Monday, August 29, 2011

Even if yesterday was a bust...:)

    As my friends and family all know, I'm going through a time of transition as I officially start my retirement!  This summer however has been... life as usual.  As someone said, "honey days" and "onion days"! And if God were grading on a pass/fail system, I could also add, some days have been "pass", some days (or weeks)... naaahhhh.... didn't make it as a victorious Christian!
   Last  week was recuperate week, unpack week, survive remodeling week,  and get David back into school week:)
   So I guess it wasn't really until this morning that I was able to actually be quiet, feel rested, and also reflect on past successes and failures, future plans etc.  (Translate: the guys are both gone, the suitcases are unpacked, and life is getting back on track... Remodeled bathroom partially works.. life is good.. Although now Phil says he's going to re-do the kitchen!!)
   As I read in the Bible and thought about things, my thoughts went to a couple of books (I know!!! I know!!!! What else??? I need to get a life... I know!!!!).  At any rate, one dog-eared book is a biography by Isobelle Kuhn called Green Leaf in Drought.*   The title is taken from Jeremiah 17:8 and the story is about Wilda and Arthur Matthews, two of the last OMF missionaries to be released from Communist China in the 1950's.  For a year or so, the communists had tried to starve Arthur (literally - not kidding), his wife, and their toddler.  But it just didn't happen. God provided food and money for them in unlikely ways. Not an abundance but enough to sustain them.
   The other book is called Born for Battle*.  It's also a slender paperback and very dog-eared by now:)  This book was actually written in the 1960's by Arthur Matthews himself. At that time, he was battling Lou Gehrig's disease and he wanted to write down what he had learned about prayer over the years while he was still able to do so.  In other words, he didn't want to waste either his illness or the life-lessons God had taught him.  The book is written sort of like a devotional - you can read each chapter (they are short)  over a period of a few weeks and learn practical ways to pray through difficult times.
   As I got both of these paperbacks down from the  shelf, I opened the Isobelle Kuhn book to a page that was very dog-eared and saw something that kind of put things into perspective for me.  During Arthur's time as a house prisoner of the communists, he began to experience terrible tooth pain. By this time they were just barely able to get milk for their toddler but had none for themselves and were existing on a really meager diet.  Also, each month he had to go to the Communist authorities and fill out lengthy papers and grovel in order to get permission to draw a small sum from his own bank account... Yep, it was his money but the communists had taken control of it.
   Having experienced deprivations for months and having no clue when it would ever end, Arthur was close to despair. And then someone sent him a small pocket calendar and on the back of it he wrote these words:
  Cast four anchors and prayed.. a veiled reference to Acts. 27:27-29.  The "four anchors" that Arthur "threw out" in the midst of his storm were actually points from Andrew Murray's writings that he  began to put into practice there in China.  They are:
  1.  Say when in trial - He brought me here.  It is by His will I am in this strait place and in that fact I will rest.
  2.  He will keep me here in His love and give me grace to behave as His child.
  3.  Then He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends for me to learn.
  4.  In His good time He can bring me out again - how and when He knows. 
So let me say:
   I am 1) here in this trial by God's appointment.
           2)  I am in His keeping.
           3)  I am under His training.
           4)  I am here for His time.
As I look back over some of my non-chill times this summer - and there were some doozies - I think I need to have those four anchors typed up and taped to my forehead!! (Or maybe stapled to my jogging shoes so that I can really see them each day!  As if I jog.... Ha!)  Still, I was glad to be reminded of them this morning.  God is good.  Even if yesterday was a bust spiritually, each day is a new opportunity by His grace!

*I got my copies from Overseas Missionary Fellowship's website but apparently Amazon also has them but not for Kindle.  Of the two, Born for Battle is my favorite, maybe b/c it is so practical.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

To change a village...

     I've been reading a book, Tombstones and Banana Trees, and it's about as different from anything I've ever experienced as a book can be.  At times, my heart literally ached as I read about the experiences of the author - abandoned as a six-year-old after his mother and siblings were publicly shamed by his father.  The author, Medad Birungi, had a tough enough life ahead of him, growing up in Uganda during the time of Idi Amin.  But being disavowed financially and socially by his father brought excruciating poverty into his young  life and this  led to all kinds of other suffering, including the murder of his sister and the rape of other sisters who had no father to protect their standing in the village.
    While the book talks about the bad stuff obviously, this man's entire message is one of forgiveness.  Really, it's his ministry to foster forgiveness as a life style and to help young people in his country who suffer the way he did.  One of the things that he said really struck me - he said that if we see forgiveness as a struggle then we are seeing it the wrong way.  Instead we should look at it as an avenue to freedom, something positive to be sought after and to be grasped.
    Another thing that really struck me:  by the time he got to the upper levels of education, he was looking good on the outside but living the life of an alcoholic and a thug at night and on weekends.  He was really, really rough.  Not a nice guy at all.
    But he heard some Christians give their testimonies one night and this started a civil war within his heart, a spiritual war that threatened to totally undo him.  In his anguish, he got on a bus and headed back home to his mother for comfort and help.  This was hard because he had promised his mom that he would uphold the family reputation while away at school and he had broken this promise a thousand times over, unknown to her.
   As the bus approached a bridge leading into his area, a bridge that held emotional significance for him, he had an overpowering sense that he must either do what the Christians had said to do right then and there or he should resign himself to being forever lost.  The pressure was intense - basically he knew it was a do or die situation as the bus neared the bridge.
    The Christians had said that he had to forgive others and confess his sins before Christ would forgive him.  So in desperation, before they reached the bridge, he stood up and began yelling out a list of the people who had hurt him and how he forgave them.  This was quite a list.  He actually had been carrying 19 names around along with the things they had done to him or his family and his plan was to go into the army so that he could get a legal weapon and then he would confront each person before shooting them in the head.  This was actually his reason for living.  So what he did on that pivotal bus ride was to stand up and yell out the names of those who had hurt him, one by one, and renounce his plan to murder them!  He also confessed every sin that he had ever committed and that was a longer list than the first one!  After this, he said, "I believe in Jesus Christ!" and fell on the floor of the bus, crying.  Not exactly Western-style Christianity but apparently.. it worked...:)
   There was a strong, older Christian man on the bus and he knelt by Birungi after the confession was ended.  This man began to pray for him and he also instructed the others on the bus to pray for him as well.  Then the man began to mentor him, walking home with him and helping Birungi confess his sins to his mother.  She also became a believer. And then this older man instructed Birungi  to go to each person on the list and confess his sins towards them and ask for their forgiveness. Over the next 3 years, he did this. The list included his father.
   Over time, this revolutionized the whole village, Birungi's family was restored, and he is now a minister as I've already indicated.    I couldn't always relate to the things that this pastor wrote but I could clearly see that there is power in repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. And that sometimes it just takes one truly broken, repentant heart to change a village.

Friday, August 26, 2011


  It was a great opportunity for us to be able to travel overseas and there are things from that trip that I believe will stay with me a lifetime.  But I absolutely love being at home!
  My wonderful husband is re-modeling one of our bathrooms - it's going to be probably the most elegant room in our whole house when he finishes :)  My sister-in-law is teasing me saying that we need to have a formal tea or something to celebrate the opening of our new bath... But right now, it's not functioning and so the three of us are having to share one bathroom.  And still, I love being home!
  Over our vacation, we had so many interesting things to see and do that at times it was overwhelming.  This week, the most exciting thing I've done is laundry, dishes, and shopping for groceries... And I can't forget - I did hit Mardel's and found a mother-load of new Christian biographies - 3 at once!!!  So, of course, that made me very happy!
   But basically I've gone from walking the streets of Jerusalem's old city to walking with my husband along our neighborhood street, saying "hi" to people we know  who are cutting their grass or walking their dogs.  My days this week have been spent resting, reading and taking care of the house.  And although it's quite a contrast, I have to say again, I love being home!!!
   Would I travel again?  Absolutely!
   But not any time soon... Right now, in case you haven't figured it out yet,  I really, really love being home!:)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lessons from the desert...

    I had two blogs going through my mind while I was in Israel but with everything going on, I knew I would need to wait until a quiet Arkansas morning to write them.  Now as I listen to the thunder and the steady rain outside, this seems like the perfect time to write about the second thing that was on my heart as we traveled.
     On our last Wed, we went on a bus tour to the South, headed for the Dead Sea and Masada.  We traveled through the West Bank to get to Jerusalem where we picked up some more passengers for the tour bus.  Traveling through the West Bank was fascinating to me even though we didn't come close to any villages.  I remember seeing the sign pointing to Jericho but that was about as close as we came.  As our guide explained to us, Jerusalem was the modern GPS focal point for the ancient traveler.  Follow the River Jordan until you come to Jerusalem and then you know to turn.. that type of thing.
    After our brief stop in Jerusalem, we headed out of the city, going through a  tunnel.  When we came out of the tunnel, the landscape was radically changed.  Jerusalem is truly a city set on a hill and it has lush greenery in places.  After we descended via the tunnel for what seemed like 5 or 10 minutes max, we came out into a barren, totally brown, rocky landscape. The contrast was stunning. I don't think anything on our trip impacted me like this did.
    Our guide explained that as clouds move over Jerusalem, they are forced to drop their moisture on the city and once they travel past Jerusalem, there is no more moisture for the downward side of the city or indeed for miles and miles to come.
    Just like that, we were in what the Bible calls the Judean Wilderness and what modern Israeli's call the Judean Desert.    As we drove through this barren area, the guide explained that this is where John the Baptist preached.   How anyone could even live in that area, I wouldn't know - obviously he had to be close to the River Jordan to survive. And of course it was there where John baptized Christ. It was also here where Christ faced His time of temptation.
    Today there are Bedouins who live in this area - we saw some along the way.  Their whole lives are based around a search for water yet this is traditionally how they have lived for centuries, this is their heritage.  Two things struck me in this area. First was the scarcity of water.  Even in Tel Aviv, citizens have a monthly limit on how much water they can use. If they go over, they pay a fine.  One morning it rained somewhere briefly in Israel and I heard people commenting on how it never rains in August ever, like this was a miracle.  So you can imagine how precious water is in the wilderness.   I understood why the patriarch Isaac had trouble digging wells and hanging on to them.  Ownership of a well in ancient times would have been a serious matter.  And I understood why Jesus spoke of living water that He came to bring to the people, water that would well up from within and would quench thirst forever.  He was speaking of spiritual water, eternal life-giving water. But the imagery would have been a powerful one in that land where you don't just go to a tap and turn on water without giving it a second thought.
    The second thing that caught my imagination were the rocks. For the first time I understood why the Psalmist often referred to God as a rock.  I realized that although we have large rocks in Arkansas, especially at the end of the grassy aisles on the Wal Mart parking lots :), for the most part - to me a rock is something that you hold in your hand or skip across the surface of the water or bend over to dig out of your shoe.
     The Judean desert was miles of rocks, hundreds and hundreds of brown boulders interspersed with brown rocks of every size and shape.   I understood for the first time what the Psalmist was saying.  The rocks I saw would not be easily moved by puny man and neither is the God that David knew.  If our will coincides with His will, He will hear us and grant our request. If our will doesn't coincide with His, our manipulations, our strength, and our wisdom will not dislodge Him from His purpose, His will for us.  A huge rock is immovable and our God is a huge Rock. .
   I also saw that to hide behind one of these massive boulders would basically mean that an enemy would have to go through the rock to get to the one behind it. And this is something that a mere man could not do.  There is a hymn that says He hideth my soul in the cleft of a rock.   I understood that the Rock is Jesus and that if God hides us in His Son, Yeshua, then our enemies have to go through this Rock to get to us.  I also understood that we can take ourselves out of the cleft of the Rock through the sins of worry, fear, anger, unforgiveness, self-pity. And when we step out of the cleft of our Rock, then the enemy has open-season on us because we have moved away from our immovable shelter.
    The Bible says over and over that Jerusalem is special to God. It was in Ancient times and it will be in future times.  Why He established His holy city in the midst of a tiny, very dry, rather difficult land, I don't know.   Why His city is set at a high elevation and is capable of producing greenery and then it  immediately falls off into a desert which produces nothing but rocks, I don't know.  And why this city has been a bone of contention between three religions for centuries, I also don't know.
   But I finally understand that my God is a Rock and this is no small thing.  And also, as the song says, He is a river in a barren land, which is also not a small thing.

 This is not the best shot of what we saw - neither of us had our cameras ready when we came upon the desert. But maybe it gives some idea of the landscape.
    Israel is different and you know you're not in the South (of the U.S., that is) almost as soon as you land. Here you can smile at people on the street and you'll often get a smile in response.  I didn't find that to be true there - people seemed busy, confident, determined, focused.  I didn't hear the words "please", "thank-you", and "excuse me" hardly at all in public and I came to feel awkward for saying those words so much myself.
   I came to realize that this is the deal: life is tough in this little country (smaller than Arkansas) and it's hard to smile at strangers when you're wondering if the person passing you is a potential bomber.  I realized that people weren't just unwilling to return smiles from strangers, some of them were actually scrutinizing strangers, something we do in the "bad" part of town, something they do in any part of town.
   Three experiences from this trip brought this home for me.
   First the trip to Yad VAshem, the Holocaust Museum.  On the way there, our host stopped at a military cemetery and showed us the grave of his father who died in the 1948 War when he was just a young man with a wife and a baby.  I realized our host never had the chance to know his father.  Then we stopped at the graves of some famous people such as Yitzak Rabin and Golda Meir, years apart in their times of service but dealing with the same issue - how to protect Israel and find peace that seems to be ever elusive...
   Then we went to Yad Vashem where no one is allowed to take pictures.  About a fourth of the way through, I was crying and the thought went through my mind:  maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there is no God after all.  Almost as soon as that thought went through my mind, I was enveloped by a sense of His nearness and I knew that He does exist.    (It wasn't until later that I realized it was actually Sunday - my sense of time was so messed up the whole time I was in Israel - and that when I felt His presence, it was time for Sunday School to start back home. Amazing.  6,000 miles from home. Prayer works... ).   At any rate, Yad Vashem is well-done and very moving, tough to walk through. But it was something I had to do and I think everyone who goes to Israel should walk through this memorial alongside generations of Israelis for whom this is a record of their own personal history, their own family members. As we would say over here - it is personal - very much so...One live image stands out for me in particular. A young, attractive Israeli woman who was obviously pregnant, holding the small hand of a pre-schooler. Tears were silently running down her face while her child looked around with total innocence.
   The second experience was standing on top of Masada.  A group of Jewish families - over 900 in number - had held out against the Ancient Romans for several years.  The Romans were determined to get this group because the more slaves they marched into Rome, the bigger the press they received.  As the Romans finally built a rampart to the top of Masada, the Jews could have dropped boulders, boiling oil, etc on the slave workers but they didn't.  Because the slaves were Jewish, their relatives.  Instead they weighed their options: surrender to the Romans or commit suicide.  Jewish law forbids suicide so when they opted for the second choice, they did it this way:  each man would kill his own wife and children.  Then ten men would be chosen to go around and kill the fathers/husbands.  Finally, one of the ten would kill the last nine men remaining and then that tenth man would commit suicide.  Today, Israeli combat soldiers finish their training by marching across about 60 miles of full-blown desert to Masada. They climb to the top where they have their graduation ceremony which includes shouting out the motto: Never Again!  Once this is done, they earn the right to wear the beret of the combat soldier.
    The third experience happened on our last night in Israel.  IN the late afternoon the family huddled around the television watching coverage of 4 terrorist attacks in Eilat, a Southern town that is used for vacations during the month of August and also has summer camps for children.  When supper was ready we sat down to eat and shortly after the meal started, we heard the thunderous sound of a military helicopter taking off nearby.  David and  I were the only ones who were startled.  Our host must have seen the confusion on our faces because he responded laconically, "They hit us. We hit them back."  Then we heard planes flying overhead, obviously not close to us and obviously headed South.  The thing that amazed me was that the mom could tell what type of planes they were simply by the sound of the engines.  That one is a bomber....  That one is a cargo plane - you know, they carry vehicles...  Oh.. this is bad.. .that one sounds like a troop transport... After 30 minutes, the planes were still coming and she was worried.  This is big.. usually they don't fly over for this long.  I am very worried.   When they were still flying over head an hour later, she told me, I am so afraid this means we are going in on the ground.  They have been flying for such a long time, this is not typical.  Then as she stood at the kitchen sink looking down,  she said, "All we want is peace. When I was young, I believed that soon we would have it. Now I know we never will."
    As it turned out, a fellow traveler, an Israeli mom, explained to me on the plane trip back to N.J. that her son was in the military and he was supposed to come home on Thursday.  But after the terrorist attacks, they canceled his leave and he was one of the ones flying South, probably over the very flat where I was having supper.  She said that the border with Gaza was so unstable that the Israeli army decided to put a lot of soldiers along the border n order to make a strong showing and prevent further attacks. So they weren't just going after the terrorists but they were beefing up the border patrol as well. Thankfully, they weren't going in for a ground war.
  I have been told that the  native Israeli is called a Sabra after the cactus that grows in this little country - it (and they) are prickly on the outside but sweet on the inside. I found that to be true (about the people, not the cactus:).  The bottom line is that this is not the land of Rhett Butler and Scarlet O'Hara.  It's a land where people live, love and work never knowing when the next terrorist attack will come or when the next war will break out.  They know it's coming, they just don't know when.  (By the way, we flew out Friday morning and over the weekend more than a hundred rockets were fired into Israel and one suicide bomber blew himself up in Jerusalem, city of peace).
   Under the circumstances, I understand why people walking down the sidewalks are all business and there are few smiles.  If you get home safely, then you can smile...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Finger Pokers and grace...

     1.   From the Max Lucado Devotional Bible - Max shared a story about a comedy routine in which two men are talking.  One man is telling the other how much he hates a third guy. Because whenever the third guy talks to him, he repeatedly pokes his finger in his chest, hitting him in the same place.  But now the aggrieved man has a plan!  He confides to his buddy that he's going to prevent the finger-poker from ever hitting him in the chest again! With pride, he shows the man a small bottle attached to a strap which hangs around his neck. The bottle fits under his shirt and hangs in front of the very spot where the aggravating person likes to poke him with his finger.  The bottle contains liquid nitroglycerin... Sooooo... the next time this finger-poker comes around....
          This story made me laugh... Until I realized I'd sort of been there, done that!

    2.  Thoughts sparked by David Platt's book, Radical.   Platt asks the question - why did Christ shrink back from the Cross?  He mentions other martyrs who went to their deaths confident, even singing praises. And then he asks this question:  did Christ beg to forgo the cross  because He was a coward?? I had to admit, there have been times when I've wondered, after reading about men like John Bunyan or Pastor Wurmbrand, how it could be true that hanging on a cross for a few hours was the worst suffering possible.  Even from history, I know that hundreds if not thousands were executed on crosses in Ancient Rome. (Some have been executed on crosses in modern times as well). Yet all my life I've heard that Christ endured more suffering than any other person when he died on the cross. And at times, it just didn't make sense to me how a few hours on a cross could be as bad as being chained in a dungeon for years on end or being tortured in solitary confinement over and over again.
         Years ago, our church invited people to fast for three days in January. This could be a food fast or a fast from something like television or whatever. The idea was that we would give up something that is time-consuming (and perhaps anesthetizing like comfort food) in order to seek God's will for our church for the coming year. Having worked with internationals who were Christians, I knew that they all scoffed at the idea of a fast involving turning off the television.  Every international friend said that in their country a fast  always meant abstinence from food.
       The first year we were invited to do the three-day fast, I made it til about 3p.m. of the second day.  And that was with some  fluids - water, juice.  The second year, I didn't make it longer than 24 hours.  The idea was that we would meet at church on Sunday morning of the third day and then return that evening to break our fast together as a church body.  I remember that after failing for the second time, I drove home from church that morning feeling pretty low.  Not because of what anyone had said to me - I didn't try to act like I had fasted and everyone was nice to me.  But because the whole week had been characterized by one sin after another.  It was one of those weeks where if I felt God was telling me to sit, for some reason, I would stand. Like I could read a verse about watching what I said and then I could go right out and maliciously rip someone apart verbally. That type of week - no big victories; lots of defeat.  And this was at a time when God was blessing us in tangible ways.
      And then here I was, going home from church having failed to fast when I knew others in the sanctuary were bound to have succeeded. On the way, I stopped at a Christian retreat area, The Oasis, and walked along a hiking trail until I came to a small hill where a plain cross was mounted at the top.  Back then, that was my favorite place to pray.  As I knelt there, I thought of how God had gone out of His way to visibly bless us in recent days  and how I had responded by having  an in-Your-face attitude culminating in the 3-day fast which had morphed into one... and I just cried out, "God!  You should be angry with me!!! You have every right to just let me have it!!!"
     And to my surprise, the answer came:  I was angry with you.  I did pour out my wrath on you... But Jesus stepped in front of you and took it in your place - I poured it all on Him.
     Who am I? Well, really, I'm the guy who could hang a bottle of nitroglycerin around his neck in order to "pay back" someone who has hurt me.  A bit short-sighted, shall we say?  A nice person who can carry a grudge?  A person who loves chocolate more than God?  How about a person who can read uplifting thoughts in the Bible and then go out and be petty?
     Who is God?  He is the just One who can't even look on sin.  He is the loving One who sent His Son, His only Son, to take it on the cross for me.  And for all the others who have ever lived and  wallowed in sin ranging  from ax murders to "decent sinners', as Corrie ten Boom would say.
     And that's why hanging on the cross was the worst suffering anyone has ever endured and that is why Jesus asked God to release Him from this cup if at all possible.
    ANd I would have to add:   Jesus not only took my punishment - which is amazing in and of itself, but He also lovingly comes to me and says tenderly, "My Sweet One, let's see now... How about if I just gently remove that little bottle from around your neck?  Why don't you let me take care of the Finger-Poker?  There... doesn't that feel better already?"
    Colossians 2:13 -   And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of our flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses.  He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us  and opposed to us, and has taken it to the cross. (I think the NIV says it was nailed to the thankful!!)