk so far, many with babies on their backs.  The room was full of nursing babies and crying toddlers, but it’s part of the scene and you get used to it!

Linda is very excited at the results for the day, and has given me good ideas on how to improve it.  I arrived back where I’m staying at 6:00 – a very long day, but a very rewarding one. I look forward to another day of service today. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tabitha Bible Study Conference Starts Today

I am scheduled to start teaching today, Monday through Friday, at five different churches in the area for the women in the Tabitha Bible studies in and around Bomet, Kenya.  The leadership team has made all the plans for these five days, and we were told to prepare for maybe as many as 2000 women in these five days.  Since I arrived that estimate has been increased substantially.  They are expecting 1000 more today and maybe 3500 all week.

Well, we’ll see what the week brings.  One thing about African women—they know how to “go with the flow” much better than we Americans do.  So, they will be undaunted by any surprises that we may face.  I do pray, however, that somehow they will be able to locate a PA system for us to use.  Most of these churches don’t have one and it has to be brought in.  The quality is poor, but at least they can hear.

I feel very unequal to the task of speaking to these women, with the cultural and communication barriers that are between us.  But the truth is, I am unequal to the task without these barriers, so I am relying on God’s Spirit—and the prayers of so many of you at home—to give me wisdom even as I speak, to know how to get the truth of God’s Word through with clarity.

I plan to send messages back each evening, with pictures so you can share this experience with me.  So, check us out each day and please do keep me in your prayers.  And pray for Peris, my interpreter, as in many ways her job is harder than mine!

Monday, June 25, 2012

You Hurt My Feelings!

Do any of these sound familiar? These are some everyday examples of self-inflicted pain that we women can so easily heap upon ourselves when we allow our feelings to be hurt.

  • You walk into a room and one really well-dressed woman seems to look at you in a disapproving way. “Oh, brother,” you think, “she doesn’t like the way I look.”  You become very self-conscious and your feelings are hurt.

  • A good friend makes a comment that you interpret to be critical.  Instead of talking with her about it, you retreat with hurt feelings and allow it to damage your relationship.

  • You send an email to a business associate, asking for information, and a week later you still have not received a reply.  You have always felt that this person doesn’t like you, and this just confirms it further.  Your feelings are hurt.

  • Your boss asks you to make some corrections to a report.  She gives you some specific criticism and suggestions for improvement.  You take it personally and consider it an insult to your intelligence – and your feelings are hurt. 

  • Your husband comes home from work and has very little to say.  Your questions seem to irritate him rather than draw him into a conversation.  You interpret it to mean that he doesn’t like to talk with you and you wonder if he still loves you.  He has hurt your feelings.

  • You learn that a friend at church had some other friends over for dinner and you were not invited.  Your feelings are hurt.
This is more a female problem than a male problem, because we were created with more sensitive natures, and we feel things more deeply than most men do.  Men are able to isolate their feelings and put them on hold, and that’s why they aren’t nearly as prone to take things as personally as we are. 

God gave us these nurture natures for good reasons, but like everything good that God created, sin has polluted and damaged it, and if it is not controlled, that sensitive nature can become our Achilles heel, our fatal flaw, and a source of continual self-inflicted pain as we allow our feelings to be hurt far too easily. 

I often remind myself and other women that people are not thinking about us nearly as much as we think they are thinking about us!  We assume it’s all about us, when most of the time it isn’t. We think we are far more important in the lives of others than we really are!  Most people’s worlds revolve around themselves, not us!

Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matt. 16:25).  He is teaching us that being self-absorbed is the pathway to loss.  Overly sensitive feelings, which frequently throw us into the “it’s all about me” syndrome, can cause us to lose our life.  We can lose the purpose for which God created us; we can lose the peace and joy Jesus came to give us; we can lose the opportunity to reach out to others with God’s comfort and love.

The Cure for Hurt Feelings

So, what can we do to move out of this bad habit of being overly-sensitive and having our feelings hurt too much?  Here are some suggestions.

  1. Break old habits.  When your feelings are hurt, think, “Is this really about me, or could there be some other reason that this person behaved in this way
  2. Buy time.  Don’t respond to your hurt feelings quickly.  Swallow those words you want to say, and simply buy yourself some time to be able to move from the emotional to the rational.
  3. Build healthy calluses.  Ask God to toughen you up, so that you are not so prone to take everything personally.
  4. Bring it into the open. If you feel you have truly been offended, write out how you were hurt, and put it away for two days. Then read it again, and if you are still truly offended, determine how you will confront that person in a biblical, loving way.  Chances are good that after two days you’ll tear up the paper and say to yourself that it’s really not that big a deal.
When we can make progress in this area, we are becoming more and more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.  Then you can turn hurt feelings into an opportunity to pray for that person, reach out to that person, and let God’s love flow through you.  This can be one of the best gifts you’ll ever give yourself, as you are set free from that overly-sensitive reaction and all those hurt feelings.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Can this relationship be saved?

Is there a broken relationship in your life at present?  Whether it’s a mate or a coworker or a friend, think of the pain and pressure that has brought into your life.  Consider the ripple effect of broken and hurting relationships, not only on the people directly involved, but inevitably on many others as well. 

Are we doomed to have to live with these broken relationships?  What is our duty and responsibility in trying to mend a broken relationship?  Can – or should – all relationships be saved?

Jesus’ “Fix” for Broken Relationships

Consider what Jesus taught us to do when a relationship has been broken or wounded.

Matthew 5:23 - 24:

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Jesus said we are to go to anyone who has something against us.  That includes, to mention a few:
  • those whose feelings are hurt because of us
  • those with whom we’ve had a misunderstanding
  • those to whom we spoke hastily chosen words
  • those who feel we’ve treated them unfairly or neglected them
Notice that Jesus didn’t limit it to those who have something legitimate against us or those who have a right to have something against us.  No, he says if you know that someone has something against you, whether it’s your fault or not, then you take action.

Earthly counselors would be more likely to say, “If someone has something against you and it’s not your fault, it’s not your problem.  Let him or her make the first move.”  But that’s not the way Jesus would deal with a broken or wounded relationship. 

In that culture to “leave your gift there in front of the altar” and go would have been viewed as very unorthodox behavior.  Jesus was making the point that reconciliation is so important, we should drop what we’re doing to be reconciled.  Nothing is more important.

When we procrastinate in trying to be reconciled, the break in the relationship grows deeper and wider.  The reason for the break is exaggerated and amplified way beyond reality.  Innocent people are hurt; gossip sets in. Putting it off is just going to make things worse.

Humbling Yourself vs. Enduring Humiliation

It is obviously a very humbling thing to make the first move in trying to reconcile, especially if you feel you have done nothing wrong. But remember that the Bible teaches us that if we humble ourselves, we won’t have to be humbled.  Whenever I refuse to humble myself, I discover that sooner or later that humbling comes in a much more painful way.  So, humbling ourselves is easier than being humbled.

Humbling ourselves is not the same as submitting ourselves to humiliation.  God has not called us to suffer intentional abuse in our relationships.  There is no justification for allowing ourselves to become a doormat.

Where is the line between humbling ourselves and allowing someone to humiliate us?  That’s a question that would have to be considered in each situation, but if you will pray and sincerely ask God to give you guidance, and then perhaps seek some advice from trusted friends or counselors who are Bible-based, God will give you directions in your relationship concerning whether you are humbling yourself or allowing yourself to be humiliated.

No Guarantees for Success

Of course, there is no guarantee that your attempt to mend this relationship will be successful.  And that’s because you cannot control the other person.  All you can do is obey the Lord, do what we’re supposed to do, and let God take care of the outcome.

Romans 12:18 says:

            If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Of course, there are times where a relationship has been damaged so much that full restoration is not possible.  But to the extent that it can be restored, it should be restored.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Do You React Or Respond?

Do you react or respond? What’s the difference, you may ask.  A reaction is an involuntary, uncontrolled action resulting from external stimuli of some sort.  A response is a controlled and intentional action that is carefully thought through.

 Jesus responded.

Jesus knew exactly how to respond to people and situations, and therefore His words and actions were the right ones at the right times.  For example:
  • Sometimes He walked away.
Remember when His hometown crowd was angry at Him they wanted to kill Him.  In Luke 4 we read that Jesus "walked right through the crowd and went on His way." There was no reasoning with this angry mob and Jesus knew it was time to walk away.
  • Sometimes He confronted.
In John 8:43-47 Jesus confronts the hypocritical Pharisees and religious leaders very directly.  He said to them, “Why is my language not clear to you?  Because you are unable to hear what I say.  You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. . . The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."

He responded to their accusations and evil motives with a strong confrontation, carefully worded so that they could not miss His point.
  • Sometimes He shamed people.
Think of how Jesus handled the crowd of men who wanted Him to stone the woman caught in adultery.  Quietly, without a word, He shamed them so that they all walked away and left Him alone with her.
  • Sometimes He ignored people.
When the crowd told Jesus not to bother coming to Jairus' house because his daughter was already dead, Jesus ignored them and told Jairus to do the same. 

Mark 5:36 tells us:  "Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, 'Don't be afraid; just believe.'"   

Jesus was never in react mode. He knew exactly what He wanted to say, said it with emphasis, and did it to teach and help others.  He always spoke the truth, sometimes in strong words, sometimes in gentle words, but always from the right motive – because He loved the people. 

Get beyond the reaction to the response.

An inappropriate reaction often happens involuntarily before we can stop it.  But we can learn to get past the reaction, and not allow the reaction to control our behavior.

A reaction of anger or self-pity or revenge is not unusual. The problem begins when we allow those reactions to control our behavior because we don’t wait until the reaction has passed, and then decide how best to respond.

Prepare to respond

Responding rather than reacting has to be learned – it won’t just happen.  We must be intentional about it, pray about it, and depend upon God’s Spirit within us to both motivate us to want to respond rather than react, and give us the power to do it.

Plan in advance what an appropriate response might be for certain people or situations. For example, an alternate strategy for that person who is negative is to say something positive in response.  An alternate strategy for the person who is very critical is to thank him or her and acknowledge that you will  consider the suggestion.

Then when you feel your reaction level starting to rise, when you sense your emotions are starting to take over, when you know that you're not exactly in control of your reactions, send up a quick prayer.  "Lord, please help me here.  This is a tough one for me.  I want to respond rather than react, but I need your help." 

These verses remind us of the need to respond rather than react:

Proverbs  18:13:  He who answers before listening - that is his folly and his shame.   

Proverbs 12:16:  A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.

I Thessalonians 5:15: Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always be kind to each other and to everyone else.

The power of responding

Can you imagine the impact we would have in our working worlds if we Christians were responding more than reacting?  We would surely be lights in dark worlds, because most of the people around us are in react mode most of the time.  To be truly conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, which is our mission as believers, we need to become responders rather than reactors. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

God Won't Let You Go!

Some years ago, on a hot summer day in South Florida, a little boy decided to go for a swim in the old swimming hole behind his house. In a hurry to dive into the cool water, he ran out the back door, leaving behind shoes, socks, and shirt as he went. He flew into the water, not realizing that as he swam toward the middle of the lake-- an alligator was swimming toward the shore.

His father working in the yard saw the two as they got closer and closer together. In utter fear, he ran toward the water, yelling to his son as loudly as he could. Hearing his voice, the little boy became alarmed and made a U-turn to swim to his father. It was too late. Just as he reached his father, the alligator reached him. From the dock, the father grabbed his little boy by the arms just as the alligator snatched his legs.

That began an incredible tug-of-war between the two. The alligator was much stronger than the father, but the father was much too passionate to let go. A farmer happened to drive by, heard his screams, raced from his truck, took aim and shot the alligator.

Remarkably, after weeks and weeks in the hospital, the little boy survived. His legs were extremely scarred by the vicious attack of the animal. And, on his arms, were deep scratches where his father's fingernails dug into his flesh in his effort to hang on to the son he loved.

The newspaper reporter who interviewed the boy after the trauma asked if he would show him his scars. The boy lifted his pant legs. And then, with obvious pride, he said to the reporter, "But look at my arms. I have great scars on my arms, too. I have them because my Dad wouldn't let go."

You and I can identify with that little boy. We have scars, too. No, not from an alligator, but the scars of a painful past. Some of those scars are unsightly and have caused us deep pain or regret. But, some wounds, my friend, are because God has refused to let go. In the midst of your struggle, He's been there holding on to you. The Scripture teaches that God loves you. You are a child of God. He wants to protect you and provide for you in every way. But sometimes we foolishly wade into dangerous situations, not knowing what lies ahead. The swimming hole of life is filled with peril - and we forget that the enemy is waiting to attack.

That's when the tug-of-war begins - and if you have the scars of His love on your arms, be very, very grateful. He did not and will not ever let you go.

You just never know where a person is in his/her life and what they are going through. Never judge another persons scars, because you don't know how they got them. Right now, someone needs to know that God loves them, and you love them, too . Enough to not let them go.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Is Everybody Happy?

Most people would tell you that their ambition in life is to be happy.  How often I’ve heard a mother say something like, “All I want for my children is to be happy.”  No doubt I’ve said it or thought it myself.
Happiness, for most people, would be a life without major problems, a life with no significant worries, enough money to do what you want to do, good relationships to fulfill your need for love and community, etc., etc.  Or, to put it another way, happiness is life the way I want it to be.

Then along comes Jesus and turns the whole happiness thing on its ears!  Imagine if you were listening to this itinerant preacher along the Galilee, thinking he was going to bring you free food and healing and hopefully freedom from Rome.  And instead, he says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39).  And then he says, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15b). 

This was revolutionary teaching, and you can be sure that not everyone bought it.  It went against their idea of happiness, and it goes against most people’s ideas today. What is your definition of happiness?  It is revealed in the way you live your life, the way you spend your time and money, the priorities you establish, and the friends you pursue.

Happiness is a by-product of losing your life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel.  That means, putting others first, investing major portions of your time and energy and resources into the lives of others, giving up your “rights” and relinquishing control of your life’s plan to the Lord.

For far too many years, I was determined to find happiness my way, and it took me about ten years to figure out that I had failed miserably.  But when I finally gave it all over to Jesus, he has proven to me again and again that dying to self is the way to the abundant life he offers. 

You’ll never find happiness until you take self off the throne of your heart, and put Jesus there.  It really is quite that simple.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Stretched Beyond Measure

Can you think of some moments in your life when your mental and emotional condition was so frail, so battered, so exhausted that you wondered if you were losing it? Bad news often comes in bunches and we feel bombarded at times.  I think of a woman who has recently received bad news about her health, on top of bad news about one of her children, and then she lost her job!  At times like these you truly can feel as though you’re losing your sanity.

It’s undoubtedly what Job experienced when his world suddenly collapsed on him.  And though he never cursed God, as you read his story you see how there were times when his mental and emotional strength was stretched beyond measure.  At one point he said, “I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me” (Job 30:20).

If that’s where you are today—feeling as though you could lose your mind because life is so hard—I want to encourage you to remember that God has not and will not let go of you.  To keep your sanity, keep your mind on Jesus.  Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”  Paul wrote that “the mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).  When Satan is trying to literally drive you crazy, stand firm on the promise of God that he will keep you sane by his Spirit.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"The Cleavage Gap"

A friend recently sent me an article entitled “The Cleavage Gap,” written by Sue Edwards, an Assistant Professor of Christian Education at Dallas Theological Seminary.  She was teaching a class on how to work with men in ministry, and these women were bemoaning the provocative way women dress these days, while four of these very women were, as Sue puts it, “showing enough cleavage to distract any man in our midst.” 

Let me include an excerpt from her article:
I don't expect immature believers, and certainly non believers, to dress modestly. But these are leaders, the ones who set the standard for others. I'm trying to get into the heads of these leaders who don't get the cleavage gap. What are they thinking? Maybe...
  • It's impossible to buy stylish clothes today without showing cleavage, so I'm giving in.
  • I've worked hard and long on this body, and, by golly, I'm going to show it off.
  • My husband might secretly be drawn to other women if they show theirs, so I better show mine.
  • I want to be loved and I'll never get a man's attention any other way.
  • It's hot and I want to wear something cool.
  • It's not my fault if men can't handle it. Women have been blamed too long for men's lust. I'll flaunt it just to show them, a similar attitude to feminist's bra burning back in the sixties.
  • I'm too busy to be bothered by this issue. Men need to get over it.
I wonder if these women realize how much their insensitivity hurts our chances of being taken seriously by men. Seems to me when we show cleavage, we back up what men have said and thought about women for centuries. We care more about the power of our sexuality than we do about its effect on our brothers. We aren't thinking about the long term impact of our choices, just about how cute we look today. Or maybe it's too much trouble for busy women to assess the effect of the gap. That's understandable for immature women who don't know better. But not for leaders with far-reaching influence.
Sue goes on to say that whatever the reason that women who truly love Jesus, who would never intentionally cause a man to lust, still dress inappropriately, she has found no solutions.  I share her frustration.  In the past we talked about the issue of dressing modestly at one of our luncheons, I’ve talked to various groups of women about it, I’ve interviewed and videotaped some men in our church and asked how it affects them, I’ve recommended Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s book, “Modesty: Does God Really Care What I Wear?”  Since it seems to be a message that embarrasses people, or makes them uncomfortable—or resentful or angry—I guess I’ve abandoned my efforts to do more on making women in our church aware of the “cleavage gap” and how it affects men—and what kind of testimony it presents to the world.  After all, I tell myself, I’m not the fashion police of The Moody Church!
It’s a topic that deserves our attention.  If you have any suggestions on how we can communicate the biblical message of dressing modestly to the women in our church in a more effective way, I’m all ears.  Meanwhile, I pass these thoughts on to you for your contemplation.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

it’s not always your FAULT!
by Florence MacKenzie 
This article was originally published in Just Between Us, Spring 2012

Rowan, our English Springer Spaniel, puzzled us recently. While my husband and I were eating, Rowan suddenly became extremely attentive, to the point where he became a nuisance. One of the ways he lets us know he wants out is by tugging gently on one of our sleeves. He did this a few times during our meal, so we gave him the benefit of the doubt and opened the door for him to go outside.  Normally, he would settle down with a chew toy after coming back inside, but on this occasion he continued to jump up and tug at our clothes. We gave him a further opportunity to go out, which he took, but carried on in the same way when he came back indoors. 

Let me fill you in on some background. A few minutes before our meal, a glass tumbler had fallen onto the kitchen floor and shattered. I was concerned that Rowan might stand on the broken glass, so I ushered him out of the kitchen while I cleared up the mess. We then sat down to dinner and Rowan began his antics.

Then it dawned on me! Knowing Rowan is a sensitive dog, I think he believed he was responsible for breaking the tumbler and his over-attentiveness toward us arose from a desire for reassurance. I suppose he interpreted being moved to another room as some form of punishment for this “crime”, when in reality he was put elsewhere to protect him from the painful effects of walking on broken glass. He felt guilty about something he didn’t do!

How many of us are like this sometimes? We take on board false guilt over circumstances completely outside our control. Maybe it’s in a marriage relationship, where we blame ourselves for things not working out well, forgetting that there is another half to our partnership who may not be pulling his or her weight. Or perhaps we do this in a work context, thinking it’s our fault that the boss is in a bad mood, when the reason for this might be nothing to do with us at all.

Our thinking really does impact how we feel and one way we can begin to manage our various emotions is to pay attention to what we allow ourselves to think. Over time, layers of faulty thinking build up in our minds and these can have a negative effect on our feelings. For example, when we believe something that isn’t true, our thinking goes down a wrong route and we run the risk of responding in an emotionally inappropriate way.

This happened to me a few days ago when I received no reply to an email I had sent to one of my friends. When my initial thought of “she’s probably busy” began to change to “maybe she doesn’t appreciate my friendship”, I knew it was time to stop this faulty thinking, especially as I was beginning to feel a little tetchy at not getting a reply! I had to remind myself that my friend has a lot of responsibilities which take up her time and the fact she hadn’t yet gotten around to replying to me was no reflection on the quality of our friendship. When I took this more accurate perspective, I no longer felt irritable. However, even if my friend had made a conscious decision to ignore my email, I can still choose my thoughts, attitudes and emotions. It’s good to know that none of us needs to be a victim of our thought patterns and emotional responses.

by asking whether a thought is true (Philippians 4:8). A lot of our stress in life comes from thinking things that aren’t true. We find ourselves listening to (and perhaps believing) gossip, holding on to thoughts of false guilt, and speculating about the future.
…by acknowledging your thoughts and attitudes need to be renewed (Ephesians 4:23). Let’s not fool ourselves by holding on to those layers of faulty thinking that need to be peeled away.
…by allowing God to transform you by changing what you think about (Romans 12:2). This involves the continual reprogramming of our minds to bring our thoughts back into line with the truth of God’s Word. If we want to alter the way we feel, perhaps we should try identifying the thinking leading to that feeling. 

Hey, Rowan, did you get that?