Friday, March 20, 2020

Are You an Even If or Only If Christian?

The tale of Daniel's friends Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace is a favorite Christian story (Daniel 3), with all the elements that thrill our souls: an evil king, righteous men standing firm against the fiercest threats, and a certifiable miracle! But one detail in the tale is often lost in the excitement of God's spectacular intervention. In verses 16 through 18, the men speak to King Nebuchadnezzar.

          Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (NIV)

The men recognized God's unsurpassed power. They knew that no mere man, no matter how vast his empire is or how powerfully he rules over his kingdom, can enact anything that he does not allow. This provides us great encouragement as we pray to God for deliverance in all manners great and small. But we must ask ourselves, does it comfort us when God chooses not to deliver us? Are we willing to sing praise to His holy name when his answer is no? Are we people of the Even If variety, or are we Only If people? The true question is whether we love God for who He is or whether we want Him merely for what we can do for us. My friends, I pray that you and I are the former, for the latter are no true children of God. Let us be people whose delight is in the Lord, who dwell in the peace and contentment of His shelter. Brothers and sisters, we must be like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; we echo the words of Paul to the Philippians from his Roman prison:
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (1:20-21)

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Is Africa Old News?

Is Africa's moment over? As missionaries raising support to return to the field full-time, we have the privilege of contacting American churches by the dozens every week.  We've become accustomed to all sorts of pastoral Christian lingo about why they are not interested in hearing about the ministry in Togo (and, lest we sound cavalier, we empathize with how difficult and sometimes disheartening it must be to feel a constant tension between a mission-minded heart and a budget that just doesn't seem to want to stretch one penny further).

Perhaps the most perplexing response we've received with some regularity, though, is that most African countries (Togo included) are fully evangelized and that their church only desires to hear from and partner with missions to new fields of unreached people groups.  While it's easy to understand the honorable intentions behind such a statement, the mission-minded American Christian church is perhaps short-sighted in such thinking.

In April, the Pew Research Center released a report showing that, by 2060, six of the top ten countries with the largest Christian populations will be on the African continent.  This is probably not surprising news to most who are even marginally engaged with national and international trends.  The rise of secularism in the historically Christian West seems to permeate the news daily.  The increasing representation of African and even Asian Christianity likewise occasional makes news, including earlier this year, when their allegiance to historic Christian orthodoxy blunted the advance of theological liberalism in the mainline protestant United Methodist Church conference.

This news serves as both an encouragement and a warning.  Our African brothers and sisters in Christ are poised to become, numerically speaking, a bulwark against insidious, creeping religious relativism.  Now, more than perhaps ever, the work being done by national leaders in conjunction with international missionaries is of first importance, as African Christians ready to take on an increasingly influential seat at the global Christian table.  Despite impressive numerical growth, though, African Christianity, including right here in Togo, is still spiritually immature and needs careful mentoring, discipleship, and theological training.

Christianity on the African continent is easily tossed about by the winds of syncretism.  Syncretism is especially a problem in a drop-and-dash model of missionary engagement, where the emphasis is on conversion numbers amongst unreached people groups, rather than the slower, more relational and less glamorous work of creating, maintaining, and replicating systems of discipleship and advanced pastoral training.  The other major threat to African Christianity comes from false teachers, especially proponents of prosperity gospel, which unscrupulously rides in on the backs of the work of previous orthodox missionaries who laid the groundwork for belief in Jesus, only for those beliefs to be hijacked and heretically corrupted in the name of personal gain, prosperity, and happiness.

Is Africa's moment over?  No, far from it!  In fact, it hasn't even arrived yet.  What that moment will look like and whether or not it will be to the advancement or detriment of historical, biblical Christianity, remains to be seen.  That, my friends, depends on the work being done, right this very moment, by nationals and foreign missionaries, throughout Africa, including Togo.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Living in the In-Between

I love watching my oldest kids growing into adults.  For too long, I was focused on what I was losing - my dependent child, gathered physically under my protective wings.  And don't get me wrong, letting go of that is HARD stuff.  I'm so grateful that I still have seven more kiddos to go, and I can't imagine what I'll feel when my last little ones approach that season.  But as the sadness recedes, I'm left with a sense of wonder, and a need to communicate the beauty of this season to my children.

Seasons of transition are hard.  Sometimes we have hour-plus conversations on how hard it is be in the "waiting period" of life - working towards a future that seems distant and somewhat hazy, but beguiling and enchanting.  In my new "advisory" role, as a parent of an adult child, I find myself dispensing sage truisms about keeping focused on the day-to-day and finding joy in the seemingly never-ending college days.  Ah, but then I realize I must preach those same things to myself every day.  How I need to be reminded most days!

Modern life often seems like a hamster-wheel of racing from one checkpoint to another. Life will TRULY begin after high school, after college, after getting a job, after buying a house, after marriage, after starting a family, after completing a family, after your last child leaves the nest, after retirement, after you get to the mission field.  And those are all potentially good and wonderful things.  God made us, unique amongst his earthly creation, with the ability to dream and plan  But how easily, in our corruptible earthly bodies, are our eyes and hearts turned away from The One Who Knows All Things as we ask him to proverbially hold our jackets while we get to work and that once we've just Arrived, we will be ready for him.  Of course, that's a lie, and a most dangerous one indeed.  We've arrived the moment we were given a regenerate heart! None of this human striving makes us one whit more precious in his sight.  And too often, if you are anything like me, the striving serves as a mighty fine distraction at best and at worst, a source of a low, but steady grumbling spirit that destroys joy.

Instead, sisters (and brothers too, although I do think this is often a weakness that women are uniquely drawn to) let us focus our hearts and minds on Jesus Christ and treasure his Gospel story above all other things.  Determine to know Jesus Christ and Him crucified every single day.  Let that be the water that slakes every thirst, the milk that nourishes your soul, and the wine that you delight in.

Photo Source

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Highs and Lows

Photo source

Sometimes, when we are having one of those "good parenting" days, we ask the kids around the dinner table about their day's highs and lows.  I think we first heard of that in some silly movie before we even had kids, but it must have stuck over all these years. 

 Missionary life for sure often seems like a life of mountain top highs and darkest ocean depth lows.  The highs seem fairly obvious: cross-cultural experiences that broaden your perspective and your wisdom (hopefully!), witnessing the dramatic triumph of light over dark, reliving the childlike joy of a new believer, and so on.  The lows, though, are perhaps less obvious, but they are real.  They include having to live out in a very real way that family cannot come before ministry, that the saying that "home is where the heart is" is trite and untrue (my heart, I can see, over the years will be splintered apart into tens of pieces as my family grows and spreads), and sending out seventy-five emails a week to pastors and churches and being told over and over again that they are not interested in hearing about the Lord's work going on in Togo (an odd choice of phrase from a pastor, if ever I've heard one).

None of those lows are probably surprising to the person who's been on the field or who closely follows missionaries.  But we seem to have a newer (or at least more widespread and popular) low: being a public enemy.  In the wake of the death of John Allen Chau, the young American missionary who attempted to make contact with a remote and hostile people group, it has become clear that more Americans view missionaries as dangerous fools.  My first reaction to the criticism (even coming from fellow Christians) was one of bewildered hurt.  Gone are the relatively recent days when missionaries were recognized, even by ostensibly secular sources, as a force for good in the world.  But I've found that once I moved beyond my feelings of personal ego, that this opposition reinvigorates me for the task at hand.  If my work disturbs and bothers the world, it means that it matters! May the weak-willed, people-pleasing, half-hearted milquetoast Christian who seeks to live biblically without offending a modern secular culture be gone forever. Instead I pray to be a warrior fit for service to Christ.

          Through You we will push back our adversaries; Through Your name will we
          trample down those who rise up against us.  Psalm 44:5

So, paradoxically, that which, at first glance, seems a low, turns out to be a high - a renewal of spirit and courage and a recommittment of mission.  Praise God for the work of His faithful, his human army, that through the ages, from the earliest martyrs down through the present age, encourages us by their righteous example to drop to our knees in prayer and then stand up again outfitted for battle.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What's True in the Light is Still True in the Dark

The difference between darkness and light is hard to describe without alluding to, well, dark and light, day and night.  Perhaps because God has never made a more viscerally relatable theological concept.  Being in a town in a underdeveloped part of Africa has illuminated this to me in a way that I might have never understand in my American life.  You see, the dark of my suburban America, well, it just wasn't that dark.  There were street lights every couple of yards.  Entertainment options abounded after the sun went down. This was not a natural light, but it was a light nonetheless.  The implications of that artificial light and it's false sense of security is a whole other blog post to itself, and one that I won't explore here.  Right now, I'm in a place where, when it's dark, it's DARK.  A world which I'm coming to know and find unique beauty in during the day is a world that, quite honestly, scares me in the dark.  In the dark, you see, the bugs come out.  In the dark, you must carry a flashlight everywhere to watch for snakes.  In the dark, even though I know there is a wall around my house and there are no lions anymore in Togo, there is still a fear of what lurks in the utter blackness that engulfs you no more than a few feet past your eyes.  In the dark, we've had our home broken into, twice, including once while we were asleep, oblivious to the danger.  This stark contrast between my perception of my existence in the light of day versus the dark of night (and some insomnia, thank you, aging mind and body) has driven me into the scripture.  It's led me to be reminded that I was once a child of the darkness, trapped in the fear and uncertainty and danger.  Mortal danger, nay, IMMORTAL danger. 

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Ephesians 6:12

And it's also shown me my greatest and only hope, that I have been saved out of the reach of that darkness.  That I've been brought into the light, into the glorious brightness and transparency of never-ending day - through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God. 

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into into his marvelous light.  1 Peter 2:9

And, praise be to God, this is not just for me.  It is for all who are called, for all who are chosen by the Father to be seekers of the Light.  Because the Truth is the same, even in what appears to us to be blackest, deepest night.  The War has been won.  Darkness has been defeated; it is in its death throes.  We must then labor faithfully at the task God has appointed us to, eagerly anticipating the glorious dawning of the perpetual Day that awaits us.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And night will be no more.  They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.  Revelation 22:1-5

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Missing Christmas

I've been behaving like a spoiled brat lately.  I've been pouting about being hot and sweaty but most of all, about not being able to observe all of my multitudinous holiday traditions.  I've spent more than a little time poring over photos from Christmas's past on my phone and watching others holiday prep on social media.  It's been making me cranky and irritable for the last few days.  I prayed.  I asked others to pray for me, to take away this unholy desire for security and comfort that gripped my heart.  Thank the Lord I serve a God who answers prayer.  And His answer came in the form of a prayer request for someone else, someone who doesn't even know me.  A woman at the hospital just lost her seventh of eight children.  After losing her husband earlier in the year.  Her only surviving child is handicapped.  Her grief is beyond measure.  How can I dare to preach the goodness and grace of the God of the Bible to such as these?  People who have experienced searing, brutal loss that puts missing Christmas trees and delayed moments with family (family that are still very much alive!) into its proper perspective.  Missions work is HARD work.  It will often leaved you drained and overwhelmed.  But one of its blessings is the stories you hear and the way that God weaves those stories into my own life to change me just as much as the people we are evangelizing. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Something Was Missing...

There's nothing quite like Sunday, is there? The day is glorious, as it should be. My heart is just so full as I leave corporate worship. Recently, as I considered that, I wondered how I might make my own personal worship, bible reading, and study capture some of that. I quickly realized that an element that was missing from my personal time with God was music. And not just background music as I go about a task (although that's wonderful, and a way I bring a soothing spirit of peace into my home when tensions tend to run high, like during the morning getting-to-school rush or the "witching hour" right before dinner), but thoughtful singing where I reflect on the words. Have you incorporated music into your personal worship time? How do you do it? I can do something as simple as pick up the hymnal and play and sing, or I can use my phone and find a song on YouTube and use that (I admit, that works nice when the babies are napping). Lately, I've just been finding that Speak O Lord by the Gettys just puts me in the right orientation to God. What are your favorite personal worship songs?