How to Be a Missionary to a Foreign Country without Leaving Town

“Go and make disciples of all nations …”

                                                                                      Matthew 28:19

What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s lunch time at Average American High School, USA. A group of foreign exchange students are assembled around one table – a young man from Sweden, another young man from Spain, a young lady from Japan and her girlfriend from France. A German student joins them without a word; this is their normal routine. Every day they sit together, learning about one another’s countries and comparing their experiences in America. They laugh at themselves as they practice their English, and they promise to visit each other when the school year is over.

Right next to this table is a table full of Christian students. After saying a prayer over their lunch, they chat excitedly about how great the youth group was the night before, and they brainstorm ideas for fundraising. After all, they have to raise enough money by the end of the month to go on a mission trip to Mexico so they can share the gospel and the love of Jesus with people in another country.

HELLOOOOOOOO?! News flash! There’s a mission field less than 10 yards from you! Going there is free! You don’t have to fund-raise! You don’t have to have a passport! You don’t have to get any shots! You don’t have to learn another language! The mission field has already done all that! Yes, THEY’ve done the hard work, they’re here, and now all you have to do is obey Jesus and “preach the gospel” – with or without words.

Maybe my description is an exaggeration. I hope so. But I remember having a French student living with us years ago. Her best friends at the local high school were the German student, the Japanese student, and an American atheist. These girls were always welcome at our house, but whenever they came over, I had to wonder – Where are the Christian kids? Are they clustered somewhere in their little prayer groups and Bible studies, or – worse – trying to remain incognito, with their faith visible only on Sunday mornings?

We have the message the world is literally dying to hear – that God loved all of us so much that He was willing to give His only begotten Son to die in our place, to pay for our sins, so that we could be forgiven, be adopted into God’s family, and live forever! Do we really believe that? Do we really believe what Jesus said about being the only way to eternal life – that without Him we are utterly and eternally lost? (John 14:6)  If we do, then our hearts should be breaking for anyone who doesn’t know the Good News. If our hearts aren’t breaking over a lost and dying world, maybe it’s time to reevaluate our own faith.

Reaching out to the foreign students is a great idea, not only because it is far easier and more economical than mission trips, but also because it’s a great strategy. Think about it: most people in the world are fortunate if they have a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, and food on their tables. The families that can afford to send their children to the US are usually wealthier, more influential citizens in their countries. Often these students are the sons and daughters of political leaders, even heads of state!

Imagine if you shared the gospel with the son of a prime minister, and he made a commitment to Christ. When summer arrives, that student goes home and is asked by family and friends (and the press) about his experience in America. And he tells about his experience in America – in other words, he gives his testimony! He doesn’t need to learn the language, he speaks it fluently! He doesn’t need to work at making connections and building relationships – he already has them! And his country is watching.

When I was in high school, our class had one exchange student. This year just one of our local high schools has 29 of them.

What a mission field! What are we waiting for?

Prayer: Father, You have told us to take the gospel into the whole world, and today there are so many ways in which it is easier than ever to do just that. Make us aware of every opportunity to reach out to others, offering them our friendship, so that through us You can offer them Life, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Who’s Prejudiced Now?

“The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”                                                                                                                                                                             I Samuel 16:7b

As I mentioned in a piece I posted earlier this year (around my 65th birthday), I have recently become more aware of attitudes toward older people. No doubt this is partly because I have entered the season of the empty nest and retirement. But I’m pretty sure another factor is having moved from a town where I was a very active member of my church and community to a town where I am virtually unknown.

I have since noticed that unless a person has already distinguished himself in some way, an older person tends to be relegated to the pews. It seems we are generally not looked upon as people who have much to offer in terms of experience, teaching, or counseling. I’m not sure if it’s because people assume that we’re too tired, sick, or weak to teach, or that our short-term memory doesn’t allow us to focus enough to counsel, or that we’re just plain dumb because we have to ask our grandchildren for help with technology.

Look, I may not know how to switch gears on a search engine, but I’ve known the Lord longer than most of you have been alive, and I’ve been studying the Bible for about five decades now. Are you sure there’s nothing you could learn from me?

One day my daughter asked what I was doing Saturday night. She said a newlywed couple in the church were having some marital problems and needed some counseling. I was excited, thinking, At last! Someone wants to avail themselves of the wisdom I’ve gained over a 45-year marriage!

“So, Mom, can you watch the kids while Sean and I go talk to them?”

>sigh<

I was so preoccupied with my own wanting to be more involved that I didn’t realize until about six weeks ago that I myself had succumbed to this very mindset!

I was in my old home town for an authors’ dinner where I was one of ten authors scheduled to speak and sign books. When the woman planning the event told me that each of us was going to be given about 12 minutes to speak, I immediately did the math and realized that this added up to a total of two hours of speaking! I thought surely we would wear out our audience long before the close of the event.

I didn’t have to worry. For one thing, two of the authors didn’t make it, so that left “only” eight of us.

Secondly, the woman planning the evening had scheduled four of us to speak before dinner and four of us after, so the speaking time was split up.

Thirdly, the sheer diversity of authors was anything but boring! We were young, old, and in between; men and women; black and white; writers of fiction, non-fiction, analysis of controversial issues, inspiring testimonies, devotionals, and poetry.

One of the last authors to speak was an elderly lady with snow-white hair, a long blue lace dress, and a sweet smile on her face. I immediately assumed that she must be a poet – the kind of poet that writes for greeting card companies. I settled myself in for what I expected to be a big yawn.

Shame on me.

This woman spoke of her younger years, the years of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain. There was no internet in those days, and Christians in closed countries had no access to the Bible unless believers from free nations smuggled them in. Well, this is what this lady and her husband did. The very fact that they were such unlikely looking smugglers made it easy. Most countries were more than happy to have these “rich American tourists” as their guests and rarely, if ever, searched their luggage. The couple had brought Bibles into so many places that the title of her book had to be changed from Adventures in Europe to Global Travels of God’s Servants. Her testimony was riveting, and as she neared the end of her speech, she casually added that yes, it was risky, yes, they eventually got caught, and yes, they spent time in prison. She then closed with a hilarious poem about resisting God’s call until He gives up and just drops you on your butt. It was called “Butt Prints in the Sand,” which was, of course, a parody of “Footprints in the Sand.” She definitely practiced the old rule of “Leave ‘em laughing.”

I was thoroughly rebuked.

So, I guess I can’t complain too much about people’s preconceived notions about this sixty-something sister, when I myself misjudged an older saint with so much to share.

I’ll have to be more open-minded and more patient with the closed-minded. But I am still on the lookout for opportunities to speak, teach, disciple, counsel, or testify.

Just don’t ask me to speak on the finer points of configuring a format.

Prayer: Lord, give me an open mind and open heart toward others. Help me to see each individual as a treasure, someone You created in Your image, and someone with a unique gift to share. And make me willing to share what You’ve given me, as Your Spirit leads, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

A Case for Plan B

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.                                                                                                                                                                                                        Acts 16:6-10

One of the most frustrating sounds to me is that little voice in my GPS saying “Turn around when possible.” It means I’ve messed up and have to get myself back on track.

There’s also a voice in the spiritual dimension that tells me “Turn around when possible,” and I’m not in my car. That’s when I find out God has another plan.

The other day I read a blog in which the writer declared confidently (as only an American twenty-something can) that her dream is pretty much set in stone, that there is no Plan B. I saw a bit of myself in her, as I look back on my early dreams and the paths and detours my life has taken since. As I reflect on the many times I set out, determined, in one direction only to have God stop me in my tracks, often turning me around 180 degrees, I can declare now, as only a seasoned Christian can, “Thank God I didn’t get my Plan A.”

There were times when Plan A proved impossible. Plan B seemed like a compromise, and I was ashamed to admit that I had changed course, especially when other dreamers would look at me as though I had betrayed them. Sometimes it even got down to a Plan C, and I seriously wondered whether I would ever find my true calling.

Whatever the plan is, prayer has to be the starting point. Spending hours in prayer  in a solitary place is not exactly every young person’s dream. It’s not nearly as dramatic or glamorous as speaking or singing in front of thousands of people (giving God all the glory, of course) or riding in on my white horse to save the day. But since then the Lord has taught me that these times spent with Him is where the true power lies, and as HIS will unfolds, I have seen more times than I can count that His plan was far better than mine.

Write this down: Your “Plan B” just might be God’s Plan A.

Think of the examples in Scripture where God’s plan was so much higher than man’s:

Joseph’s desire was probably to stay home with Daddy as the pampered, favorite son. Later his Plan B was to make the best of being a slave, then Plan C: getting out of that prison! But God’s was orchestrating His Plan A all along: making Joseph the prime minister of the most powerful nation on earth and using him to save humanity from starvation!

The early Christians had a good thing going, and I would guess their dream was to keep building the Church in Jerusalem. But when persecution broke out, Plan B was to scatter and survive. Of course, this was God’s Plan A from the beginning; Jesus had already told them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news.” (I guess they forgot.)

And of course, the greatest plan of all: our salvation. Jesus’ disciples were focused on their Plan A: following the Messiah in overthrowing Rome and making Israel a free nation – a plan that was seriously thwarted when Jesus was executed by said Roman government! But God’s plan all along was to save ALL Mankind from sin, so that we could enjoy life with Him in the most glorious kingdom of all – forever.

So, what is my goal now? The longer I live, the more I desire one thing: to please my Creator and Savior. And what pleases Him? The Bible says that without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith is to trust in His leading, even when He causes me to change my plans (emphasis on “my“). I want to be in the very center of His will, but in order to do that I need to trust that He knows best and not let disappointments crush my spirit. I have learned that when I am disappointed by circumstances beyond my control, the right response is to be confident that however good that dream might have seemed, God has a better idea.

Faith is not clinging stubbornly to my plan and defying everything around me that might suggest that another plan might be better. It is not refusing to admit that I just might be wrong, just might need my goals adjusted. It is believing that the God who sees all and knows all and wants the best for me may be seeing something I’m not seeing. It is being flexible – not in a wishy-washy way, but praying for discernment, knowing that what might appear to be the devil’s barriers could be the Lord’s boundaries. What I see as the enemy’s roadblocks just might be God’s guardrails. What I see as Satan’s obstacles just might be God’s speedbumps. After all, if we are to go down the path that’s perfect for us, it might be necessary for all the wrong or inferior paths to be closed off.

And faith is trusting that even if I make a mistake, like a GPS God can help me “Turn around when possible.”

It’s committing every plan to Him, and responding to every opportunity, disappointment, advance, or setback in the same way: with prayer. And then watching expectantly  for His plan to unfold.  – Try it.

You might be amazed at how much you end up loving His plan A.

Prayer: Lord, our vision is so limited. We don’t always see what we need, only what we think we want. Give us the faith to give our plans to You, the vision to see Your will for us, and the strength to reject the world’s view of where we should be going. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Growing Pains … or lack of

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Philippians 4:6 & 7

When I saw the email in my in-box, a number of thoughts came to mind, mainly of emotional self-preservation.

Read that one first, I told myself. Then when it says what you’re thinking it says, you can read the others to get your mind off the bad news in the first one. Maybe the others are good news, and they’ll cheer you up…

I had met an acquisitions editor from a major Christian publishing company a couple of years earlier, and we had immediately hit it off. Providentially, her next two appointments were no-shows and we were able to keep talking about the topic of my book – the reasons for “unanswered” prayers, about God’s having better ideas, and of our vision for revival in America. She had seemed excited about the book, and I had given her a copy. Later, having found out that I was expected to write a book proposal (Duh.), I had taken a crash course in book proposal writing and spent several weeks on my first one (66 pages’ worth). Then there had been the waiting, the “touching base” every couple of months to make sure her email hadn’t been misdirected to the spam folder, and being reassured that they would get to my proposal soon.

So, now, about six months later, I was staring at the familiar name in my in box. It had been a while since I had received a rejection letter, but I was familiar with the emotional impact  – the sick feeling in my stomach, the anger, hurt, and resentment, the feeling of inferiority, of worthlessness, the wondering if God could/would ever use me, the sleepless nights, depression… How much worse would this be, from what had seemed like my most promising prospect ever? I was not looking forward to going through those “growing pains” again, but …  Might as well get it over with…

Even as I read the pleasant greeting and the thanks for my patience, out of the corner of my eye I could see the word “unfortunately” and knew my instincts had been correct. And my gut feeling was …

Nothing.

I read through the letter, and it was clear they felt that the focus of my book was too narrow for what they wanted to do in a book on prayer. OK… I braced myself again for the blow; still nothing.

I read other emails, was happy to see that my blog had picked up a couple more followers, prayed over some requests, and got ready for bed. As I went to sleep, I expected a repeat of a familiar scenario  – waking up at 3 A.M. with the reality of the rejection finally hitting me like a punch in the gut, and then lying awake fretting and crying off and on for hours or until the sun came up.

It didn’t happen. As I woke up the next morning, refreshed, a thought came to me …

Could I have grown?!

As I walked the dog and gave my heart to the Lord as usual, I repeated the words that always mean so much to me:

Lord, thank You for emotions that confirm the truth, and thank You that Your truth stands on its own and needs no confirmation from me or anyone else. Thank You that when my emotions lie, they don’t get to define me …

I had expected to be hanging onto that last part like a life line – I’m valuable to God! He loves me! I’m still usable! My emotions are lying!

But today they weren’t! I had as much joy that morning as I usually did – more, actually. The thought of being more spiritually mature gave me a thrill. I thought of the Lord’s giving me “hind’s feet” and setting me on the “high places,” where the tyranny of man’s rejection couldn’t reach me the way it used to. Having thought earlier that “peace that passes understanding” might be the best I could hope for that day, I found myself receiving much, much more. Communing with the One who was ultimately in charge of my life, I actually felt joy starting up, filling me, and bubbling over. The sheer surprise made me laugh and increased the joy even more. I walked with a spring in my step. …

Crazy lady.

The editor had not sent me a generic letter (“Your work does not meet our editorial needs at this time.”) She had described my proposal as “excellent” and my book as “powerful” and “compelling.” Maybe her kind words had something to do with my happiness that day.

I hope not.

Maybe it was that my blog had picked up a couple more followers, or seeing the man at church who had told me earlier that day that things he had learned from my book were still ministering to him after several years.

I hope not.

Maybe it was the fact that having a book published by this major company would have meant traveling and speaking engagements and guest appearances in TV and radio to be interviewed about the book. That thought had made me uneasy (translate: terrified). Maybe cowardice and laziness was the reason I was so OK with the rejection.

I really hope not. Besides, I hadn’t felt relief, I had felt nothing. I can only hope that “nothing” meant that man’s judgment of me has lost its power to influence what I believe and how I trust God.

I really hope so.

Prayer: Lord, help us to keep our eyes on You and not to let man’s opinion sway us, even when it stings. Thank You for the times You have enabled us to rise above the pain of the world’s judgments and believe what You say about us – that we are loved with an everlasting love. Help us to love You back with everything we are and have, in Jesus’ Name. Amen

When “Less” is More

[Mary] sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. …  “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”                                                                                                                                                                  Luke 10:39-42

Have you ever noticed that some people wear busyness as a badge of honor? I have heard conversations where it seems people are trying to one-up each other on who has the most irons in the fire, whose schedule is the most maxed out, and who has the most commitments and is most needed (important).

I have heard conversations like that where I was a participant.

In my younger, more energetic days I gauged my devotion to the Lord by how many activities “for Him” I could cram into a given week. I was going over my litany of commitments with a friend, explaining my stress and exhaustion in terms of extensive ministry, when he suddenly said, as if coming up with a great new idea, “You know, if you were to spread yourself just a little thinner…”

Yes?” I asked eagerly.

“… you might reach a point of total ineffectiveness!”

As his sarcasm registered, my pride was deflated like a punctured balloon.  Is that what I was doing? I should have stopped then and there and committed to praying about my priorities. Unfortunately, I was too busy to do that. I didn’t put on the brakes until I was forced to, when I became so run down and sick I had to stop, pull out of everything, rest, and recover.

For years that was the pattern for me: get involved in too many things, go beyond the call of duty in each thing (Whom was I trying to impress?), get tired, cranky, frazzled, and anything but the picture of faith, and finally have to cancel out of numerous activities because I was too sick to go on. (This did not help my reputation for being reliable!)

After four consecutive holiday seasons of being too sick by December 25 to enjoy Christmas Day, I committed to doing nothing extracurricular for a season. Saying “no” was a new experience to me, but seeing the shocked looks on people’s faces when I said it was a sight almost worth the sacrifice in itself.

Starting in January, each day after taking the kids to school, I would come home and do the following: Read my Bible for an hour or so, pray for an hour or so, journal for an hour or so, and worship (sing and play my guitar or harp) for another hour, or two, or three… The old me (the Martha) felt like I was “wasting time!” But the newly committed me (the Mary) knew that for now this was right. I had never felt closer to the Lord, and though I didn’t know how long this season would last, I knew that I wasn’t wasting time, and that He was up to something good.

A few months later I found myself on the board of a newly forming Christian school and into one of the busiest seasons of my life. But in that busyness – guided by the Spirit that had held me during my time of retreat – I found reserves of energy and strength that came from knowing I was where I should be.

That ministry was not a permanent one, and it’s been years since I served on that board – years since all three of my children graduated from that school. The Lord has led me into other ministries, and somehow the Christian school has survived and thrived without me. (Imagine that!) But I still need to be wary of volunteering for anything and everything and spreading myself so thin as to reach a point of total ineffectiveness.

Sitting at Jesus’ feet is still the first order of business.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for ever thinking we could do anything without You. Keep us on a short leash. Bring us back frequently to the point of waiting on You and resting in You, so that we can truly be what You want us to be, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

If You Can’t Delete, Edit

A dear friend recently pointed out to me a glaring blunder in one of my posts. It was the piece on forgiveness, and I had used a quote from a pastor as an example of an admirable attitude toward people who had wronged him. It was a story I had heard long ago (translate: 20 years or more), and what the pastor said was something I had never forgotten. In my eagerness to get to the quote I included information that was not only unnecessary but potentially hurtful. It wasn’t important who the culprits were, and I was wrong to mention them, especially if doing so would distract from the point I was trying to make – and apparently it did, for at least one person. She asked if I could cite the news article, which I found I couldn’t. I couldn’t even tell her in what decade the event occurred. Of course, I realized she was absolutely right, and I tried to rectify the offense by deleting the post before anyone else saw it.  … Or I thought I had deleted it. (I clicked on the icon that looks like a trash can, thinking (silly me) that would dispose of the article.)

Apparently I am even more technologically challenged than I thought. The next day I was notified that several people had “liked” the post, and I saw to my horror that it was back/still up! After trying again without success to delete the post, I have edited the content, taking out the (completely unnecessary) identity of the “sinners.” Of course, that word could apply to all of us, couldn’t it? Not the least of which is yours truly.

For those who “liked” the post earlier, I’m glad you caught the spirit of the message and overlooked my insensitive blunder. And for the friend who gave me another perspective which will undoubtedly help me avoid similar blunders in the future – Thank you!

After all, this blog is not called “Divine Perspective,” but “Seeking Divine Perspective,” and I’m glad for any help my readers can offer. We’re all in this together.

(By the way, can any of you tell me how I do delete a post that’s already up?)

Counting to Ten

“But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”                       Matthew 5:44-45a

Our dog, Mr. Hollywood, is a good boy … most of the time. But recently we witnessed one of the exceptions before our very eyes and noses. My husband Marty was working in the yard and let Hollywood run loose, figuring he’d stay around as long as Daddy was there.

Somewhere, however, the pooch managed to find a very large, very dead fish. I first realized this when he ran around the corner holding its head in his mouth, or maybe the fish was holding Hollywood’s jaw in its mouth. Either way, I had to pry the thing loose quite painfully while simultaneously gagging and yelling at the dog .

After flinging the head into the water, I took a whiff and realized that Hollywood had been so enchanted by his find that he had also rolled in it, and from later evidence on our living room rug, eaten a large portion of it. After several baths (and I bathed the dog three times, too.), laundering Hollywood’s bed, and some teamwork getting the carpet and floors cleaned and deodorized, Marty commented that the really pathetic thing was that the dog would probably do the same thing all over again if allowed to. Looking over at the very sick pooch, I seriously doubted it. But Marty was right.

Somehow, the next time Marty was working in the yard, Hollywood managed to push open the screen door, and soon we had a repeat performance, albeit with a smaller fish. I was screaming at him in frustration when it occurred to me: I was yelling at a dog for doing what dogs do, and that didn’t make sense.

But how often do we do that – judge and condemn people for doing what comes naturally to them, and sometimes even the only thing they know to do? I am reminded of a story on the news about a church that had been bombed. While the building was still smoking, a reporter stuck a microphone in the pastor’s face and asked him how he felt toward the people who had done this. I will never forget his answer.

When asked “How angry are you with these people?” he calmly replied, “It doesn’t make sense to be angry with them, any more than it makes sense for me to be angry at a blind man for stepping on my foot.”

Are we getting angry at unbelievers for doing what unbelievers do? Is our anger actually hindering our prayers for them?

When we feel like responding in anger, instead of “counting to ten,” think on these ten words:

“Don’t get angry with sinners for doing what sinners do.”

Then, instead of protesting, retaliating, or nursing grudges, let’s pray that their eyes would be opened to see the God who loves them.

After all, a dog may never change, but God is changing people every day.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for blaming others for not knowing You, when we are the ones who do know you and have failed to show them the way. Keep our hearts and minds pure and full of Your grace, so we can truly make a difference in this lost and dying world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.