Friday, September 30, 2011

Contentment with Great Gain...

The writer of the 30th chapter of Proverbs say...

"Give me neither poverty nor wealth; feed me with the food I need. Otherwise, I might have too much and deny You, saying, 'Who is the Lord?' or I might have nothing and steal, profaning the name of my God." (Proverbs 30:8-9)

The Apostle Paul says, "...I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I now how to have a lot In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content - whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need..." (Philippians 4:11-12)

And, Paul goes on to say, "But godliness with contentment is a great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these..." (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

Sunday, October 9, 2011 is the observance of World Hunger Day on the Southern Baptist calendar. While the hungry of the world is something that should move us to action each day, we Southern Baptists have at least set aside one day to call attention to the needs of the hungry and more importantly move us to action.

On the average, a member of a Southern Baptist Church gives about 30 cents annually to the Southern Baptist World hunger fund. Yes, you heard me right. Thirty cents. In the United States, I am not sure what 30 cents buys anymore. Not much. Thirty cents, however, overseas, say in the Horn of Africa, will proved a meal for a family. It also will provide a much needed food supplement for a home of HIV/AIDS orphans in South Africa. Thirty cents isn't much to ask and it isn't much to give but it will be sorely missed if we don't give it.

I wish the average Southern Baptist would give 3 dollars or maybe even 30 dollars annually to the World Hunger Fund. What a difference that would make in not only feeding the world's hungry but also sharing the compassion of Christ!

Paul and the writer of the 30th Proverb knew how to be content with much or little. We as Southern Baptists seem to know how to be content with much...but what about little?

I pray that God will move all of us to stop and think this coming World Hunger Day. I pray that He will move our hearts to do something more than just 30 cents worth...

May our "contentment" be of "great gain" to others and not lead us to apathy or worse, indifference...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

There is a Way that Seems Right to a Man...

Devotioning through the Proverbs of King Solomon, I find a recurring verse that pops up almost word for word every few pages...

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but is end is the way of death."

While there are many words of wisdom in the Proverbs, most of them boil down to one thing. True wisdom is fearing God and following His commands. In His commands and in His plans are long life, blessings, better people and even better communities. When we live life individually and collectively in the way that He prescribes, we are better people, better communities and a better world.

It is simple yet profound. It is easy and yet so hard to do.

Jesus said it this way..."If a man really wants to find his life, he must first lose it."

There are many competing voices in the world today that tell us how we should live and who we should be. They range from self-help gurus to advertisers wanting to sell us their products to make us "acceptable" and even popular to others. Our cultural icons of Hollywood, sports and entertainment seem to ridicule us if we don't subscribe to their definition of what it takes to be a success in this world. Theirs is the path to fame, fortune and fulfillment (according to them).

But God says...

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death..."

The laws of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul...

Happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners...his delight is in the Lord's instruction...He is like a tree planted besides streams of water...

And, unless the Lord builds a house, its builders labor in vain...

I don't know about you, but I choose to not to follow what seems right to me. I choose to follow God's way, no matter what...

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the temple than have all the world could offer.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

When There is Nothing Else, There is God...

Our God is a God of compassion. Our God is a God who is on the side of the helpless and the needy. Our western culture teaches us that weakness is generally a bad thing; that we should be self-sufficient and strong. But the Bible says,...

"Happy (blessed) is the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them. He remains faithful forever, executing justice for the exploited and giving food to the hungry. The lord frees prisoners. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord raises up those who are oppressed. The Lord loves the righteous. The Lord protects foreigners and helps the fatherless and the widow,..." (Psalm 146:5-9)

This Psalm foreshadows Jesus' proclamation in Luke 6:20 where He says, "You who are poor are blessed, because the kingdom of God is yours..." Conversely, in Luke 6:26, He pronounces woes to the rich saying, "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your comfort..."

I am convinced that I rob myself many times of the blessings of God because I am so apt to trust in my own resources, my own ways and my own abilities. I tremble at the thought of losing everything so that I can be totally dependent on Him and nothing else. I pray that if life does come to the point where all it lost, I will have the faith that says, "Blessed be the Lord, help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth."

When I see the beggar on the side of the road here in the USA and oversees, many times I am tempted to say, "there but for the grace of God go I."

Maybe I should instead say, "If there go I, may I still trust in the grace of God"...

"Blessed you who are poor..."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Remember the Awesomeness of God...

Devotioning through the Psalms, it strikes me that a number of the Psalms, especially those of David, are a call to remembrance. Since many of these were written to be performed publicly in the temple, I can envision the temple filling up with worshipers, the trumpets and instruments resounding, and the priests coming in, marching, singing these praises to God.

They would be calling the people to remembrance of the awesome deeds of God: His provisions during times of crises, His deliverance from bondage in Egypt, His steadfast hand upon them through their wanderings in the wilderness, His provision to them of a land flowing with milk and honey, and last but not least, His calling and setting them apart as His chosen people. Again, these are not small deeds they are called to remember but great and awesome acts of God in their lives and the lives of their nation.

I sometimes forget to remember. I oftentimes lead my life in such a feverish panting of activity that I forget to remember. I need to remember and praise God for His awesome deeds in my life as well.

Thank you God for giving me life and life with a purpose.

Thank you God for giving me your salvation and grace so rich and free through your Son, Jesus Christ. It did not cost me one thing and yet cost Him everything.

Thank you God for giving me such a loving family to be raised in and for giving me a beautiful family of my own to love, lead, raise and watch them begin their own families.

Thank you God for calling me according to your purposes and allowing me to be on mission with you to the uttermost parts of the world.

"Taste and see that the Lord is good..." (Psalm 34:8).

God, I have tasted and taken refuge in you and I am so blessed.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Nellie's Story...

Her name was Kw'nelle (Kwa-nellie). She never knew her biological parents. She was born into a community in South Africa that has about 50% of its members either HIV positive or in full blown AIDS. In her particular community, an average of 30 people die per day from the complications of the disease. In her larger community, there are over 5,000 child headed households. Because of HIV/AIDS ravaging the adult population, the average age of the head of those households is 15 years of age.

She was born HIV positive. She didn't have a say in the matter. She didn't have a say in the matter either that she was abandoned at birth. This is the world that "Nellie" was born to.

Nellie was taken in by a local ministry and cared for until a week or so ago. She had been on ARV's, medicines that kept the HIV at bay, since a baby. Those medicines combined with the love and provisions of her caregivers were the only things that kept her alive. Until last week.

Nellie passed away. She was 8 years old. She had an infection in her ear that eventually worked its way into an abscess in her brain. The doctors tried. Her caregivers did all they could. Prayer was mobilized all around the world for Nellie. But Nellie's little body combined with the constant battle with HIV/AIDS finally reached its limit.

I had the honor to be at her memorial service. I am an outsider but was overwhelmed with the love of those who knew Nellie. Her 30 "brothers and sisters" at the orphange. Her kind and godly caregivers who had raised Nellie. The members of the community and local churches who had known and come to love Nellie. The memorial was for Nellie but I received the blessing.

There is nothing left for us to do for Nellie except celebrate that she is now at home with Jesus. We can also rejoice that she is not in pain like she was those last few days.

There is nothing left for us to do for Nellie but we can resolve to do something about the specter of HIV/AIDS that so cripples Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world.

We can pray. We can pray that God will lead us to a cure for this terrible disease. We can pray for those working in this field. We can pray for workers and ministries who are tirelessly ministering to those affected.

We can get involved. Our churches or civic groups could pack an In Home Care Kit to be sent to help caregivers and families ministering to those dying of HIV/AIDS.

We can support others that minister in these areas. We can help people like those who helped Nellie even if we can't go and do it ourselves.

I am so blessed. I don't know why God has blessed me so much. I don't know why I was born with all the advantages that Nellie never had. I do pray that I will be a good steward of what God has blessed me with so that more "Nellies" and communities where Nellie has come from can experience a more abundant life.

In memory of Nellie...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mama Mary's Story from the Slums of Nairobi...

This past week, I met a remarkable Kenyan grandmother names Mama Mary. I was helping to conduct a workshop in urban community development with our Baptist Global Response Area Directors here in Africa and we had just finished the classroom work and went out to local communities to practice what we learned.

My team consisted of myself and four Kenyan pastor/leaders. We went to a nearby slum area and met with a small community group to talk about their issues. We went in letting them know that we were learners and were trying to understand from our recent training how to really know a small community like theirs.

We used some key questions to get them to begin participating with us. We also used some mapping and problem analysis tools to talk about the major issues in their community. One of the things that quickly rose to the surface was the fact that they had no water source.

They had one before but it was illegal and the pipe had been cut. They were now using what we in the west would be called a "mud puddle" to get their water. It was basically a seepage area in the middle of the community and it was open to foot traffic of the community, animal contamination and a host of other things that would make any of us gag at the thought of taking a drink from. However, it was the only water they had.

They shared with us the causes of the water problem ranging from no government support to no really good source in the area. They also talked about the results from having poor quality or no water: their children were constantly sick, they had to go a long way to haul water, they spent a lot of time and money in getting water.

During the discussion, we met Mama Mary. She was the "grandmother" of the whole community and the community midwife who had delivered all the babies in that community for the past 50 years. When I asked her how many babies she had delivered during her lifetime, she simply started pointing to all the people gathered in the small room (about 11) and just said as she pointed to each one, "I delivered that one and that one and that one..."

Mama Mary then told us how hard it was for her at her age to get water. She couldn't go the long distances and haul the water back to her house. Since she was the "grandmother" of the community, she would go each day with a glass to every home in that community and ask for a glass of water. She would make her round of about 48 homes and that is how she got her drinking, bathing, cleaning and cooking water for each day. She said (translated into English by one of the pastors with me), "Water is life...without water, life is miserable."

I thought of the story of Elisha in 2 Kings and the widow and the flowing oil. When the containers were exhausted, the oil stopped flowing. But everyday, Mama Mary has to go through her village to collect the blessings of God at the mercy of her neighbors.

Pray for Pastor Patrick (one of our companions and the Kenyan church planter working in that community) as he continues to work with that slum area and share with the member the Living Water. Pray for Pastor Patrick too as he helps the community walk through the process of getting a good, clean water source for their members.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Lord is Patient, But...

I finished reading through 2 Chronicles this morning during my devotions and look forward to beginning the book of Ezra tomorrow. However, there is one final lesson from the lives of the kings that literally jumped out at me today. It is found in the Chronicler saying,...

"But Yahweh, the God of their ancestors sent word against them by the hand of His messengers, sending them time and time again, for He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they kept ridiculing God's messengers, despising His words, and scoffing at His prophets, until the Lord's wrath was so stirred up against His people that there was no remedy..." (2 Chronicles 36:15-16)

God made Himself known to the Israelites as the, "...compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin.." (Exodus 34:6-7). He also made it known that if Israel rejected Him, He would ultimately reject them.

Over and over, God's goodness and His patience is manifested to His people. Over and over they scorn His advances, His love and His provisions for them. And ultimately, they pay the price until God's "wrath was so stirred up against His people that there was no remedy." What a sobering statement.

I am one who celebrates and strives to live the grace of God. However, I wonder if I often, like Israel, tread on God's grace in a way that grieves Him? I wonder if I, like Israel, am testing His goodness to the point of stirring up His wrath? I don't mean to. I think I'm a pretty good person (at least by the world's standard). But, like Israel, do I have have my own idols, my own distractions that easily take my eyes off the Lover of my soul and cause me to try His patience with me?

I pray today that I will be single-eyed in my devotion and service to God. I pray that He will once again wash over me with His goodness and grace and I will be content and satisfied with Him and nothing else.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

It's Not About Our Strength...

The stories of the kings of Israel and Judah in the book of Chronicles and Kings always fascinate me. There are so many life/spiritual lessons to be learned - both positive and negative - from their examples. One lesson that rings true throughout almost every story is that no matter what the strength of a particular king and his army, God is the one who determines the outcome of the battles.

From the stories of the kings of Israel/Judah, over and over, God makes known that He desires their obedience and faithfulness - not their horses, chariots and armed men. God teaches them time after time that the battle is His to win or lose, not theirs. As in the story of Jehosaphat (2 Chronicles 20) when Judah is confronted with a vast hostile army, the word comes to them, "You do not have to fight this battle. Position yourselves, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord...Do not be afraid or discouraged. Tomorrow, go out to face them, for Yahweh is with you."

Conversely, in the story of Joash (2 Chronicles 24), God uses a smaller and weaker Aramean army to defeat and plunder Jerusalem. The Bible says, "Although the Aramean army came with only a few men, the Lord handed over a vast army to them because the people of the Judah had abandoned Yahweh, the God of their ancestors. So they executed judgment on Joash."

From the world's point of view, I guess it would be best to be the biggest and strongest person in the room. Personally, I wouldn't know that. But I do know that from heaven's point of view, it is much better to be the more obedient and more faithful than the strongest, smartest or best looking.

King David said, "Some take pride in chariots, and others in horses, but we take pride in the name of Yahweh our God." (Psalm 20:7)

Unfortunately, I sometimes look for security in my own strength, ways and methods. I find it to be true that I have much more real security when I trust in the Lord and lean to His understanding, not mine.

I pray today that I have the wisdom to let the battle belong to God...