Tuesday, June 16, 2009

GET OUT!

I came across this interesting and arresting quote today:
"...The word ‘mass’ is said to be derived from the final sentence of the old Latin rite, ite missa est. In polite English it might be rendered, ‘Now you are dismissed.’ In more blunt language it could be just, ‘Get out!’ – out into the world which God made and God-like beings inhabit, the world into which Christ came and into which he now sends us. For that is where we belong. The world is the arena in which we are to live and love, witness and serve, suffer and die for Christ..."
John Stott, New Issues Facing Christians Today

Timely words from Stott. For me, his words form a not-so-gentle reminder of why I and millions like me are cluttering up this planet.

In times like these when evil appears to be swallowing good at an unprecedented rate, it can be bewildering for believers. Many of us may find ourselves depressed, with the temptation to withdraw into the safety of our church walls, and develop a siege mentality. But if good refuses to engage evil, out there where it lives, what hope can we ever have of overcoming it?

No, we were created for such a time as this. We can never forget for a moment Jesus' own words to Peter that on the rock of revelation that Jesus is the Christ He would build His church, and the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18) But we must BE the church as God designed it--each of us in close relationship with Him, bound to each other in love and unity, and with open hearts and hands extended to the world beyond, as the salt (preservative) of the earth. We must attack evil as God designed--not lobbing volleys of disgust and condemnation at sin from our safe positions behind the church fortress walls, but charging into the culture to engage sin in hand-to-hand combat, while embracing the sinner with Christ's love, demonstrating a better way.

History has shown that the church flourishes under pressure. We've had it awfully easy in the United States up until now. Let's not be the first generation of the church that wilts in fear and retreats at the first sign of pressure. Let's re-order our priorities, make sure our hearts are right, find our identity, power and confidence in Christ, and in humility, GET OUT!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

MORE HAPPY THINGS

In reference to my last post, and at the risk of appearing Pollyanna-ish, I just wanted to share a few more of the little things in life that make me happy, in hopes that they'll bring a smile your way, too.


This is Mickey Doodle, one of Gene and Donna Harris's two Yorkies. He is the crazy one. The serious looking one with hair in his eyes is Moseby. And he is the serious one. They are my little buddies in the absence of my own dog, who is staying with friends in ATL.


Another joy: Clematis vines that grow against the garage in the shape of a heart and bloom profusely.


Metal flowers made by artisans somewhere around Eureka Springs, Arkansas:


Light filtering through leaves:



"Surely you have granted him eternal blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence." --Psalm 21:6

HAPPY AS KINGS


Many years ago, when my niece was just a little girl, she cross-stitched a sweet, tiny picture for me that said this:
"The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings."

That innocent yet confident declaration comes back to me whenever I find joy and wonder in the many feasts for spirit, soul, and senses that surround us all in life on this earth. It's something that happens often.

In these days of personal, national, and international turmoil and uncertainty, however, I confess that the cares of this world sometimes cloud my ability to see all the good stuff. This is sad, and wrong, because I am convinced that God has purposefully put all sorts of wonders in front of our eyes to give us happiness in the hard times, and more importantly, to remind us of his presence and love at all times.

Here is a case in point. Years ago on a mission trip I visited the nation of Estonia when it was still part of the USSR. To our team, first-time observers of the communist world, it seemed the darkest, most depressed place on earth. (That was until we went to Moscow.) I wrote in my journal then that everything there seemed colorless, in faded grayscale, like old World War II newsreels. Yet in the midst of the capital city of Tallinn, there was a flower market that had the most diverse, unusual, and colorful flowers that any of us had ever seen. Everywhere people were buying and giving flowers. One of the young women I was with marveled at this and asked God why they had such fabulous flowers in this cold, northern land with a very short growing season. Her impression from the Lord was that he had provided the Estonians with the flowers to give them color and joy in their drab lives and to let them know that he was with them. Sure sounds like a God-thing to me.

Today I had just such a reminder of God's presence and love in the gray times when I photographed the simple verbena blossoms from the backyard that you see posted here. In it's brightness, it seemed to be enjoying the perfect weather we had today just as much as I did.

Gazing at this little flower reminded me once again that the world really is full of gifts from God that bring a stronger, purer joy than the riches and power of kings. We just have to have eyes to see them. Stress and anxiety blind us. Gratitude to the Source of all we have brings the good stuff into sharp focus. God help us all to look around ourselves, see, and be glad.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

TWO PATHS DIVERGED: MAKING THE BIG LIFE DECISIONS - Part Trois

Here are the last of my insights on major decision making. I hope, readers, that you will offer some of your own.



3. GOD’S CHALLENGES (AND THE STAKES) ONLY GET BIGGER. Nothing challenges your faith, endurance, and insecurity like raising your own financial support, but nothing else grows and strengthens you so much. (Well, I’ve heard that marriage does that.) Once it seemed to me an insurmountable task to raise $1,000 for a two-week mission trip. As my confidence in God’s faithfulness grew, along with my needs as a full-time missionary, it took a lot more to scare me. In fact, I was feeling pretty good about my faith level one day after receiving an unexpected, large financial gift from someone I hadn’t been in contact with for years. Then I sensed the Lord’s internal voice saying, like a pin in my balloon, “Betsy, the faith challenges will only ever get bigger.” Oh well.

This is true of life as well as finances. God’s design is to grow your faith and character, and this only happens when you embrace increasing levels of challenge. This is why it’s never wise to dismiss an idea only because it seems bigger than you are. Often, that’s the very indicator of God’s will. He has something to prove to you, about you. He also has something to prove to you about himself.

4. FEAR AND LACK OF MONEY ARE NEVER REASONS NOT TO DO SOMETHING GOD WANTS YOU TO DO. Obstacles have a design. Some are placed in our paths to prevent us from doing something foolish or off God’s purpose; others are put there just to be overcome. Fear and lack of money are the latter. An old pastor of mine always used to say, “Where God guides, God provides.” It’s true. He has plenty of courage available to you to overcome fear, and plenty of monetary and material provisions to overcome lack. Let’s assume you’ve prayed, sought wise counsel, considered the ramifications of your possible choices, listened for the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and chosen a course that you truly believe is God’s will. If self-doubt, fear of failure, fear of man, fear of (fill in the blank) and/or wondering how you’ll ever pay for your choice is the only thing stopping you, trust God and go ahead. (See how that works in tandem with No. 3.?)

NOTE TO THE WISE: Know, however, that your decision will be tested over and over, but God will never fail you.

5. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY. Remember that FAITH is Factor No. 1 in the big decisions. Scripture says that in this life, we see in part, prophesy in part, and know in part (I Corinthians 13). This does not mean that we should entertain the doubts that will inevitably bombard us in our decisions, only that we will have them. But in faith we make our decisions on our best knowledge of ourselves, our Lord and his will that we have, and know that he will accomplish his purposes for our lives. Besides, don’t you think a tiny bit of uncertainty lends a little thrill to it all?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

TWO PATHS DIVERGED: MAKING THE BIG LIFE DECISIONS - Part Deux

“Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.” – Proverbs 19:21

In my last post, I had just decided to leave my enjoyable life and government job in DC to become a missionary in Latvia, largely because I knew that if I didn’t go, I’d always wonder what might have been. That was a question I was not prepared to live
with. For some people, other factors would have had priority over answering the “What if?” question, things like security, family, or career. These are vitally important, and we are all different. For me, it was important to go. I felt it was God’s will, first of all; then, I felt it was a great way to make the most of being single, since I had the freedom to do it. So off I went into my excellent adventure.

So many challenges to my faith, my pluck, and my abilities ensued that I couldn’t even count them. Through it all, though, I learned much more about making major life decisions. Here are a few of them:

1. FAITH IS THE KEY INGREDIENT IN ANY DECISION. Scripture says that “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6), and I would add that without faith, it’s really impossible to move forward in life. We can pray, get advice, make our lists of pros and cons, sweat, worry, cry, ad infinitum. (Believe me, I’ve done PLENTY of that.) But it the end, it’s faith in God’s goodness, his guidance, and his equipping for the task ahead that enables us to make the big decision, take the calculated risk, and walk forward in it with confidence. Faith is just as essential to decide that the new path is not the right path, as sometimes staying the course is the way forward. Faith even comforts us that if we do make a wrong decision, God is well able to redeem it as only He can.

2. TAKING HOLD OF A NEW CHALLENGE MEANS LETTING GO OF SOMETHING ELSE. When I decided to raise my own support and go to Latvia my congressional coworkers, depending on point of view, marveled either at my insanity or bravery. One woman whose life was a stunning success by any worldly standard, ranked in The Washington Post as one of Washington’s fifty most powerful staffers, told me that she envied me for having the guts to follow my dreams. She confessed that she could never do it. Granted, I didn’t have nearly as much to lose as she would have. Still, I had to let go of everything and everyone dear to me to embrace this new life, and there was never a moment when that sacrifice didn’t hurt. Yet I would do it again in a New York minute, because I’ve learned that taking on something new almost always necessitates letting go of something old, even if it’s only old attitudes or fears. And this, too, takes faith.

Stand by for Part Trois. And don't forget to comment with your own discoveries about making major life decisions.

Monday, June 01, 2009

TWO PATHS DIVERGED: MAKING THE BIG LIFE DECISIONS - Part I

On Stages of Life (www.stagesoflife.com) this week I read a question from a twenty-something woman asking for advice on whether she should move to a distant state to take a good job opportunity or stay home, close to family and lifelong friends. I immediately felt myself tumbling through a mental time tunnel back some years when I faced a similar dilemma. All over again, I felt the swirl of conflicting emotions, the flood of pros and cons, and the competing voices of would-be counselors buzzing in my head. It gave me empathy and excitement for this young woman, and I started to fish through my head and heart for wisdom I could pass along to her. And I believe I found some.


In my own story, I was pushing forty, had a life I loved, and a secure congressional job in Washington, DC, the place I love more than anywhere else on earth. But there was a competing dream in my heart, to be a missionary and a nation re-builder in the former USSR. That’s when I got invited to do just that in the Republic of Latvia.

The dreamer and the practical in me suddenly clashed in sharp conflict. This was the kind of thing one does during one’s college summers, not in mid-career. I would have to raise my own financial support, which means I would actually have to ask people for money. Lots of people. I would be 8,000 miles from home in a land I’d only visited twice, briefly. My mother, a widow, was getting up in years. Would I go so far from her, not knowing how much time she might have left? It all rolled around in my head through many sleepless nights.

After a few weeks of this misery, I phoned my wise and dear friend, Dolly Gilbert. It was she and her minister and Renaissance-man husband, Jim, who had first taken me to Latvia with a mission team. Dolly solved the dilemma for me with one question: “Betsy, if you don’t go, you’ll always wonder, ‘What if . . . ?’ Can you live the rest of your life with that?”

No, I realized, I could not. For me, it would be better to make a mistake and come home, short a little time and money, than to wonder what might have been. My decision was made. The result was ten exciting, enriching, scary, stretching, delightful, hard, fun, and wonderful years in a land and with a people I grew to love like my own. (See photos of Latvia with this post.)

Of course, not every decision comes out so well. Every person has a different set of circumstances and priorities, as well as a different temperament and tolerance for risk. And, of course, for the Christian believers among us, discerning God’s will is Factor No. 1. But I’ve found that making the “what if” question part of my criteria for making big life decisions is a good and useful thing.

There’s more to come. Stay tuned for Part II. Also, share your own big-decision stories. Leave a comment!

Places to See