#Lent14 — Let’s Get Creative

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts. In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom. We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

A reading from First Samuel.

Now the LORD said to Samuel, “You have mourned long enough for Saul. I have rejected him as king of Israel, so fill your flask with olive oil and go to Bethlehem. Find a man named Jesse who lives there, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king.”But Samuel asked, “How can I do that? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”“Take a heifer with you,” the LORD replied, “and say that you have come to make a sacrifice to the LORD. Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you which of his sons to anoint for me.”So Samuel did as the LORD instructed. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town came trembling to meet him. “What’s wrong?” they asked. “Do you come in peace?”“Yes,” Samuel replied. “I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Purify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” Then Samuel performed the purification rite for Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice, too.When they arrived, “Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the LORD’s anointed!”In the same way all seven of Jesse’s sons were presented to Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.” Then Samuel asked, “Are these all the sons you have?”“There is still the youngest,” Jesse replied. “But he’s out int he fields watching the sheep and the goats.”“Send for him at once,” Samuel said. “We will not sit down to eat until he arrives.”So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes.And the LORD said, “This is the one; anoint him.”– 1 Samuel 16:1-6, 10-12 (NLT)

This is the Word of The Lord.

Last week, we introduced you to the 10/40 Window. That swath of the world that sits between 10° and 40° north of the Equator and spans from the east coast of Japan to the west coast of Africa. It’s the part of the world that is home to every major monotheistic religion. 85% of the poorest of the world’s poor live there as well.

It is also home to 47 out of 50 of the nations on the 2014 World Watchlist. These are the nations where the persecution of Christians is the highest. They are also the nations where it is the most difficult to be a missionary. These are countries with no religious VISAs. You can’t go in and say, “Hello, I’m here to be a missionary.”

Yet, God calls us to go to ALL THE WORLD. Even the hard part. Even the dangerous part. Even the part that is controlled by powers hostile to Christianity. God calls us to the WHOLE WORLD.

For many years in missions circles these nations were referred to as “closed nations.” Yet, God, in His wisdom and grace, has given those whom He has called to these nations “creative” ways to go. Therefore, we now call these places “creative access nations.”

In our Scripture passage, Samuel is given a pretty frightening call. He’s told to go to a city called Bethlehem and find a new king. This is problematic for Samuel. He’s already anointed a king. His name is Saul and he’s still living and reigning. To go and anoint a new king at this time is tantamount to treason.

Samuel points this out to God.

Notice God’s response. It wasn’t to change the mission. Samuel was still to go and anoint a new king. Rather, God gave Samuel a creative way to go to Bethlehem and accomplish the mission.

Creative access.

God uses this same technique today. Every nation on the planet has specific needs that can be met by God’s people. When God calls a worker to a nation, He will give a means to go. He will give creative dreams, plans, visions, and ideas to get into (and stay in) that particular nation. Some examples of the creative means of going are: tourism, photography, business, teaching English as a second language, and attending university.

Workers in creative access nations don’t merely use these means as “cover” for the real work. These means are the real work. During the course of their work, they encounter people who are hungry to know about Jesus. They live out their lives as Ambassadors of the Kingdom, and in their faithful representation of the Kingdom they bring light into the darkness. They proclaim the beauty of Jesus in the messiness of the world around them.

They proclaim that a new King is coming. Just as Samuel was sent to Bethlehem to proclaim. These workers go to where they aren’t wanted. They go to where danger exists. Yet, the do so because they’ve captured the heart of God for those nations.

For our family, the workers in these nations have captured our hearts and minds. God has called us to come alongside them to bring them life and hope and rest. He has also called us to make the church aware of the work that they do in these nations. He calls us to share with the church what He is doing around the globe—even in those places least reached by the gospel.

Would you consider partnering with us in this call? Here’s a couple of ideas of how you can do so:

Pray for us.

There is no way we could do the work that God has called us to do without your prayers. If you’d like to receive a prayer card to remind you to pray for us, email us at prayer@ledbytheword.com with your name and address and we’ll send one over.

Support us financially.

The work we do is expensive. We are currently booking travel for the Summer of 2014 that will take us points within the US, Central America and Northern Europe (budgeted at $6,000). If you would like to help us met this need, then click here to be taken to Get The Word Out! (they handle all our financial stuff) donation page. Be sure to select “Michael and Stephanie” from the drop-down. Or, you can mail a check or money order made out to GET THE WORD OUT! (due to IRS regulations, we ask that you include a note in the envelope designating the funds for Led By The Word or Michael and Stephanie) and mail it to:

Get The Word Out!PMB 3211610 Pace Street, Unit 900Longmont, CO 80501

Invite us to speak.

We love to talk about our friends around the world. We love to share what God is doing around the world. We would love to come and visit with you, your church, school, small group, camp, training school or conference. We love to talk about missions, prayer, Islam and worldview. Reach out to us at admin@ledbytheword.com and let’s schedule a time!

Caleb on the way to Central Asia

Caleb on the way to Central Asia

 

#Lent14 — A Challenge to Bless

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts.  In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom.  We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

A reading from the Book of Genesis.

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all families of earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him.

Genesis 12:1-4 (ESV)

This is the Word of The Lord.

This is a tough passage for me to write about.  There are so many directions that I want to go, yet knowing that if I go all of them then this blog post would turn into a small book.

I could talk about how Abram is called to go to another country.  How that relates to the call that we have to leave family and home in order to take the message of the gospel of the Kingdom to far-flung corners of the world.  How it is everyone’s responsibility to answer the call to go.

Perhaps, I could draw parallels between Abram taking Lot along with him.  How it was the culturally appropriate thing to do, but really served to weigh Abram down in the process.  When God calls us to go, it often requires us to do things that are out of our cultural comfort zones.  Even though something might be culturally appropriate in our home culture, it might be a weight for us to take with us into another.

I could talk about how in these few verses we are presented with the whole gospel–we are blessed to be a blessing.  The whole of our existing is to be pouring the blessing we have received back out onto those whom we meet.

Yet, what I want to talk about is the idea of blessing.

Blessings are statements that give life and serve to call out of people those gifts and callings that God has given you.  Blessings position the recipient to live out the bottom half–“…to be a blessing”–of the whole gospel.

One of our favorite things that we find in the culture of Central Asia are blessings.  They are deeply imbedded in use language and culture.

For instance, in Turkey (and there are forms of these in other Central Asian cultures) as you are walking along the road and you see someone working, you say, “Kolay Gelsin” which means, “May your work come easy.”

Or, when your served food or drink the server will say “Afiyet Olsun”–equivalent to Bon Appetit–and your reply is “Elinize Sağlık” which means, “Health to your hands.”

When you arrive at someone’s home or place of business they will say, “Hoş Gelmisiniz”–“The blessing has arrived.”  You reply, “Hoş Böldük”–“The blessing is already here.”

It’s a beautiful part of the culture.  It’s one of the places where we see the Kingdom of God in the people and culture.  See, imbedded within each person on the planet are pieces–DNA–of the Kingdom.  All humankind is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  We are the Imago Dei.   As God’s image-bearers, whether we follow God or not, we have pieces of that Kingdom DNA inherent within us.  So, when we go to a new place or meet new people, one of the first things we do is seek out those pieces of the Kingdom that already exist.  These then become the foundations from which the Gospel of the Kingdom can be proclaimed.

The culture of blessing is something that I believe we are lacking in the western church.  We have all but regulated the phrase “Bless you” to a sneeze response instead of a calling out of God’s graces in a person.  It’s time we change that.

I challenge you over this week to bless people.  Bless them to know the Father.  Bless them to know the path to which they are called.  Bless them to have ears to hear His voice.  Bless them to be the person that they are created to be.  Bless them in their coming and going.

When you put your kids to bed, bless them.  Husbands, bless your wives.  Wives, bless your husbands.  Bless your co-workers.  Bless your enemies.  Bless the barista at Starbucks.

Get into a habit of blessing.  Make it a part of your being–after all, you are the Imago Dei (God’s mirror image).  It is in your DNA.  I bless you to be a blesser!

Go deeper than “God bless you.”  Ask God to tell you what He wants to say to that person through you.  And, then, say it.  Speak life over them.  Call them into their God-given destiny–into the person that God created them to be.

Over each of you, I pray the blessing (my paraphrase) that the Levites prayed over the people of Israel and that has been prayed over people for thousands of years (Numbers 6:24-26):

May the LORD bless–impart life to you so that you can walk out your God-given destiny–you.

May the LORD keep–hold you in the palm of His hand surrounding you on all sides: above, below, to the left, to the right, in front and in back–you.

May the LORD turn His face–look at you in the eyes as if you are the only one on the planet–to shine on you.

May the LORD be gracious–kind, full of mercy, abounding in love, and grace (prevenient, justifying, sanctifying) giving–to you.

May the LORD give you peace–not an absence of conflict, but Shalom (nothing missing, nothing broken).

Praying at First Presbyterian in El Paso, Texas.

Praying at First Presbyterian in El Paso, Texas.

#Advent13: An Ancient Path

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings.  We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom.  Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.  Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

The desert will rejoice, and flowers will bloom in the wastelands. The desert will sing and shout for joy; it will be as beautiful as the Lebanon Mountains and as fertile as the fields of Carmel and Sharon. Everyone will see the LORD’s splendor, see his greatness and power.

Give strength to the hands that are tired and to knees that tremble with weakness. Tell everyone who is discouraged, “Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue, coming to punish your enemies.”

The blind will be able to see, and the deaf will hear. The lame will leap and dance, and those who cannot speak will shout for joy. Streams of water will flow through the desert; the burning sand will become a lake, and dry land will be filled with springs. Where jackals used to live, marsh grass and reeds will grow.

There will be a highway there, called “The Road of Holiness.” No sinner will ever travel that road; no fools will mislead those who follow it. No lions will be there; no fierce animals will pass that way. Those whom the LORD has rescued will travel home by that road. They will reach Jerusalem with gladness, singing and shouting for joy. They will be happy forever, forever free from sorrow and grief.

— Isaiah 35:1-10  (GNT)

The Word of God for the people of God.

Isaiah is writing to a people in exile.  These are a people who have been through it—and most of it of their own accord.  They failed to follow God. They were exiled from the land that was promised them—a land that they never fully occupied.  And, now, on the banks of the Euphrates they wonder how to sing the praises of God (Psalm 137).  The Prophet—the same one who told them they were headed for exile—tells them that a road is being paved on which they will head home.

Isaiah’s prophecy doesn’t just hold hope—confident and joyful expectation in God’s goodness—for the Israelites waiting rescue from the grasp of their captors.  It holds hope for us.

As we travel throughout the world and talk to front-line workers, one of the—almost unanimous—prevailing themes that comes out of those discussions is that they are tired.  The are worn out.  The work is hard.  It’s long.  It’s often without immediate fruit.

One of the things that God has challenged us to do in our ministry to the “give strength to the hands that are tired.”  To speak courage to them.  To remind them of Who is on the throne of the Kingdom in which they live.

On more than one occasion as we have sought out the word of the Lord for where we were to go, this passage has been a part of that word.  A reminder of the call with which God has challenged us.  Go.  Give strength.  Speak courage.

And, that’s what we do.  Our “mission” is to speak life.  To impart blessing.  To pray over.  To give courage.

One of the most important things that you can do for us—and for our friends in the nations—is pray that we readily recognize the “Road of Holiness”—the ancient path.

In another of the exile prophecies, Jeremiah (6:16), tells the people to “stand at the crossroads and look.  Ask for the ancient paths and where the best road is.  Walk in it, and you will live in peace.”  Pray that we will always know which is the ancient path. That we may be able to stand alongside the workers in the nations and help them see the ancient path.  That we may strengthen them as they walk along the path.

It is the ancient path that we walk between the first lighting of the Advent Candles and the lighting of the Christ Candle.  It is the ancient path that leads us from the now to the not yet.  It is the ancient path that takes us from our home in Edmond into the nations and back again.  It is the ancient path that leads us all into the nations—be it physically, in prayer, through finance, or inviting the nations to us.

Strengthen the hands that are tired.  Give strength the the legs that are weak.  Speak courage.  Speak blessings—impartations of life that call one into their God-given destiny.

And, in this, we see the Kingdom come.  We see the now move closer to the not yet.  We see God’s desires accomplished in the nations.

An Ancient Road, Perge, Turkey

An Ancient Road, Perge, Turkey

#Advent13: One Candle At A Time

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings.  We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom.  Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.  Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

A reading from the Book of Romans.

But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God.  The night is about over, dawn is about to break.  Be up and awake to what God is doing!  God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work He began when we first believed.  We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight.  Get out of bed and get dressed!  Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute.  Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!

— Romans 13:11-14 (The Message)

The Word of God for the people of God.

One of our great pleasures in our ministry is being able to share with the Body of Christ in the West what God is doing around the globe.  How He is working to bring people to Himself.  How His people are preparing the way for the Kingdom to come.

We see these evidences of Kingdom coming on every continent.  We see it happening in situations where it doesn’t look (at least on the surface) like anything good could come out of them.

The Kingdom is coming!

Paul, in this letter to the church at Rome, uses a beautifully poetic phrase to tell the church to be ready for the Kingdom.  “The night is about over, dawn is about to break,” he proclaims.

Zechariah in his prayer/prophecy over his son, John the Baptist, uses this same language:

…Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace. (Luke 2:78-79, The Message)

The Kingdom is coming.

God’s Sunrise is breaking in.

Dawn is upon us.

Light emerging out of the darkness.

Orderly order coming out of chaos.

And, here, on our way to the manger, we sit in the near dark.  One candle lit, three yet to go, and then that beautiful Eve before the dawn of Christmas, when we light the Christ-candle.

Isn’t that a bit like our own lives?  We sit in the light that we know God has graced us with.  We shine in dark places as that light.  We gather with other lights and bring brighter spots on the globe.  All the while knowing that soon, God’s Sunrise will break through.

We live not longing for light.  Rather, we live as light longing for brighter light.

That’s the beauty of the Kingdom.  We don’t just yearn for heaven.  We live out heaven both in the here and now as well as in the not yet.  Therein lies our hope.  Not that we can’t experience the Shalom–nothing missing and nothing broken–of God now, but rather that it comes to us now.

In bits and pieces.

Ever growing.

Ever expanding.

Like the breaking of the dawn.

It starts as a flicker in the sky.  Then a line across the horizon.

And, even though it comes to us now, we also know that there will come a day when it’s fully realized.  When the sun is bright and high in the sky.

In our text, Paul gives us some instructions on how we should live in this in-between time:

Be up and awake to what God is doing!

We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight.  Get out of bed and get dressed!  Don’t loiter or linger, waiting until the very last minute.  Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!

Don’t sit as a lone candle in the darkness.  Be on the move!  Following the Spirit where He leads.  Using your candle to light other candles.

One-by-one.

Until the whole world is awash in the Risen Son!

First Century Oil Lamps in the Antalya Museum

First Century Oil Lamps in the Antalya Museum

Are You On Furlough?

We’re home.  Back in the good ole U, S, of A.  But what are we doing here?

We are often asked about the coming year.  What does it look like?  Are you going back overseas?  Are you getting a job?  Etc.

So, we thought that we’d take a moment and try to formally answer those questions.

The short answer is we are home and are still on the field.

God has called us into a work that requires both being overseas and being home.  It is a call that includes the US and the rest of the world.  It really is a two-point charge (to put it in Methodist terms).

Here’s how that works.

God has called us into a ministry of coming alongside front-line workers.  In this charge, we head into the nations (or to a location here in the US as we did last year in Longmont, Colorado) and come alongside the workers.  Our mission is to provide manpower for projects, help them sort through their vision, provide leadership development, ask questions, and–most importantly–pray over them.

Lots of prayer.

Workers on the front-line consistently tell us two things.  First, they’re tired.  Second, they feel like the church in the West has forgotten them.

We see our work as one that attempts to answer both of those comments.  “On the field,” our objective is to give them space to rest.  It’s to ask the questions that will help keep them on the field.  It’s to simply “be” with them.  To drink tea with them.  To talk with them.  To love them.  To pray with them.

Our second charge is to come back to the West and tell the stories.  To help the church not forget them.  To remind the church of the work that God is doing around the globe and ways in which they can partner with that work.

So, here’s where you come in.

We firmly believe that God has called us into a season of “telling the stories” throughout 2014.  We are looking for churches, small groups, schools, living rooms, coffee houses, etc in which to sit and talk about the work that God’s doing around the world.  We would love to come and visit you–wherever you are–and tell the stories.  We’d love the opportunity to share with you about the places we’ve been, the people we’ve met, and the things we’ve seen God do.  We’d love to share with you about some amazing people in some amazing places doing some amazing work.

If you’d like to chat about scheduling a time for us to be with you, then click over to the contact us page.  If you’re interested in coming and visiting with us when we’re in your area, then check out our schedule page to see where we will be and when.

So, no, we’re not on furlough.  We’re just walking out our calling step-by-step.  Join us on the journey!

Michael Speaking at First Presbyterian, El Paso, Texas.

Michael speaking at First Presbyterian Church, El Paso, Texas

Lent 2013: “God, Do It Again!”

As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.

A reading from the Psalms.

It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned Zion's exiles. We laughed, we sang, we couldn't believe our good fortune. We were the talk of the nations—”God was wonderful to them!” God was wonderful to us; we are one happy people.

And now, God, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives. So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest. So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.

— Psalm 126:1-6 (MSG)

God was good to us.

God is good to us.

God will be good to us.

As I write this, it is late evening. The last call to prayer of the day should ring out from the nearby Mosque by the time I'm finishing writing and editing this post. I sit in our team hotel surrounded by my family. Our fantastic teammates are in their rooms scattered throughout the hotel.

We are so honored to be here with these folks. They hail from three countries: the US, Canada, and Australia. They are diverse. They range in ages from fourteen months to seventy. Married couples, families, and singles.

As we worship each morning, I often will look around the room and just be amazed at what God has brought together in this team.

And, in those times of worship and prayer, we pray as the Psalmist did:

“God, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives. So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest. So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.”

We walk through the streets of this city and see the faces of countless people. People who have quite possibly never heard the name, İsa (Jesus). People who only know God as He is presented in the Qur'an–distant and moody.

Yet, this is the same port from which Paul and Barnabas set sail for Antioch in Acts 14:25. Once upon a time, this was a land that understood who İsa was. It was a land where God was relational.

And, so, we pray: “God, do it again.”

And around this hotel people who answered the call to head into the harvest prepare for bed on a Tuesday evening.

Yet, we are but a few here temporarily. Many others across this nation go to bed tonight in homes they rent or own. In major cities and small villages. They sleep.

Wondering.

Praying.

Hoping.

That tomorrow the people of this rich and beautiful land “will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.”

They pray for breakthrough to come.

So, tonight (today for you reading this) we pray for their strength. We pray for their encouragement. We pray that they will not grow weary in well doing.

And, we pray–as İsa asked us–that “The Lord of the harvest would send forth laborers into His harvest.”

Praying for one of the laborers in the harvest.

Praying for one of the laborers in the harvest.

 

Lent 2013: “Bootie”ful Feet

As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.

A reading from Paul's Epistle to the Romans.

And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

— Romans 10:8-15 (NLT)

The day before we left Edmond to come to Central Asia, we were told we had a gift waiting for us at our home church–Acts 2. So, happily, I drove over to pick it up. It was four pair of hand crocheted booties. There was a pair for each of us. For so many reasons (cold concrete floors, you don't wear shoes inside house–to name a couple) this was one of the most practical gifts we've been given.

These booties were carefully crocheted for us by a member of our home church. Her name is Jeannie. She is a very active 89 year old lady. She teaches writing classes, Sunday School, crochets booties, and blesses everyone she is in contact with in ways one could only imagine.

The first time–and every time since–that we have put on our booties, we've whispered a prayer for Jeannie.

There's something important to notice in the Scripture reading. The whole thing about beautiful feet doesn't apply to just the one who is preaching the gospel. It applies also to those who make it possible for the “preacher” to go–the “Senders”.

“Senders” are not just those who make it financially possible for us to go to the nations.

“Senders” are those who pray for us.

“Senders” are our parents and family members who release us to go.

“Senders” are the pastors (some of whom will be writing for us in this season) in churches around the US who pastor us as we go.

“Senders” are our amazing board of directors who cover us and give us direction.

“Senders” are those who email us notes of encouragement.

“Senders” are those who Skype/iMessage/Facebook/Tweet us.

And, yes, “senders” are those who make booties that keep our feet warm.

My booties

My booties

 

Lent 2013: Caleb and the Dragons

As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.

A reading from the Psalms

Live under the protection of God Most High and stay in the shadow of God All-Powerful. Then you will say to the Lord, “You are my fortress, my place of safety; you are my God, and I trust you.”

The Lord Most High is your fortress. Run to him for safety, and no terrible disasters will strike you or your home. God will command his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will carry you in their arms, and you won't hurt your feet on the stones. You will overpower the strongest lions and the most deadly snakes. The Lord says, “If you love me and truly know who I am, I will rescue you and keep you safe. When you are in trouble, call out to me. I will answer and be there to protect and honor you. You will live a long life and see my saving power.”

— Psalm 91:1, 2, 9-16 (CEV)

Anyone who knows my son, Caleb, knows of his great affection for dragons (both fire-breathing actual dragons and dinosaurs). He loves them, and has for a couple of years now.

The other day in our worship time with our team here in Central Asia, we were tasked to draw out what we felt God was saying about the city or nation in which we are living. I watched as Caleb very meticulously selected pencils and highlighters and markers and worked on his drawing. After some time, we shared what each of our drawings represented. Here is Caleb's drawing, and below is the explanation.

Caleb's Prayer Picture

Caleb's Prayer Picture

Caleb explained that the various colored lines in the outer edges of the picture were dragons. In the center of the picture inside of the “walls” were the people in this city who followed Jesus. The walls were protecting them from the dragons.

As I listened to him explain this picture, and then as various of our team members prayed about the imagery, I kept coming back to today's passage. He who dwells in the fortress that is our God will be protected from the strongest lions and deadliest snakes.

All manner of evil exists in the world. In this part of the world, the danger of following Jesus is extremely real. All sorts of risks are taken by individuals and families who say, “I will follow İsa (Jesus).” Risks that could range from being ostracized from family or community to death.

And here, in the pen of a four-year old boy, we are reminded that in the midst of the dragons there is a place of refuge. There is a place where the righteous can run and be safe.

It is important, however, that we view safety through a different lens. It isn't enough to assume that safety means there will never be a “successful” attack of the enemy. Safety is not God airlifting us out of the places of danger. Rather safety is knowing that as we walk through those places of danger, He is walking with us. He has parachuted into the midst of it and is walking with us through the heat of the battle. It is in this journey with that we find ourselves in the refuge of.

In this Lenten journey, we find ourselves like the believers in Caleb's drawing. We are surrounded by the dragons on every side, yet we rest in the midst. Our table set before us in the presence of our enemies. And, here in this time, we find our Lord not airlifting us out of it, but rather walking along with us through the heat of it.

As we continue on our journey between the manager and the cross, let us not forget those who truly are in the heat of it. Please, stop and pray–even now–for those who are risking family, friends, jobs, and life itself for the beauty of following the Messiah. Pray, not that they would be airlifted out, but rather that God would parachute in and walk with them through the fire. And that in their walking they will be ever bringing their friends and family closer to Messiah, and would be transforming their communities into refuges from the dragons.

 

Journey With Us

Yesterday, we received good news from distant lands.

Our VISA applications for an upcoming trip had been approved!!

I never knew how crazy and nerve-wracking the process of applying to visit another nation could be.

Follow the steps.

Read, re-read, re-re-read every single line of both the instructions and the applications.

Check, double-check, triple-check every page.

Make sure every single ‘i’ is dotted and ‘t’ is crossed.

Attach a credit card number.

Pray.

Overnight all the forms and your passport.

Pray again.

Wait.

Approved VISAs

Approved VISAs

After all that, they tell you it will take ten business days. Then, unexpectedly, you receive your applications back. Four days.

Now, it’s not always–or even often–like that. Most of the time it takes the ten business days–or longer.

I don’t know if the quick turn-around was God’s hand, a lack of VISA applications to this particular nation, plain old hard-working people who really want you to visit their nation, or some combination of the three, but I know it happened and I thank God for His hand in the process.

So, what now?

Following the Christmas Holiday, we will embark on a 3,000 mile tour of the southwest of the US. We’ll visit churches in Colorado and Texas, as well as friends (both new and old) and family in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Arkansas.

We return to Edmond on January 20.

Then, just 10 short days later, we will board a plane bound for a six-month stay in Central Asia. During our six-month stay, we will be primarily in two countries (we might jaunt over to a third country somewhere in the midst of that time) in our six-month (evenly divided largely due to VISA restrictions).

Our first three months will be a combination of further schooling and times of outreach. We will be attending a twelve-week school to help us further understand what life is like “on the field” full-time. This will aid us in working with front-line workers by helping us to understand the realities of “their world.”

In the second half of our trip (the half for which these particular VISAs were needed), we will be focusing on teaming up with some front-line workers who are helping the indigenous church (in both this country and others) to create wholly indigenous expressions of worship.

Throughout the six-months, we will talk with numerous believers (most of whom will be first-generation believers) and hear their stories of redemption. And in keeping with the cultural norms of Central Asia, we will drink copious amounts of tea and eat incredible amounts of Pide and Döner.

Upon our return home in July, we will hit the road again on an estimated 5,000 mile tour of the US telling stories of God’s great works in the nations!

Here’s where you come in.

Our work–taking the Gospel to the least reached–is done on a completely volunteer basis. We do not receive a salary for our work. Thus, we are completely dependent on the faithfulness of God–expressed through His people–to meet our living and travel expenses.

In other words, we need your help. We need you on this journey with us.

Our total expenses for the next six months are roughly $3,000 per month. This covers all of our travel expenses, living expenses (places to stay/food to eat), in-country transportation, insurance, VISAs, etc.

There’s a couple of ways that you can help. First, you could make a tax-deductible, one-time donation. If you’d like to do that, then click here to be taken to our “Partner With Us” page.

The second way is to become one of our ENGAGING THE SPHERES partners. You can get more information by following one of the below links:

Finally, above all, we appreciate your prayers for us as we go.

Thank you for prayerfully considering partnering with us on this journey! We are grateful for you!!

 

Advent 2012: Preparing The Path: Set Apart For Something Bigger

As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emmanuel.

A reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews.

When Christ came into the world, he said to God,

“Sacrifices and offerings are not what you want, but you have given me my body. No, you are not pleased with animal sacrifices and offerings for sin.”

Then Christ said,

“And so, my God, I have come to do what you want, as the Scriptures say.”

The Law teaches that offerings and sacrifices must be made because of sin. But why did Christ mention these things and say that God did not want them? Well, it was to do away with offerings and sacrifices and to replace them. That is what he meant by saying to God, “I have come to do what you want.” So we are made holy because Christ obeyed God and offered himself once for all.

— Hebrews 10:5-10 (CEV)

Todays scriptures bring us to the crux of the matter. Why did Christ come?

Why the angels told a teenaged girl that she was going to have a baby?

Why the trek to Bethlehem?

Why the manger?

Why the feast at Cana?

Why the calling of a team of twelve unlikely guys?

Why the entry into the city on a donkey’s back?

Why the bread and the wine–the body and the blood?

Why the arrest in Gethsemane?

Why the sham of a trial?

Why the cross?

Why the tomb?

Why the resurrection?

It becomes clear in today’s text.

To make us holy.

The message of today’s text is this: All the animal sacrifices and offerings in the world, could never add up to the voluntary sacrifice of the Son of God.

Jesus told His disciples that He came not to do away with the law, but rather to fulfill the law. He came to be the one sacrifice for all. He came to shift us from sacrificing animals to sacrificing ourselves.

In His death and resurrection, Jesus set us apart for something bigger than us. He set us apart for a mission that is so mind-boggingly big it makes no logical sense. He set us apart to make His name great in all the world!

As I write this, some friends are in a small village in the west of Turkey. The rumor is that this village will be one of two locations in the world (the other is in France) that will survive the Mayan Apocalypse. It is estimated that nearly 60,000 people will flock to this peaceful village of about 600 residents. And, in the midst of these 60,000 people, a handful of people are sharing the Good News.

They are sharing that great mystery of faith:

Christ has died.

Christ has risen.

Christ will come again.

It’s a mission bigger than our friends. It’s a mission bigger than the 60,000. But, it’s a mission that Christ set us apart (made us holy) to accomplish.

And, so, with dreams bigger than ourselves, we march on toward the manger. We march with full knowledge that on the other side of Christmas stands a cross. Yet, thankfully, our knowledge doesn’t end there. For we know that the on the other side of the cross sits an empty tomb.

And, on the other side of the empty tomb stands a Messiah with a command:

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

— Matthew 28:18-20 (The Message)