The Greatest Dangers of Missions. Pt. 1

7 Jan

A few weeks ago, I was discussing with one of my American friends through email about the dangers of being a missionary.  Of course, we all know that there are dangers everywhere for everyone, specifically for Christians.  However, what are the sometimes unique dangers of being a missionary?

My Naive Ideas

When I was in Bible college 10 years ago, I believed that the greatest dangers of missions were persecution and illnesses because of the many stories that I heard.  We know that every Christian experiences persecution and life-threatening illnesses but that all seemed to be intensified on the foreign mission field (that may be true for some people and may not be true for others).

The Real Danger of Illness

When my husband and I moved to Kenya about 3.5 years ago, my husband almost immediately had a 3-month period of near-death illnesses.  For 3 months I wondered if my husband was being called by God to go home to heaven.  As you can imagine, this was not easy for anyone and I hated to watch my husband writhe in agony so many times in the hospital.  I realized that life-threatening illnesses are a real danger of living in Kenya.

There was another time that I became so sick from malaria.  Malaria really isn’t that bad if it is treated immediately, but mine wasn’t quickly treated due to a misdiagnosis.  My organs were on the verge of shutting down due to the amount of malaria in my blood.  I felt so miserable that I truly wanted to die.  It was a hard experience and another reminder of the danger of illnesses in Africa; however, illnesses are not the greatest danger of missions.

The Real Danger of Persecution

There are so many different kinds and various intensities of persecution all over the world.  When we say, “let’s pray for the persecuted church,” we should really pray for everyone because most Christians are persecuted in one way or another.  Some persecution is more well-known than other kinds but all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted. There is all kinds of persecution in Kenya that isn’t on the news.  I have several friends who have been isolated, mocked and physically harassed by other “Christians” because they fear God and refuse to participate in bribery and theft in the church.  This is not famous persecution but it is there and it is real.

Of course, there were a number of terrorist attacks when we were in Kenya.  It was very common for me, any time we went to the market or any mall, to mentally look for places to hide or duck just in case terrorists were to come and shoot everyone.

The different kinds of persecution and general mistreatment from others was surprising to me and always have been.  The persecution in North Africa is quite different than the persecution in Kenya.  When I lived in North Africa about ten years ago, one of our friends was martyred for his faith and I was nearly kidnapped.  This was very hard for all of us and the real possibility of martyrdom was right behind the next door.  We need to pray for these difficult places in the 10/40 window.

I have also heard of God’s servants who suffer a lot in places like St. Louis, MO.  I have heard of people getting mugged, hated and sometimes shot.  Suffering is by NO MEANS something reserved for the foreign field of missions. So many pastors in America are suffering by constant criticism from their own people.  We need to pray for each other!

Persecution is a real danger for missionaries and we need to pray for and encourage them, but it is not the greatest danger of missions in my opinion.

The Greatest Dangers of Missions

What are the greatest dangers that missionaries face?  I do not write this paper, essay, blog or whatever you want to call it as absolute facts.  This is more of an opinion and is subjective in many ways (or in every way).  Either way, let me make a list of what I believe are the greatest dangers missionaries face (or all Christians, really).

Pride

We all know that pride is an illogical lie because it is a sin.  It is a blindness from the reality of who God is and therefore, who we are.  Because pride is an illogical lie, how can people become proud?  Specifically, what do people become proud about and how does it happen, since in reality, there is nothing to be proud about?  Even more specifically, what do missionaries sometimes become proud about?

  1. Suffering

Often, missionaries experience suffering that they were not expecting.  Sometimes missionaries encounter corruption, poverty, terrorism, loneliness, illness, culture shock, embarrassment, public shame along with being used, mistreated and misunderstood by other people to shocking measures.  However, I have met a number of missionaries who have actually become proud (not in a good way) of what they have suffered.  I don’t believe missionaries suffer more, but I believe the kind of suffering is just different and often unexpected.

It can be a temptation to compare our sufferings to the sufferings of other people and when we decide (according to our human judgments that have nothing to do with the Word) that maybe we have suffered more than others, we can start to actually look down on and criticize them.  Our preaching and conversations will start to become full of emotional guilt trips rather than God-glorifying, God-centered speaking. This might seem unusual, but my dear friends, I have seen this happen so many times, especially within myself.  I can say with all honesty that I have done this countless times!

What Should Suffering Produce In Us?

However, suffering for Christ (through His power) ought to help us become more like Jesus.  Specifically, in and through Christ, suffering helps us to love and know God more by tasting His goodness and power in a much sweeter and real way.  Suffering also affects how we view other people.  In Christ, suffering actually helps us to be more gracious and patient with other people, not critical and harsh.  Suffering in Christ ought to produce humility, not pride!  I believe that the more we are mistreated for our faith, the more we will grow in Christ’s kindness, meekness and patience and the less we will glorify suffering (sometimes, when we obsess over and overly glorify suffering, then maybe we haven’t suffered very much).  We will also be less controlled by emotions and more controlled by the Truth of God’s Word because suffering teaches us how to endure in our Lord.  (Jesus is our endurance).  Emotional people tend to not endure very well.

Suffering often reveals how ugly we are by exposing the deep sins of our hearts.  Few things are as refining as being hated all the time.  Few things will increase our boldness and compassion like constant opposition to our message.  We know that God is completely sovereign over every ounce of suffering in our lives (He is sovereign over everything).  Every second of suffering will be used to help us know Him more.  God knows that without suffering, our faith will be incomplete and whatever suffering we experience is a necessary part of our sanctification.  Therefore, through prayer, we can endure with joy and increase in mercy for our persecutors.

B. Good Deeds

When we become proud, we tend to compare ourselves to other people.  Sometimes, this is a comparison of visible deeds.  We can compare our deeds to the deeds of others and use that as a way to exalt ourselves.  When we are proud, we like to talk about all the many things that we have done that no one else seem to be doing.  We tend to exaggerate about all of our “sacrifices” that no one else seems to have any idea about because in our minds, everyone is too selfish to understand our sacrificial service.

This is often very worldly and evil.  Yes, we need to encourage each other towards good deeds but not by guilt-tripping people by comparing them to ourselves.  Self-righteousness is self-deceit and a total misunderstanding of God’s grace.  Of course, pride is a false understanding of God and ourselves but it also affects how we view and treat other people. Think about the parable of the pharisee and tax collector in Lk. 18:9-14.  Of course, we know that this parable and the one before it are about prayer.  This specific parable, however, deals with the intentions behind prayer.  We can see in this parable that the pharisee was comparing himself to the tax collector as a way to exalt himself.

The pharisee was confident that he was such a blessing to God for all that he did.  He was not afraid to talk (even to God, yikes!) about all the wonderful things he was doing.  Of course, his deeds looked especially wonderful when compared to the tax collector next to him.  Not only did the prayer of the Pharisee reveal a lack of reverence for God, a misunderstanding of grace and repentance of sin, but it also revealed a bad view of his fellow man.  Ultimately his poor view of God resulted in an exaggerated (too high) view of himself and an exaggerated (too low) view of his fellow man.  (We know that this is not the only way that pride is revealed.  Sometimes we can be too critical of ourselves and obsess and obsess with how “horrible” we are at everything).

Commentator, Darrel L. Brock in writing about Luke 18:9-14, put it this way:

What is most dangerous about pride is noted right at the start.  First, we come to trust in our own abilities rather than trusting God.  Second, we come to regard other people with contempt and disrespect rather than seeing them as created equal in the image of God.

Often, when we become proud, we become less loving towards other people by exalting ourselves over them.  This produces harshness towards others. This sometimes also happens when people at home overly praise missionaries for their “sacrifices.”  However, let us focus on the one true sacrifice that matters, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

All in all, whatever the reason we become proud, it is because our focus shifts from God to ourselves.  We stop being God-centered and start becoming self-centered.  We begin to think about ourselves too much instead of glorifying God for the Gospel of His grace.  I am sure there are hundreds of other illegitimate reasons for pride, but I have only listed a few.  Let us all be very aware of the deceitful sin of pride which carefully creeps into our hearts.

On the next blog, I want to write about the second greatest danger of missions: compromising in doctrine/theology.  Thanks!—Leah

 

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To Jesus

11 Jul

Oh my Jesus, I am waiting for the day, that I may wish my life away….hidden deep behind the light of your face
Oh my Jesus, I am waiting for the day, that I might hate my life in this world, putting all I am to the cross…in truth there is no loss.
Oh my Jesus, I am waiting for the day, to suffer for your Name, to become like you & do as you have done…until we are one.
Oh my Jesus, I am waiting for the day, when I can leave this disturbing tent of death, fly home to the paradise of your throne, You are my only home.

Oh my Jesus, I want to taste your words, see your eyes…those eyes of concern, patience & wisdom more vast than the universe.

Jesus…
Grant me the mercy of being like You
Can I please veil myself in you?
Can I be in you…let me be a vessel of your desires
Can I have the mercy of dying with you?
Can I have the mercy of shedding my blood for you…just to say thank you for shedding your blood for me?
Can I have the mercy of proclaiming your praises to all of creation?

Oh my Jesus, I have surely wished my life away…a life hidden deep in your glory.

I love you, Jesus.

“Death makes life feel like death” a little piece of my testimony and how Jesus rescued me from the slavery of the fear of death

27 Jun

FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE ME

 

Sufferings will come to us very much in our lives, first and foremost for the fact that we live in a world that is cursed, fallen and dying.  Death surrounds us everywhere in every place, not just when we attend a funeral or stand next to a cemetery, but death reigns in our mortal bodies day and night.  I remember coming to that conclusion as a teenager, before I knew Jesus.  I remember after the violent death of my mother, looking around at everyone and at creation and a terrifying reality had stricken me, and it was this: everything and everyone was dying all the time.  People are dying, animals are dying, the leaves on the trees are dying, the beautiful flowers will die and all the beauty in this world, and in us, will have a wretched end.  The end of us is a dead body buried in the ground…away from everything that is familiar.  This was so terrifying to me but I knew it was the reality of everything that has life.

 

I learned that death was everywhere and was and is, a part of us.  Even old age is simply slow death.  It was scary.  But the thing is, as common and inescapable as death was/is, it just didn’t seem natural.  Maybe we are tempted to think that the more common something is, the more natural and good it must be, but no, that is a lie that I thought before I knew Jesus.  But why, oh why was the most common thing in the world so unnatural and even terrifying?

 

Some people tell me that they are not scared to die, a lot of these people are atheists.  If that is true, then what gives you the impulse to fight away death?  If someone came into your house, stormed into your living room and began to shoot everyone in sight, what would give you the impulse to duck, hide, protect others etc?  What gives you this impulse and why would you grieve over those in your living room who died right before your eyes if death is good and normal? Or if there is a tornado hitting your house, why do you hide? What gives you the desire to save your life? There is something about death that stings and bites and shreds our lives apart like nothing in this world can.  People all around the world are scared to die, for death is our enemy. There is a slavery that accompanies this and I have tasted this slavery before.  Death is so unnatural and it is not good.

 

I remember the days that I thought about these things long and hard before I knew Jesus.  “What gives me the impulse to fight death if it is simply natural?  Who put that inside of me?  Why do people die?  It is so normal yet so unnatural and terrifying.”  I was 18 years old and homeless.  I stayed up many nights, sitting in the town park, under the stars with a bottle of whiskey and many tears, thinking and thinking and thinking….Of course, there was no real answer and that terrified me even more.  I hated death but there was no way to escape it.

 

So yeah, I had many long nights of tears, whiskey and fear.  I was terrified of life, because I was terrified of death and the fear of death choked the life right out of me.  I was a slave to the fear of death.  Now that does not mean that I was thinking in absolute paranoia that I was going to die, that’s not what fear of death means.  Rather, the fear of death and the hatred of it brings an aimlessness, hopelessness and depression in life.  So much so, that before I knew Jesus, I concluded that life was meaningless and the reality of death makes it that way.  Death makes life feel like death.  Death makes life hopeless and pointless.  Of course, most people are in denial of that and the denial is written all over them.  It consumes their actions and feeds the false self-confidence that they have built up their whole lives.  But, all self-confidence and achievements will die right along with our dead bodies and in just a few generations, we will be forgotten….just like the beautiful flowers that cover the fields…we admire their beauty but in 10 years from now, no one will know or hear about that specific flower that we adored.  We aren’t much different than that….the bible talks a lot about this.

 

Before I knew Jesus, I realized that we were all on our way to the grave.  I will never forget one time when my friends and I decided to play hacky sack in a very old grave yard in the middle of a beautiful, southern Indiana forest.  Why we chose to play hacky sack there?  Ha!  I don’t know, we were really weird but we did it nonetheless.  As we were playing hacky sack, I noticed how the ground was sunken in around the coffins.  It revealed the exact shape and sizes of the old coffins that were deep under the ground.  I just tried to ignore it and enjoy our fun and goofy game of hacky sack but I just could not.  The sight of it was so scary and haunting.  Sort of like life….death is there, so close that its inseparable but we just try to ignore it and carry on with our goofiness and fun…but it is never completely possible, for it is buried deep in our consciences.  Well, after about 30 minutes of playing hacky sack, I just could not take it anymore, I had to stop.  I informed my friends that the graveyard was “just freaking me out” and that I had to leave.  They were pretty cool about it and agreed that it was kind of creepy.

 

Leading us out of the forest and onto the gravel road, we walked on a little path that passed right by a very large and beautiful field that for some reason, I did not notice on the way to the graveyard.  The field was so beautiful, I just had to stop and stare.  I saw a sea of purple and pink flowers, and above the flowers were a cloud of yellow butterflies.  The sun was shining on it, perfecting the beautiful colors that I saw. 

 

“What is this beautiful sight doing here next to this ugly and scary graveyard?”  I thought to myself. I looked up into the sky that was leaking the beautiful sunlight, I thought to myself, “Is there something beautiful, like this, that can happen after death?  Can death be good?  Is there a god?  Where would he be and who is he?”  I walked on, pondering this deep thought.  I was 18 years old at that time…only about 9 months before the Author of life revealed Himself to me…giving me the life that is really life.

 

The whispers of God…He is whispering to all people, whom He, Himself created, “come to me, all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light and you will find rest for your souls.”  I believe that God was whispering to me that day when I saw that beautiful field next to the graveyard…”Come to me, Leah, come to me and live.”  Of course, my heart was arrogant, stubborn and literally darkened by Satan so I could not properly hear it.  But I heard a whisper of some sort of hope, the whisper of God.

 

I believe that people hear the whispers of God all the time, but because they are stubborn, arrogant and are blinded by Satan, they cannot properly hear it.  (They will get angry at even reading that!)  Their own stubbornness refuses the voice of God’s prophets, the prophets who plead, bleed and weep with and for those who live in the fear of the slavery of death.  People are stubborn and have layers upon layers of arrogance and woundedness (the pain that accompanies life).  The layers are so thick and hard, that is takes the miraculous fire of God to melt it.  The arrogance becomes blinding and all consuming…dictating and perverting the thoughts of everyone, leading into the dark pit and lie of self-dependence.  Maybe when we think of an arrogant person, we think of someone who believes that “they are better than everyone else.”  But to me, that’s not arrogance.  Arrogance is the belief that, “I am doing okay without God.”  To me, that is arrogance.  Arrogance is a form of idolatry and the worship of oneself. 

 

I used to be this way and I know what it is like.  I know what it is like to be so arrogant, stubborn and self-willed beyond description.  It consumed me.  Yet, I was a broken human being who lived in an unspoken fear every day…and I was a slave to that fear; arrogance and false belief in myself were my way out of it.  It was the fear of death that brought fear and darkness to everything else.  Maybe this sounds depressing, but God used this very thing to lead me to Himself.  He used this depressed and morbid mindset to bring me to my knees and to hunger and thirst for the food and water that really sustains me…the living water who is Jesus Christ, the One who created my soul.

 

Living without Jesus is like coasting upon an abyss of danger, uncertainty, darkness, hopelessness and loneliness.  Of course, I didn’t quite realize this until I was set free from it and I felt the true love of God for the first time.  Feeling God’s love for me was like coming home, coming home to safety, life, joy, completeness and death to confusion and loneliness.  Jesus came to my rescue quickly with utmost urgency, almost as if He had been waiting, and waiting, and waiting to be with me and envelope me completely in His perfect and satisfying love…and maybe He really was waiting to do that very thing….maybe He is waiting for that still for all people…I do not doubt otherwise. 

 

Do you hear the whispers of God?  Do you reject Him again and again and again because you want to continue in what you have always known?  You cling to the familiar patterns of your life, but there is more to you than this!  Oh, there is so much more!  Jesus will set you free from the slavery of being lost.  But, most people do not fully know or want to recognize that they are slaves.  However, if someone is a slave their entire lives, then they may not know anything different.  And they will not know that they had been a slave until they are set free.  

 

Jesus came to my rescue and set me free from all that tormented me my whole life.  He came and gave me a victory that is deeper than the eyes can see, for He came deep inside of me, into the very deepest part of me and He set me free.  He set me free from my agonies, my fears, my addiction to sin and rebellion.  He set me free.  His Word brought life to my bones and fed a hunger in me that I didn’t know existed.  He transformed me, showed me His love that is so different from the love of any person, and He made me a whole human being.  He transformed me, He took my hatred away and destroyed, demolished and put to death, the fear of death in me.  

 

I learned to deny myself, to pray, to fast, to be disciplined in reading the bible, and God blessed me with a boldness that is beyond my wildest dreams.  I used to have a very bad stuttering problem and I only liked to talk when I was not sober, but God gave me abilities and powers that I did not have before. He gave me the ability to be holy, pure and bold, very bold.  He put something in me that felt like a fire, a fire that was satisfied and grew the more that I prayed, read His Word and told people about Him.  I knew that God’s love for me was like a Father’s love…protecting, leading, guiding, providing for me and simply enjoying my presence.  God is invisible, yet I love Him.  I could feel the presence of God for the first time and it completed me.

 

I fell in love with Christians.  For the first time, my eyes were open to see that Christians were people of light, not darkness.  Their love was so different from other people and I learned that they are my family, and that we all love the same heavenly Father.  The more I talked about my Father, the more courage, love and passion He gave me and my desire to preach the Good News increased…and increased…and increased and it has never stopped!

 

I have since traveled around the world, and into prisons, onto the streets, into the homes of the broken simply to tell people about my wonderful heavenly Father.  I want everyone to hear about Him.  I understand that Jesus died for all people and that He is worthy to receive their adoration, admiration and absolute devotion and love.  This was revealed to me by God, not by any human being.  God must reveal Himself to us in order for us to understand Him.  We cannot force ourselves to understand Him.

 

God filled me with His Holy Spirit and He was the fire that I felt.  God made His permanent home in me, which gave me the power to overcome my difficult life…my addictions…myself….this world.  I learned to forgive people and love them , no matter what.  Jesus has taught me everything I know.  He is everything that I am and all that I have. 

 

I know that most of the world hates Him because Jesus is the Light of the world and people often love darkness more. For many who live in the darkness, the darkness feels like light and light feels like darkness. I remember that.

I want to be with Him forever…and the good news is, I will be with him forever.

 

What once made me a slave is something that I now look forward to: death.  I actually look forward to dying because it simply means that my work here is finished and that I get to go home. 

 

I want to sum up my testimony of the Gospel of Jesus in these words:

 

This is taken from the bible, from the book of Hebrews chapter 2, verses 14-15.  What written in parenthesis is from me and is not written in the bible.  I simply wrote was is in parenthesis for clarification.

 

“Since therefore the children (us) share in flesh and blood, He Himself (Jesus) likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power over death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

 

The truth is, death isn’t natural and God did not originally create us to die, that’s why it feels so scary, unnatural and just not good. When God made the world, He created people to live with Him forever and never die. Death exists as a result of sin, because when God made the first human beings, Adam and Eve, they rebelled against God and therefore, He cursed them, (they knew ahead of time that they should not do that. God warned them specifically) and therefore, death came into the world. The wages of sin is death. God is holy and cannot change, but He has redeemed what was broken through Jesus Christ.

I now live in Kenya, with my husband, and we spend our lives preaching for the One we love, for the One who is worthy.  God has enabled our mouths and enabling us to declare His mysteries and to do it with bold assurance. 

 

But most of all, all I really want to do, is to say, thank you Jesus.  You shed your blood for me, now, I want to shed my blood for you just to say thank you.  I want to lose my life in this world for you, just to say thank you.  I want to serve people whom the world does not love, just to say thank you.  I want to forgive my enemies and deliberately serve them, just to say thank you.  I want to go to the nations and boldly tell people about you, just to say thank you.  I want to die to myself, carry my cross every day, just to say thank you Jesus.  For my life is simply a thanksgiving offering to you, for you have done it, you have died for all people, yes, even me.  My life is a debt of continual love to you, Jesus, and I will never be able to fully explain what you’ve done in me and for me.  You are worthy Jesus, and no matter what I may do for you, how much I suffer, how much I am beaten for you….it will never, never, never  come even close to what you’ve done for me.  You have become my best friend, my Lord, my lover, my everything and I love you forever.  Jesus, I love you, for you saved me from death and destruction and enabled me to live with you forever.  For this, I just want to say thank you with my mouth and with how I live my life.  All I really want to say to this world and to the heavens, is this: THANK YOU JESUS.

The funniest mistakes we’ve made thus far…

31 May

My husband, Philip, and I live in Kenya, East Africa, and we are currently learning the language,  Kiswahili. Of course, we daily make mistakes when we speak Kiswahili. In fact, probably nearly every time we open our mouths, mistakes come pouring out. However, the following is a list of the funniest and  most awkward (sometimes just plain awful) mistakes my husband and I have made so far in Kiswahili!  Please know that the following words were said by accidently mixing up Kiswahili words that sound similar to each other (of course, I am writing it in English on here). I am doing this just for fun and sometimes, it is good to be able to laugh at yourself  🙂

A few months ago, I told my language helper that I often write letters to chickens.

Upon greeting another person, I accidently said goodbye instead of hello.

When my husband went to eat at a restaurant with his friends, he sat down and kindly asked the waiter to fill his glass with poop.

When a small group of children were at my house, I tried to tell them to stay in one place and wait, but instead, I accidently said, “rape here please.” I said it multiple times until my husband kindly corrected me.

Once when a friend asked what my husband was doing, Philip responded with, “I am just dying.”

When Philip was talking with his friend, he finished the conversation with, “please greet my husband for me.”

One time as I was walking to the one of the local shops, I saw one of my friends. As we greeted each other, I asked him, “So, are you asleep right now?”

Once when our friend, Simon, had finished explaining something to Philip, Simon asked him, “do you understand?”  Philip responded with, “yes, I have married you.”

Well, that’s all I can think of right now. I know there will be much more to come! Do any of you have funny stories in language learning? Please share!

Don’t Take Theology Out of the Equation

25 May

Sometimes when people think of theology, they think of a commentary or a bible school lecture (which, theology is often manifested in that way, which is good).  Sometimes when people think of theology, they think of somewhat dry knowledge with very little application or power.  Sometimes when people think of theology, they think of an American interpretation of things.  Sometimes when people think of theology, they don’t think of Jesus, but they think of a bunch of ideas created by man and argued by man and I know that people do that in the name of theology.  But I want to “argue” that true theology is not a book, an argument or just a bunch of thoughts created by professors.  Theology isn’t a test that you take in bible college, theology isn’t heartless and dry information, theology is not these things.

So, what is real theology?

Theology is the study of God.  Is this a bad thing?  Is this a heartless thing that doesn’t really change the world?  Sometimes, Christians act like theology is so impractical, dry and nearly useless.  I must ask these questions:

Is theology impractical to the needs of a dying man in an AIDS hospital in Zimbabwe?  Is theology impractical to the person in Indiana, who is recovering from the intense battle of meth addiction, which has consumed and destroyed her family?  Is theology impractical and unimportant to the needs of a woman who is weeping in longing for her children because she is serving a sentence in a Dallas prison? Is theology impractical or unimportant?  Is theology impractical for the Muslim woman who lives in a mud hut in the Sahara Desert of North Africa?  Is theology unnecessary and impractical for the woman in Missouri, who is coming out of nearly 40 years of prostitution?  Is theology impractical and unimportant to the evil of this world and the needs of mankind?  Is theology unimportant in the face of murder, injustice and pure tragedy? Does it really matter?  Maybe you know where I am going with this…of course theology is necessary!!  Of course theology is practical and important  because theology is all about Jesus!!!!  Jesus alone has the power to break the strongholds of Satan in this world, setting the captives free.  In fact, all of the people and places that I have listed here, are actually people and places to where God has sent me, in which many I have seen Jesus do miracles.

“Jesus isn’t interested in theology”

Is this true?  My friends, I beg you, do not take theology out of the equation!  Please, to do so is very dangerous.  Let me continue…

When Jesus was on earth, did He show interest in His Father?  Was He familiar with all of His ways and thoughts?  Not that Jesus needs to study His Father, for they have been One for eternity, but does it matter to Jesus whether or not you believe lies or truth about His Father?  What about the disciples, or students (disciple simply means, student) of Jesus?  Did they show interest in Jesus?  Did they study Him, His person, His character, His words, His thoughts?  Think about it.

I wonder if many people have a misunderstanding of what theology is.  For as I said earlier, theology isn’t a test, it isn’t just a book, it isn’t dry thoughts created by man, so what is it?  Theology is a study of God.  Is that important?

What does it mean to study someone or something?  I believe it means to seek them out.  It means to seek to understand something or someone in order to know that person or thing better.  It means to plunge our minds and saturate our thoughts into the object of which we are studying.  We study because we want to learn more.  So, if we are studying about God, what does this mean?

Surely, to study God is to seek to know Him more.  It is not merely some intellectual exercise in order to get a good grade and a sharper mind so that we can do well on tests and write books that will sell well, but it is to be transformed by the very presence and thoughts of God Himself.  Theology, real theology, is to seek God for the sake of knowing Him and not falling away by believing lies.  It is to saturate our thoughts with His thoughts.  Theology is to know Jesus Christ, which is eternal life.  True theology will help to keep us safe from believing lies about God.  Theology isn’t unspiritual or impractical to this evil world, because we are studying the One who made all things.  We are studying the One who knows all, whose wisdom and understanding, there is no end.  We are studying the One who saves people from death.  We are studying the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

“We need disciples, not theologians”

I have heard this before and I think I can understand where people are coming from when they say this, but I honestly believe that this is a contradiction of terms.  Theology and discipleship, you cannot separate the two.  For to be a disciple, literally means to be a student of Jesus.  And how can we be students of Jesus if we do not apply any study of Him?  If we do not study Him, Himself, the person Jesus, then we cannot possibly be His disciples.  Now, this does not mean that everyone needs to read commentaries and write books.  But, this does mean that every person who professes to follow Jesus, needs to hear and study His words and put them into practice.  We need to be followers of Him, we need to be His disciples.

When I think of theology, I think of Mary in Luke 10:39.  Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to Him.  She ate His words.  Back in those days, if people sat at the feet of rabbis and listened to their teachings, they were showing themselves to be disciples.  A disciple is a pupil or a student.  However, I believe that in Jesus, a disciple is that and so much more.  A disciple of Jesus is someone who intimately and powerfully follows Him.  A disciple is someone who is fruitful in becoming more like Christ.  A disciple of Jesus loves Him more than their own lives.  Disciples die to themselves and call Jesus their master.  A disciple of Jesus knows Him and does whatever He says.

It is all about knowing Jesus and this is what theology revolves around (or it should).  Having said that, theology is not impractical to any human on earth.  Jesus said that He is the bread of life and the living water.  He is sufficient in Himself and therefore, is sufficient to fill every human need.  He is the Son of God and the Creator of all things.  He is who He is, hallelujah!

Theology is important because to know Jesus is eternal life, and apart from Him, all will eternally perish.  A proper theology is worth dying for.

This is a side note, but I recently read that someone (an American) said that the church in America is more focused on Paul the Apostle than on Jesus.  Maybe that is true to some extent but I really don’t know; the church in America is a lot of people.  However, Paul says that he follows the example of Christ.  Also, everything that Paul accomplished and said in his life actually wasn’t from him, but was from Jesus.  Jesus lived out his life through Paul.  Paul even said, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  Also, every word of Scripture is breathed out by God and on every page of the bible, you will find Jesus.  Scripture does not say that one part of the Scriptures is more important than another and that we should only focus on one part of it.  Yes, we should focus on all of God’s Word.  Anyway…

It is very important that people think correctly about God, and to teach and train people in that knowledge isn’t impractical, heartless, unspiritual or dry.  Nor does it go against anything in Scripture.  Theology has eternal importance and I have seen, with my own eyes, the study and knowledge of Christ destroy satanic strongholds in various places and cultures throughout the world.  I have seen Jesus, and the knowledge of Him, end injustices, racism and murderous desires.  I have seen the knowledge of Christ, manifested in His Holy Spirit and His Word, destroy  idolatry, adultery, drug addictions and wounds from child abuse.  I have seen the knowledge of Christ bring transformation to oppressive, dark households and cultures.

A proper theology also keeps us safe from the lies of Satan expressed through false teachers who say things that aren’t true about God.  Paul, in 1 & 2 Timothy talks a lot about this.  How do pastors protect the flock to which God has entrusted to them?  Is it not through the preaching and teaching of Christ?  How will your friends, whom you have discipled, stay protected from believing false things about Jesus…how are they going to break down and destroy the powers of satan revealed through those who deliberately preach a false Christ?  Is it not to know Him intimately and powerfully, through the Holy Spirit, the Word and the fellowship of God’s saints?  Will not a proper knowledge of God and His Word keep our dear family in Christ safe from being deceived by sin?  Theology matters!

We recently went out into a village to preach the Good News.  There was a man there who loves and desires to follow Jesus, but he had a lot of questions.  He asked us, “how do I know if I have the Holy Spirit?  How do I know if I am living in sin?”  I do not believe that it is bad to search the Scriptures and answer these questions with this man.  How could that be bad?  Isn’t that what Christ has told us to do?   My friends, I beg you again, please do not take theology out of the equation.  For to do so is very dangerous.

In a world where so many do not know God, or where so many say that “God is whoever you make him to be,” isn’t it important to know who He really is?  How is it a bad thing to have true and steadfast knowledge of the One true God?

Anyway, despite the fact that I am very simple minded, I do hope that you understand that theology is important.  I feel as though there is an attitude sweeping across many people, that theology isn’t important and that it isn’t really even a part of following Jesus.  That doesn’t make any sense at all and it isn’t true.  Jesus doesn’t hate theology, He doesn’t hate it when people study and know about Him, does He?

The Story of Sandy: My Friend Who Lives in Heaven

20 May

During my four years of study at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri, I was involved in a beautiful ministry called Watered Gardens. Watered Gardens does so much for the Kingdom that I honestly think the list of things they do is basically endless. But in general, they powerfully serve the homeless, poor and drug-addicted through many, many means and in so many ways. I have traveled to many places of the world and I have seen so many ministries, but there are few of whom have my deepest respect like Watered Gardens. I really love those people there 

On Tuesday and Thursday nights, they had door to door outreach, or calling. (I think they did it on other nights of the week but I am not sure when). Anyway, I absolutely loved doing this. Basically, Watered Gardens would help provide physical needs for an individual or a family. Then, the people at Watered Gardens would ask those they helped whether or not someone could come to their house to share the Gospel. If the person or family said yes, then Watered Gardens would send people to do that very work. I loved doing this, and I often tried to take friends with me to participate. It was an awesome time and I met soooo many people! Oh, it was so good to be so deeply invested in the lives of these broken people who desperately needed the Gospel. God opened the doors to many long-lasting relationships through Watered Gardens. I cannot thank Him enough for this.

Well, on one Thursday night, my friend and I went to the house of a woman named Sandy (this was a long time ago, I think maybe as early as 2004 or 2005). I remember walking into her house for the first time:

It was nighttime and Sandy lived in one of the very poor parts of Joplin. We knocked on the door and a short woman with blonde hair answered the door. We introduced ourselves and said that we were from Watered Gardens. She very willingly let us in. Sandy very kindly welcomed us and allowed us to sit in her living room with her. I cannot remember our first words, but we stayed there for quite some time and I remember feeling as though God had really sent us there to that woman.

I could tell that Sandy had done a lot of drugs in her life. She looked incredibly old and tired. Her speech was also slurred and her words were very random, not making much sense. Anyway, Sandy was very welcome and open to the idea of us coming to her house once a week to study the Word. We were very excited and thankful. Little did I know, this was the beginning of one of the longest, saddest, most joyful and frustrating journeys of my life. One of which changed me forever.

I will be honest, life was not easy with Sandy. One minute she seemed so happy to hear about Jesus, and then the next, she was nearly cussing me out for no reason. Sandy also had a terrible drug problem, one of the worst that I have seen in my life. She also had a daughter who was 13 years old at the time who also had a lot of problems. Sometimes when my friends and I would visit Sandy, her daughter would be violently flipping out, screaming and throwing things. Of course, Sandy always wanted us to talk to her daughter…we would try to calm down her daughter…the process often took hours.

Often, when we went to visit Sandy, she was so messed up on drugs that she couldn’t talk or even move. Sometimes, she was literally passed out in the middle of the living room floor. My friend and I often would stay at her house for long periods of time, just watching her to make sure she wouldn’t die. I remember those long hours. My friends and I would just sit there, look at each other with hearts full of deep sorrow and pray. Often, I even felt a demonic presence around her. The darkness sometimes wore me out and even made me physically sick.

This kind of stuff went on for years. In fact, I took care of Sandy throughout nearly my entire college career…and beyond. Even though I was traveling around the world, the Lord always provided opportunities to stay in contact with Sandy. It was very challenging. In fact, my patience was absolutely tested and expanded. And I was just as amazed with my own selfishness.

So many times I wanted to give up on Sandy. I cannot tell you how many times I felt frustrated or impatient. “Why doesn’t she just change? This is really wearing me out.”—I sometimes thought that to myself. It is amazing the potential that I have to be selfish. Without prayer, lots of prayer, I am drawn to selfishness like a magnet. Immediately it comes when I do not pray for hours and hours. Maybe you think I am a prayer warrior, but I’m not. I am just so weak and naturally selfish that apart from God’s power every single second of every single day, I am a very selfish person. I NEED Jesus. I need Him. I am the weakest of all. I am a weak vessel and apart from Jesus, I can do nothing. I learned this clearly during my time with Sandy, I am selfish and I need Jesus so badly.

In many ways, Sandy became like a daughter to me. Maybe that sounds strange since she was about 22 years older than me, but you see, children aren’t the only orphans. Sandy was an orphan. Yes, she had biological parents, but about after 5 years of loving on Sandy, she confessed to me that she was a prostitute and that when she was 13, some of her older family members forced her to into drugs and prostitution. Ever since then, Sandy practiced prostitution as her “career”. It was how she made money to eat and pay bills.

Jesus taught me to unconditionally love this woman and to show her honor and respect. It was truly hard and laborious work, but you see, Gods love endures. His love endures! Think about all of the corruption and evil that has happened since the fall of Adam and Eve. Think about all the violence and injustices that have happened since then. Who knows all the evil that has happened in this dark world, but God’s love endures even still. In fact, I believe the cross of Jesus reveals many things, including these two: The cross reveals God’s eternal hatred of sin and His endless love for mankind. His love endures, hallelujah! His love endures even in the face of rebellious people! His love endures, hallelujah! Do you understand what this means? Truly no one can fathom the patience and loving kindness of God! If not for His mercy, we would all be immediately consumed by the fires of hell, but He is merciful and His love endures forever!

So, anyway, I learned to truly love this woman and weep for her in prayer. Yes, at times, I wondered, “Oh God, is this worth it?” But then I always remembered the love of God, and how He endured with me during my years of rebellion, and how He still endures with me despite who I am. And I remembered the value of this precious woman and that no Word of God will ever come back to Him void. I just had to press on.

After about 6 years of sharing the Gospel with Sandy, she called me one day and said, “Leah, I want to be baptized and I want you to baptize me. I want to do it today, I cannot wait any longer.” She was laughing and so happy. Even her voice sounded different. I nearly fainted.

I had a full-time job in Joplin, Missouri, at the time. So after I got off work (around 4) my friends and I went to pick up Sandy, then, we drove to College Heights Christian church (they have a baptistery), we changed our clothes and I baptized her in the presence of my dear friends, and mostly, the presence of our loving Father. Of course, on the way to pick up Sandy , I was dizzy with joy and even somewhat shocked. I could not believe it. “Lord, is this really happening?” I thought to myself.

When we stopped at Sandy’s house to pick her up, she was so happy! I had never seen her so happy in my life. When we arrived at the church building, we went to the back to change our clothes and we talked about baptism (I had spoken to her about baptism, many, many times throughout our relationship so I wasn’t doubting that she knew what she was doing, but it’s always good to make sure, very, very sure) And man, was she ready!

After changing our clothes, we walked out into the large, quiet sanctuary where I would baptize Sandy. I was actually quite nervous, for this was no small ordeal by any means. Not only this, but I was in a little bit of shock and definitely, full of speechless joy. All those years, all those cries to the Lord, all those tears, all those struggles, all the sorrow was now turned into joy, absolute and perfect joy. God, in His sovereign time, had reconciled this woman to Himself, into eternal life, into His eternal Kingdom, into Himself as His own daughter. The heavens were rejoicing over this one, repentant woman, and I could surely feel it.

Sandy and I sat down in the sanctuary as we waited for a few more of my friends to arrive and witness this beautiful sight. After about 20 minutes or so, Sandy and I went into the back of the stage to walk down the stairs into the baptistery; and there we were, my friend and I were in the baptistery. The water was cold but our hearts were warm with heavenly fire. There was a little seat inside the baptistery, which made it easier for me to carry the weight of Sandy’s body as I baptized her, this is where she sat down. As she sat down, she looked up at me and there was a look in her eyes that I had never seen before. It was a look of relief, freedom, thankfulness, joy, peace and to my surprise, there was a look of sincere love for me. As I fought back the urge to weep, I said to Sandy, “Sandy, it has been quite a journey, but now, God has rescued you from the darkness and He is bringing you into His eternal light and Kingdom.” After this, she publicly confessed that Jesus is Lord and then I dunked her under the water, in the Name of Jesus. She rose up out of the water and all my friends clapped and some even shouted for joy. It was awesome.

Sandy and I hurried back to the changing room. Then, she said to me, “Leah, I feel like a fire is going throughout my whole body, cleansing me from sin. I feel clean from sin. I don’t have that guilty feeling anymore.” I shouted with joy, “He has cleansed you and you are free forever! You are no longer condemned!  You are a child of God!”  We were so happy. It was one of the best days of my life.

I believe completely that Sandy received the Holy Spirit when she was baptized, for she became a new creation after that. She stopped doing drugs for the first time in 37 years (she was 50 years old at the time) and she stopped, also for the first time in 37 years, prostitution. Instead of making money by selling her body, I asked her to clean my apartment for a living. God provided enough money for me in my salary to support her. It worked and it greatly eased her temptation to be a prostitute. God is so good, isn’t He?

Sandy became a new creation. She fell in love with Jesus and eagerly desired to obey Him. She suddenly had so much joy (before she was always depressed and suicidal) and she was hungry for the Word. She also became bold for the sake of Christ. Weekly, she went to a nursing home to help lead bible studies with the patients. She also told her neighbors and even her old friends about Jesus. Some even made of her for it, but she received it with joy.

Of course, Sandy had a lot of struggles; there were so many years of strongholds to overcome. It was very hard, but she did overcome. She struggled with lies, temptations of various kinds, cravings for drugs, but I witnessed her persevere through it all. Thank you, Lord. There is victory in Jesus, and there is so much power in His Name.

Sandy became one of my best friends. She was family to me and I to her. When Philip and I became engaged, she told me all the time, “Leah, you need to have babies right away so that I can be a grandmother to your children.  I want to be a grandma!” She always laughed so hard when she said that, it is a precious memory.

After about 6 months after Sandy’s baptism, I moved to Texas to get married to Philip Nelson (I moved to Texas in the fall of 2011, Sandy was baptized on March 16, 2011). Sandy called me often to let me know how she was doing. She carried on well in Jesus. Yes, she had great struggles, especially with her daughter, but she carried on well in the Lord.

In April of 2012, (just a little over 1 year after Sandy’s baptism), I received a telephone call that shattered my heart. It was about 9:30 at night and Philip and I were just getting ready for bed. As normal, we were both laying down to read before falling asleep, when I received a call from Missouri. I did not recognize the number but I answered it anyway.

“Hello.” I said

“Um, um h-hello. Is this, Leah?” It was a man’s voice that I did not recognize. He sounded incredibly nervous.

“Yeah, this is Leah.” I responded, with great curiosity.

“Ok, well, my name is Chad, I am Sandy’s brother. I am at her house just looking through one of her phone books. I am calling all the people that she has written down in her phonebook because she died last week..” Said Sandy’s brother.

Tears immediately started welling up in my eyes, “Sandy! My precious Sandy!” I thought to myself.

“Oh my goodness, really?  What happened?” I asked, with unbelief.

“She had a heart attack.”  He responded.  There was a little bit of silence.

“Wow, thank you so much for letting me know.”  I honestly didn’t know what to say, but I believe the Lord gave me the courage to speak further, “So, how are you doing?  Are you okay?”  I asked Chad.

“I cannot believe this has happened…I just can’t believe it, I can’t believe it.” Chad began crying on the phone. I felt the urgency to comfort him.
“Chad, I want you to know that your sister is in heaven with Jesus. I baptized her about a year ago. She was a woman who loved the Lord, so we do not need to be afraid of where she is now. She is at home with God now.” I told Chad.

“Oh she was? She was?!! Oh, wow, I am so thankful. I am deeply thankful.” He repeated himself many times, saying that again and again, weeping and raising his voice loudly. I do not believe that Sandy really had any relationship with her brother.

Chad thanked me and then informed me that they were having a memorial service in honor of Sandy. However, sadly, I was not able to make it but I was there in spirit. Then, I told Chad that if he ever needed anything that he could call me and he told me the same. We thanked each other and hung up.

As soon as I got off the phone, I started crying and told Philip that Sandy died and he held me while I cried.  After Philip held me for a while, I went outside to sit under the stars. I cried very much. I just could not believe it. Sandy was a very big part of my life for such a long time and then, all of a sudden, she was gone. I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye, I could not tell her again how proud I was of her, how much she meant to me and how much she taught me. My beloved friend and sister went to heaven.

The next morning, I went for a long, long walk by myself. I informed my husband that I needed to be alone for a few days in order to grieve and reflect, so I did that very thing. I remember sitting in a field under the hot Texas sun. I was weeping so heavily and then, I felt such a great heavenly comfort. “She is home now, she is not in hell, oh Jesus, it is because of you! Thank you, oh God, thank you. Sandy is not in hell, but she is eternally home with you.” I wept for joy, mixed with some sadness.

I cried a lot for about 2 weeks. I really grieved because my good friend was gone. But at the same time, it was far from hopelessness. The comfort I felt was beyond words. Truly, it was beyond words and was straight from my heavenly Father. I hope this does not sound selfish or just completely insane, but I am almost felt like God was rewarding me for the hard, laborious work that I endured for the sake of her soul. I endured with the Lord for her and now, we are all receiving the benefits: Sandy is with Jesus for eternity and I will get to see her again.

During those 2 weeks, I told the Lord, “I will see that you will continue to be glorified in her life and wherever you send me in this world, I will share her story.” And I have done that in America and here in Kenya. I have told the story of Sandy to many people and God has been glorified in it.

A few months after Sandy went home, I looked into my old email account and pulled up old emails from her. I will never, never forget an email she wrote me after she was baptized. She informed me that she had recently found out that one of her friends died from an overdose of drugs. This woman was found dead on her living room floor. When Sandy found out about this, she emailed me and told me that she was devastated to hear this about her friend, but she also said this, I will never forget it,

“Leah, as I found out about my friend, I realized that would have been me, dead on my living room floor, but it’s not. That didn’t happen to me because you never gave up on me. You never gave up on me Leah. Thank you. If not for you, I’d be dead just like my friend.”

Those words send chills throughout my whole body. No, I am not worthy of someone praising me for what God has done in Sandy, but the truth is, I was greatly reminded of God’s patience and His passionate desire for every person to be saved. Also, I thank God, oh I thank Him that He did not allow me to give up on Sandy. Sometimes, I think to myself, “What would have happened if I would have given up on her, like I was tempted to so many times? Would she be in hell right now?” I do not know the answer to that question, but it does pierce me to the core, reminding me of the importance of obeying God and of being patient with all people, never giving up on them.

I learned so much from Sandy. In fact, after working with her, I really changed the way that I see and work with people, everywhere. Yes, even here in Kenya, I am reminded to be patient and merciful with people. Yes, they will lie and steal and persecute you and the list could go on and on, but I remember the story of Sandy and I remember God’s loving patience. I remember His desire for all people to be saved, so I endure, I endure and I endure. I must tell everyone about Him. I know it is worth it. It is worth it! Jesus is worth it, He is worthy of it all and I am fully convinced of that!

I am so proud of Sandy. She is my crown and joy in the presence of God. The memory of her is an absolute treasure from God that He has graciously given to me, and I will carry this treasure for the rest of my life. I thank God for drawing Sandy to Jesus, and that in return, Sandy chose to follow Him. I miss her so much, more than my tears can proclaim, but I know she is finally home now. I know she has been healed from the scars of a hard life and is now in paradise with God. I will tell her story to every place that God sends me on this earth and He will continue to be glorified in the life she lived here on earth. I will continue to proclaim Christ to as many people as I can, and then, I will go home as well. I will preach with the memory of Sandy in my heart and God’s powerful testimony in it all. Hallelujah. Thank you, Father.

Amen.

This is a picture of just seconds before I baptized Sandy.

sandy

Created to be his Help Meet – A Review (sort of).

24 May

Created to be his Help Meet – A Review (sort of)..