Gunfire at Christmas

The call came early on Christmas morning. Gunmen, enraged over a tribal dispute, had gone into a church and shot worshipers on Christmas morning. My husband was the mission director for the province where the incident occurred and our breakfast guest the head of a mission’s aviation service. Within minutes my husband and guest were out the door headed to the airstrip. I began to make phone calls trying to contact police, who in the country where we worked, took holidays off, so I spent a lot of time with ringing phones and no answers.
As missions is a creative profession, a “Plan B” was hastily pulled together. Doctors, ambulances and police all took the day off, so we got in touch with a network of Christian workers in Morobe Province who dropped their plans, gathered vehicles and headed 40 miles out of town to the airfield to which the wounded would be taken. Hours passed between the time flights took off to pick up the wounded and bring them to a hospital and the time those planes landed in Lae. The area hospital was offering no surgery on Christmas, or Boxing Day so the wounded had only the medical assistance missionary workers could render on board small aircraft and a lot of prayer on their behalf. The transport took several hours and it was 10 hours between the time my husband left home and when he returned.

That made for a very different sort of Christmas. It was a sunny day and in the southern hemisphere, Christmas is a summer time holiday. There are not many “special occasions” but we made Christmas a very important holiday in our home. Gifts were under the tree and a well prepared meal on which we’d splurged a small fortune grew tepid on the counter. I was home alone with our son, and about 3 PM after six hours of patiently waiting for something Christmas-like to happen he asked me, “Mom, is today still Christmas?” I thought a moment and replied, “Yes, son. Today is why we need Christmas”.

Not every disappointing Christmas is marked by gunfire, but it is not uncommon for Christmas to be a hard time of year for many. This is often greater for Christians who feel an added dose of guilt if they are not enjoying every moment of the holiday in the way they feel they should. It’s as if the joy of the day somehow accentuates the sadness they feel inside and they feel sadder for being sad. I had years when I struggled with the same thing but that Christmas marked by gunfire changed my perspective.

If you are feeling sad this Christmas, celebrate the fact that God knows you in your darkness. He came as Light to the World. He cares about the sorrow and willingly is called “The Man of Sorrows”. He sees our sense of hopelessness and declares Himself, “The Hope of Nations”. He feels our loneliness and comes as “Emmanuel” that we remember “God is with Us”.

Joy is not a feeling, it is a perspective. For all who are filled with laughter and happiness and loving all things Christmas, that is a joy that shall not be taken from them. But there will be Christmas days in life when your feelings will not rise to meet your expectations, when sorrow will be palpable and trouble shadow your celebration. Christmas is for you, too. It is your day as well and the perspective you have on the days when life is not so merry reminds you why He came. It’s a worthy way to celebrate and you appreciate the fullness of Christmas for the times that are not so “merry”. Be thankful for these days too. Your perspective is richer for the lean times and more mature for knowing Him in hard times as well. A joyful Christmas to you.

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How to Deal with Debt – Part 2

You’ve left college and now are facing a mountain of debt. This can be terrifying now. The good news is, as a Bible College graduate, your debts are less than those of your counterparts. I first started this blog for one Bible College in particular which costs  30% less than the state’s public university. So imagine you had 30% more debt for four years. Your theological education is looking a lot more affordable. Now, with a good attitude, there are many things you can do to help yourself become free of debt more quickly.

First Things First

First and foremost, as I said before, “Tithe. Give to missions. Be responsible”. God rewards faithfulness. My husband and I know this firsthand. For 37 years the Lord has cared for us and He will prove faithful to you too. Start giving. Do it now.

We married the week after graduation. We drew a line around our lifestyle and did not expand it no matter how much we earned. Don’t love the world or the things of it, because the love of the Father isn’t in them. Not only will you find that freeing, but you will get out of debt a lot faster. Frugality is an adventure you can enjoy. Learn to love Freecycle and Savers.

It is unlikely you will get your dream job just out of school and unhealthy if you did. We had our first paid position when we went to the mission field at age 31. While you are working to pay off your debts, whether you are in a paid church position or not you should be serving Jesus faithfully in ministry in a local church.

You might be thinking, “That’s not financial advice”. Yes, it is. It is biblical and sound financial advice. Now the nuts and bolts.

To Parents Who Are Reading This

A number of parents have asked me how they can help their children. If you own a home and your interest rate is lower than the rate of your children’s loans, you can pay off their loans and take a line of credit against your mortgage. Many students have unsubsidized loans at 6.8% and if you have a mortgage at 3.6% you will save your adult child thousands of dollars by helping them this way. This is not code for, “Stick mom and dad with the bill”. If you can do this and your adult offspring is responsible, then by all means do so. How you handle their repayment to you is a family matter but many people simply have their child pay the difference between the original mortgage payment and the increased amount.

For Everyone Else

Most of you will have parents like our son’s. His parents don’t own furniture made in this millennia. This means you must find other ways to pay down your debts. The first thing to know is to never default on your debt. It will ruin your credit for seven years and it is not ethical. As a Christian you have an obligation to repay the money you borrowed.

Pay off your highest bearing interest loans first. If you have any extra money at all, even if it were $5 over and above your regular payment, send it a separate check with a note that says, “This goes against the principal”. If you send in extra money the loan company will apply the extra to your next payment rather than the principle. Your goal is to pay down the principal as quickly as possible. Also be aware that your interest rate is usually discounted if you make automated payments.

Talk to your loan provider over any issue of concern. Your loan provider does not want you to default. They will work with you for income based repayment plans. Earlier this year I worked with a pastor who was paying almost 70% of his income to school loans. He is now paying closer to 20% of his take home and his interest rate has been reduced. Although he had asked for assistance in the past and been declined, he prayed and persisted. The loan company will not call you and say, “Hey, pay less, because we would so love that”. They need to be sure you are not shirking your responsibility. When they are confident of that, they will want to work with you to ensure you are able to make payments. It is in everyone’s interest for you to faithfully pay back all you borrowed.

If you must refinance or choose to consolidate, shop around for the best deals. Another useful link with good information can be found here. Be sure to deduct the interest you are paying on your taxes. This will save you money which you can apply against another loan payment.

This link discusses a number of options. One creative option is doing work from home where they company directly pays your loan provider. You can chip away at those loans even when you are looking for work by working online to have them paid directly. If you are not great a budgeting, this might be a wise choice for you.

Lastly, it takes a life of faith to live a life of faith. Every generation has challenges and yours is no exception. A friend of mine says, “If you are not living on the edge, you are taking up too much room”. Work. Sacrifice. Go the extra mile. All those Biblical things you have studied. “Give and it will be given to you, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” (Luke 6:38) There is no greater waste than if you live life worried about your finances, dissatisfied with your blessings and disengaged from serving the cause of Jesus Christ. God made you for better things.

The Great “Who Is”

Sundays come and go. We sing to the Nameless “You”. We sing of being ravished by love, wanting to shout it out, jump, freedom (x7), and other nice things that happen to us. We don’t sing using the Name of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor of the Son of God who shed His blood to ransom us back, nor the Holy Spirit who indwells us. We do not sing of the sin from which we are blood-washed, the joy of salvation by the grace of God Incarnate. Often I think we should just rename it “we-ship” since we focus on our feelings, thoughts, reactions and how well it is going for us. Today, a pastor friend expressed her feelings after a morning of service saying, “I was singing like Jesus is my boyfriend”.

I laughed but with a heavy heart. Neither of us were raised with any Bible knowledge but as the Bible says, through the “foolishness of preaching” and the proclamation of Christ in song, we were changed. I’m a 10 years + older than my friend and hymns were not our chosen genre (think Crosby, Stills and Nash for me and she’s so young I don’t know) but as much as we joked about tunes in 9/8 time, we sensed God’s Spirit’s present when the church sang about Jesus, the Lord Almighty, the Maker of the Universe, the Son of God Incarnate who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire. Yes, music has modernized and we are glad for it. But we did not need to stop singing truth. Our God has a Name and His Name still makes my heart soar. We actually can sing “This I Believe” and we should.

NEWSFLASH: WE ARE NOT UNITARIANS

Unitarians have no name for God. They are lovely people who believe that it is possible but not mandatory that there exists a Nameless Great Gender Neutral Someone/thing/force who can’t really be known except as we/you/me/they/he/she/ze/e* perceives said Being. Unitarian optimists hope, in the wishful sense, that when someone dies they go to a better place. Unitarian pessimists just let people live on forever in their hearts. There is no assurance of anything since nothing can be known. They normally meet in very nice landmark churches with rainbow flags out front. They are not more welcoming than we are, but the one thing they firmly believe is that should A Great Who-Is exist then He/She/It welcomes you to that house of faith (or doubt) depending on your faith or faithless orientation.

Their music is as pallid as their belief: God has no name.

Our God Has a Name

Our God has a Name. We should sing it. We should proclaim it. We should shout it from the roof tops. We live in a post-Christian era when people simply cannot be expected to guess their way into the gospel. They don’t need to guess if we spend our services proclaiming Jesus Christ the Son of God. We are called to ascribe worth to Him. It is not a 45 minute sing-a-long led by a coach who tells us how to act like we are blessed. We don’t need to pretend if God is really there. We need to sing the truth and proclaim it clearly and with the joy that truth still resonates within my heart 40 years after I first heard it.

As my friend shared, she spoke of a teen, for whom time on earth would seem quite limited. He came to church for hope. When she asked him the subject of the songs, he replied that he presumed the songs were about God but had no clear idea they were about Jesus. Forty-five minutes of what might have been joyous song-filled proclamation of Christ, gave way to “singing like it was to a boyfriend” and this young man still had no clear hope.

Young People Change This

Each of us is called to reach our generation and train the next. I can’t sing or write like I am 20-something. Someone 20-something can and must create music that sings the unashamed, unabashed truth that Jesus Christ came to save sinners and if He is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself. If He is not lifted up we and all who hear us will be bored to numbness. Don’t blame your pastor or worship leader. Fix it. Write songs worthy of the Son of God. Stop rolling the dice with visitors. Stop rolling the dice outside the church with other people’s souls. We are saved by One who deserves that we sing with beauty and power and promise. When a lost person meets you he or she should not leave without hope. May we always be ready to share the only name given among men by which we might be saved: The Name of Jesus.

*ze/e are new alternatives that a famous university is providing so students can choose their own pronouns

(Yes, I will pick up on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit tomorrow. I just had to get this out of my system).

Healing – Part Two

What Makes a Person Truly Healed?

Those familiar with New Testament Greek know the words we translate in English as “saved” or “healed” are based on the same root ‘sozo’.  Yet, we know that being healed and being saved are not the same thing.  Though it has stunned me, I have seen people healed of terminal cancer, terminal heart problems, and survivors of impossible car accidents, who walked away from the faith.  If you met them today, you would never know they had believed. Physical healing does not guarantee salvation.  People can be healed but not “made whole”.  There are people who do not cling to Jesus and so their healing will ultimately fail. The same cannot be said of those who are cling to Him no matter what comes.  Everyone who has placed their hope in the Lord can say with certainty,  “And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God”.  (Job 19:26) On my tombstone I want these words inscribed, “From this place, I shall rise” because I am certain that  in a very short time I will enjoy all the benefits of total healing as I walk the New Earth and speak with my God. Complete physical healing was paid for in the atonement and is the absolute, unshakable destiny of all who believe.

Affirming that truth does not diminish the importance of praying for the sick.

If Jesus Healed Everyone, Why Can’t We?

Jesus did not, in fact, heal everyone but it is a fact that everyone for whom He prayed for physical healing, was healed.  As my husband has wisely observed, “Unlike us, Jesus always knew the Father’s exact purpose and perfect will and acted accordingly.”  Jesus’ miracles demonstrated His Divine nature.  Jesus rarely healed the same way twice. He spoke. He spat. He made mud.  He healed in crowds.  He healed people alone.  He laid hands on them or He didn’t show up at all and just gave an order.  If we learn anything from the healings of Jesus in regards to our own ministry it is that healing is not related to methodology.  If Jesus did nothing of Himself but did only that which He saw His Father doing, we should approach healing prayer with a sense of holy dependency.

If Jesus did not heal everyone, it should not surprise us that we do not either. God has gifted individuals within His body with a special gift to heal (I Cor. 12:9) and told us when we are sick to call the elders for prayer (James 5:14).  When burdened for someone we love we have every right to “pray about everything” (Phil 4:6) and in praying for their healing  we do so secure in the knowledge that the answer does not depend on us, but on One Worthy to Open the Scrolls. I have a perfect God with perfect vision, perfect timing and a perfect nature.  The answer as I perceive it might not be the final answer at all.  The purpose of healing is never physical healing in and of itself. God’s great desire is that “all men might be saved”. (I Tim 2:4)  God wants everlasting ‘sozo’ for everyone He created.

Healing and Wholeness

So where does that leave us?  I come back to my favorite “wholeness” story in scripture: Jacob.

In praying about my paralysis the Lord gave me an answer many years ago using the story of Jacob.  Jacob was a robust man the night he wrestled with the Angel of the Lord. He was so strong, he wrestled till dawn.  Then the Angel of the Lord touched his hip and put it out of joint. For those who have never had a hip go out, I am told it is agonizing.  In spite of his pain Jacob, hung on and refused to let go until he received a blessing. In his “disabled” state he got what he asked for:  his name was changed to Israel and he realized that he had seen the Lord Himself.   Jacob had a big night. It just cost him his hip and he limped for the rest of his life.  ( Gen 32:31-32)

Which version of Jacob was “most whole”?  Was the non-limping, pre-theophany Jacob “whole” because he didn’t limp or was the observably disabled man who was given the name Israel a man more whole than he’d been when his hip was in place?  Jacob met God face to face and left with a mark of physical dependency.  His “observable brokenness” was the visible reminder of the most amazing night of his life.  God valued Jacob’s long run wholeness over his ability to walk without pain. He was “healed” with a limp.

Exodus 4:11 and Healing Ministry

Most people have not heard sermons on Exodus 4:11. “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (Ex. 4:11)

As surely as people are born with brown eyes, or long legs, the Lord creates some born blind or deaf or mute for His own purpose. They are not “sick”.  They were created as they are.  Even those of us that have become disabled may pray for deliverance and receive the answer,  “My grace is sufficient for you”.   Paul prayed three times, got an answer and moved on.  Not everyone is intended to be “delivered or physically healed” of what we might think is a “disability”.

How does that impact healing ministry? As stressful as it might be, we need to be discerning.

Ask anyone who has an observable disability and they will tell you how difficult it is to respond to an altar call.  It doesn’t matter what the message is on, if you move forward, people tend to swarm you and pray for physical healing.  That can be very distracting from the work the Spirit of God would do in your heart. I know I am not alone in staying in my seat so I can actually concentrate in prayer. Something is not quite right when disabled people have to expend a lot of energy keeping other people comfortable with their disability.

Last night a young man shared how he has been called out from the platform, an unpleasant experience I have also had.  One night  I was responding to an altar call to intercede for the lost, when the speaker interrupted my prayer and challenged me to “throw away that cane”. Not wanting to make a scene I motioned to speak to him privately and told him the Lord had answered me on that and I tried to return to prayer. Unfortunately,  he persisted so publicly that I had to leave the service because the focus on lost souls was being totally overshadowed. At first I just sat in my car and cried in frustration but a moment later, I caught myself laughing a bit realizing that a man wearing contact lenses was challenging my faith. Apparently it had not crossed his mind that if he applied his theology to himself, then he should have pulled his contacts out of eyes and tossed them to the floor, claiming 20/20 vision was “his birthright”.

“We walk by faith and not by sight” even in healing ministry.  “Sozo” is God’s heart for His people, and His desire is that they might be forever saved and healed.  If we pray for the things He loves, we cannot go wrong.

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