Opportunity Knocks

In case you’re unaware, today is World Refugee Day, with the purpose to raise awareness about the global crisis of refugees as well as to encourage advocacy and helping those in need.  Unfortunately, the word “refugee” has become more of a political term and stirs up heated emotions, which sometimes diverts from the true issue at hand: millions (over 65!) of people are living in such hostile, desperate, or un-livable conditions that they must leave their homelands.
Image result for door and europe
“Doors of Europe” Taken from Peter Carlsson’s blog
://petecarlsson.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/doors-of-europe/
Interestingly, it’s the poorer and less developed countries who welcome the most.  Maybe because they know what it feels like?  I can’t imagine…  On several occasions, I’ve chosen to leave my homeland.  It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve always had the choice, as well as the choice to return.  I’m so blessed and thankful to have been born in a nation that values freedom.
Turkey is overwhelmed as they welcome refugees who were rejected in Greece
(taken from telegraph.co.uk)
While the intolerance and brutalities are atrocious, we often don’t have to look far to see how God can bring something good out of a bad situation.  Since EE works directly with churches, I’ve gotten to glimpse some of the ways that the Church in Europe has responded to the situation.  One of the members of our leadership team is a pastor who has outreaches for many, including refugees to Switzerland.  Another attends a church in Germany that welcomes refugees and was able to befriend an Iraqi who wanted to “know God.”  And despite the poverty and effects of war, the workers in Ukraine reach out to the Crimean Tatar (Muslim) refugees.
This is another reason that evangelism, in my opinion, is so important in Europe right now. For the Europeans, yes, but also for those who have come from countries with no other Christian witness!  It’s amazing that such an unfortunate and tragic situation has actually created opportunity for people from closed countries (not open to the Gospel) to go to open countries where they are able to hear the Gospel.  

Donate
Taken from UN’s webpage
It encourages me to see the Church respond because as Christians, we adore and worship the God whose Gospel–or good message that He put into action–is “the power of God for salvation…” (Rom 15:1).  This word salvation does apply to a future salvation from damnation, thank God; but its primary definition from the Greek is “deliverance, preservation, safety, salvation” and “deliverance from the molestation from enemies.”* Since a refugee is “a person who has been forced to flee their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster” (Oxford Dictionary), by definition, they are ripe for God’s gracious gift of salvation.


It helps, though humbles me, to remember the rest of this verse, that this gift of salvation is “to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” because it reminds me that I myself should be an outsider of God’s kingdom.  It’s by His sheer grace and act of love that I get to be included because He’s a God who has rescued me from danger.  


As the Church prays for God’s “kingdom to come, [His] will to be done,” may we embrace the doors of opportunity to bring His kingdom to earth and participate with Him in this crisis of a situation, not just for the refugees, but for the nations who are trying to help. 

*Greek definitions accessible through www.blueletterbible.org

Magnolias and Meetings

This morning is the first time I’ve joined the monthly VP calls.  Thankfully I’m on Eastern Standard Time and got to start at 8AM instead of midnight like those in Fiji did!  I set up my computer on my window seat, which gives me an immediate view of the magnolia tree right outside my room.  I love this time of year watching the magnolias bloom, but I learned something new today: they open up very quickly…or at least this one did!

In the course of an hour, I watched this flower which had only slighted budded open into full bloom! Perhaps the rain sped things up, but I really couldn’t believe my eyes.  And I suppose it was quite appropriate as the VP’s and leadership team were reviewing plans and resources to help assist national directors with their growing countries.  Obviously, not everything in life will develop or grow as speedily as the magnolia outside my window, but there are conditions and care that will facilitate growth.
On a more somber note, it also reminds me that everything on earth is temporary, relatively speaking.  Whether you tune into the news or just get out of bed, death haunts us in literal and metaphorical forms, confronting us at times with uncertainties and unpredictability. This morning’s magnolia almost puts action to this sober reality that is confirmed in the book of Isaiah: “The grass withers, the flower fades…” reinforcing the need to bring the Good News to every person.
Thankfully, when Christ is our Lord and our source of Hope and true Life, we have security and stability that people, things, and plans of this world are unable to offer us.  And while death is a reality, it isn’t final.  Jesus has power to resurrect.  He gets the last word.  To complete the sentence, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

It’s a Small World

It’s really good to be here in Asheville with passionate leaders from around the world.  The last time we sat around a table together was in Indonesia last August as the (6 out of 7 new) VP’s gathered today after the Congress of Nations.
Thai Food Together
The week has been intense, but very good.  I arrived Monday late morning and have snuck away from a few of the meetings to meet individually with some of the more experienced staff to help answer the slew of questions I have.  The past few weeks, I’ve picked up more and more responsibilities, somewhat to prep for this week; and the more I get assigned, the more I realize I have to learn!  That’s an ongoing prayer request, for wisdom and understanding, for all of us.
The meetings have been extremely insightful for me, and it’s a real privilege to hear all that the Lord is doing around the world, which seems a lot smaller when we’re all joined together despite the different cultures and languages represented.  I’m excited for tonight’s meetings as the VP’s will each share with the board about what is happening in their particular areas. (Hope to share more later).

Of course, we don’t only talk of all the successes, but the challenges as well.  As we were reminded in a session on Master Planning this morning, conflict and misunderstanding are the result of differing assumptions; so communication is vital for clarity.  Also, mission points us in the right direction while vision motivates and inspires.  Just a couple of nuggets from today. 🙂

Tom Reviewing Master Planning
We would all appreciate your prayers as these final two days are the longest.  Thank you!
Risky Business

Risky Business

 “The moment they saw Him they worshiped Him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.”  (Matt 28:17)
In light of the Easter season upon us, I’ve been reading the accounts of both Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Jesus has risen from the dead, presented Himself to Mary and several other women, and now the 11 disciples see Him face-to-face, and the above statement is how the Message records their response.
Of course, we know that wasn’t the end of the story and that Jesus’ death was intentional, prophetic, and even powerful as it served as the required sacrifice needed to cover the payment for sin, once and for all, to restore us back to Him.  That His resurrection brought the power to bring life into what is dead.
But imagine having given up everything to follow Jesus only to watch the religious people who had given up nothing and challenged His divinity have Him killed.  And instead of defending Himself or God, He suffers a brutal death right along with common criminals and goes into a grave, leaving them abandoned and scared.  Disappointment doesn’t seem to capture how I imagine those who had risked everything for Jesus must have felt.
But the disciples had a choice: to give themselves back to Jesus with reverence, obedience, and respect or to keep their distance because of doubt.   The original Greek is to waver, the same word when Peter started walking on water but then fell.
I wonder where you or I have been disappointed by Jesus.  We may deny such a thought because we know that Jesus doesn’t disappoint, but our own expectations of who we expect Jesus to be and what He should do for us certainly can just like they did for His disciples when He walked the earth.  And so when He tells us to “meet Him in Galilee” so to speak, to trust Him again, we have that same choice.  Will we offer ourselves to Him as our worship, or will we waver because we’re trusting in our own abilities or simply don’t want to risk being disappointed again?
Perhaps it would help us to remember that Jesus doesn’t empower us for our own individual comfort and success in life, that our following Him isn’t for us alone.  This whole scene is actually the background for the Great Commission where Jesus’ next move is to transfer His own power and responsibility to carry God’s salvation plan to those who follow after Him as His disciples.  So I think it’s worth contemplating these things and considering if our God who gave up His very life is willing to trust us with this crucial role, will we trust Him in our everyday lives as well as with this call?

I Don’t Need Jesus

I was asked to speak at an event this past weekend for homeschooling parents about evangelizing teenagers.   Since far too much time has passed since my own high school years, my only “qualifications” are that I taught teenagers the past 3 years and have a teenage nephew.  Clearly not the expert!  But since the starting point that we teach in XEE is to connect and relate to others, it seemed like a good place to start is to consider the teenage life and mind.
Dot and I had some convo/role plays about learning to connect with others with Chloe and Audrey.  They’re both high school students who are enthusiastic to share the Gospel. Note: the flowers were Audrey’s idea, but brought back memories to Fiji! 🌼

One point we talked about is that many teens, whether they’ve grown up in church or not, may not recognize their need for Jesus.  And I’d say this is not limited to teenagers, but could hold true for all ages and all cultures. It’s something I have encountered with Europeans, particularly the French who pride themselves in secularism.  Perhaps it’s because Jesus is associated with the Church and religion, which hasn’t always prevailed in the teachings of Jesus.  Perhaps it’s because many associate Him with a 2000+-year old historical figure that has zero relevance to the 21st century.
That’s where I get hopeful and even excited because as the approaching Easter season is supposed to remind us, Jesus is alive and oh-so-relevant.  A teen (or anyone) may deny their need for Jesus, but they may be better able to acknowledge their need for emotional or physical healing.  Because Jesus is Healer, He heals emotions, bodies, and spirits.  So, actually who Jesus is and what He does meets their needs after all.  Perhaps they need counsel for a tough decision or relationship or even counseling to help through some pain or confusion.  Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor.  Maybe they live with loneliness and just need a friend.  Jesus is Friend.  In fact, He befriended the outcasts, despised, and “bad people” most of the time!  Or they may need someone who can stick around after dealing with a failed friendship, relationship, or even parent who has left.  Jesus is the Faithful One. 

The point is as humans–teen or not–we may not think we need Jesus when in actuality, that’s exactly who we need.  We just don’t know it because we’ve relegated Him to a figure from an ancient text rather than the God-With-Us, one of His other names.  The reality is that His Holy Spirit lives inside of those who do recognize their need for Jesus; so we have access to Him directly but also through others who are filled with His Spirit!  
Perhaps a real challenge is first getting to know Jesus in the fullness of who He is for ourselves so that we can share Him with others.  Then the Gospel is more than an awkward conversation, but the Good News that it truly is: Jesus did die over 2000 years ago to pay the price for every wrong thing we and others have done.  But now Jesus is alive and relates to us right where we are to restore us back to the One who created us to be whole and fulfilled.  
Jesus does meet our needs emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  Right here, right now, and one day forever.  Let’s recognize the real need for Jesus that is there for all life stages because of our common human state; and let’s share Him with others.  We all need Jesus.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Change is on my mind.  More specifically, changed minds.  There’s a parable in Matthew 21 that compares two different sons.  One say he’s going to do something, but never does it.  The other initially says he won’t, but then changes his mind and does it.  God uses this story to illustrate that anyone who wants to have a right relationship with the Father will need to change their mind.
I remember when I was a teenager and had heard this aspect of the Gospel and genuinely questioned what there was to change about myself.  I knew I wasn’t perfect, but no one was; and I tried to lead a good life.  By God’s grace, I was able to see that God isn’t just perfect; He’s holy, and I needed Jesus to save me from my natural unholiness that gave me no chance of being in relationship with Him.
Years later, I am thankful to have experienced much transformation through the relationship I have with God. This can look so many ways, but it’s always positive and beautiful.  In light of this, I’d like to share a true story about one example of Christ’s power to transform in the lives of others who are connected with my sending agency:
There is a native South American group called the Yaghans.  Back in the 1840’s a SAMS missionary named Allen Gardiner set out to share the Gospel with them even though they were savage and fierce. In fact, Charles Darwin said that “one can hardly…believe they are fellow creatures and inhabitants of the same world.”  After Gardiner and the others died without seeing any success by the world’s standards, another young SAMS missionary named Thomas Bridges returned and shared the Gospel with them.  He did this not by mere word, but by action when he chose to forgive the hostile tribe members who had killed his friends.


Unfortunately Allen Gardiner died before being able to share the Gospel or seeing the fruit of his labor.

This time, there was fruit.  The transforming power of Christ shone brightly as the barbarian Yaghans actually put their own lives at risk to help rescue a stranded ship of sailors at sea.  This visible display of transformation of the Yaghans was evident to many.  In fact, Charles Darwin himself became a regular SAMS donor because he was so impressed by the change that had taken place in their hearts and minds!


Perhaps this is one reason that Jesus places such a high value on a changed heart: because of the way that it points others to Him.  And why He commends the heart that is willing to yield and allow Him to change it–even after initial resistance.  I’ll end by challenging us all to offer our hearts and minds to Jesus to show us where we may need some kind of change that could free us to be who we were created to be and in doing so, point others to Him.