Friday, May 29, 2015



Have you ever felt as if you were being crushed, beaten or as my mom used to say " run through the ringer"? Have you ever experienced ' dry' times in your life where it seems that God has put you on a shelf and forgotten all about you? Or are you being stretched thin and pulled in many different directions? Maybe you feel as though you are being tested with fire. Ever complain to God and ask, "What in THE world are you doing?" I know I have. And the only answer I get back is "Dirt" or more specifically "Clay."  

Then I am reminded of my art student days when I took a ceramics course. Early on in the course I learned which wheel the professor used and claimed the wheel next to his so that I could learn as much as possible by watching him. That's what the Lord wants me to do now. Sit as close to Him as possibles and learn by watching Him, The Master.

We often use the term "Master" in the context of the relationship of a servant or slave to his owner or boss. That has a negative ring to me. Makes me want to run away, dig in my heels and rebel. I've worked for enough lousy bosses to make me very resistant and even hostile toward anyone trying to force their will upon me. But in the context of Master to student or apprentice, I happily did everything the Master asked me to do. Stay late after class to sweep the entire studio and clean the wheels until everything sparkled like new. No problem. Organize the glaze shelves. I'm on it. Come in on my days off to get in some extra wheel time, I was there. It didn't matter I just wanted to take every opportunity I could get to learn from the Master. I want that kind of relationship with my Lord.

Anyway back to clay. What is it really? Just common dirt or if you want to get technical,  decomposed rock. It's everywhere to some degree. We walk on it, and complain about it if someone tracks it into our house or the children get it on their clothes. It's basically worthless and we don't really think much about it. And that is how God finds us as sinners. We are worthless dirt full of impurities and junk that nobody gives a second thought about.

Most potters use clays they find in their local area. They go out with a shovel and fill their buckets or wheelbarrow with dirt and take it back to their studio. That's kind of what God does with us. He finds us where we are, picks us up out of our sin and brings us to where He is.

Working with local clay is very labor intensive. First it must be washed so that the impurities separate from the useable material. It is put into a tub of water and allowed to sit until the heavy sediment sinks to the bottom and the lighter clay particles rise. Then the water and clay are carefully poured into another bucket. Sometimes it takes several washing to get all the impurities out because some clays are very sticky and will hold onto all kinds of things; rocks,broken glass, nails. Other types are hard and brittle and need to sit in the water a long time to soften. People are like clay. Some are so willing to believe anything that they cling to thinking and habits that are harmful to them. Others have been so hurt by life that they have become cynical, distrustful and hard.

Once the clay has been softened and separated from its impurities, it is dried, pounded into a fine powder then carefully blended with other clays, beneficial minerals and water to produce a  whole new type of clay. Kind of sounds familiar doesn't it.  When we give our hearts to the Lord we become new creations. The old is passed away and all things are made new. God lovingly washes us of our impurities and replaces them with His Spirit so we can become the person He created us to be.

Blending clay is not an easy process. Some potters put the clay into a tub and stomp it like grapes. Others have a machine called an "extruder". It has a blade roller that mixes the clay together then pushes it out one end. The potter puts the clay through the extruder several times until it is well blended. If the potter is not ready to use the clay right away, it goes into a big vat to rest until it is needed. Ever feel like you've been stomped on or extruded? Life seems to be in a constant turmoil. Maybe you've lost your job, your house,or loved ones. Your life has suddenly taken a new and unexpected turn and you're not certain how to feel about that. Yep, I know that feeling all to well.

Once blended, the clay is ready to be wedged. Wedging is kneading the clay like bread dough to push out all the air bubbles. This is very important because if the clay has air pockets, it will not throw properly and will explode during the firing process. Do you ever feel like all the air is being pushed out of your life and you can't breath? Perhaps you're feeling overwhelmed or burned out in your ministry or job. Maybe you struggle with depression or some other illness. It may be the Lord preparing you for a great work.

After all the behind the scenes preparation, the clay is now ready to be formed. This is the part the maker lives for; taking a shapeless lump of worthless dirt and creating a beautiful masterpiece out of it. The master can choose one of several different techniques by which he will form the clay. Perhaps he will hand-build the vessel with coils  or slabs or maybe he will throw it on the wheel or use a combination of techniques. I think this is where many people become critical, disillusioned or confused. Well, my church experience isn't what I expected it to be, or my ministry doesn't look like hers. Why is that? Am I doing something wrong? They're not doing things right. Real ministry ought to look like this not that. Get with the program or get out.

Craftsmen will produce many items that are exactly the same but a Master doesn't like to repeat the exact same thing over and over. He will make each item unique whether it's a cup or a plate, each will have it's own character and subtle differences. God, The Master has a plan for each one of us and like snowflakes every plan is different and uniquely designed.

When a maker throws a piece of clay on the wheel, the very first thing he does is to center it. Centering is crucial. If the clay is not perfectly centered, the vessel will be lopsided and malformed. Centering is a difficult skill to learn. A master makes it look easy but an unskilled apprentice will end up flinging mud across the studio or have a twisted monstrosity on the wheel. We need to be centered in God's Will and word; otherwise our thinking will become warped. We've  all seen it happen, in our lives and in the lives of others. Whole churches have even been led astray because of uncentered teachings and their actions have become increasingly ugly. The message of the cross is no longer one of salvation and grace but is twisted and deformed into some mocking monstrosity of condemnation. When a piece of clay refuses to center, it is removed from the wheel and thrown back into the vat to be recycled. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to be extruded and wedged anymore than I have to be.

Once centered the master pulls and stretches the clay into the shape he has planned for it. He works very deliberately, bending down so close to his creation that his breath becomes a part of the vessel. His fingerprints are etched into all of its surfaces so that each unique piece shares a part of his heart. Our Lord desires to share His heart and breath life into us. Sure being stretched and pulled is uncomfortable. I don't know about you, but if left up to me, I'd be perfectly content to sit in my comfort zone like a lump of mud. But our Maker wants so much more for us. He longs to create in us a new heart of great beauty and value. I know it's frightening to step out into the unknown, uncertain of what each new day will bring. It's much more comfortable to just do what society  expects of us and dream wistfully about a someday that never arrives. But it is exciting to see what the Lord is doing around us. Suddenly instead of the same old, same old rut, life becomes a glorious adventure. He will take you to places you never dreamed you'd go, to do the impossible. Sure there will be some rough spots and tough times but if you think about it, isn't that what makes a grand adventure?  All the best stories and movies are about someone's struggle to overcome great odds to achieve an ultimate victory.  God is writing each of our stories now.

When the main form is completed, the vessel is cut from the wheel. If allowed to dry without cutting the base, the vessel will harden and become immovable. Thus not only will the vessel become useless but so will the wheel. The only way to remove it then is to bust the hardened clay up with a hammer. I don't want to become so set in my ways and thinking that I refuse to yield to the Lord's direction.

After being formed the vessel is set aside in a drying cabinet to gradually cure. Ever feel like you're sitting in the dark waiting for the Lord to hear your prayers for direction and there is only silence? Me too. I don't like waiting. Waiting to be picked up to go somewhere, arriving first at an unfamiliar location and waiting for everyone else to arrive, waiting for important documents to be approved or news of a loved one's health, that brief pause of terrorized expectation at the top of the roller coaster before you plunge over the edge. Yeah waiting is the worse. We want to be "doing" and "waiting" is usually an un-welcomed interruption to our activity filled lives.

When the vessel has cured to what is called "leather hard" the maker will trim the vessel and give it it's final form. At this point he cuts away excess clay to make the vessel lighter and more esthetically pleasing. He may also add handles, spouts or make other adjustments depending on the vessel's ultimate purpose. Decorations are stamped in at this point. And when he is done he puts his maker's mark on it. God does that in our lives as well. He will cut away the things that weigh us down and awaken in us gifts and abilities we never knew we had. And then He puts His personal seal on our hearts so that there can be no doubt who we belong to. Isn't so awesome that the God and creator of the universe, takes personal pride in claiming us to be the work of His hands, His masterpiece? It is so thrilling to create a piece of art, stand back and go, "Wow, I made that." I like to think that God says the same thing when He looks at us.

But the vessel is not finished yet. After final shaping, it is put back on a shelf to dry completely. Ugh, more waiting.

All water must be completely evaporated out of the clay. Depending on the vessel's size this process can take anywhere from a few days for smaller works to over a year for large pieces. During this time the maker constantly monitors the drying conditions in the studio. Temperature, humidity or the lack thereof, even a gentle breeze through an open window can adversely affect the final outcome.

 We're all pretty good at waiting for a day or two or even a few weeks. But eventually as the waiting period stretches out with no end in sight, we become increasingly more and more agitated. Or at least, I do. We start to question ourselves and God. "Why isn't anything happening? Did I really hear God talking to me? If it truly was God's Will He should have opened all the doors for me by now. Why am I stuck spinning my wheels  getting nowhere?" Then we start strategizing and making plans to move things forward without consulting the Lord about it since He obviously has gone on to something else and completely forgotten about us.

But the drying process can not be rushed. If the potter tries to fire the vessel before it is ready it will blow up in the kiln. Abraham and Sarah are a good example of what happens when we take things into our own hands and try to rush God's timing. God had promised to give them a son. But as the years wore on and they became older, it became harder and harder for them to believe that they would ever have a child. So before 'it was too late' they implemented a plan that sounded reasonable enough at the time. Sarah's maid, Hagar would become a surrogate mother for their child and we all know how that blew up in their faces. Sarah and Hagar's relationship was forever ruined and eventually she and her son were sent away to fend for themselves. The consequences of that tragic attempt to circumvent God's timing is still affecting civilization to this day. It's never a good idea to try to rush God's timing. But we get impatient when things don't move along as quickly as we think they should.

At last the drying time is over and the vessel is given a coat of glaze. Glazing is a fascinating process. The glaze itself is made of various minerals  and metals carefully mixed to produce every color imaginable. Some glazes are shiny and glossy, other rough and dull. The potter skillfully dips, paints, pours and splatters the glaze onto the waiting vessel. There is an air of mystery about glazes because only in the intense heat of the kiln are their true colors revealed. After allowing the glaze to dry for a few hours the potter carefully stacks each vessel into the kiln. There are many different types of kilns but they all serve one purpose: to create heat intense enough to fuse the clay particles into rock and to melt the glaze into glass. We're talking temperatures of over 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. That's hot folks. At least one time in our lives, everyone of us will be tested beyond what we think we can bear. We each have our own trial by fire situations. Maybe it was a traumatic childhood experience or something you're going through now, whatever it is, you feel pushed past your limits to persevere. Many people crack and break under such extreme hardships.

Firing can take two or three days. The potter must monitor and maintain the fire around the clock the entire time. He can't let the fire become too hot or to die down. Sometimes he may carefully push additional chemicals into the kiln to affect the final outcome.When we are going through such times of testing and it's just one thing after another, we may feel that God has abandoned us, but He hasn't. It is during this time that He is working more than ever to cause all things to come together for our good.

After the time of firing is over the kiln is allowed to slowly cool down, this can take over a day. Ever notice how after a period of extreme testing there eventually comes a time of rest? At first we may not realize that the testing is over because we still feel the pain of the fire. But gradually, peace will come over us like a soothing balm if we let it.

The door is finally opened and what once was a formless lump of ugly clay is now a thing of great beauty, ready to be used for the purpose its creator planned for it. Pretty cool, huh.

But what about the pieces that cracked and broke in the fire? It seems tragic that after all the hard work and care that went into their formation that they should be thrown out onto the" bone pile." Yes it is. But the master will pick up the pieces and carefully put them back together using gold or other precious metals, thus creating something of even more beauty and worth. Unfortunately, many people choose to push the Master away and remain on the bone pile in their brokenness. But if we will let Him, the Lord  takes the broken and flawed pieces of our lives and covers them with His precious blood so that we become even more extraordinary examples of His grace and love.

And so whenever I find myself asking the Lord," What in THE world are you doing in my life?", He just says, " I am the potter and you are the clay. Remember the clay."

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Independent to Dependent

About two weeks ago I was car-jacked. This is not unique to being a missionary. It is not unique to being in another country. It happens to people all over the world. 

The car itself was not really worth that much. It was 13 years old and was requiring a large amount of work to keep it running. On top of that, the owner had yet (after two years) to transfer the car into my name, so officially I didn’t even own it yet. 

But the major loss for me was the sense of independence. I was able to run errands and drive across the city where-ever and whenever I needed or wanted to, and now I am a slave to local bus service and don’t even think about leaving the house after dark unless someone comes to pick us up. One of the assistant pastors at our church has given us a standing offer to borrow his car during the day whenever we need it, yet that requires planning a day ahead and limits our spontaneity. 

It’s not all bad though. I really like our residence, and I can really concentrate on projects I can work on here. Yesterday I spent the day cleaning my workroom/office which was definitely needing the attention. In the evenings, Paula and I are able to not worry about where we need to go and just spend some time together and talk. In addition, we are not making spurious trips to the store to get things we really don’t need; we plan our grocery trips and the buying of essentials. And we’re saving money on gas as well. We also know it won’t be forever. In a few months we will be able to buy another car and we’ll be a bit wiser and judicious in using it.

I think some non-believers feel the same way about Christianity. That by becoming a Christian they will lose the ability to “do what they want, when they want, how they want.” But most of those desires are not rooted in positive activities. My freedom in Christ (Gal 5:1) allows me to do whatever I desire. My desire is controlled by the Holy Spirit (Rom 6:1,2) and I find less inclination to do things that only satisfy my carnal self. Notice I said “I find less inclination:” I still battle that carnal nature from time to time, from materialism to selfishness and other things; and I don’t always overcome them. But my heavenly Father, though surely disappointed, accepts my apologies and pleas for forgiveness and even uses those times to draw me closer and show me a better way. 

I can honestly say that I feel more freedom in my life now than I ever have before. My desire to do right and help others is all encompassing and giving God the glory rather than taking it for myself is actually quite gratifying. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Drilling Wells in the Earth and in Hearts

(by Paula)

One of the things our mission team does, is go up and down the Amazon River several times a year to drill fresh water wells for various indigenous and non indigenous  river communities. Recently it was my privilege to go along and help out on one of these trips.

I was surprised at how much equipment we needed to take and loading it onto the boat was just a warm up for the work the men would be doing in the village.

When we arrived in the village late in the afternoon we discovered that no trail to the dig site had not been cleared. This threatened to throw our schedule off by as much as a day. So within a half hour of our arrival the men set to work clearing a trail, and it had grown dark by the time they reached the well site. 

After quickly eating their supper they went back to work digging two water pits for flushing out the mud and sand the drill brought up as it bored into the earth. They finally decided they should come back to the boat for some rest after midnight.

Early the next morning they were back to work, finishing the pits, hauling all that heavy equipment up the hill and setting up the rig. By late afternoon they were back on schedule with the drill running. They continued to drill late into the night, then back to the boat for a few hours sleep before morning and more drilling.

This was the schedule for three full days. But they were glad to keep this grueling pace because they knew that we were bringing fresh drinking water to the village and more importantly we were also bringing, God's Living Water to the village. As the men worked at the well site, the women were involved in the village sharing God's word with the women and children.

On the last day one of the well's liner pipes collapsed bringing the work to a halt. We had done all that we could and now it would be up to another team to finish the work we had begun.

On the way home as I thought about the whole experience, Living Water and all; it  occurred to me that there was a lesson to be learned here. The Bible talks about how when we have the Holy Spirit in us we become like wells of Living Water that springs up in us and flows to those around us.

I had never really thought  much about what all goes into drilling a well. I just figured somebody shows up with a rig, starts it up and a few minutes later there's a well.

I thought it worked pretty much the same with God. He sends His Spirit and boom just like that, there it is, Living Water. I believe many Christians think this way too and then secretly wonder what the big deal is because their walk with The Lord seems rather dry and lifeless, if truth be told.

But drilling a well, whether in the earth or the heart, takes a lot of work. 
First, the well site has to be chosen. - God chooses people before they are born.

Then the path needs to be cleared.  - A person must be prepared to hear and receive God's Word. Some people will accept Jesus as their savior the first time they hear the gospel but with others it may take a lifetime of God sending different people and circumstances to work on their hearts before they are ready to accept His gift of life.

Once a person gives their heart and life to The Lord, He sets to work on them. 
One of the things that really struck me at the well site was how deep they had to dig to hit good water that would continue to flow even when the river was at  its lowest.  

Another thing I never really thought about before was just how much gunk the drill brings up and throws out the deeper it goes.

It's the same with people hearts and lives. When we accept the Lord into our lives, we say 'All right, you can put a well of your Living Water in my heart.' But when He begins to go deeper than we're comfortable with and bringing up stuff we'd just as well prefer to stay buried, many people yell "Stop! I didn't agree to this." And they refuse to allow Him to go any further. They are satisfied with the surface water that quickly goes stagnant or the ok water a few feet down that dries up when they are "just not feeling it anymore." 
But a well that will continue to remain clean and healthy and not dry up when the rain isn't falling has to go deep. 

Going deep takes time and gunk is going to be brought to the surface where it needs to be dealt with and thrown out, before there is room in our hearts for The Lord to dwell and bring us His Living Water.

(If you have not yet seen our video of our trip, you can find it at and there is a photo album at )

Monday, April 22, 2013

Family and Friends, Near and Far

Luke 18:28-30
And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.”  And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.

(by Randall)

   This scripture really does strike home with traditional missionaries and followers who are called to serve and are physically separated from their family and loved ones. In our case, we had a 20 year history in our hometown of Mansfield, even though both Paula and I grew up in “roaming” families. My father was a career airman in the US Air Force and as a family, we relocated many times. I was the youngest of three and my older sisters really endured the hardest of these moves, leaving friends and schools several times while growing up. I was just entering the 2nd grade when my father accepted his last assignment in Columbus, OH and I lived in the same geographic location (and school system) until I left for college. Paula’s father was a minister and her family also moved around a bit during her upbringing. Moving from church to church, they moved all around southern Ohio and northern Kentucky until his last assignment in Circleville, OH shortly after Paula graduated High School.

   With that background, we both thought we would also have a “wanderlust” lifestyle, but the Lord settled us in Mansfield in the second year of our marriage. We raised both our children in Richland County, only moving once while they were in school. We built deep relationships with co-workers, neighbors, church family and recreational acquaintances. Those friendships still continue and we relish the opportunity to talk with any of our brothers and sisters when possible.

   When we confirmed we were called to mission work, part of our personalities rejoiced! “Yea! We get to go somewhere different, experience new places and people in God’s service!” We really were excited about the prospective doors we would have the chance to walk through. We were called at a time our children were grown and ready to start their own personal walk in life, and we knew that it was time for them to stretch their wings and fly their own directions.

   Over the last year and a half since we left Mansfield, we have learned of the emptiness that takes place when you leave friends and family. Our hearts often yearn for the simplicity of sharing a meal and games with those we care for. Using Skype, email, Facebook and having a “MagicJack™” phone number has eased our separation in comparison of the missionaries of years past. Still, we know the miles are there and we are not able to be next to our children to offer a hug, or fix a car. Not able to be by our parents side as they face health issues. Unable to hold the newborn baby of a dear friend. Restrained from joining worship and fellowship with fellow believers that have walked with us as our faith has matured.

   This last week, I read the verse above in my devotional time. And while we do miss our friends and families tremendously, and do not seek to replace them in our hearts, the Lord has been faithful in drawing us into a new family and new friends.

   Our missional community was recently blessed with the birth of a daughter to a young couple here. It is a blessing to hold her and pray over her as she grows up in a multi-cultural environment. Her father has been a blessing to us as he runs us around for official purposes, acting as a translator and guide through the morass of bureaucracy. (This same family will be leaving in August to spend 2 years serving with a church in the Amazon that reaches directly to the indigenous indians of the jungle.) There are several teens among the children in our group that welcome us and allow us to offer advise and guidance.

   We have been attending a small evangelical church with about 50 regular members, and they have unconditionally opened their arms and hearts to us. They strive to include us in their activities, worship and studies. One of them will volunteer to drive across town to pick us up for service or meetings, sometimes we stay overnight with the pastor and his wife so that we can continue fellowship all weekend, and then someone will bring us home. They offer meals and we have shared playing games (Catan!) as well as spending time in worship. Only a couple of them understand or speak English, and even then it is very limited, but our hearts speak a common tongue,.... that is of God’s love.

   This last Sunday, I wanted to repay some of the kindness they have showed. So we hosted them in our own apartment for a meal and celebration of my birthday. I spent Saturday morning riding buses and shopping for food, while Paula prepared what she could at the apartment. We prepared a Tex-Mex feast of enchilada’s, corn tortilla chips, onion rings, home-made guacamole, refried beans, and Indian fried bread. (Brazilians love Mexican style food, but very few places offer it) We had the honor and privilege to serve 15 members of our brazilian “family.” We still mostly sit on plastic chairs, holding plates (a gift of 11 plates was offered by one family) in our laps, and drinking out of thin plastic cups, yet the apartment was filled with laughter and we found some fulfillment in the social time.

   So we see that God has fulfilled His promise even now and have surrounded us with friends and family, not to replace those we left, but “increasing our lands” as it were, so that the yearnings of our hearts for loved ones will not become so overwhelming as to distract us from our purpose and goals here.

Praise be to our God!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mission Impossible? 

Hello, Agent Cristão. Your assignment today, should you choose to accept it, is this: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Further instructions await you at your destination where you will join other operatives already working in the area. Should you be discovered remember that I am with you even to the ends of the earth.

I just love a good spy story don't you? Just the words "spy, secret agent, operative" conjures up images of mystery, intrigue and daring adventure in exotic far off places. Who hasn't at one time or another dreamed of being James Bond or Madam Hari sneaking into the bad guy's secret base to rescue an important hostage or retrieve stolen treasure, escaping by a hair and saving the world from the evil schemes of the villainous mastermind? Come on admit it, we all have, that's why the spy genre remains so popular.

Recently, Randall and I have started listening to a podcast from the National Spy Museum in Washington DC. The podcast is not a work of fiction but rather covers a wide range of subjects relating to the world of intelligence and espionage, from histories of the early days all the way up to the most recently declassified information on today's headlines. It's fascinating. But it got me to thinking that there are many parallels between the life of the Christian and the world of spies. Stay with me here. 

Think about it. The last instructions of Jesus to His disciples was what we call The Great Commission. You don't have to be in church long before you hear about it. Most pre K Sunday school children can rattle it off by rote as easily as they can quote the Lord's Prayer or the first few lines of the 23rd Psalm. But have you really ever given it much serious thought?

 Jesus said, Go.  An operative is told to, Go. Sometimes a Christian is sent to a far off exotic land to work and at other times the Christian is based in his or her homeland. The same holds true with a spy, after all homeland security is as important as infiltrating the enemy's base. Which brings up another interesting parallel:  We are to actively infiltrate the enemy's stronghold and work to overthrow his position of power by every means at our disposal. Our God is a powerful and creative God so the possibilities of carrying out this assignment are mind boggling.

Sometimes agents are sent into dangerous situations in order to rescue hostages. Well, guess what? So are we. It is such an intragal part of our mission that we even refer to it as 'saving the lost'. While Jesus does the actual saving, it is up to us to help show the hostage the way out of their bondage.

Another duty of an operative is to recruit  and train other agents at home and abroad. Hmm, what do you think making disciples and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us to do means? Recruit and train others to serve in God's Kingdom. You may be assigned a homeland position or you might be sent to the field, either way it is a very important task.

 There is a system of leadership within the world of espionage  where an operative is guided and held accountable by a more experienced operative called a handler. The handler passes along pertinent information and instructions from the president or other leaders to the field operative. That's exactly what our ministers, church leaders  and mentors do for us. They give us important information and instruction from God the Head of our organization.

Many times, the operative does not have the full details of their assignment until they arrive at the place where they are to do their work. Often God only reveals our part of His plan on a 'need to know' basis. We just have to be willing to accept the assignment and the details will be made known at the proper time. Abraham's assignment was like this. God told him to go to a land that He would show him. Nothing much more, other than "you will be great." How many of us would be willing to do something that open ended? It's hard for us to attempt any life changing action without a clearly defined plan and all the steps laid out in advance with simple to understand instructions. And of course there are always the super covert operations where if the agent revealed any information to anyone not directly involved with the mission the results could mean  death. Yes, God sometimes sends His agents on those kind of assignments too. Don't believe me? Well, just think of the missionaries who are serving in hostile lands where they have to change their names and can't tell anyone where they are serving or what they are doing. Cloak and dagger stuff actually does take place in God's Kingdom all the time.

In the movies the agent is usually someone who goes in, does the job with a lot of style and gets out. I like to think of this mode of operations as Short Term Missions. Short term missions only last as long as it takes to get a specific job done, i.e. build a church or school, disaster relief, you know the dramatic projects that get a lot of attention. But there are other operatives who have gone in before, unnoticed, lived seemingly normal lives and laid the groundwork over many years for the dramatic climax of the operation. These are the long term missionaries. They live their lives and raise their families on the field, taking advantage of ministry opportunities and building the networks needed for the short term work to be done. In the movies these operatives fade in and out of the background at critical moments to help the protagonist along. Even though they are often quickly forgotten they are very important to the work.

Oh and least I forget the cool equipment. What spy story would be complete without just the right gadget for the job or the agent having the know how to construct something useful out of things at hand? Well, God said that He will equip us with everything we need to do His work, whether it is cutting edge technology that allows His Word to be spread covertly via mobile Bluetooth devices or the know how to purify water with a plastic coke bottle and the sun. Whatever we need, we just have to keep our eyes open and trust Him to come through for us. How cool is that? 

So if you truly take "The Great Commission" seriously, welcome to the Service. You never know just where the work will take you but you can be assured that there will never be a dull moment. And when things get tough remember, with God nothing is impossible and you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
Go with God, Agent.

This message will not self destruct in 5 seconds...

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mary & Martha

Luke 10:38-42

   Everybody who has gone to church or opened their Bible more than once all know the story of Mary and Martha; the two sisters with completely opposite personalities. It kind of makes you feel sorry for their brother Lazarus, who had to live with them.

   Basically, Martha was a Martha Steward type person; everything had to be “just so” when guests popped in for a visit. So she buzzed around the house like an angry bee trying to clean the closets and the bathroom that she had just cleaned that morning while preparing a multi-course dinner with all the trimmings the likes of which her guests had never seen nor were likely to ever see again. She terrorized the “help” with her drive to have everything perfect. If what little we know about her characterized her daily tendencies, I would venture to guess she was a highly driven personality with OCD. In most traditions she is depicted as the older sister who looks like one of the evil stepsisters in Cinderella. (I don’t know why older sisters are stereotyped like this. I'm an older sister and am NOT that way)

   Inversely, her sister Mary is always depicted as a young and beautiful maiden with a dreamy sweetness that just makes you want to gag. While Martha is freaking out and screaming at the servants, Mary sits calmly at the Lord’s feet soaking in His every word, as she ought to be. Jesus even commended her for it while chiding Martha for freaking out. But what if this kind of behavior was normal for Mary? What if, instead of tending to her chores, she was off picking flowers or daydreaming on the way to market? In this scripture passage, Mary is always held up as the model person because for once she chose to do what was right. But what if she was a horrible procrastinator with the attention span of a gnat? We know that she was a very relational person who would rather be involved in an interesting conversation than in making the perfect matzah balls.

   So what does all this have to do with living life in the 21st century? In every sermon  and teaching about these two that I’ve ever heard, Mary can do no wrong and Martha is an evil ogre; therefore, all women should strive to be like Mary. But when a woman acts like Mary, she is frowned upon as being unproductive and the Proverbs 31 woman (which clearly describes a Martha if ever there was one) is thrown in her face.  I don’t know about you but there seems to be a mixed message here. 
So here are a few things I have learned about myself and my christian sisters that it has been my privilege to live with. First of all, I am very much a Mary type person. I can fully relate to her. If we had lived in the same era and had a chance to meet, we would have become instant best friends for life and would have probably wondered off into the sunset never to be seen again.

   For some reason, the Lord has seen fit to have me live in community for extended periods of time with a few Marthas; hyper-active, very driven, OCD Marthas. We can and do drive each other crazy. Guess he wants us to learn long suffering grace or something.

   Nothing drives a Martha more batty than to see Mary sitting around appearing to be unproductive, or working on a project that she herself considers a leisure time activity, when there is so much REAL work to be done. That is why we see Martha more or less chewing out Jesus for not putting Mary “in her place”. Think about it. It took some real hutzpah to chew out God in front of everybody over a little housework not getting done. But Martha is like that. She is driven sometimes to the point of tunnel vision. 

   Mary had real hutzpah too. I mean look where she was sitting; in a room full of MEN, LEANING against the Master’s knee, probably right up next to the beloved disciple John. It just wasn’t kosher for a woman to be where she was in those days. But did she care? Not one bit. She was a rebel and didn’t care who knew it. That’s why Martha needs Mary; to remind her that sometimes there are more important things to consider than just decorum and the tasks at hand. Mary teaches Martha to relax and enjoy the sunset with friends because those moments are once in a lifetime and too quickly over. The dishes will still be there after everybody goes home.

   But Mary needs Martha too. Being a Mary, I can honestly say that one thing that can really get my passive aggressive dander up is to be constantly badgered about mundane things like housework when I’m off in my own little world or trying to concentrate on something that has caught my interest. That’s why I need Martha; nothing would ever get done if it were left up to me. I probably wouldn’t even eat without Martha’s voice telling me that I should go into the kitchen and fix something before I pass out. Mary can be a bit ADD so Martha helps her to stay focused and on track. Martha reminds Mary that sometimes the task can’t be put off until she feels like doing it. Some things need to be done immediately and maintained  in order to facilitate good relationships.

   If the two sisters let their differences get in the way, things get ugly real fast. But with Martha’s drive and Mary’s vision working together, they can become an unstoppable force in God’s Kingdom.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Races & Teams

The other day was too hot to go outside so we stayed in and watched TV. But the only thing worth watching was the Tour de France. You know, the Super Bowl of professional bicycle racing that a guy named Lance something or other won a bunch of times? 
While I do admit that it is pretty fascinating to watch the brightly colored clump of riders turn into a long ribbon of rainbow as they pass through narrow streets and around tight curves only to bunch back up again once the obstacle is passed; I have never had any particular interest in watching the race beyond the highlights shown in the evening news.
So, needless to say I knew next to nothing about the race. I mean what’s there to know? A bunch of insanely well conditioned athletes don eye searingly bright skin suits and helmets to take a bike ride through the French countryside as fast as they can. The one to reach the predetermined finish line is the winner, right? Wrong.
Out of curiosity, Randall went online to look up information about the race. After all such knowledge might give one an edge in the next game of Trivial Pursuit or home Jeopardy. Anyway what he found was a real eye opener.
Did you know that even though everyone racing in the Tour de France are exceptional world-class athletes, not everyone in the race is there to win the race for themselves? It’s true. Every cyclist rides in a carefully selected team. One person from that team is selected to try to win. So, what do the other people on the team do? That’s where it gets really interesting.
Danger increases substantially the further back in the pack a “Rider” is, so the team protects their “Rider” by creating a wall around him so that he will not be wrecked by other riders or passing traffic. The team also forms a wedge to push to the front of the pack in order to place him into the best position to win. Another thing they do is allow him to “draft” off of them, this helps him to conserve energy until time for the final push. Then they open a way for the “Rider” to push through and drive for the lead. Without his team to support him the “Rider” would have no chance of crossing the finish line. So even though it is the individual “Rider” in the spotlight, it is actually his whole team that wins.
Of course there are many other aspects of the Race that you can look up but I got to thinking about this one. 
Each and everyone of you are on our team. Your prayers help to protect us. Your financial support helps to move us forward so that we are in the best possible position to join the team in Brazil and then to push on to accomplish the work of the Lord. Your encouraging words help to strengthen us en we feel like giving up. We could never do this without you. Thank you so much for selecting us to be your “Riders”. When the race is done we will all share in the victory together.