Saturday, November 29, 2014

Longevity in Ministry ~ "Hope is the only thing stronger than fear" ~

A few months back I began a series that has certainly been challenging and thought- provoking for me. I hope God is also using it in your life. The information discussed comes from a sermon by the senior pastor at my sending church. My notes start with these words: "Like longevity in life, some basic things are needed - right genes, right diet, right exercise, and right environment." Can you see the spiritual parallels? Examining how these principles apply to longevity in ministry on the mission field is forcing me to evaluate whether or not I've been building into my daily life the right sorts of habits and practices to facilitate such longevity. Key is an understanding that God is sovereign and that He is also sufficient.

But what does the practical outworking of those beliefs look like?

I've identified seven essential priorities that help protect from burnout and the temptation to sin... ones that direct and give hope for the future... ones that remind that all is grace and a gift from God.

Those priorities are:
  1. Growing an increasingly intimate relationship with the Lord by consistently, daily and throughout the day, seeking Him
  2. Praying without ceasing (steadfastly, continuously, patiently, powerfully); 
  3. Striving to maintain a good balance between personal growth and service or ministry
  4. Welcoming accountability
  5. Committing to marriage and family; 
  6. Choosing to be teachable even in difficult circumstances; and 
  7. Determining to be a genuine team player.
Last time I wrote, I made the statement that, perhaps, accountability is the most difficult one of all. Those who have conversed with me regarding that statement definitely agree that it is a challenge. 

I've been considering two questions:
  1. Is accountability to our faith brothers and sisters a biblical idea - or is it a tradition of men (the type of behavior for which the Pharisees were so consistently rebuked by Jesus) and the only one to whom we need to answer is Jesus? I believe the Bible speaks for itself on this matter, and I identified several places in the Bible where I believe the principle of mutual accountability is clearly taught and/or encouraged. One of the most powerful passages, in my opinion, is in Genesis, where, right after murdering his brother, God asks Cain, "Where is your brother?"  and Cain essentially replies, "I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?" I believe a clear implication in that passage is that yes, we are to watch out for... watch over... each other.
  2.  What is it about such accountability that creates an environment where longevity and finishing well can flourish? 
I'd considered discussing accountability strategies, but I think that is less important than establishing a case for the importance of accountability (i.e. the most recent post in this series) and the rationale for why... maybe how... accountability helps.


During the Thanksgiving holiday, my girls and I watched The Hunger Games together. At one point in the movie, Katniss, the main protagonist, feels hopeless and is despairing. Immediately, the scene changes to the two men who are responsible for organizing and structuring the games. They are conversing and one of the men, President Snow, says to the other "Hope is the only thing stronger than fear." 

Very profound statement. Maybe it resonates with me because a verse to which I quite literally cling is 2 Timothy 1.7: "For the Spirit which God has given us is not a spirit of cowardice, but one of power and of love and of sound judgement." (Weymouth New Testament)

I would propose that accountability-done-right works because it gives hope, and it is that hope which defeats and frees from fear.

How does accountability bring... or give... hope? Free from fear?
  • Accountability makes me part of a team, continually reminding me that it isn't just "me and God"  against the world. Rather, there's a whole army fighting with me, an army that includes my brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • Accountability forces humility - and while God resists the proud, He gives grace to the humble.
  • Accountability ultimately makes me stronger as I acknowledge where I've fallen... or am tempted to fall... and therefore others step in to help and be strong where I can't or where I struggle.
  • Accountability reminds me of my need for God's grace and for God's grace flowing to me through the lives of other believers. 
  • My dependence on the grace of God and others through the practice of accountability gentles me and makes me more likely to be gracious to others.
  • Accountability through confession is cleansing; when I feel cleansed, I feel more hopeful and once again renewed.
  • Accountability frees. When I'm no longer trying to maintain an image to meet the expectations of others, because I'm open and authentic regarding my struggles, I don't have to carry the burden of what happens when I fail to meet those expectations.
  • Accountability enlists the power of prayer.
  • Accountability promotes to healing and health.
  • Accountability done well builds up and encourages.
James writes about the hope and power that comes with accountability:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one anotherthat you may be healedThe prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. 
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
***************************************
Have you ever had someone confront you on an area of sin or a blind spot? 
If so, how did you handle it? 

James 1:19 says, "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." Why are these traits important in an accountability partner? Which one do you need to most work on?

***************************************


Series: Longevity in Ministry
5. Habituate yourself? 27/09/2014
7. Of rest and rescue, 23/10/2014
8. Dare to Disclose, 8/11/2014

Please note: 
Italicized words are from my notes or from the guided notes in the church bulletin
and are, to the best of my recall, actual content from the sermon.
The rest comes from my continued study and meditation prompted by that sermon.

To listen to the actual sermon "Start, Run and Finish Well," click here.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Days like Thanksgiving can be hard for those of us serving overseas, far away from our families and without all of the resources to make the traditional Thanksgiving meal we grew up with.  It helps me to remind myself of some of the unique blessings I have because of the life of ministry we are living here in Costa Rica.  Here are my top ten:

1. Surrounded by natural beauty

Seriously, I so often look around and think, "I can't believe I live here!"  While we live real life here (and not the resort life some may associate with Costa Rica), we are blessed with daily views of God's amazing creation.  Whether it's in the breathtaking views of mountains and volcanoes I see just driving around town, or in the intricate details of the tropical flowers and birds in my garden, the natural beauty I witness here is awe-striking.

one of our favorite views in our Costa Rican hometown

2.   Good coffee and fresh produce

I was not a coffee drinker before moving to Costa Rica.  But, we live in a coffee town here; the coffee we drink is grown, harvested, dried and roasted here in our little town.  It's really, really good... and has converted me into a coffee lover.  We are also spoiled year-round with wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables from our farmer's market.  We might not have easy access to cranberries or pecans for today's Thanksgiving dinner, but the local fruit here always tastes so much more real (does that make sense?).  One time after taking a bite of pineapple in the States, our son scrunched up his face and said, "That is NOT piña!" (piña = pineapple)

our kids watching a local farmer dry his coffee beans

3.  Small town living

While it took some adjusting, I love living in a small, Costa Rican town.  I love that whenever I'm out running errands, I almost always run into someone I know.  I love that our kids (along with pretty much every other school kid in the whole town!) are in the Independence Day parade and that our son has been part of the town's yearly musical festival.  I love being able to walk to the stores, and I love sitting in our central park and people watching.  Life in a big city appeals to me, too, but I am thankful for our little town during this stage in our lives.

our daughter in our town's Independence Day parade

4.   Worshipping in a second language

One of my dreams when we moved here was that my Spanish would improve to a point where I could truly worship and commune with God in Spanish.  It's been a long process that included a lot of Sundays of standing outside the church building in the intense tropical sun, bouncing my crying baby in a sling (can you mamas relate?), or arriving home from church completely exhausted from the mental work of staying engaged in Spanish during the worship, sermon, and conversations.  But, now I feel that I can truly worship God in Spanish, and it gives such a precious glimpse of eternity worshipping Him with people from every nation and language.

worshipping with our church here
5.  Women's ministry

I love working together with some other women from our church to build up our women's ministry and to reach out to other women in our community.  I am blessed and challenged each week as I facilitate a women's Bible study and work to encourage and strengthen other women.  This ministry strongly pulls at my heart, and sharing my heart and life with these women is one of my main highlights of our life here in Costa Rica.

this year's women's conference - an outreach event to our community

6.  Life of adventure

I'm sure that this is true for you all, too; choosing to live in another country has opened us up to a life of adventure.  Whether it's going after a snake with a machete, or maintaining the constant battle with the ants, or tackling the red tape adventures of the immigration department, life is never without a new adventure here.  We also get to enjoy the adventure of exploring new places, learning a new language, and meeting new people. 

one of our favorite Costa Rican adventures - a hike to this turquoise river

7.  Kid-loving culture

One of my first impressions when we moved here with a baby was that Costa Ricans absolutely adore children!  Babies and children are usually the recipient of admiration and love wherever they go.  Especially during this stage of parenting little children, it is such a blessing to live in a culture where kids are so highly valued and loved.  Our kids are growing up far away from our families, but they have many Costa Rican "grandparents," "aunts," and "uncles."


our kids having fun with our pastor - one of their Costa Rican "uncles"

8.  Closeness as a family

Sharing in this adventure (with both its highs and lows!) together has made us grow closer as a couple and as a family.  Building a new life in a new country has strengthened us in ways that I don't think we would have experienced elsewhere.  Our kids have a very close relationship, maybe because, as third culture kids, there are few other kids their age that understand them as fully as their sibling does.
our little family in front of our home sweet Costa Rican home

9.  Changed perspective

My perspective has changed throughout our years living here.  I find myself being thankful more often for things that I used to take for granted.  Hearing the pelting rain on our metal roof six months of the year has led me to thank God for simply the roof over our heads more than I ever did before (even if there are several persistent leaks!).  The reality of frequent power outages and having water coming into our house from the street only certain hours of the day makes me so thankful when the light does turn on with the flip of a switch, or when water pours out of the faucet in more than a trickle.  Additionally, living in a more event-focused culture, rather than my native time-oriented culture, has taught me to slow down and invest more in what is truly important: relationships.

10.  New home

Something clicked after about two years living in Costa Rica, pretty soon after our daughter was born here.  This started to feel like home.  Now, four years later, this definitely feels like home... to the extent that I feel a little strange and out of place when we are visiting the States.  I don't quite "fit" there any more, but, at the same time, I don't completely "fit" here either.  I'm kind of a foreigner in either place!  This has led me to a greater understanding that my true home is in Christ, with the hope and promise of an eternal home with Him.

with the flag of our adopted earthly home
We all probably find ourselves this Thanksgiving at different places in our thankfulness about our host countries.  Some of you may still be in the honeymoon phase of feeling like everything is wonderful!  Others may be just out of that stage and in full-on culture shock, finding it hard to like anything, really.  And, still others may be in a place where you can more realistically see both the good and the challenges of where you live.  Whichever category you fit in, I'd encourage you today to list some of what you love about your host country and culture.  Count your blessings!

Would you share with us some of your favorite things about where you live and serve?  Or, even do a similar top ten list and leave a link to your blog in the comments?  
 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tuesday Together: Coffee chat


So, do you have your coffee? (Or what's your favorite treat like that? Share in the comments.) Let's sit back and get to know each other a bit. These are the questions from last week:
-How many kids do you have? How old are they? How long have you been married?, etc. 
-How did God call your family into ministry? Where are you serving and what is your ministry about? Is ministry something that you’ve always felt God leading you toward, or do you find it surprising that God has you where he does?

Here are the responses that have come in this week:

Hi, my name is Tammy. My husband of 27 years and I have are missionaries in Tanzania, East Africa. We have been missionaries since 1993 and have lived in Kenya and Tanzania with our three children. Our two older boys are now living in America with their families. I have one granddaughter who is 2 1/2 and a precious new baby on her way any day now! Our youngest is in the 11th grade and attends a MK Boarding school. 

When my husband and I were dating he had already graduated Bible College and knew God had called him into the ministry. After our marriage Bill took a position as a youth pastor. As a youth pastor he was asked to take the teens on a missions trip to Mexico. It was during those missions trips that the Lord worked on Bill’s heart in regards to full-time missionary work. After much prayer we decided on the country of Kenya. Some years later the Lord moved us to do the same church planting ministry in the villages surrounding the Lake Region of Mwanza, Tanzania. We are now entering a new phase of ministry as we take a back-seat role and do more training of national pastors/leaders and their wives rather than actual church planting. Its a joy to see the churches take on the burden of seeing churches started in villages without a gospel witness of any kind! 

~~~~~


-Please introduce us a little bit to your family! How many kids do you have? How old are they? How long have you been married?, etc.

Lucas and I (Melissa) have been married 6 years and have 4 kids: David (5), Elsie (3), Lucy (2) and Peter (3 months).  Our house is full of noise and love! 

-How did God call your family into ministry?

Before we got married, I remember Lucas and I sitting at his kitchen table discussing our gifts and dreams about how we could use them to serve God together...  Gradually, God has clarified the vision that began that day as we've prayed together and with our families and Church in the US and even as we've been abroad wondering what step comes next.

 Where are you serving and what is your ministry about?

We live in Nicaragua.  My husband is a computer programmer who has his own business working for client companies often in the US and Europe.  We are working to grow the business and train Nicaraguans to work alongside him to bring some economic opportunities and improve lives of people who were born in a land with less opportunities to provide well for their families.  Our vision is to "seek another's good" and share Christ's love with our brothers and sisters here.  We are excited to see what God might be able to do that we can watch and take part in after just finishing our first year down here that had a lot of settling in and preparation in it!

Is ministry something that you’ve always felt God leading you toward, or do you find it surprising that God has you where he does?

It's been a vision that's gradually grown for us.  As we've learned more about the world and some of the harsh economic realities in it, this is where both of our hearts break and where our gifts line up too.  Along the way, with 4 little blonde kiddos following me to the market, God brings lots of surprising opportunities to share the heart of God too as so many people notice us and ask questions!

~~~~~


-My name is Ashley, and I have 4 kids (ages 1.5, 4, 7, and 9). My husband and I have been married for almost 11 years and have spent the past 8+ years living and serving in Russia.
-My husband and I both served overseas during university, him in Siberia for 2 years, and me in China for 1, and during that time we both felt called overseas long-term to be sharing the gospel. Before college I would have NEVER thought I'd end up in ministry! After being overseas, I assumed that I would go back to China and my husband specifically desired to go back to Siberia. We had very similar passions and future callings so when we got to know each other and fell in love, it was very clear that God had brought us together and had prepared us to serve together overseas. We planned to go back to Siberia, but the Lord redirected us when the ministry that we had planned to join closed before we could get there. God then opened a door for us to work with students in Krasnodar (southwest) Russia, but we later were forced to leave that area due to visa and ministry security issues. We're now working with college students in St. Petersburg! 

~~~~~

I'm Phyllis. Will and I have been married for 13 years. We've spent 6+ years in Russia, and now 6+ years in Ukraine. We have four children, ages 11, 9, 7, and 3; the youngest is in the photo here.

I always wanted to live and serve God in Russia, for as long as I can remember. Now we're in Ukraine, and that was something of a surprise for me, but I have truly come to love this country and people. It's close enough to Russia that I do feel like it's what I've always been led to... with slight difference. We work in orphanage ministry.

~~~~~

Thank you so much to those of you who sent in your answers! If you didn't, and still want to, please share in the comments now. Also, let's continue the conversation there. If anyone's stories here strike a chord with you, tell us about it. Ask more questions, etc... let's chat.

Next Tuesday I'd like to post "A Day in the Life of...." Who wants to share that with us? Let us follow you through a day: a real day, a typical day, an ideal day, your choice what kind. If you're interested in sharing that, please write to me at fylliska@gmail.com.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Strangers in a Strange Land



 While I wrote this last November a lot of it holds true for this year which has again been full of ups and downs! We're thankful that it seems at the end of this year that ups outweigh the downs!  So today we will be sharing a meal with our Tico friends again, as a peace offering to the Lord. 
 
November.  It used to mean cold smacking your nose so hard it hurt, fires in the wood stove, sweaters, and the start of The Holidays. 
Now it means the end of rainy season, the start of the winds and a time that can be filled with a whole lot of missing family and the familiar of the Great Lakes. 
We’ve been in our host country and working with our ministry for just over a year now.  And while this won’t be our first holiday season here, this one seems harder somehow.
Maybe it’s because it’s been a hard year.  There have been many ups and downs in our family life, in the ministry we are working with, in the adjustment to living as foreigners in a strange land.  The other day as I looked at our calendar, trying to get a handle on the what the next month holds, I found myself thinking about another group of foreigners in a strange land. 


There was 102 of them, people who left everything for what they knew to obey God.  They set off on a crazy journey, way, way too late in the year (note: don’t leave England by boat in September of any year.  Not a good plan).  They didn’t get to what would become Massachusetts until November and really didn’t find a place to live until December of 1620.  No food, no shelter, diseases, no understanding of culture (note: don’t steal corn from native burial grounds, just saying.) No language to communicate with the Native Americas.  That first winter 45 of them died. Just under half. 


Then spring came. And with it Samoset, and Squanto and Massosite, all Native Americans who knew English, Squanto even had spent extended time in England.  These men helped the Pilgrims learn their new land.  They taught them what to hunt, how to grow crops that were new to them (note: Tomatoes and potatoes are good.)  And they survived.  They learned how to get along and work side by side with the people they encountered.  They grew food, and built houses, had babies and lived and thrived. 
When the harvest came around in the fall of 1621, the remaining Pilgrims had a three day party and invited their new friends, without whom they would all have been dead.  They thanked God for what He had done to get them through that year.  They also thanked the men and women who taught them how to live in the New World.


I was a bit overwhelmed by the similarities in our stories.  We left everything we knew to obey God.  We set off on our crazy journey in the fall too (note: leaving for Costa Rica in the fall is a good idea.  Ticket prices are a lot cheaper.)  We felt that weird moment somewhere over the ocean, when we realized we didn’t have a house, a car, a phone, or anything more than the suitcases in the belly of the airplane.  We’ve gotten sick this year, a lot.  We had little understanding of the culture (note: asking impatiently for a calendar with important dates for the next year doesn’t go over well.) We have stumbled over the language more times than we can count (note: año and ano are very, very different).  We haven’t died, but some days it feels like parts of us have. 


And then spring came.  And with it a group of people who are nationals, some who speak English and some have even spent extend time in the United States, but more importantly, they know Jesus.  They have shown us so much grace, teaching where to shop (note: try the crazy alien fruits at the market), what to say, how to say it, how to pass the annual car inspection.  And we have survived.  We are still learning how to get along and work side by side with our new friends.  But we are growing, and building friendships and living, and learning to thrive.

So yesterday we shared a very traditional Thanksgiving meal with our new friends.  To thank God for what He had done to get us through this last year and to thank the men and women who have let us into their lives and shown us how to navigate this new land.

Friday, November 21, 2014

You're invited...

...to chat over coffee. Remember? Please don't forget to send in what you would like to tell us about yourself. There hasn't been much response yet, at least not on the second part of the "assignment" at the end of Tuesday's post. I'm looking forward to hearing from you all!


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Simple and Meaningful Holiday Traditions

Can you believe that Thanksgiving is a week away?! I love this time of year with, ripe with tradition and meaning. As we've lived overseas, away from our home culture and away from our loved ones back "home," I've come to value and long for tradition so much more than I ever have before. Here where my host culture doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving, and where Christmas is a small and hardly recognized holiday in January, the world around is not joining with us in these meaningful festivities. This makes me feel  deep sense of necessity to create an atmosphere of remembrance and celebration for my family so we can enjoy the richness of these holidays.

It can be a challenge though, with the busyness of mothering, schooling, ministry, the unexpected and inevitable interruptions, flu season, and all other aspects of life, to have all of the holiday atmosphere basically depend upon what I manage to create. We've had some smaller holidays go by totally unnoticed, for one reason or another, because we didn't have the capacity to spend time creating the atmosphere of celebration.

My sad baby boy having a Christmas Eve nebulizer treatment last year
I think this reality of having the joyous responsibility of leading my family into seasons of meaningful celebration has led me personally to want to establish meaningful but simple traditions that we can maintain year after year, even during years like last year where our whole family was laid flat with a horrible virus, or at other times when we've felt stretched by various circumstances or obligations. Having simple traditions helps us to still enjoy meaningful celebration even if we find ourselves having little capacity, which I have found is often so much more of the time than I would wish during the holidays!

Here are a few of our family's simple traditions:

Thanksgiving Tree- I'm sure you've all seen this idea and many of you probably do it. I love it! It's so simple and such a great reminder each day to be mindful of the blessings that God has given us. It is also such a great conversation piece when guests come over, to be able to share about to whom we give thanks for all of these blessings in our lives.

Turkey Bowl football- We get together with a bunch of other Americans at a field down the road to have a Turkey Bowl football tournament almost every Thanksgiving. It's a truly fun and fully American part of our celebration.

Advent crafts- I never manage to do the "one craft per day" sort of a routine, but we do enjoy doing simple crafts throughout Advent when we have time.  Our little crafts help decorate our home and remind us of the joys of the season. Some simple things that we've made are: snow globes out of baby food jars, glitter and Fimo clay creations, Christmas count-down chains, gingerbread houses out of rectangular cookies, our own little nativity (again using Fimo clay), various cocoa and apple cider recipes, Christmas tree decorations, snowflakes, Christmas cards for friends and teachers...

Christmas decorating- In my family growing up, we always decorated for Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving and made it into a very special day. We'd play the first Christmas music of the year, make cocoa, and have fun as a family changing the atmosphere of our home into one of anticipation of Christmas. We've adopted much of that idea and always look forward to that special decorating day.

Christmas Eve chili and caroling with friends- We were brought into this wonderful tradition by our dear friends who were our teammates and basically our family for our first 7 years in Russia. They had the tradition, from the husband's childhood, of gathering with friends and family, eating chili and cornbread, and singing carols every Christmas Eve. Chili and cornbread are easy to make, so the focus can be on fellowship rather than having to make a huge and elaborate feast. It is always such a fun and worshipful time!

Christmas Memories Book- We were given this book below as a wedding gift and I absolutely treasure it. It is such a special way to remember the Christmases past and to see how our family has changed over the years. You can order this book on Amazon or could create something on your own. It has spaces to record favorite your Christmas memories, special guests, favorite gifts, and the Christmas dinner menu, and also has places to put in family pictures and a favorite Christmas card for each year.



Jesus' Birthday Party- Each Christmas evening, we throw a little birthday party for Jesus, complete with a birthday cake (usually just a cake we buy at the store). It is always a fun way to remind our kids yet again who we are celebrating on Christmas!

Also, I recommend this every year, but my favorite book about traditions is called "Treasuring God in our Traditions" by Noel Piper. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it! It is wonderful!

Would you take a moment to share some of your family's favorite traditions? How do you make the holiday season special where you are?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tuesday Together: Time for coffee!

Here we go! The goal of posts like this is to help us get to know one another better, to let us feel like we're able to spend time together over cups of coffee (or tea), and just chat.

So, first set aside some time to browse, get yourself something yummy to enjoy, and then--when you're done reading--be ready to write and share with us. (For the yummy part, I recommend a pumpkin latte.)

For your reading and fellowshipping pleasure this week, we had some good spontaneous discussion of education options and choices. That started on Facebook. (I think you should be able to read it, even without a Facebook account.) That reminded us of an earlier post from this blog, and a Tuesday Topic here, and another on the old blog. And also, there is an older series that Ashley did; I'm linking to all those excellent posts here:
So, are you back with us after going through those links? Lots of good information there, eh?

Now to add your voice, there are two options, and (I hope you have time for both!)....

1) Please add to the education conversation in the comments here. What do you have to add? Questions, comments, experiences, etc?
2) For next week, I ask that you would send me an email. I'll compile those and post them on Tuesday. We'll be discussing the first two questions that Ashley gave when she "hosted" a coffee chat. Please send your email to fylliska@gmail.com, with your name or alias if you're in a closed country, your location, blog link and/or photo of yourself are completely optional but would be fun, and answers to these questions:
-Please introduce us a little bit to your family! How many kids do you have? How old are they? How long have you been married?, etc. 
 -How did God call your family into ministry? Where are you serving and what is your ministry about? Is ministry something that you’ve always felt God leading you toward, or do you find it surprising that God has you where he does? (And even if you’re not in vocational ministry, if you’re a Christian, you are a missionary, so please share what that looks like in your life!)


~~~~~

Many thanks to Ashley for the content and ideas here today!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Killed By Comparison

Has anyone else ever played the "one-up" game? You know, the game where you suffer more, have more parasites, speak the language better, feed more orphans, build a bigger church, etc. Maybe you haven't played it, but you've seen in played out online, at conferences, or at church. 

Back in the olden days of missions, this thing called the internet didn't exist. People were forced to rely on very unreliable mail systems in the countries where they served, and international phone calls were expensive ordeals. Today we live in the golden age of communication…the tools of the missionary trade include email, blogs, Skype, FaceTime, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and all kinds of international phone and texting services.

It seems like every other missionary is posting status updates and tweets throughout the week, plus sending out cleverly crafted e-updates with professional photos. I haven’t even mentioned trying to keep up with the ministry blog to maintain a perfect balance of words of inspiration, and requests for more funding please! Apparently to do missions today we need a degree in communications and tons of computer tech experience just to feel like we are keeping up a basic level of communication.

Then there is the pressure to network…to retweet other missionary’s tweets to show we are on board, to attend networking meetings, or local missionary retreats. The reality is that the pressure is there and it is absolutely exhausting.

By the end of the day, we are burned out thinking about everything we didn’t get done. A click of the mouse confirms our worst fears…everyone else is doing way better.

The comparison monster seems to lurk in the corners of churches and missionary field offices just waiting to rear its ugly head. The internet offers it the prime opportunity to sink its teeth into an unsuspecting victim. I’ve seen it happen…one missionary posts a picture of their new church, and another posts a picture of their outreach event. Someone ministering to the poor celebrates the number of meals distributed to a hungry community, and another posts a higher number. Yet another missionary talks of how much they are suffering, and someone else comments with “at least you aren’t dealing with what we are dealing with.”

Why do we do this? Why do we “one-up,” compare, cut down (even if it’s just in our minds), and feel threatened by other missionaries? Why do we hesitate to share ideas because someone might “steal” them? Why do we judge how another missions organization in our region is serving? Or not serving? Why do we let resentment and pride shape how we view our work and the work of others?

In short, why are we letting comparison kill us?

The reasons are many, and they all have to do with our own need for God. We have insecurities, personal failures, and weaknesses. We squirm when they are brought to the surface. Instead of acknowledging that maybe someone else does have something valuable to contribute, it’s easier to cut them down to make us feel better. It’s sick, and it hurts the growth of God’s Kingdom.

So how can we stop doing it? When we have so much at stake ourselves, how can we keep the comparison monster from eating us alive?

The answer is simple, yet sometimes is just so hard. Hebrews 12:2 encourages us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Maybe it’s time to take our eyes off of our newsfeed and focus them on Jesus. Maybe we need to look deep in our hearts and ask where we are finding worth…in how many shares our blog post gets? In how awesome our graphics are? Are we finding it in how well we speak the language, or how well our kids have adapted? These things clamor for our attention, but only Jesus deserves our worship, and when we take our eyes off of Him, we can fall victim to comparison. 

Anyone else relate to this? Maybe I’m not the only one who wants to give up when I see a beautifully crafted blog post by a mom who speaks in a perfect accent, can seamlessly recreate every recipe missed by her family, and still has time to maintain a dynamic ministry. Maybe I am not the only one who needs to worry a little bit less about what everyone else is doing, and focus a little bit more on being faithful to what Jesus is calling me to do today.

What about you? Have you seen comparison killing your ministry or the ministry of someone else? How can we stop the comparison monster from stealing our joy and the joy of those around us?








Saturday, November 15, 2014

When We Need a Reminder Why We're Here



Sometimes we need to be reminded why we're here. Why are we living cross-culturally? Why did we choose to leave our lives of comfort to serve the Lord in another country? Why did we choose to be missionaries?

The other day, we had a delivery man at our door. While I was receiving this delivery, he tried to make conversation with us. He made a comment about our son's accent sounding like the local accent, which led to him questioning me why my husband and I would choose to live here if we're both American. It seemed this man couldn't get his mind around why we'd choose to work for our organisation here, when we could give our children a "better life" in America.

I'll be honest—I struggled not to get angry with this delivery man after he left. He genuinely didn't understand why we'd come to this part of the world to work for a charity.

But that's just it. Our jobs as missionaries don't make sense to the rest of the world. Serving God is foolish to them. And that's why we're here: To serve the Lord and bring the Gospel to those who need it. We're lights shining in the darkness. We should use situations like this to shine even brighter for the Lord.


Sisters, don't let yourself grow weary as you're doing the Lord's work. We shine in the darkness. We'll see the fruit of our work in God's time. Even when people question our choices.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18 
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:9-10

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Oops

Even though I am so excited about new Tuesday ideas, I can't do anything with them today. I got SICK very suddenly. So, I ask you all to pray for me.

Post your own prayer requests in the comments, and we will have a little impromptu prayer meeting this week....

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Longevity in Ministry ~ Dare to Disclose

A few months back I began a series that has certainly been challenging and thought- provoking for me. I hope God is also using it in your life. The information discussed comes from a sermon by the senior pastor at my sending churchMy notes start with these words: "Like longevity in life, some basic things are needed - right genes, right diet, right exercise, and right environment." Can you see the spiritual parallels? Examining how these principles apply to longevity in ministry on the mission field is forcing me to evaluate whether or not I've been building into my daily life the right sorts of habits and practices to facilitate such longevity.

In the first few posts of the series, I shared the foundation my pastor laid out: to "start, run and finish well," includes two key components. First, we must trust in the sovereignty and sufficiency of God which includes praying like everything depends on God. At the same time we must be obedient, working daily as though everything depends on us in God's strength and for God's glory.

What does the practical outworking of that look like?

Studying through the Bible references my pastor gave in that sermon, I've identified seven essential priorities that help protect from burnout and the temptation to sin... ones that direction and hope for the future... ones that remind that all is grace and a gift from God.

Those priorities are:
  1. Growing an increasingly intimate relationship with the Lord by consistently, daily and throughout the day, seeking Him
  2. Praying without ceasing (steadfastly, continuously, patiently, powerfully); 
  3. Striving to maintain a good balance between personal growth and service or ministry
  4. Welcoming accountability
  5. Committing to marriage and family; 
  6. Choosing to be teachable even in difficult circumstances; and 
  7. Determining to be a genuine team player.

Recently, I've spent some time looking at what I think just might be the hardest one of these priorities for those of us who consider ourselves followers of Jesus. Add on the detail of full time Christian worker, minister or missionary... and we become even less likely to welcome what is, at best, viewed as an intrusion.

And the dreaded word is...

photo credit: yksin via photopin cc
...accountability.

Accountability means submitting to, as an obligation and with personal willingness, the responsibility to report and to explain one's words, actions, plans, etc. Give an account means to:
  • disclose
  • recited
  • unfold
  • enumerate
  • enunciate
  • proclaim
  • relate
  • make known
  • report
  • reveal
  • hold forth
Those are just a few synonyms, and they cover many fine nuances of genuine accountability. But genuine accountability is scary. It means being vulnerable and leaving yourself exposed to the evaluation (informed and uniformed) followed by the resulting opinions, criticisms and  commentary of others. We might expect those outside of our church and our faith to "not get it," and we prepare for it. But when those we call brothers... sisters... colleagues... partners... disagree, don't understand or disapprove of what we've done or are doing or hope to do, it becomes easier and less painful to conceal, hide and suppress details and to instead craft a correct image that meets the expectations of others.

It feels like way to protect.

But that sort of image crafting doesn't protect. Rather, it is insidiously dangerous, leaving us vulnerable. 

Accountability is hard: requiring specific intent, diligent effort and a supernatural dose of humility.

1 Timothy 3 lays out the qualifications... the characteristics God desires to see in those who would seek to serve Him in a leadership position. These verses specifically speak of overseers and deacons, but I think the principles are applicable to all. In this case, I'm considering those who lead through their role as missionaries or overseas Christian workers. One of the key verses in that passage refers to the fact that if "anyone aspires to [such a position]... let them also be tested first; then let them serve..." "

The importance of accountability recurs throughout the entire counsel of God's Word: 
  • iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27.17),
  • restore those who sin, in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1),
  • bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2),
  • confess our sins to each other (James 5:16)
  • pray for one another (James 5:16), 
  • Matthew 18 and the description of how we are to confront one another when it is needed,
  • "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken." (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12),
  • bring back the brother who wanders (James 5:19-20),
  • meet together, encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25), 
  • exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today” (Hebrews 3:12-13), 
  • it is shameful to legally settle a dispute between believers that should be settled as though between brothers (1 Corinthians 6),etween the brothers,
  • “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me" (Ezekiel 33:7),
  • We are obligated to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves (Romans 7),
  • "Whoever says to the wicked, 'You are in the right,' will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them" (Proverbs 24:24-25),
  • seeing a brother in need, closing the heart and not helping is not evidence of God's love abiding within... and in fact, if we do so our own heart condemns us (1 John 3:17-21)
  • "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (from Hebrews 13),
  • encourage one another, build one another up (1 Thessalonians 5:11),
  • Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” (Genesis 4:9),
  • consider how to motivate each other (Hebrews 10), 
  • Pay attention, rebuke the sinning brother and forgive him when he repents (Luke 17:3),
  • "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." (Proverbs 17:17),
  • “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." (from Matthew 5)
We can't escape the fact that God expects us to be accountable not only to Him, but to those in our lives here on this earth. This principle is literally peppered throughout the Bible - described and mandated directly, demonstrated both positively and negatively by different Biblical characters, and encouraged in principle even when not declared outright.

Is accountability hard for you? Why or why not?

Share ideas of what have you done, as an overseas or missionary worker, to build accountability into your life and ministry.

PS We'll keep on looking at accountability in the next post - so make sure you jump on in to the discussion and leave your responses in the comment section or on Facebook.

 Looking forward to hearing what you have to say.

***************************************
Series: Longevity in Ministry
5. Habituate yourself? 27/09/2014
7. Of rest and rescue, 23/10/2014

Please note: 
Italicized words are from my notes or from the guided notes in the church bulletin
and are, to the best of my recall, actual content from the sermon.
The rest comes from my continued study and meditation prompted by that sermon.

To listen to the actual sermon "Start, Run and Finish Well," click here.