Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lack What You Withhold

The 4th line of our challenging prayer reads: I am willing to lack what You withhold. I don't like being in a state of not having enough of something or being without. It has been common knowledge that my greatest lack the past six months was a home of my own. Now, that need has been supplied and yet I still lack the finances I'd like to fix it up to my tastes. I lack a flesh and blood daughter. I lack time with my sons. I lack time with close friends and family. At times, I lack love from my spouse. There have been periods of my life when my lacks have been so intense I thought I couldn't handle another day.

When I need to realign my perspective on this subject, I turn to two women in the Bible who struggled with the lack God withheld from them. In Genesis 29–30, Laban’s two daughters are introduced. Leah was the oldest daughter. She had weak eyes–perhaps she was delicate or not attractive. Rachel, the younger daughter, was beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and agreed to work seven years to win her as his wife. When
Jacob woke after his wedding night, he found Leah in his bed!
Consider Leah’s predicament. I can only imagine the humiliation and hurt Leah must have felt that night. My heart aches for Leah as I think of the words Jacob might have said to her that night, thinking she was Rachel. Of course, we are all thinking, “How could this have happened”? We can only speculate, but the most plausible explanation I have read so far is that Jacob had probably indulged in much fine wine at his wedding reception, thus being too drunk to know who was with him. How sad!

A week later, Leah’s problems were compounded when Jacob married Rachel. Leah was overshadowed by her younger sister because her husband loved her sister more than her. So, God gave her children. What intrigues me most about this account is what Leah said as an explanation for the name she gave each son. I think her words reveal her deep pain and desire. When Reuben was born, she said, "It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now." And with Simeon, she stated, "Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too." And then when Levi was born, she was convinced, "Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons." Her fourth son, Judah, held the only ray of hope in this story, "This time I will praise the Lord."
Again, I feel for Leah. Her husband did not love her and so she turned to other things to make her feel loved and worthy. She hoped that by doing or being something, she could gain his affection.

Now, we turn to Rachel. She had her husband’s love but she, like Leah, was unhappy.
She had no children and her sister was having babies (boys, no less) left and right. She had what her sister wanted, and her sister had what she wanted. Rachel tried to fulfill her lack by blaming Jacob, crying and whining to him “Give me children or I’ll die”. She expected him to be able to meet this need. When he could not, she took matters into her own hands and gave her servant to her husband and adopted the resultant child as her own. 

The competition heated up as Leah followed Rachel’s example and gave her servant to Jacob as well. Again, the words they spoke at the birth of each child is deeply revealing. At the birth of Dan, Rachel said, "God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son". And for Naphtali, "I have had a great struggle with my sister and I have won." And Leah exclaimed when Gad made his entrance, "What good fortune." And for Asher, "How happy I am! The women will call me happy!" Both women are so consumed with their rivalry, they aren't thinking clearly.

Rachel was still not satisfied. Her attempt to satisfy her deep lack had failed. Desperate, she turned to drugs–a home remedy of  mandrake plants which were considered to give fertility. Rachel was trying drugs, if you will.

Next we see that Leah’s desires were still not met even after having six sons (counting her servant’s sons). It seems that Leah’s sexual privileges were withheld from her. Another lack. She accused her sister, “You took away my husband”. And so she “hired” Jacob in exchange for some mandrake plants. What a lovely arrangement these two women had!

This time, Leah had two more sons. Issachar, after whose birth she said, "God has rewarded me for giving my maidservant to my husband" and Zebulun, "God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons." It strikes me as sad that after all this time, all she wanted from her husband now was some honor and respect.

Finally, God gave Rachel what she had longed, manipulated and schemed for. Joseph was born from her own womb. "God has taken away my disgrace. May the Lord add to me another son," were her words. Isn’t it interesting how each sister had what the other wanted and yet each was still unhappy and unsatisfied? No matter what the lack was, they were both in pain and jealous of the other. Rachel blamed her husband and Leah blamed Rachel. They both took matters into their own hands and tried various methods for fulfilling their lack. And when God was gracious and gave Rachel what she wanted, it was not enough. Desires are like that. They are insatiable. Even when we get what we lack, we want more. 
We all experience some lack at some time in our life. Some lacks are small but others causes deep pain due to an unmet desire. Our soul screams, “Give me _______ or I’ll die!” And we will die inside if we do not deal with this pain in a Biblical manner. We will end up bitter, unhappy, in despair or worse, convinced that God doesn’t care. So we have to change our focus from the lack to the One who withholds. We have to look at his character first and see what he says about our needs. When we accept by faith that he will supply all our needs, then we can accept by faith that we do not lack our needs today.
God says a lot about this subject in his Word:
  • The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. Ps 23:1
  • Call on the Lord, fear him, cry to him and He will satisfy our desires. Ps 145:16-19
  • God knows what we need before we ask him. Matt 6:8
  • Ask and you shall receive. Jn 16:24
  • He will graciously give us all things. Rom 8:32
  • God will give you strength to be content in all circumstances. Phil 4:11-13
  • God will make all grace abound so that we will have all that we need. 2 Cor 9:8
  • God will meet all our needs according to his riches. Phil 4:19
  • God’s power gives us everything we need. 2 Pet 1:3
During the toughest days of waiting for my own home, I tried to remind myself that I had a bed to sleep in, food to eat, a place to bathe, access to internet and a supportive partner at my side. My basic needs were met. Now that I have my home, I still need to practice these principles or I will be like Rachel and quickly want more.

So, what is your lack? What is being withheld from you? It might be helpful to fill in the blank “Give me ________ or I’ll die.”
How have you been trying (or tried) to deal with your lack?
How can you get your focus back on the One who lovingly cares for you?
Father God, I acknowledge that I lack things I so desperately want and feel I need. I confess that these desires have consumed My heart and mind. I also confess the wrong ways I have sought to fill my lack. Lord, today I tell my soul again that you will supply all my needs and that you will give me grace to help be able to say "I am willing to lack what you withhold." Amen.

Christmas Around the World

Two weeks ago, I began moving into my new home. If you were to visit me today, it would not look like Christmas in my house. And how would you know that? What makes Christmas, Christmas? If you could describe Christmas in one word, what would it be?

I think you would probably describe Christmas with words such as: snow, presents, trees, decorations, kids, advent, family, fun, white, green and red, lights, Santa, elves, reindeer, sleigh, holly, angels, stockings, poinsettias, wreaths, or manger scene.

When I look at these descriptors, I am struck by how many are bound by location and culture. For instance, we were in Indonesia, snow would not be on the list. In Papua New Guinea, poinsettias grow year round in large tree-like bushes. And Australians might have seafood barbecue, camping and boomers. Christmas crackers are an important part of Christmas in the United Kingdom! You see, much of what we do to celebrate our Savior's birth is culture bound. Let me illustrate by sharing several vignettes of Christmas around the world.

As you probably know, I grew up in Papua New Guinea. It never got below 60 degrees where we lived. So the weather on December 25 was the same as any other day. My mother attempted to add the familiar trappings of Christmas. We had a pine tree with mostly homemade decorations, and we enjoyed a limited number of gifts and lots of good food. She made a tasty cinnamon roll tea ring each Christmas morning and I was sure to find an orange or apple and a chocolate bar in my stocking. We lived in a village that had a small church. When people have no Scripture in their own language, drama becomes a vital method of sharing the Christmas story and capturing the attention of all ages. Let me quote Vida Wolter, a single missionary teacher who shared  a particularly memorable pageant with us one year.
As the last light of evening faded into a star-splashed Christmas Eve, we left the house and joined the crowd which gathered from all seven villages.  
Lighted torches provided flickering illumination and smoky heat into the already warm and humid night, while masses of unseen but fragrant blossoms provided tropical incense. Muted drums hushed the excited chatter as the narrator shared the ancient story. Scenes progressed from Elizabeth and Mary's reunion, through the journey and the arrival in Bethlehem. 

Out of the darkness teenage shepherds emerged herding village children covered in burlap and crawling on all fours. Most had never seen live sheep but they had learned well how to baa-aaa. Suddenly the angel appeared, and not only the shepherds, but also the sheep, were struck down in amazement and terror, only to be encouraged by the heavenly visitor to go to the stable and see the child.
Next arrived the wise men from the eastern sector of the village. Dressed as sophisticated explorers in boots, pith helmets and sunglasses, with cameras slung over shoulders, three coal-black men peered through binoculars made of bamboo as they followed the star which sailed majestically over our heads. When it stopped its journey above the simple stable, the three searchers pointed with enthusiasm to the goal of their journey. There, lying in a wooden box filled with dry grass, the newest village infant voiced his complaint at his role as the Christ Child.
Off in the shadows a growing commotion caused a wave of fear to sweep over the village children as soldiers appeared sent by King Herod. Brandishing long machete knives, the young men shouted, "Ol pikinini man it go we? Mi laik kilim i dai." ("Where are the little boys? We must kill them.") So real was the play to wide-eyed young children, that they cowered in terror trying to hide, while parents and friends called out, "No young boys here; search elsewhere!"
The final scene that night portrayed the less accurate demise of wicked King Herod. He had come to Bethlehem himself to check on the progress of his soldiers in carrying out his evil command. Instead, they turned and began beating him and carried him, kicking and screaming, off into the shadows beside the rushing river which flowed right behind the pageant site. Beyond reach of the pungent torches, darkness hid the last act, but all shuddered as a boulder splashed into the angry river and a scream faded off into the night.

Later, I became a missionary myself to Indonesia. I felt right at home in the tropical heat
on Christmas Day. It was so warm that many years we spent the afternoon by the beach or a resort pool. Christmas in Indonesia is mostly celebrated in churches with big programs on Christmas Eve and a service Christmas morning. A movie about Jesus is also often shown on television around this time even though Christians are a minority in Indonesia.

Part of our ministry was to develop local forms of art and music for use in church worship. The Christmas Eve I remember most vividly was when my husband worked with a local artist to make wayang puppets to tell the Christmas story. These two dimensional paper figures were silhouetted behind a screen by a light shining on them. It ranked right beside the village pageant as one of the most unique Christmas pageants I have ever seen.  The puppet show was followed by a Sasak dance set to a Christmas carol played by the traditional gamelan orchestra. This orchestra is made up of gongs, and xylophone type instruments. I believe that the familiar story of Christ's birth takes on new meaning when communicated through unconventional means. 

Although the way Christmas looks and is celebrated is very different around the world, there are some things about it that are universal. Perhaps one of the words you first thought of was: love, joy, peace, merry, festive, reverent, glorious, light, togetherness, family, giving, helping.

These words point to what Christmas really is. No matter where you are in the world, Christmas is love, joy, peacein other wordsthe Gospel! God loving us so much he became human to die in our place. It is not the lights, the snow, the gifts, the music, even the manger scene itself. We could every one of us celebrate Christmas without all these. But what we cannot do without  what is described in Hebrews 2:14-17.

Because Gods children are human beingsmade of flesh and bloodthe Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying... it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people.

What is essential about Christmas is that we know the Savior. That we recognize Jesus gave up his rights as God to become a human being made of flesh and blood. That we acknowledge that while he was uniquely God, he also cried and needed feeding and changing and educating because he was human.

You see, only someone who was made of flesh and blood was able to fulfill the requirement for a blood sacrifice to take away our sin. And only One who was also God could fulfill the requirement for that sacrifice to be perfect and without sin. God took on the only form that could die, and once and for all, died in my place. He died a public death so that there would be no doubt that he had died. And he died with arms outstretched so that all the world would be embraced (James Bryan Smith). That is Christmas the world over!

So as I close here, think again of that word that you came up with to describe Christmas. How can you use thatwhether it be the tree or the lights or the decorations or the food or whateverto remind you of what Christmas really is? How does or can that point you to the Savior this year?

For instance, while I don't have many Christmas trappings in my house today, I did make sure I found one thing in my boxesa wreath made by a dear Indonesian friend out of Sandalwood. Seeing this wreath on my front door reminds me of Nella who made it for me and who is now with Jesus. It reminds me to pray for Muslims in Indonesia to know Jesus as their Savior. It's scent points me to fragrant gifts that I can give to Jesus this year. 

I encourage you to enjoy the trappings of Christmas by making them into symbols that remind you of deeper meaning so that not just Christmas, but JESUS is celebrated around the world.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

God's Big Answer to my Big Prayer

Have you ever prayed one of those prayers you wish you hadn't? Well, I did last March. My pastor challenged me to ask God for something big. So I asked God to sell our home in Pennsylvania in such a way that it would be so clear that He had done it. In my mind, that meant a super quick sale at above asking price! Wouldn't that be a great miracle?

Instead, the house sat for eight months before we received our first and only offer. The price was lowered, lowered again, raised and lowered again. The roof didn't meet mortgage standards so had to be replaced (from slate to composite). Then all roofers were booked up due to a long winter and hail storms. And when a roofer was finally scheduled, rain was forecasted. On top of this, the market in which we were trying to purchase in Texas looked bleak. Houses were selling at above asking price in multiple bidding situations within hours of being listed. This seemingly impossible scenario meant prayer, more prayer, and still  more prayer. 

As always happens, there were many lessons learned from the long wait: getting my heart really ready to release the old home, letting us concentrate fully on our new ministry and getting to know our new location, time to live with my dad to reestablish our relationship, allowing my husband to come to grips with purchasing in Texas, understanding anew what missionaries experience when they travel so much, come on home leave and live as guests in a host country. As the process unfolded and dependence and trust increased, I asked God that we have only enough return on the sale to get the home of his choice here in Texas. Don't get me wrong, there were hard days! Days I curled up and cried my eyes out, days I let myself acknowledge that this was hard. I tried to be real about it, while not losing hope.

Then after six months of "homelessness", it all came together in one week - the week of my husband's birthday, our RENEW retreat for missionaries on home leave and our Pennsylvania settlement. We were two weeks into an intense search for a new home. We had still not found a house we were willing to buy so we looked at a total fixer upper. That night, I couldn't sleep, partly because I started feeling nauseous with stomach flu, but also because my head was filled with potential plans for how to make the total dump we had seen that day into a lovely home. I decided we needed to see the house again. I contacted our realtor and arranged an afternoon showing, hoping I would feel up to it by then. No new listings were showing up on my email list.

An hour before our scheduled showing, our realtor texted to tell us to meet her at a new address, one not listed. Upon inquiry, we discovered that she had been on the phone earlier that day negotiating another deal. She asked him if he had any homes he was getting ready to list. That led to our showing on Yvonne Place in Richardson. My husband knew immediately upon entering the house that it was the one. I was less certain. I had seen several that I could have lived in and so this one wasn't all that different. The difference was that Mark liked it and was willing to commit. And he promised me an updated kitchen! That was enough for me. We gave an offer that afternoon which was accepted by midnight that evening.

I didn't jump up and down and immediately announce it on facebook. I felt like a woman newly pregnant who doesn't want to share the news until she is past certain stages of development. We knew that this house needed foundation repair and so waited for a quote and to see if the seller would pay.

At the end of the week, the seller agreed to pay for the foundation repair, so we proceeded with the purchase. That day was capped off with news that the settlement on our house in Pennsylvania was completed! What an answer to many prayers worldwide! Prayers for every step of the process, every negotiation, the roof replacement, the weather. The news was carried far and wide so more prayed and more got to participate in the miraculous answer to prayer.

God certainly answered all our prayers (and the prayers of people worldwide). We got a house before it was even listed on MLS. The seller paid for foundation repairs at a cost that was equivalent to what we paid for our roof replacement. We were able to make an offer before anyone else even knew the house was on the market and so there was no bidding war. We settled in three weeks and had enough from our sale to pay closing costs and put twenty percent down. Our new home is in an excellent location - a quiet cul de sac only 1.5 miles from the Christar office. And God provided the contract before our trip to Pennsylvania with settlement in time for us to move out of my dad's so my brother and his wife can move in (they are on home leave from South Africa)!

God answered my big prayer! I don't believe God's answering was dependent on my prayers, meaning, I don't think I am that powerful to determine God's actions. Rather, that our continued praying produced dependence and a reminder of where all things come from and who is really in charge. He will do the same for you! It probably won't be in the way you imagine and it may mean lots of waiting and inconvenience. But he does hear our prayers and I believe He loves to get the attention and the glory!

Psalm 21:1a, 4, 5 In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry. May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. May the Lord answer all your prayers.