Reluctant missionary

“I feel like missions is in our future.”

As usual I was whispering to Josh during church; a very bad habit of mine.

“Haven’t you noticed that every time missionaries come visit we get all excited about missions,” I whispered in his ear. The couple at the front of the sanctuary were describing to us the conditions in the Russian town they minister in.

“Yeah, but I don’t want to go to Russia,” Josh finally whispered back, despite his hatred of my mid-sermon chats.

Laughingly, I agreed with him and went back to watching the slide show.

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The couple had an interesting story about how they ended up in Russia.

The husband had spent years praying about Russia and had a heart for the people there. He described how God had actually called him to missions before he even was saved.

Then, while they were in the process of raising funds so they could minister in France, an opportunity presented itself for them to go to Russia. He said his wife wasn’t too happy about the switch in local; I would have felt the same.

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Since I was young I have loved the idea of France: the language, the romance, the sights and the food. I dreamed of spending a year there as a foreign exchange student, which unfortunately didn’t happen. One thing I regret in my life is not overcoming my fears, and going there for a Youth with a Mission Discipleship Training School after I graduated from high school.

I want to be a missionary there, someday. I have an inexplicable love for these people, in this country I’ve never visited.

When I heard about God’s change in their plans, I could not imagine how I would have felt if God had pulled that switch on me. It made me realize that sometimes, God calls us to a service that is not our heart’s desire. Her choice, like mine, was France.

That’s what her plan was, that’s what she wanted.

God had something different.

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Joking about the arrogance we Americans can have in our prayers and vision of God’s plan, the husband continued their story of their time in Russia. They had been praying for God to send people to their city to plant churches. They assumed the answer to that prayer was American church planters.

Years before, the couple had successfully planted churches in Russian, and for the first year of their return they assumed that God had brought them back to plant more churches. Instead, they discovered that God had brought a young man from Siberia to their city to start a church. Their role would not be senior pastors, but rather spiritual mentors. Today they minister to drug addicts and the homeless, they council engaged and young married couples, they support their pastor.

The life they had envisioned in Russia was different from what they found God leading them into. Their past experience was not their present reality.

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This reminded me of the story of Jonah.

Jonah did not have a passion to see the people of Nineveh saved.

On the contrary, when God told him to go to Nineveh and cry out against their wickedness, Jonah hightailed it in the opposite direction.

After a storm at sea, being swallowed by a giant fish, spending three days in the fish’s belly, and being vomited onto dry land, Jonah reluctantly turned his face to Nineveh.

Even then, his message to the people of Nineveh was not one of compassion and repentance.

Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” Jonah 3:4

Despite his lackluster performance, the people of Nineveh responded. From the greatest to the least, they repented as a city and fasted, crying out to God for grace and mercy.

When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. Jonah 3:10

As a servant of God, you’d assume that now Jonah would be ecstatic that his message was so well received. Once again, Jonah does the opposite of what’s expected. He lashed out in anger at God, saying he knew God would relent towards the people of Nineveh, and asked God to kill him, “for death is better to me than life.

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Two different attitudes, yet the same outcome.

The missionary couple, when called to a different people and a different role than they’d envisioned, followed the plan of God and made an impact on their city. Today, they have developed a love for these people that is evident in both their speech and actions. God used them to create change in others, and used others to create change in them.

Jonah, when called to the people of Nineveh, resisted the plan of God and was then forced into it. Regardless of his attitude, God made an impact on the city, but Jonah remained unchanged.

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When our plans turn out different from what we’d anticipated, we can choose to reluctantly follow God’s lead or we can embrace what He’s doing and step forward in His reality.

Either way, God’s purposes will be realized.

But only one way will result in a positive impact within ourselves.

Has there been a time in your life where the expectation you had ran contrary to the reality God led you into? How did that impact your faith?

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The Plan

“Cora, what’s tonight?”

“My special night!”

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know, Daddy. I haven’t figured out the plan.”

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Every Thursday night Cora comes up with a plan.

Thursdays are her special night; her night to spend time in Mommy and Daddy’s bed singing, reading or playing games before she falls asleep. Her night to sleep all night sandwiched in-between us, without fear of being moved back to her own room. Her night to be an only child in the eyes of her parents, with no distracting brothers to get in the way.

Usually the plan goes something like this: “Tonight we will sing two songs, read a book and play I Spy. Then we’ll pray and you’ll cuddle me till I fall asleep.”

She’s got it all worked out. She knows what to expect. And she wants it to happen in just that order.

She never forgets to make a plan.

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“Melissa, what time is it?”

“My quiet time.”

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know, God. I haven’t figured out the plan.”

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We, the church, like to make plans:

  • Today we will sing one fast song and two slow songs, do announcements, preach a sermon for 30 minutes, and then we’ll all go get some lunch.
  • This morning I will read my Psalms and Proverbs, write a scripture, observation, application and prayer, and then go on with my day.
  • This evening we’ll do prayer requests, discuss the chapter we read, answer the questions provided and then chat over coffee.

Sometimes I wonder if we get so caught up in The Plan, that we forget the importance of The Relationship, The Connection and the Be Still and Know.

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Our agenda can cause us to miss the thing God has on His agenda.

What if we went to church and the pastor said, “This morning we’re going to spend time in prayer and meditation, then we’ll share the things God has said to us, and we’ll follow that up by a time of praise and worship in response to God’s interaction with us?”

What if we approached our quiet time by asking God who He would have us pray for, what He would choose for us to read, where He’s already working and how we can come along side Him?

What if at our Bible studies we all suddenly felt led to take that coffee out and pass it around to the homeless in our community?

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I’m not spreading guilt.

I’m not condemning or judging.

I’m definitely not bashing the church.

I’m questioning — because I pretty consistently have an agenda and I want to be more open to laying it aside for what God wants to do.

The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.
(Proverbs 16:9)

Today, is God asking you to shake up something in your plans or routine?

Accentuate the Negative

Eve was a sinner.

Sarah was a doubter.

Rebecca was a deceiver.

Tamar was incestuous.

Rahab was a prostitute.

Jael was a murderer.

Bathsheba was an adulterer.

Mary Magdalen was demon possessed.

Earlier this week, I mentioned that I hate the Proverbs 31 woman, mainly because her perfection causes me to feel guilty. These women, they do not make me feel guilty. When I read their stories, I am instead impressed with God’s ability to use anyone to bring about the works of His kingdom.

They were sinners. They were failures. They were human.

Why aren’t these the women that get discussed at Bible studies, women’s conferences and on Mother’s Day? Why are we always being reminded of the fantastic feats accomplished by Ms. Proverbs 31?

Take another look at that list up there…

Many of these women are in the family tree of Jesus.

Many of these women accomplished great things for the Lord.

All of these women were daughters of God.

Yet their sin is what gets highlighted. They are labeled based on, what was for many, one action. One misstep, and they’re disqualified from the honor roll. Their guilt defines them.

There are women I know who are working on moving past their labels: adulterer, addict, immoral, murderer. These women have turned from their previous ways, surrendered all to God and are now moving forward by sharing their stories to help others who are entangled in the same chains they were.

And you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the LORD will designate…It will no longer be said to you, “Forsaken,”…but you will be called, “My delight is in her”…for the LORD delights in you. Isaiah 62:2-4

We’ve been talking about guilt this week. Yesterday I asked you if it was easier for you to give grace to others than to receive it for yourself. So often we extend to others what we are not willing to accept for ourselves. God’s grace is sufficient for you. Through the work of Jesus on the cross, your sins have been forgiven and removed as far as the east is from the west.

Not only are you forgiven, but you are changed. The name you have assigned to yourself. The box that others have put you in. Labels earned through this stumble or that failure.

God has changed your name.

Don’t go back to answering to the old one. So easily we can slip back into that well-worn robe, because it’s familiar and comfortable. It’s scary to step out in something new. It’s vulnerable to say, “I’m changed!”

What if I mess up again? What if people reject me because of my past? What will they think?

Instead of worrying about these questions and more, we need to show them Jesus.

I was a sinner, a doubter, a deceiver, incestuous, a prostitute, a murderer, an adulterer, demon-possessed…

BUT JESUS

set me free, changed my life, paid the price.

And here’s hoping that in the future more of these women are held up as examples for us, or at least as frequently as Proverbs 31. That we don’t just hold up the positive stories of the Bible, but that we accentuate those negative stories that show God’s redemption and grace.

What has God changed your name to? How have you embraced that change in your life?

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I don’t want to be a hypocrite

This is the third post in a series on guilt. If you are just joining in, here’s Part 1 and Part 2.

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Here’s the thing, I am struggling through this right now.

In fact, most of what I right about here are the things I am wrestling with. This place is where I have chosen to share the joys, frustrations, triumphs and failures I experience as a Christian.

I’m not an expert. I don’t have it all together. I’m a work in progress.

So when I do a series where I talk about one of those areas I’m progressing in, I feel this pressure to tie it all up in a neat little package. To offer you:

Three Easy Steps to Throw Off Guilt

But then I would feel like a hypocrite, because I’m finding that there’s no easy steps. I can’t give you magic words that will erase the pain you see in someone’s eyes when you let them down. I have no prescription to break up the ball in the pit of your stomach; the one that forms when you’ve stumbled again. I have nothing to offer you.

But God…

He brings freedom. He offers compassion. He gives grace.

So I’ll let Him do the talking, and sit back and listen. I pray that these Scriptures speak to you in the same way God spoke to me through them.

…and I said, “O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens…But now for a brief moment grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage. Ezra 9:6, 8 (emphasis mine)

 

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (emphasis mine)

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (emphasis mine)


Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 (emphasis mine)

When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away,
Through my groaning all day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah.
I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD;”
And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah. Psalm 32:3-5 (emphasis mine)

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The only way to shake off the feelings of guilt that can plague us is to acknowledge our sin to Him, to confess, and then receive His forgiveness.

We are forgiven.

We can come boldly.

We must proclaim His mercy over us.

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Yes, there will be times when the Holy Spirit convicts us. A scripture, a word of knowledge, a sermon, anything can be used by God to highlight an area in our life where we are straying from His perfect will.

However, the conviction of the Holy Spirit leads to repentance and restoration, not the shame and division that comes from guilt.

We tend to be harder on ourselves than we are on others, or than others are on us. We must learn to accept the grace and forgiveness that God has given us through the work of Jesus on the cross.

Daily, weekly, consistently the process of handing our guilt to God must be repeated. There’s no quick-fix; no insta-millionaire. We walk, lead by the Holy Spirit, the path of repentance and forgiveness.

I’ve shared this video of my husband singing Joseph Hart’s “Come Ye Sinners” before, but I felt like this song so perfectly illustrates the call of God to us.

We all are sinners, saved by grace. In those times of guilt and shame, we need to arise and go to Jesus, so He can embrace us in His arms. And don’t ignore the warning in the song…

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden, bruised and ruined by the Fall. If you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all

Do you find it harder to give grace or to receive grace?

What Scriptures do you turn to when you need to be reminded of God’s grace and mercy?


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