Thursday, December 29, 2005

Suffering and Serving

As I continue reading "The Hidden Smile of God" I have been struck by the fact that the suffering is what drove Bunyan to the depths of his communion with God. It was in the times of deepest pain and affliction that he seemed to find the sweetest fellowship and strongest reliance on his Savior. He wrote "Pilgrim's Progress" while sitting in prison.

I was reminded of a passage in Thessalonians 3 that I read recently. Paul had sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonian church in their trials. But the second half of v.3 is what really struck me. Paul says of the trials, "You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted."

Throughout history we see that persecution and trials go hand in hand with the service of the faithful. Even the twelve disciples endured some horrific suffering.

I grew up on the mission field and saw some of the persecution of faithful believers firsthand. And for 7 years I struggled to reconcile how a loving God could call his children into a life of suffering. It seemed unfair and unjust to me that a life of obedient submission was often filled with pain and affliction.

But God's ways are not my ways and His thoughts are not my thoughts. He understands that this life, and our momentary trials, are but a second in the scope of eternity. If we live with a kindgom perspective rather than an earthly perspective, then we will be able to endure. Because the day will come when it will have been worth it, and the pain and tears will be no more.

"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." --Phil. 3:10


Yesterday was our 14th wedding anniversary. It was also the 2nd anniversary of our big move to Pittsburgh.

We look back and are amazed. Amazed that God has blessed us with two beautiful kids who are so much fun. Amazed that we have been able to be part of a great adventure, and that there have been very few dull moments on this journey. Amazed that we have been able to serve alongside some of the most incredible people in ministry. Amazed that God has blessed us with such loving family and friends.

As we get ready to start a new year, we are excited about where God is leading us. We have a sense of anticipation for the months ahead. We feel like God is getting ready to do something big: not just in our own personal lives, but in our children, our students, and throughout the nations as well.

Here are some of the things we are praying for in the new year: more students coming to know Christ, an opportunity to go work with simple churches overseas, spiritual growth in our kids as we teach them to study the Word inductively, more of our students being called into missions, and a deeper level of friendship and partnership in our marriage.

We also hope that we will be able to find a church home and a family of friends. We are praying that God will send more laborers to work with us in Pittsburgh. We pray that cooperation will continue, and relationships keep developing between the different Christian organizations on campus. And we are praying that God will give us direction concerning the church plant in Oakland.

A few years from now, we hope to be able to look back and thank God for answering many of these prayers. He has shown Himself to be so true, over and over again. We are reminded of a promise that we claimed when we first felt the call to PA, while we were trying to raise our financial support. "The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it." --1 Thess. 5:24

Praise be to God for His goodness.

Monday, December 26, 2005

"To Live Upon God that is Invisible"

I continue to be intrigued by John Bunyan's statement "to live upon God that is invisible."

John Piper, in his book "The Hidden Smile of God", says this about it:
"He (Bunyan) is with us and ministering to us because he reverenced the Word of God and was so permeatd by it that his blood is "Bibline"--the essence of the Bible flows from him.

And this is what he has to show us. That 'to live upon God that is invisible' is to live upon the Word of God. To serve and suffer rooted in God is to serve and suffer saturated with the Word of God. This is how we shall live, this is how we shall suffer. And, if we are called to be leaders among the people of God, this is how we shall help our people get safely to the Celestial City. We will woo them with the Word. We will say to them what Bunyan said to his people--and I say to you, dear reader:

'God hath strewed all the way from the gate of hell, where thou wast, to the gate of heaven, whither thou art going, with flowers out of his own garden. Behold how the promises, invitations, calls, and encouragements, like lilies, lie round about thee! Take heed that thou dost not tread them under thy foot.' "

I have found these truths to be evident in my own life. Healing from bondage of my past came when I began to saturate myself with the Word of God. Guidance for each day comes when I read my Bible. And hope for the future is found there as well. His Word is real and powerful and relevant in every situation of my life.

But there is a secondary truth found in Bunyan's words, and that is the concept of "serve and suffer." I'll tackle that one tomorrow.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Beautiful Musicians

Anna and her good friend Louisa at the band concert. Louisa plays the baritone.

Beautiful Instruments

The combined bands playing the grand finale

Tuesday night we had the privilege of going to our daughter Anna's band concert. She plays the Saxaphone, and this year the 5th graders got to play in the Middle and High School Christmas Concert. Each grade was featured, using combined bands from all three elementary schools, as well as the Middle School and High School ensembles.

But the grand finale was when the High School drum majors came marching in, climbed up on their ladders and blew their whistles. The entire Pine-Richland High School band then marched in, surrounding all the younger bands who were seated in the center of the gym. They all played the final song together. It was incredible, and a "larger-than-life" experience for Anna.

It reminded me, though, of a comment that was made by one of our students, Kyle. He had been reading in Romans 6:13, when the concept of being "instruments of God" really struck him. He described us as being musical instruments who should be constantly walking around playing the beautiful song of the gospel through the way we live. Then, as the Holy Spirit allows, the lost people around us will hear the strange and lovely music, and be drawn to it. We are to be a living testimony, playing beautiful music.

My heart felt like it would burst as the music from all of these amazing children just filled up the room. But suddenly I heard a horn (probably a tuba) miss the part. It's blaring notes stuck out against the smooth background of the other musicians. And for one second it ruined the harmony and beauty of the song.

I thought about our lives, those times when we are tempted to play our own tune and draw attention to ourselves. Those individual notes sound blaring and dissonant against the smooth unity of the rest of the orchestra. When we take our eyes off the conducter, and begin to do our own thing, our song is not so beautiful anymore because it doesn't fit in with the leading of the conducter.

My prayer is that our eyes will be so closely focused on our conducter, that we will be able to play beautifully synchronized music harmoniously together.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Wisdom from the field

Jerod Harper was a student in our college group in Oklahoma. He is currently serving overseas in a country in Asia. He has some amazing insights, and I wanted you to get to hear his heart.

"For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake"--Philippians 1:29

Suffering comes in many forms and from all sides. At the moment I live in a relatively open country as a student here. Studying so that someday I may return to working in a different country. I am not in constant fear of what may come of me like many of my brothers and sisters in other countries.

My suffering comes not at the hand of man but is an emotional struggle. You see, I have family in the States. Family I love and miss greatly. Not to mention all the friends. That at first may not seem to be that great of suffering and truly I would never compare it to that of those who are giving their lives for the sake of the gospel.

But what you must remember is that when my family members had birthdays I woke up and will wake up thousands of miles away. When my good friends get married I wake up thousands of miles away. When my sister had her first child I woke up thousands of miles away. When my grandfather died I woke up thousands of miles away. For all the major events that happen in the lives of your family members and friends you are not present. Births, weddings, funerals, graduations, etc. and you experience it all through photos and phone calls.

But would I ever want it to be different? Never, not for a second. I realized some time back that this world is not where I live. Too many people think that this is where we live and heaven is where we go to live. But that is just the opposite. May I plead with you to live for heaven.

C.S. Lewis stated it like this, "If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought the most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built the Middle Ages, the English evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on earth precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this one. Aim at heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in.' Aim at earth and you will get neither."

More importantly than C.S. Lewis is what God himself said. These are just a few:

"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."--Matthew 6:19-21

"For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city."--Hebrews 11:14-16

"Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets."--Luke 6:22-23

Live for heaven. It is well worth it. Will it cost you? Yes. But rejoice when you suffer for his sake, for your reward is great! Let me leave you with two quotes:

"While vast continents are shrouded in darkness...the burden of proof lies upon you to show that the circumstances in which God has placed you were meant by God to keep you out of the foreign mission field."--Ion Keith-Falconer

"As we have a high old time this Christmas, may we who know Christ hear the cry of the damned as they hurtle headlong into the Christless night without ever having a chance. May we be moved with compassion as our Lord was. May we shed tears of repentance for these we have failed to bring out of the darkness. Beyond the smiling scenes of Bethlehem, may we see the crushing agony of Golgotha. May God give us a new vision of His will concerning the lost--and our responsibility."--Nate Saint (He wrote this twenty one days before he died attempting to fulfill that responsibility).

Pray for Jerod. You can read more from him at Tales of the Road.