Saturday, January 20, 2018

Practicing our own discipleship: Tearing down the idol once again

"This made me resolve to give the all for the All. After having given myself wholly to God, to make all the satisfaction I could for my sins, I renounced, for the love of Him, everything that was not He, and I began to live as if there was none but He and I in the world."

I likewise did resolve in my youth to give myself wholly to God, to claim no pursuit or desire of my own, but instead to seek only to please Him. But I then failed miserably to continue to live it, somehow falling again for my old idol of Perfection. I wanted to make my schedule, my hobbies, my house, all perfect. And of course that only leads to frustration.

Lord, let me see again that You are all that is desirable in heaven and earth. Turn me away once again from my own pride and desire for some perfection that is not really You. Let not just my TEN3 work, but also my house cleaning, dog-feeding, and diaper-changing all be that Your glory may be made manifest.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Why don't I really believe it?

"We need only to recognize God intimately present with us and address ourselves to Him every moment. We need to beg His assistance for knowing His will in things doubtful and for rightly performing those which we plainly see He requires of us, offering them to Him before we do them, and giving Him thanks when we have completed them."

It sounds so simple, yet has proved so difficult. I can't even seem to form the habit of giving thanks after a meal (which my husband has told me was once customary in addition to blessing the food beforehand), much less seeking Him every moment. The psalms about seeking God passionately always (like 27 and 63) always spoke so deeply and beautifully to me ... but do I do it? So little.

"Brother Lawrence said we ought, once and for all, heartily put our whole trust in God, and make a total surrender of ourselves to Him, secure that He would not deceive us."

How many times have I tried to do so? Many times in my teens and college years. But not so much lately. Why? How is it I've become a bit spiritually cynical, unconvinced that ever I will be able to claim, "We ought not weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed. We should not wonder if, in the beginning, we often failed in our endeavors, but that at last we should gain a habit which will naturally produce its acts in us without our care and to our exceeding great delight"? I act as if I don't believe that. Why? Was it the times I found God not to be who I wanted Him to be, the times He stretched me where I was secure, even tore down my whole box of understanding? Probably not that in itself ... I was grateful to learn, however uncomfortably. But perhaps it is that I have not since been satisfied with way to understand Him, His work in the world, and myself. Finding fault everywhere, do I now find Him nowhere?

Lord, how do I escape this trap, this pride, and learn to look with love instead? Let me consider all as having the advantage over me, seek what of You I may see in all things and all Christians which I have not myself, and delight to love, rather than to find fault.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Practicing our own discipleship: Business and love

"Brother Lawrence often experienced the ready succors of Divine Grace. And because of his experience of grace, when he had business to do, he did not think of it beforehand. When it was time to do it, he found in God, as in a clear mirror, all that was fit for him to do. When outward business diverted him a little from the thought of God a fresh remembrance coming from God invested his soul and so inflamed and transported him that it was difficult for him to contain himself. He said he was more united to God in his outward employments than when he left them for devotion in retirement."

How good it would be to find this grace. I am far more prone to be like Martha, worried and anxious about many things for my pride's sake. I call it responsibility, but if I were doing it out of love, I would see these things as gifts to be seen with gratefulness, opportunities to joyfully express my love. But instead I stress because if I don't get them done, it's a shame. Perhaps this is the good in the scatterbrained state I've been ever since having my baby, to make me realize how much I need to seek this grace to find what I need to do in God ... ha, and maybe the grace in God to do it right the first time, considering how often tasks turn out to be far more difficult than expected!

Perhaps that's even part of the reason I haven't ended up in Africa long-term. Maybe I've come out needing to learn of God more in the ordinary life than overseas where I would put it all in the context of "the mission" rather than a purer love that is content to do the same task in either place. Lord, teach and guide me still, to learn to love You with all my heart and in all I do.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Practicing our own discipleship: The faith to abide

"Knowing only by the light of faith that God was present, he contented himself with directing all his actions to Him. He did everything with a desire to please Him and let what would come of it."

Seriously? Is it just faith that keeps up an awareness of God's presence? I guess it makes sense if we remember that, as Kay Arthur taught me, "Faith is not mere intellectual acknowledgement. It is reliance." I acknowledge that God is ever present with me, but I am not relying on Him. Or, as Jesus put it, I need to abide in Him (John 15).

Lord, all that leaves me with then is to ask You to extend my faith, that I may indeed abide in You not just in spurts, but moment by moment. Show me where my weaknesses are, what hinders me from that kind of faith.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Practicing our own discipleship: Cursed creation made new

Part of our training for anyone serious about long-term work with TEN3, whether as a teacher, administrator, or writer, is to read through Imitation of Christ and The Practice of the Presence of God. I read both soon after I joined TEN3. Imitation of Christ spoke very strongly to me, because I was in a situation (not related to TEN3) in which I was being very frequently rebuked and criticized, and was not used to that at all. Imitation taught me to take the rebukes graciously and learn some meekness through them, which was clearly what God wanted to teach me at the time. But I don't remember The Practice at all. I think it's time I revisit it. It has dawned on me I don't quite know how to live God's joy when life is, well, ordinary, and especially when I'm not excelling. I'm used to meeting whatever challenge is set before me, and doing it all with excellence, and instead I find myself in a messy house, behind on my thank-you cards, forgetting my meetings, and fretting about finances. It's time I learned from this man who found God in dishwashing. So here's my first gleaning. Perhaps you'll join me in this spiritual journey. If so, you can find his book available for free here.

Conversation 1

"During that winter, upon seeing a tree stripped of its leaves and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed and after that the flowers and fruit appear, Brother Lawrence received a high view of the Providence and Power of God which has never since been effaced from his soul."

Well, there's plenty to be convicted of right there. When is the last time I looked at God's wonderful works for what they are that they might impact me like that? So I prayed to see God's work in something around me, and had to look no further than on my bosom at my son. A few weeks ago we took the hour's trip to visit my grandmother in the nursing home and introduce him as her first by-blood great-grandchild. I broke down crying silently in her room because, though she did respond a little to my voice, she was too ravaged by dementia to open her eyes. It broke my heart to think that she started her life as healthy, hopeful, and nurtured as my little Nathanael, and is reduced to this, immobile, every breath a groan, scarcely able to put four words together. But today, looking down at my baby reminded me that God is making all things new. My grandmother will rise again, and with Christ's life she may be as vibrant and hopeful as a laughing baby. What a gift indeed Christ has given us to hope for, life so new and vibrant, never to fade again, but retaining also our hard-won maturity! What a beautiful victory Christ has won for us, that all the curse of sin--aging, death, want, strife--will be undone, and all that remains will be life full of both exuberance and wisdom, love both childlike and purified, joy both fresh and adamantine.

Friday, December 22, 2017

At our weakest point

"When I looked at your personality profile, I thought, 'What is this guy doing as the leader of this team? He doesn't have the right characteristics at all,'" a team consultant told Anthony years ago. "But then as I learned about your team members and what they have been through, I understood. They would struggle under a typical leader. But your gift set is just what they need."

We are indeed quite a team of odd ducks, trusting God to use us in our the strengths and great weaknesses He has given us. There is so much about our mission that is strong: our thoroughly reviewed strategy, our well-researched model, the many decades of experience our team members have brought to the table, our training that has lit up so many faces. But we've also pushed forward in the face of a lot that doesn't make sense.

Like, nearly a year ago, when Anthony prayed and sensed God telling him that it's time to move container-loads of equipment to Africa. And mind you, a container is about 560 cubic feet. Anthony's first thought was the same thought he had when he was first asked to start the best computer school in Nigeria, and again when he was asked to help it develop a bachelor's degree: "That's crazy!" This time, the leading seemed crazy because the few centers we have started struggle to recruit students. People want a quick and easy piece of paper, and that's not what we offer. Our prayer is, once we get students through who can show they know their stuff better than all those who got the easy piece of paper, our programs will have value; but for now, what sense did it make to send equipment to start more centers?

The answer our team got was that it did make sense when we consider that we're about discipling educators who will then be able to make whatever education their communities need. We have all the training material we need for that. We have a delivery platform via Moodle. If we can get people discipled and committed to transformational education with this, we can finally see our vision take off.

My reaction was also, "You're crazy," but for a different reason: "Um, Anthony, need I remind you that we stink at fundraising?" No, seriously, we have got to be in the running for the world's worst nonprofit when it comes to getting money. When Anthony was first asked to start the school in Jos in the 1980s, he tried to raise $30,000 for a computer lab. What he got was $300 and six ten-year-old computers. And that's pretty much been the story of our ministry ever since. We make plans to raise thousands of dollars for travel, equipment, communication, etc., and then go on doing our ministry with next to nothing. For the most part, we've accepted that if we're expecting our African siblings to build sustainable schools with their own limited resources, our training, and if they're lucky some secondhand laptops, then it's appropriate that the Lord would have us work with great limitations as well.

Is it time now for us to actually succeed in raising thousands of dollars to equip our partners? Going on our track record, it's wishful thinking, but we serve the God who says His power is made perfect in weakness, so let's see what He will do with us at our weakest point.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Shamed by a "scammer"

A colleague recently shared this video series with us. The lesson he learned with others' reactions from it is that sharing the difficulties we tend to skip in our communications (like how hard it can be to send money to Africa) actually engages and impresses people. Someday, we should chronicle better what all we and especially our colleagues in Africa go through, frustrating as it can be at times, for the sake of this ministry.

What I got out of it, though, was a lesson about myself. I am not nearly as saintly as a missionary should be. I learned that because I saw quickly that I would not be nearly as patient as this vlogger. Not for a stranger who messaged me online, anyway. For my colleagues and friends in Africa, heck yeah I've crunched ideas through meetings, phoned my way through logistical pains, taken calls at 3am, advanced and gifted money personally, lugged a dozen laptops through airports and hotels, driven an hour to get papers for a chance for one of their sons to go to college, and more. But if it's somebody new, unconnected with the rest of my life, I usually don't have the patience to find out if I can bless them. I notice that even when my husband and I go to a store together. He strikes up conversations with at least the cashier, and usually about three other people in the store too. I usually assume a conversation with a stranger I'm unlikely to see again is not worth the effort. Kenneth is always thinking that there might be a way he can evangelize or just bless the people he meets in some way. I guess the number of times I've poured so much into a possibility of helping people and seen the plans fizzle has made me want to hedge my bets on whom I invest in.

Which is quite ironic since I once presented my ministry to a church with the theme, "Invest in the lost causes." I meant that in one sense because Africa seems so "hopeless," and yet we keep presenting that our vision is for the African Church to rise up and take the lead globally in education and the spread of the Gospel. That was also an unspoken appeal for certain loved ones connected with my audience at that time. I wanted people to invest in those I loved, even though it would seem fruitless. Have I forgotten my own plea? On the other hand I only have so much time, I can't reach everyone int the world. Shouldn't I invest it where I already have obligations, where I know I can make a difference?

How did Jesus do it? He had many disciples He taught over His ministry. He had twelve He particularly spent a lot of time with, prioritizing their learning, sometimes going to a remote place alone with them. He also made time for people who came to him to ask questions or get help. He also stopped and made time for the strangers who hollered or reached across a crowd for His help. And He even reached out to people who wouldn't have initiated conversation with Him (Jn 4:7-9, 5:6). He couldn't have talked with everyone He passed, but He made time for all sorts of people and met their needs. May I learn from Him how to reach out and love those He gives me the opportunity to, when to put in the extra effort on a long shot, and when to focus on my prior commitments.