Tag Archives: God

2014: God’s faithfulness on display

Well, another year has gone by!  And since so much has happened, we’d like to give you a recap of how God has been working in our lives in the past year and what we expect God will be doing in the year to come.

It’s crazy to think that just a year ago we were in Dallas at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics for a Wycliffe recruiting event called “Taste Of Translation And Linguistics” (aka–TOTAL It Up).

TOTAL It Up! January 2014, Dallas, TX

We had suspected that God might be calling us into service with Wycliffe, but we honestly didn’t know that much about the organization and we had a thousand questions!  Throughout the week, we had the opportunity to hear testimonies from many different Wycliffe missionaries, learn a little about translation and linguistics, and learn about how Wycliffe functions as an organization.  Each day our conviction grew that this was where God was calling us to serve.  By the end of the week, we had no doubts.  We drove home from Dallas as firmly convinced that God was calling us to serve with Wycliffe as we were that we were breathing!  God had finally revealed the next step of his plan for our lives, and we were ecstatic with joy!

But there were still a lot of unknowns.  I had felt that God was leading us to join Wycliffe and attend training before the end of the year.  But, before we could apply to Wycliffe we had some debt to pay off.  I was a contractor, and we were barely surviving the winter on my earnings.  How could we ever expect to pay off the thousands that we owed in such a short period of time?  And, where in the world did God want us to serve?  Were we really qualified to do the task God was calling us for?  How do we tell our family that we’re leaving?  My mind was swirling with questions about the unknown as we made our drive back to Arkansas.  But, I knew without doubt that if God had called us to this ministry, he would provide the means.

But things got worse before they got better, and our faith and resolve were tested severely.  The next 2-3 months that followed were, financially speaking, the worst of our lives.  The winter got worse, nobody seemed interested in home improvement projects, and what few jobs I did get were delayed by the bitter cold, snow, and ice.  It was the coldest, wettest winter that I can recall in my lifetime.  We fell behind on our bills, and paying off debt seemed like a fantasy.  So, we prayed…a lot!

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Wycliffe Equip Training Class, October 2014, Orlando, TX

God answered.  Through my quiet time and during sermons at church, my attention was directed over and over to stories such as Abraham’s call in Genesis 12.  Abraham, or “Abram” as he was called at the time, was told to “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you,” and was assured that he would be tremendously blessed.  But, before he received the promised blessings, Abraham had to take action.  Without knowing all the details–without knowing even what “land” he was supposed to go to!–Abraham had to first pack up and start walking.  I realized that God was calling me to take the first step in faith.  Knowing that our high rent was partly to blame for our financial difficulties, Jennifer and I knew that moving to a more affordable house was one of the first steps.  When our lease was up in April, we moved to a smaller, much more affordable home in Jacksonville and had a big moving sale.  God blessed us immensely, and within three months of that move, we had paid off several thousand dollars worth of debt, sold our truck, and applied to Wycliffe!  Though we had begun to think it impossible, God arranged everything so that we could complete our training in October as we had originally hoped, and even begin developing our team of ministry partners by the end of the year.

As we look forward to the year to come, there’s a lot more change coming!  We hope to have fully established our team of ministry partners by May so that we can move in June to Dallas to begin our linguistic training.  Throughout the past year, God has showed us over and over that he will guide our steps when we rely upon him and step out in faith where he leads.  He always provides.

To all of our readers, family, friends, and ministry partners–THANK YOU!  You are an encouragement to us and we pray that God will bless you, just as he has blessed us through you.

Just for fun–Here’s the year in review of our blog!

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 760 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 13 trips to carry that many people…Where did they come from? 14 countries in all! Most visitors came from The United States. Canada & Russia were not far behind…

Click here to see the complete report.

Where is your treasure?

When we lived in Louisville, I delivered pizzas part time to help make ends meet while I was taking classes at Seminary.  I got to meet all kinds of people and it was, oddly enough, a pretty enjoyable job!  But, let’s face it–pizza delivery isn’t going to make you rich.  After paying for tuition and books, I usually felt like the little boy with two fish desperately hoping God would somehow multiply my meager earnings so we could just pay the bills.

So, over time I began to struggle with jealousy.  I often delivered pizzas to homes that were quite extravagant.  And while I couldn’t always tell whether or not the owner was a believer, sometimes it was quite clear that they weren’t!  (Or at least weren’t acting like one at the time!)   Here I was trying to serve God and follow his lead, and it was all I could do just to pay the bills!  I remember one house that was especially lavish.  It had all the custom trimmings, a perfectly manicured and landscaped lawn, and you couldn’t help but be intimidated by its grand entryway.  Yet for all its extravagance, it sat in the shadow of the house across the street.  Literally.  The neighborhood was in a hilly area of town and the house across the street sat up much higher on the hill, so when the sun set the home literally sat in the shadow of the castle across the street.  It kind of made me chuckle a bit.  These folks had spent who knows how many years accumulating their wealth and saving up to build their dream home, and then along comes the Jones’ who build an even bigger house on the hill!  Every time they walk out the front door, they have to crane their neck upwards and block the sun with their hand just to see their neighbor’s home.

Now there’s nothing wrong with being rich.  Job was rich, and he was a godly man.  Furthermore, there’s not necessarily any spiritual benefit to being dirt poor.  There’s nothing necessarily unspiritual about owning stuff–as long as your stuff doesn’t own you.  And, on the flip side, there’s nothing necessarily spiritual about NOT owning stuff, because your NOT owning stuff CAN own you.

Just take a look at the warnings Jesus gives in Matthew 6:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” [Mat 6:19-25, 31-34 ESV]

Jesus’ warnings here don’t only apply to the wealthy.  In fact, who is more likely to worry about where their next meal is going to come from or what they will wear tomorrow–the rich or the poor?  Jesus isn’t only warning against piling up treasures on earth, but also against coveting such treasures.  Jesus’ focus was on what< you treasure, not on how much treasure you have.  I’ve met relatively poor people who treasure material possessions and worldly comfort more than some rich people!  (And I have been such a person, too.)

The reason that Jesus spends so much time talking about money is because money and material possessions betray our true passions in life.  The way we spend our time and money reveals a lot about what we value, or “treasure,” here on earth.  It reveals our perspective on life.  Many people skip over verses 22-23 , because they’re difficult to understand, but they state exactly that:

The eye (i.e.–perspective on money) is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye (i.e.–perspective on money) is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye (i.e.–perspective on money) is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.

How many of us walk around filled with worldly darkness with our spiritual growth stunted because our “eye” is bad?  Oh that God would open our eyes to see the way he sees!  Why do we treasure money and material comforts which will all be destroyed instead of treasuring the eternal God?  We ought to treasure him and the things which he treasures, namely, human souls!

As Jennifer and I are preparing for service with Wycliffe, one of the obstacles we have to overcome is our debt.  Some of our debt is from educational loans, but some of it is from chasing our own little American dream.  After years of praying for God to reveal his will to me for my career path in ministry, God finally revealed it this January at Total it Up (A weeklong Wycliffe “orientation” of sorts).  Unfortunately, because of my “bad eye” in the past, our ability to move forward with Wycliffe has been delayed until we can pay down our debt.  Suddenly this passage came to life. I began to hear God asking me, “Jason, what do you treasure? Do you treasure me and following my will, or do you treasure your gas-guzzling four wheel drive truck? What about your comfort–could you live in a smaller place if it meant being able to get the gospel to those who have never heard sooner?” My accumulation of worldly treasures was preventing me from inheriting the eternal treasures God had promised. I wrestled with it it for a while, until I read this:

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” [Luke 12:15-21 ESV]

I don’t ever want to face God and hear the words, “You fool!”  Could we get to the field without having to sell our possessions?  Perhaps eventually, but how many of the people to whom we will be sent would perish without having heard the gospel in that time?  If my soul is required of me tonight, do I want to be still clutching to my stuff when I face God, knowing that I treasured money instead of God?

… 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. [Luke 12:31-32 ESV]

Over the last couple years, God has slowly replaced the worldly treasures in my life with himself.  It’s been a slow, and at times, painful process.  But the difference is astounding.  Once I finally let go of those possessions that possessed me, the jealousy that had consumed me was replaced with a fiery passion to see the gospel go to the nations. It was so freeing!  The idea that years from now I might possibly have the privilege of handing a completed New Testament to a people who previously had no scripture is beyond my capability to express in words.  Now, my passion is God, his Word, and his Kingdom.  I think that were I able to trade lives with those whom I coveted before I would find myself saying, “This is it?  This is what I wanted?  I’m supposed to be satisfied with this?!?!”  I don’t want to settle for the American Dream.  I want God’s Dream.  The American Dream is too small.  I’ve been given a taste of God’s passion for the nations and I can’t imagine settling for anything less. But, it took God prying away those idols from my life so that he could change my unwilling heart into a heart that he could use. Please don’t misunderstand–I had nothing to do with this.  God alone deserves the credit.  But by God’s grace, I now treasure him–not as I should, of course, but more than I once did.

God has a purpose for your life, and it’s not for you to fulfill your American Dream.  He has bigger plans for you than that.  He wants to give you the Kingdom!  Don’t settle for fool’s gold.  He alone is the true treasure, the only thing worth living for.  What’s your treasure?

 

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Love Her More and Love Her Less

This is a poem written by John Piper, upon request, for his son’s wedding. It needs no explanation, so I will simply repost it here. May we all “love her more, and love her less.”

The God whom we have loved, and in
Whom we have lived, and who has been
Our Rock these twenty-two good years
With you, now bids us, with sweet tears,
To let you go: “A man shall leave
His father and his mother, cleave
Henceforth unto his wife, and be
One unashaméd flesh and free.”
This is the word of God today,
And we are happy to obey.
For God has given you a bride
Who answers every prayer we’ve cried
For over twenty years, our claim
For you, before we knew her name.

And now you ask that I should write
A poem – a risky thing, in light
Of what you know: that I am more
The preacher than the poet or
The artist. I am honored by
Your bravery, and I comply.
I do not grudge these sweet confines
Of rhyming pairs and metered lines.
They are old friends. They like it when
I bid them help me once again
To gather feelings into form
And keep them durable and warm.

And so we met in recent days,
And made the flood of love and praise
And counsel from a father’s heart
To flow within the banks of art.
Here is a portion of the stream,
My son: a sermon poem. Its theme:
A double rule of love that shocks;
A doctrine in a paradox:

If you now aim your wife to bless,
Then love her more and love her less.

If in the coming years, by some
Strange providence of God, you come
To have the riches of this age,
And, painless, stride across the stage
Beside your wife, be sure in health
To love her, love her more than wealth.

And if your life is woven in
A hundred friendships, and you spin
A festal fabric out of all
Your sweet affections, great and small,
Be sure, no matter how it rends,
To love her, love her more than friends.

And if there comes a point when you
Are tired, and pity whispers, “Do
Yourself a favor. Come, be free;
Embrace the comforts here with me.”
Know this! Your wife surpasses these:
So love her, love her, more than ease.

And when your marriage bed is pure,
And there is not the slightest lure
Of lust for any but your wife,
And all is ecstasy in life,
A secret all of this protects:
Go love her, love her, more than sex.

And if your taste becomes refined,
And you are moved by what the mind
Of man can make, and dazzled by
His craft, remember that the “why”
Of all this work is in the heart;
So love her, love her more than art.

And if your own should someday be
The craft that critics all agree
Is worthy of a great esteem,
And sales exceed your wildest dream,
Beware the dangers of a name.
And love her, love her more than fame.

And if, to your surprise, not mine,
God calls you by some strange design
To risk your life for some great cause,
Let neither fear nor love give pause,
And when you face the gate of death,
Then love her, love her more than breath.

Yes, love her, love her, more than life;
O, love the woman called your wife.
Go love her as your earthly best.

Beyond this venture not. But, lest
Your love become a fool’s facade,
Be sure to love her less than God.

It is not wise or kind to call
An idol by sweet names, and fall,
As in humility, before
A likeness of your God. Adore
Above your best beloved on earth
The God alone who gives her worth.
And she will know in second place
That your great love is also grace,
And that your high affections now
Are flowing freely from a vow
Beneath these promises, first made
To you by God. Nor will they fade
For being rooted by the stream
Of Heaven’s Joy, which you esteem
And cherish more than breath and life,
That you may give it to your wife.

The greatest gift you give your wife
Is loving God above her life.
And thus I bid you now to bless:
Go love her more by loving less.

–John Piper

Why Do We Pray?

Much has happened over the last couple weeks that is worth comment, but I will contain my comments to one particular event which happened the last Sunday before Christmas (12/18/11). I had been leading the youth in preparation of a Christmas play/cantata that we were to perform that Sunday. We were about 10 minutes into the play, and during the second song, while I was leading the congregation in “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” Mrs. Ethel Brown (our pianist) suffered a massive stroke and collapsed into the floor. We cancelled the remainder of the service and play (which we were fortunate enough to be able to perform the following Wednesday evening) and I immediately began leading the youth in a prayer vigil. At the time, I assumed that she had suffered from a stroke, but none of us knew the severity. Mrs. Ethel (as we all call her) had suffered from two simultaneous aneurisms, one in each hemisphere of her brain, both too far interior for operation. In other words, there was nothing the doctors could do but sit and wait.

Now, at this point, you’re probably thinking exactly what the doctors told us: “There’s no hope.” One doctor, as I recall, even told us that he’d never seen someone live who suffered that severe a stroke. He told us, “I deal with facts, not hope.” (Some bedside manner he had! Quite the charmer…) So, we continued praying. Oddly enough though, not even the family was praying for Mrs. Ethel’s survival just out of a desire to keep her around. Even the family was praying for God’s will to be accomplished and for him to be glorified. Many of us prayed for God to spare Mrs. Ethel to prove to an unbelieving doctor that God–not facts and statistics–is in control. And he answered our prayers. Mrs. Ethel Brown is currently undergoing therapy and rehab. She has regained much cognitive ability and awareness, and though she still has a long road of recovery ahead, her survival is nothing short of a miracle and an answer to prayer. It gave me great joy as I was able to tell the youth on Wednesday night that their prayers had been answered.

There are many examples in the Bible of specific answers to prayer. One that caught my eye today while I was reading is David’s requests in Psalm 21:1-7. David asked for God’s blessings and length of life, and “You have given him his heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of his lips” (v. 2). I have often wondered what the difference is between prayers that are answered and prayers that are not. David tells us, though, why his prayers were answered in verse 7: “For the king trusts in the Lord…” Those prayers which are answered are those which are prayed from faithful reverence to God. In our drive-thru society, all too often we approach prayer like a fast food menu. “God, I’ll take a number 1–a happy life–and can I get some wealth and prosperity on the side? Oh, and that’ll be to-go; I’m in a hurry to get to work.” But when Jesus modeled prayer, the first thing that he prayed was praise (“Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”) and a request for God’s will to be done on Earth just as it is done in heaven. How is God’s will done in heaven? Without question, complaint, doubt, or reservation.

Many people assume that if God is in control of everything that happens and knows or predestined the future then prayer is pointless. After all, if God is going to do what he has already planned to do anyhow, then your prayer is not going to change anything! But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of prayer. Do we really wish for the infinitely wise, all-knowing God of the universe to change his plans based upon our sinfully tainted desires and finite understanding?!?! How absurd! How dare we approach the throne of God as if we were sitting in Santa’s lap reciting our Christmas wish-list! Prayer that works, prayer with the right purpose, is prayer for God to align our desires with his, not prayer that asks God to align his desires with ours. We do not pray for God to change his plan, but for God to change our hearts. David’s prayers were granted because he trusted in the Lord, and it can be inferred from other passages in the OT that God’s desire to prosper David was firmly rooted in his desire for the other nations to see Israel’s prosperity and come to serve Israel’s God. David knew that. When he prayed for blessings and prosperity, he didn’t pray from a selfish, greed driven desire to get rich and live a good life, he was praying for God to be glorified (see v. 13).

Similarly, our prayers for Mrs. Ethel to be healed were answered because it brought God glory to demonstrate his power in impossible circumstances, not because God felt sorry for her family and knew how much it would hurt them to lose her. Though God does love his children and has compassion on them during the trials of life, we all must die someday. It is simply a matter of when and how. When we pray for a loved one, or a difficult circumstance, or for blessings, let us not pray out of vain, selfish ambition, but out of a desire for God to be glorified. God may be glorified in demonstrating his power over sickness and death by healing our loved ones. God may be glorified in giving great material wealth and many possessions to his faithful servants. But, God may also be glorified through the persistent faith of his children who suffer unimaginable difficulties, loss, and poverty (See the book of Job). Regardless of the outcome, let us pray to align our will with God’s and save our wish-lists for Santa.

God Answers Prayer

          One of the passages that I read today was Psalm 120.  It is, as are many other psalms, a prayer for God’s deliverance of the psalmist from wicked men who seek his life.  One thing that I really took note of while reading this psalm was the very first verse: “In my trouble I cried to the LORD, And He answered me” (Ps 120:1, NASB).  It’s really quite a simple verse, and is probably one that I’ve read over before quickly and without notice.  However, it resonated with a truth that I had read previously today in Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life about the fact that God answers prayer.  The psalmist states a simple truth in this first verse of Psalm 120: “when I pray, God answers.”

          Though this is a very simple verse with a very simple meaning, it has profound application for our lives.  I am certain that I am not the only Christian who has not always experienced a consistent, powerful prayer life in the past.  I am not sure what the reasons others may have for a lack of prayer, but to be brutally honest, my reason for not praying—whether I was willing to admit it or not—was never that I didn’t know how to pray, or didn’t have the time, but simply that I doubted its efficacy.  That’s bad, especially coming from a minister, but it’s the unfortunate truth.  I didn’t really believe that God would answer my prayers.  I didn’t think they really had any effect.  As a left-brained scientist, I saw nature as a series of causes and effects, and chain of natural events that was only ever broken in Biblical times.  My view of God was so small that I subconsciously (though I would have never said this or admitted it!) thought that God was somehow bound by the laws of nature and cause and effect.  I found myself saying things like, “Sure, prayer is great, but God helps those who help themselves.”  Prayer, to me, was simply an obligation or, at best, a method of requesting forgiveness for sins.  If I was experiencing financial difficulty, I didn’t truly pray expecting God’s help, I began searching for ways to “pull myself up by my bootstraps.”  When I struggled in school to understand a concept, I rarely prayed for God’s help, but instead would exhaust every other possible option until, sitting in my desk taking the test, I would mutter a last ditch plea for God’s mercy.

          But that is not what the Bible teaches.  Why would God tell us “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matt 21:22) if He didn’t mean it?  Certainly, there are exceptions.  Scripture teaches that God will not answer our prayers if we have unrepented sin in our life (Ps 66:18) or if we ask out of selfish motives (Jam 4:3), nor does God always answer the way we want him to (2 Cor 12:8-10), but these are exceptions, not the rule.  The rule is: when God’s children pray from a faithful, selfless heart, God always answers their prayers.  Recently, Jennifer (my wife) and I have had to trust God more than ever, financially speaking.  I am a full time student with a part time ministry position (which does not pay much!) and Jennifer is a waitress.  Financially, things have been tight.  But I’ve noticed a trend: when I pray for God’s provision, Jennifer makes more money in tips!  Thus far, I have not ceased to be pleasantly surprised by the results.  There have been a couple times when I even prayed for a specific amount, which God either granted or surpassed!  And there’s a corresponding trend I’ve noticed as well: Jenn has had her hardest nights on nights when I didn’t pray for her.  Frankly, I’m quite embarrassed to admit that it’s taken me 23 years to really grasp the truth of the Bible’s claims about prayer. My wife, on the other hand, seems to have never suffered from this lack of faith in prayer that has been so epidemic in my life.  When she looses her keys (which seems to be a daily occurrence!  lol), she’ll pray for God’s help to find them.  And, while I’m rolling my eyes and silently laughing that she would pray over such a small and petty thing, she’s found the keys.  Sure, some may call it coincidence, but in the words of one man, “I sure have a lot more coincidences when I pray than when I don’t!”

          Now, that doesn’t always mean that he will necessarily grant my request.  I can remember many times praying in junior high and high school that God would allow me to marry my current girlfriend.  Thanks be to God that he denied my requests!  (Garth Brooks’ “Unanswered Prayers” anyone?  though perhaps “unanswered” isn’t the best way of putting it.)  I would have never met or married Jennifer, whom I am eternally grateful for.  My relationships as a puppy-love-stricken teenager pale in comparison to the love that Jennifer and I share.  God knew that I didn’t really understand what I was praying for, and he, in his infinite wisdom, denied those requests.  But, he did answer my prayers–he provided the perfect woman for me to marry.  He answered, just not in the way I’d expected.  Assuming that I have faith that God will answer my prayer, am not hindered by unrepentant sin, and I’m not asking for something out of selfish ambition or pride (like a Ferrari or the lottery, for instance), “when I pray, God answers.” And while he may not always answer the way I’d like him to at the time, in hindsight I have never been disappointed.

“In my trouble I cried to the LORD, and he answered me.”

Psalm 120:1