Encourage Yourself in the Lord

Ups and downs in life are inevitable. Some days, I feel at the top of my game spiritually. I’m up early praying and reading my Bible. I see God answer those prayers. I feel close to Him. Other days, I get up later than I want to, go through the day feeling spiritually drained, or end up regretting missing out on what I see (in retrospect) as “God opportunities.” Practically speaking, maybe I go to bed tired and wake up tired and feel irritable all day. Maybe I successfully hold my tongue when the volume from our nine children increases beyond my tolerance level, or when I hear their cross words and they refuse my kind correction. Or, maybe I don’t hold my tongue, and then all of us feel bad for a while until I sit them all down and apologize. Some days I am productive and feel good. Other days, I just hope no one comes to the door (unfortunately, that rarely happens around here!).

None of us want to be “people-pleasers,” doing what we do to get accolades and pats on the back. But,  the Bible does tell us to “encourage one another and build each other up,” and to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” We all need a boost from people around us sometimes, and I think God knows that we need other people to come alongside of us to help us be our best. But in the day-to-day grind and the ordinariness of everyday, there are few people who do that for us with any consistency. Frankly, much of what we do is unseen by others. We live largely independent lives and often just don’t cross paths with people. And maybe you’ve been in the same position as me on occasion: when you do get some words of encouragement  (“Your children are so well-behaved!,” for example), all you can do is think to yourself, “Yeah, they should sit at our supper table for a few nights, then they’d hear how often I have to correct things like feet on the table, eating with fingers, not washing hands with soap, over-indulging in food,” etc., etc. Even what is meant as encouragement, when turned over in a negative mind, can have the opposite effect and we end up meditating on all we wish we could change.

Spiritually speaking, there are going to be times when you lack a mentor who can challenge you and encourage you to stay strong in your walk with the Lord. One of my dearest sisters in the Lord never let a conversation end until she asked me, “What are you reading during your devotional time?” or, “How is your prayer life?” I really loved that about her and, as a result, I’ve always tried to have interactions that SPEAK life rather than just TALK ABOUT life. I try to be consistent with prayer and reading, but let’s face it, we all go through times where we get busy and don’t have regular time for that (even worse if it’s purposely so, because we don’t really want to hear from God…ouch!) If you don’t have someone who knows where you’re at and can provide some accountability, it’s often hard to get back on track. Whether practical or spiritual encouragement, let’s face it: Encouragement is so necessary, but often so absent.

Over the years, I’ve learned something important about both my walk with the Lord and my parenting journey: neither are going to have the outcome I desire unless I encourage myself in the Lord. I can’t depend on other people, my own emotions are often deceitful, and circumstances are out of my control. The only sure thing I have, the only thing I can depend on, is God and His Word. So when I need encouragement, that’s where I have to go. And if I don’t, it’s as Hebrews says–it’s all too easy to become “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (see Hebrews 3:13).

bible_transparent_208I remember being a young Mom of three and sitting in my prayer closet during the wee hours of the morning. I don’t know exactly what I was crying to God about, but that’s what I was doing. And then I opened my Bible to 1 Samuel 30 and read of the distress of David: the Amalekites had destroyed his city and taken his wives and daughters captive, along with the families of all his men. The people talked of stoning him. And what did he do? He “strengthened himself,” or “encouraged himself in the Lord.” (verse 6). What does this mean? This passage doesn’t specify, but if you read the Psalms, you can see it. Even when things wee at their worst (perhaps especially so, in fact), David meditated on who God is: the goodness of God; His love; His faithfulness. He remembered how God had worked on his life: rescuing him from his enemies, keeping his promises, working all David’s circumstances for his good and for the fulfillment of God’s purposes. David also, even in his angst, put his hope in God and in His Word. He trusted God and believed He would see God’s goodness. He knew God would be faithful to His Word, so he focused on that rather than on his circumstances. This is what I have tried to train myself to do over the years (though I still have times when I’m not as good at it as I need to be).

And this is how we must encourage ourselves in the Lord when we don’t have others to share our burdens, when we stumble and don’t have someone to steady us, or when we get discouraged and need to re-focus. God is there. He sees and knows. He is our Helper in times of trouble. Hid Word does not return void. One of the best things I’ve done is to memorize God’s Word over the years. Reading is good, but memorizing is even better. I actually haven’t devoted much time to Scripture memory in recent years, but I was very faithful to it during my early years as a Christian and it has served me well. When I am discouraged or struggling and need to hear from the Lord, He speaks to me–usually through the Words that have been memorized over the years. And I am encouraged in the Lord. I put my hope in His promises.

Do you have a Scripture that you faithfully pray over your family, or a “life verse” that you remind yourself of regularly? Are you “encouraging yourself in the Lord” through regular times of reading and prayer? Are you reminding yourself often of what God has done in your life, trusting that He’s still at work in ways you don’t see?

 

The Ugly Consequences of Sin

Our twelve year-old has always loved animals. Every time I upload photos from the camera, I laugh at how many pictures like this unexpectedly show up:

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It means that Jonah has snuck the camera away to photograph one of his latest “finds.” I’ve been surprised by chameleons, snakes, box turtles, butterflies, snails, and more at various times over the past few years.

When we moved to Africa, one of hardest things for Jonah was giving up his beloved hamster. He’s wanted a pet and the family cats don’t count because they belong to everyone. He wanted something cute and cuddly all his own, and though chameleons abound here and they’re fun to play with, they’re not exactly what he was looking for.

Then, just the other day, our neighbor’s boy showed up with something unexpected: a wild rabbit he’d caught. Somehow he knew that the wazungu house was the right place to try for a sale. I summoned Jonah to the door.

He wanted 250 shillings (about $3). We’d paid only 100 shillings each for our domestic rabbits and I whispered to Jonah that he really should negotiate aggressively on the price. But he was already in love, and I think our neighbor knew it. Jonah tried to offer 200, and he was refused. Back to his room he went to get the money.

Since it was evening, we made sleeping arrangements for the new bunny, quickly named “Sungura” (which means rabbit in Swahili, since Jonah didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl). By morning, it hadn’t eaten any of the greens that Jo had collected for him, so Jonah fed him baby formula from a syringe every couple of hours and the rabbit never left his side–even while he was doing his school work. Jonah was tickled that the rabbit continually licked his face and neck, and when Jonah would move away from the rabbit on the couch, it would quickly move over and snuggle to his side. Finally, the perfect pet! Just what he’d always wanted.

That evening, Jonah typed out an email to family in America and of course, told them about Sungura. We had just finished supper, so I told the kids they could go outside to play. I glanced over the email, clicked “send,” and looked at my inbox. Suddenly I heard loud voices outside and so I got up to see what was the matter. Before I got to the door, Jonah was inside. He had composed himself while in the yard, but as soon as he made it to the privacy of the living room, he erupted in sobs.

Through his tears, the story came out: he’d brought Sungura out to play in the great outdoors. Of course, all his siblings were excited to see the rabbit run around. One (who shall remain nameless), started chasing the tiny rabbit. Jonah yelled, “Stop! Don’t do that!,” knowing that his sibling might inadvertently step on the creature. His sibling didn’t listen, despite several warnings. Suddenly, a foot met the unfortunate rabbit’s neck. Blood immediately spurted from its nose. I ran outside to see what could be done, but it was, of course, too late and too serious.

The sibling was disciplined, and we all cried. It was an “accident”…but it wasn’t. This particular child has struggled to respect the word of older brothers and sisters lately. When corrected by them, this child has been obstinate about NOT listening and NOT following their direction. The rebellion has been obvious to everyone. It has been corrected by parents and siblings alike, and we’ve also tried to teach through the Word of God the importance of listening to wise counsel, obeying older siblings in the absence of Mom and Dad, and so on. To no avail.

If it had been an unfortunate accident, there would have been no punishment. But it wasn’t. It was sin. And this time, there were consequences. Unfortunately, it was not to the child only but to a beloved brother.

It was  a quiet and sad evening in the Carrier home. But we had some good conversation as a result. The brother forgave and his sibling repented. I know it is for God’s glory and our good.

But the boy still misses his bunny. He’s still a little sad. And things are still a little quiet as we all process the sadness of this circumstance and meditate upon the ugly consequences of sin.

 

The Consequences of Cheating

Do you remember doing SRA in grade school? You would select a numbered card from the box, read a story, and answer some questions. The stories and activities progressively increased in difficulty from 1 through 100.

I have such fond memories of SRA, I was excited to get a box when we were still young homeschoolers.

There is an answer booklet in the box. At first, I did all the correcting myself, but over time I’ve allowed the children to self-correct. They come to me if they have questions as they read or if they don’t understand the follow-up activities. I always check their work and go over anything they’ve gotten wrong. We do this not only with SRA but also with math textbooks, for which we also have answer books.

Today, for the first time in…how many years of homeschooling?…our first instance of “cheating” was brought to my attention. One of the children caught a sibling in the bedroom with the SRA answer book.

In deciding how to address this issue, I realized that I don’t think this child has ever been told that it’s wrong to copy answers out of the answer book. We’ve talked about lying and other forms of deception, but not directly about cheating as it pertains to schoolwork. So she got off with a very gentle rebuke and explanation about why her behavior was wrong. What did she do? She cried. But not because she felt bad for cheating. Instead, she was overwhelmed because…”it’s so hard!” That’s why she chose to copy answers in the first place–and it had been going on for some time before she actually got caught.

I consoled her with the fact that SRA isn’t about getting all the right answers–it’s about learning. And I would have been happy with her progressive learning, even if she got some wrong in the process. And in fact, by cheating she was making it harder for herself, not easier. Because now when she was on a certain number and difficulty level with her SRA, she really wasn’t equipped to do it on her own because she’d been cheating for so long. No wonder she was upset!

So I tried to determine how long this had been going on, and we went back. Back to a much simpler lesson, one that she and I worked through together. She did the next one on her own. And next time, she’ll continue from there. She’ll learn what she was supposed to learn the first time around.

It struck me that we sometimes do the same thing in our spiritual walk. How often do we try to get out of doing hard work, struggling through, and learning lessons that are, in the end, of great value to us? Sometimes we can claim ignorance, but other times we’re just lazy. Or it may be that the standard of perfection scares us. And yes, that is our standard (see Matthew 5:48), but God is infinitely gracious in getting us to that point. Our goal is to grow, not necessarily to get everything right the first time through. God expects us to make mistakes, He frequently gives us second chances, and sometimes we have to go back to a place we thought we’d never see again, just to learn lessons that we ignored the first time around.

I don’t ever want to presume upon God’s grace, or make excuses for my sin. Still, I am thankful for second chances and for a Father who is gentle in teaching me. I hope that as I resolved this issue with my daughter, and re-started those SRAs, she learned something–even if she didn’t get all the right answers.

 

Grumbling, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes

I don’t know about you, but all three of these (grumbling, complaining, and bad attitudes) are an occasional reality at our house.

While in America, we dealt with these issues much less than we do now in Africa. I recall a conversation I had not too long ago with my oldest son, in which he confessed that he had been struggling with his attitude–something he said he didn’t feel he had a problem with in America because we had so many distractions. For example, if the overtone of our home was negative, we might put some praise music on a CD while we did our morning work. Our daily chores were a regular part of our routine, but they had a definite beginning and end and we could look forward to some free time when we were done. We had NetFlix on-tap for both education and entertainment. If we were having a rough day, we could jump in the big red van for a trip to the museum or library. Even if we were stuck at home (though we tried to be wise and reasonable about our possessions), the children never lacked something to do.  All of these “distractions” have been removed since our arrival in Africa. Couple that with a marked increase in daily labor, and certainly, grumbling, complaining, and bad attitudes should be expected.

In spite of taking advantage of as many “teachable moments” as possible in an effort to encourage the children in a more positive direction, I admit to feeling occasionally discouraged about the lack of progress in this area. It seems that while one child might show some improvement, another falls off the wagon and there are constantly one or two (or more) among our brood who just don’t like the way things are, don’t want to do what they’re told, or can’t get along with someone else in the family. So I hear grumbling and complaining and see those bad attitudes.

But I must confess, I have not been immune to the temptation. Perhaps that’s why we have all struggled so much. I realized in conversation with Isaiah the other day just why I fall prey to grumbling every once in a while–and just like any other character deficiency or sin issue, it’s interesting how that root cause analysis really leads you to repentance. It’s not that the work bothers me or that I’m particularly overwhelmed. Though that is sometimes the case, it’s more often that I fall victim to what I’ve heard called the “Mommy Martyr” syndrome. I feel that I work harder, serve more, and benefit less than most other people in the household. And it just wouldn’t be fair if they didn’t know it. So I sigh while I wash that second sink full of dishes. I mutter under my breath about how if the girls didn’t keep throwing clean clothes on their dusty concrete bedroom floor, I wouldn’t be forced to wash them a second time even though they hadn’t even been worn. I sit the children down for a  lecture about how it would be nice if they could notice how I’m doing jobs they normally do, just so they can enjoy a break–and wouldn’t it be nice if, just for once, someone offered to help?

Why? Because I want someone to notice my efforts. Occasionally, some unsolicited help would be nice. Even better, an encouraging word would be so appreciated, given how hard I labor on their behalf. I want that proverbial “pat on the back.” And while it is true that we should encourage and help one another, there is a not-so- fine line between appreciating a positive response to our service and trying to force it upon those around you by making them feel guilty. As I said to Isaiah, cheerful service (“as unto the Lord”) brings us a reward from God, but in seeking praise from men, we have already received our reward in full (see Matthew 6).

I don’t think that all of my grumbling, complaining, and bad attitudes can be attributed to selfish manipulation or a desire for attention. However, when it is, I want to to repent and learn to seek my rest and reward from God. Just one more issue where I’m thankful for God’s grace and in which I want to press on to perfection.

 

“It Didn’t Seem Like You Love Me”

In our last e-newsletter, I talked about how I’m re-grouping in my parenting, and some of the things I’m focusing on. One of the main things is LOVE. I mentioned briefly how important it is to express love in a way that it is received–maybe you’re familiar with the “five love languages” as an example of that. So that’s by way of preface to something that happened over this weekend…

I’ve been asked to once again take up the habit of writing back and forth to some of the children in dedicated notebooks–a practice we all enjoyed in the states but that hasn’t carried over into Africa, unfortunately, since things have been rather busy. This past week has been a joy of re-connecting in a new way with several of my children. And then, two of my girls decided that they were going to start writing to each other. They’ve been scribbling notes to one another, mostly talking about the games they will play or drawing sweet pictures of them hugging each other. I stumbled upon the notebook on Saturday and sat perusing it, smiling. Then, my smile faded when I read this exchange:

…”Can we love each other, please?”…

“Of course I love you! You are my sister.”

“It didn’t seem like you love me.”

It filled me with sadness to have one of my children feel…unloved. The frustrating part is that she is loved, and she just doesn’t feel like she is. How often does that happen with various family members, during the different seasons of life that we struggle through? With my girls’ permission, I shared what they wrote with the family during our evening devotional time and just encouraged them all to keep on loving one another. It’s as simple as this:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

And this:

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12)

“You Don’t Struggle”

In talking to a sister in the Lord here at our home over this past weekend, she made a rather off-hand comment that I’m still thinking about. Though she didn’t explicitly say so, she was comparing her life to mine, and she said, “We African women, we are used to struggling. You, you don’t struggle.” And she looked around our home and shrugged, as if she didn’t want to continue. She was comparing my physical circumstances to hers, and I could agree that (in the sense that she meant it), I don’t struggle. I am able to live at home with my husband. I have the luxury of homeschooling my children. We put food on the table for three meals every day (and it’s not just ugali). When I had a first degree burn on one thumb, and then a bandaged thumb due to lancing an abcess, we could afford to pay someone to help out with daily laundry for a few weeks. I don’t *have to* work outside the home to meet our family’s necessities. I could say a lot more, but it’s pretty obvious that I don’t struggle.

But I do…I struggle against sin. I struggle to grow in faith through circumstances that I perceive as “suffering,” in various senses of the word. I don’t equate my “suffering” with this sister’s–but does that mean that I don’t struggle? The Lord allows us all to experience trials of various kinds. What is a trial for me would be a life of ease to this sister, surely; but that is no grounds for spiritual judgment. I think that this sister’s motives were pure, and I didn’t get any sense of spiritual judgment from her–but of we’re honest, I think we’ve all been quick to jump to unfair conclusions in regard to others at some point in our lives.

It’s easy to compare…but if my sister compared her life to those who in the past (or currently) suffer imprisonment, torture, and even martyr’s death, it would be equally easy for those on the the other side of the equation to say that she “doesn’t struggle.” Perspective, indeed.

I mentioned this comment to Marc after our conversation, and he was quick to concur that (in the sense she meant it), I indeed don’t “struggle.” He compared it to us trying to deal with our children’s little difficulties (like hating math, not wanting to do a half-hour chore, or what have you) when of course if they were in the adult world dealing with “real” problems, they would realize how petty those trials really are. But even if we were to encourage them to play the comparison game to gain some perspective (“gee, son, guess what fun you’ll have when you get to be an adult!”), would it really make them not “struggle?” And does it actually make their trials any less difficult when they’re going through the process? Maybe yes, and maybe no. Depends how you present it, I guess. But each person’s trial is a trial, indeed, to that person. And God uses those trials to shape and refine us, to show us the genuineness of our faith. What is difficult for one may not be for another…but “to his own master he stands or falls” (Romans 14:4). God knows the heart of each man, and that is what He is concerned with in allowing various trials into our lives.  So let’s not be quick to judge one another, but rather encourage one another to persevere and honor God in spite of our present “sufferings” (be they large or small). And let us personally press on in times of trial to find what is good and strengthen ourselves for God’s glory, rejoicing in the Lord.

Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will ofGod.

 The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

(1 Peter 4:1-8)

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.” (Hebrews 12:3-6)

Apparently I Missed the Memo that I am Selfish

Many years ago now (and sorry I don’t know the source), I recall reading another Mom’s confession: becoming a Mom showed me how incredibly selfish I was.

Guilty as charged. Over many years of mothering, I’ve slowly become less selfish and more of a “servant” (in a good, “I want to glorify God” sort of way). I’ve come to terms with the fact that a full night’s sleep is over-rated. And that when I’m short on sleep, I still need to be loving...and patient. And as you know, Mom’s don’t get sick days. Not only that, no matter how hard we work compared to everyone else, we need to be an example to our children of how to “work with all our hearts as working for the Lord” and “having the attitude of Christ,” who did not come to be served but to serve. Motherhood has given me many opportunities to put aside my flesh and my selfish desires and do what is necessary and best for my family and for the Lord. I don’t do it perfectly, but after 13 years and counting…I’m getting there.

Or so I thought.

Being “on the mission field” here in Africa has just afforded me yet many more opportunities to work on my inherent selfishness and focus on pleasing not myself, but my God.

We’re “known” here. The mzungus who have come to share the Word of God. They don’t call first, they just show up. They want to talk to “Baba Isaiah” or “Missionary Marc,” as my husband is known. And it’s my job to greet them all and play hostess. If it’s a group of women, I try to take the lead on conversation. I have to admit, that’s a challenge for me. We’re still not fluent in Swahili, and many of them know little or know English, so it’s very often…very awkward. But more than that, the visits usually happen when I’d prefer they didn’t. Like when I’ve “finally” finished my morning’s work and can finally sit down and read a book to the littles whom I can’t help but feel like I’ve neglected for far too long. Or when the children are (for once) all enjoying some free time outside and I might just be able to read a good book for a few minutes. Or it could be that I haven’t even finished the wash yet, and if it doesn’t happen soon, we’ll miss the window of opportunity on the sunshine to dry them…and once dragged in the house, there’s never enough room on kitchen clothesline for the damp stuff, and it’ll just have to get brought out to the line again tomorrow. In the middle of meal preparation? Well, turn down the heat on the unpredictable propane stove and pray that it doesn’t burn. Burnt supper? Let’s see what we can do…

I still want it my way: my to-do list (however noble the tasks might be), my schedule, my convenience.

And if they’re not coming here…Marc is going “out there.” I look forward to those precious one or two days each week that he’s supposed to be “off.” But he rarely is. Phone calls, more drop-ins, unexpectedly scheduled meetings, baptisms, paperwork to catch up on…and sometimes (in my more selfish moments), I wish we could have more family time. It’s important to us, and we do what we can with what we have; we try to set boundaries…but I have to admit, sometimes my attitude about being “on mission” and about all of the inevitable interruptions, isn’t the best. I’m still selfish.

But I’m working on it.

Immunizations, Prescription Drugs, and GMO

While in America, we ran in some pretty conservative homeschooling circles. Although we never did go the “no-immunization” route with our children, I certainly was swayed toward that position, and Marc and I had many conversations about it. We did “delay” some immunizations for some of our children and refused the chicken pox vaccine almost across the board (although our oldest got it). I won’t deny the stranglehold that the pharmaceutical industry has on many facets of life in America, and I would even give some credence to the link between immunizations and autism.

So when we had been in Africa only a few months and two nice doctors showed up in our yard telling us that we needed to have all children under 5 given an oral vaccine for polio because there were some confirmed cases not too far away, I was adamant that WE DID NOT NEED THEM. They’d already been vaccinated in America, and no further intervention was necessary (for our protection or theirs). They were equally adamant that THEY ROUTINELY RE-VACCINATED ALL CHILDREN UNDER FIVE WHENEVER THERE WAS A CONFIRMED CASE OF POLIO IN THE AREA. Seeing that they would not be moved, I summoned Marc and he told me to dig their immunization records out of the file. Done. He showed the nice doctors our paperwork and they retreated.

An hour or so later, a couple more nice doctors came. These were higher up the supervisory chain, I think, and they would not be deterred from their mission. Marc conceded, and three of our littles got some drops in their mouths. I made a weak protest to Marc after they left, but all he said was, “You can’t blame them. Polio IS a really scary disease. I’ve been into Kitale more than you, and I’ve seen several people crippled and laying on the sidewalk begging. That’s all they can do. I’m pretty sure that’s from polio. They have to take it seriously and they don’t want us to be a risk.”

Good point. I suppose in America, we have the luxury of choice. Here, where the disease is not eradicated, they are trying to get to where we are–a total population free from the fear of a crippling disease. I  had not thought of it that way.

Ditto for prescription medication. We were on the path toward total natural remedies–in fact, I’m thinking we actually had arrived there. We haven’t been to the doctor (other than children’s preventative visits) or gotten a prescription for…a long time. I preferred oregano and grapefruit seed extract to any artificial antibiotic and believed they were equally as effective. For coughs, a rub of eucalyptus and thyme mixed with a carrier oil or a homemade cough syrup would do the trick. Immune-boosting supplements kept us healthy enough not to need further interventions, as a rule.

Then…Africa.

Water-borne amoebas stubbornly resisted all oregano and grapefruit seed extract, probiotics, and whatever else I could throw at them. So, in defeat, we talked to the neighborhood chemist, who have us some pills and some oral meds for the littles. We’ve all taken them multiple times, and each time I choose to be thankful for the relief rather than suspect of the chemical processes behind it. Many of our neighbors who routinely get malaria are grateful for cheap anti-malarial drugs–who can blame them? And when our 11 year-old had a bad cough that kept him up for multiple nights, unresponsive to our homemade cough syrup and chest rub, well…I took as a blessing the allergy medicine and cough suppressant from the local chemist.

And despite the evidence against GMOs (with which, by the way, I generally agree), I can see why the locals here use it without any second thought. Where a child reaching the age of five is a monumental milestone (due to disease and, yes, starvation), getting twice the yield (or more) from GMO versus heirloom corn seems pretty appealing. Better to be able to feed your children then potentially have them die of starvation, even if the GMO stuff does give them cancer…or sterilize them for life…or whatever *might* happen from a lifelong exposure to such an altered food source.

We’ve never been the type to make a stand over any “debatable” issues. The Gospel of the Kingdom is where we stand firm, and in all other things we do have an opinion, but unless asked we try to keep it to ourselves. If we do share what we believe, we try not to be dogmatic, but give room for freedom to our Christian brothers and sisters. But in these areas–immunizations, prescriptions drugs, and GMO–I recognize that I did have very firm convictions. And now, while I’m not second-guessing that, I do see how sometimes, we don’t have the luxury of conviction. And unless it involves obedience to Christ, maybe our opinion is, in the final analysis, irrelevant.

Oh, and yes, raw milk is best and people should have freedom to choose between that and the pasteurized variety. Here we have that freedom, but until the day we get our own cow…I’m boiling my milk, thanks.

 

Chronically Critical

Since coming to understand the Gospel of the Kingdom a few years ago and realizing that, indeed, Jesus died not *just* to pay the penalty for our sin but even more, to enable us to live victoriously over it, I am thankful to see how the Holy Spirit has worked in my life  in areas where I have long struggled in the flesh. Depression and anger are two particular strongholds.

One thing I hadn’t quite figured out, though, and couldn’t manage to shake was my chronically critical nature. I’m one of those “glass half full” people, and my children bear the brunt of my weakness in that area. I’m quick to jump on them for perceived inadequacies, nag about jobs left half-done, and let myself get discouraged because I wonder if they’re ever going to “get it.” And although I’ve recognized it as sin, prayed over it, meditated on Scriptures, and so on…it was still there. And I hate it. I’ve gone around the proverbial mountain: sin and repent, sin and repent. Try to change and do good for a while and then, lose it over something really silly like the girls leaving clothes all over their bedroom floor.

This morning, however, I had an interesting mediation on 1 John 5:3-4:

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

I affirmed to myself what I already knew: that obedience to Jesus is a necessary part of our love/faith relationship; and that through Jesus it was indeed possible to overcome sin. In fact, it’s not even “burdensome” to do so–it should not be all that difficult. Soooo…I asked myself, why do I still struggle with a chronically critical nature and allow this weakness in my flesh to cause me to sin? Why is it, indeed, such a burden–and why have I not been able to gain freedom? I’ve been through the Spiritual Inventory, which was an amazing exercise and a most helpful first step in being free from sin. I believe that my critical nature represents a stronghold and I’ve prayed over it accordingly, but still…no victory. And I as I meditated on these verses and my own persistent failures, I gained some insight that I want to share in the form of an analogy.

Since coming to Africa, we’ve struggled with all kinds of intestinal “bugs.” We’ve been thankful for the amoebicides that have helped with water-borne critters. Most recently it’s been giardia, which is difficult because the pesky little critters go through a cyst stage and “hibernate” in your intestinal tract, where they are resistant to medicinal treatment. Thus, when they emerge from the cyst stage, you have to be quick to recognize the symptoms and re-medicate. Our neighborhood chemist has been our friend as we have worked to eradicate these little guys, and “T-Zex” (the pill of choice) has become a household name.

So recently Marc was on-mission in Kimilili and recognized some of those symptoms. However, he also had a fever, which is unusual. The local hospital’s prognosis was an intestinal infection, so they have him T-Zex for the symptoms, and another series of pills which he assumed were antibiotics. He took them faithfully for several days with no relief. Finally he called our local chemist and asked about the medicine he was taking, and discovered that it was just a fever reducer and pain reliever. Apparently the doctors were unaware that in the event of infection, an antibiotic is necessary, to attack not just the symptoms but the root cause.

This series of recent events oddly came to my mind as I was meditating on 1 John 5. I realized that in the matter of my “chronically critical” nature, I’ve been attacking symptoms and trying to make the problem better (with some progress and change, to be sure). However, I was lacking a root cause analysis. And unless I determined the root cause, I really could not experience victory. As I prayed over it further, I realized that my critical nature (particularly with the children) was a result of unforgiveess. And THAT is what I needed to repent of, receive cleansing for, and gain freedom over. All possible through the power of Christ and what He has already accomplished!

You may ask, how does unforgiveness lead to a critical nature, which results in many temptations to sin? It’s simple, really. Children, it seems, are always doing something to offend. They find folly of all kinds, disobey, make messes when you’d rather they be clean, turn you into a servant when you just want to enjoy some free time, create noise when you have a throbbing headache or want to just make ONE phone call…and so on. Multiply that by our eight children and the imagined offenses just pile up. And instead of treating each “offense” individually and releasing it, my tendency is to hold on to it…to let things accumulate…so that eventually it’s all I can see. Instead of acknowledging the child’s love in bringing me flowers from the garden, I criticize them for leaving mud on the floor (because it seems all I do is clean up after everyone, and why is it that no one else notices the messes?) Instead of being pleased that she wants to help make juice to go with a meal, I get irritated that she’s spilled the concentrate–which is an ant fest, and of course I just washed the floor! I nag, remind, complain (then apologize/repent…and eventually repeat the cycle) because I carry the offenses in a spirit of unforgiveness. So of course, when another incident occurs (which it always does) I’m quick to view events through that critical lens and assume the worst rather than the best.

So in my quiet time this morning, I was able to identify the root cause that has been causing persistent problems in my spiritual walk and in my relationship with my children. I called sin, sin, and repented before the Lord–because ultimately, it is Him that I offend. I want to give Him my very best–not excuses for consistently falling short. And, through faith in Christ and in His finished work, I can trust that there is victory when satan is deprived of his authority in an area of stronghold.

I suppose I’d rather blog about stuff like this when I’ve experienced victory for more than one day…but, I thought it important to share while the meditations were still fresh in my mind. We all have areas where we struggle; we try and try and try and genuinely repent, but repeat the sin more times than we can count. But there IS the hope of victory, if we can simply recognize the true root cause of our failings and remove satan’s influence over those strongholds. Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world!

If you have not read our free ebooks, We Still Sin, Right? and The Kingdom Expansion Series, I think you will find them a blessing as you seek to glorify God and grow in Him. You can get either one of those on our site here or at our East Africa missions site, www.kingdomdriven.org.

Measuring Myself

 

 “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)

It wasn’t too long ago that I shared about my sense of inadequacy as compared to my African counterparts. So it was nice to be walking and chatting with two women the other day, comparing our native countries, and have one of them say,

“So in America you use some machines for farming. Some have said to me that they do not see you out working the shamba (farm), but it is because you need to practice with the jembe (hoe). Anyway, I tell them that I see you being very busy, doing your own wash and schooling all your children. You are not like many American women here.”

I was tempted to pat myself on the back–and actually, I suppose I did. It’s true–many mzungus here live in gated communities in houses with lots of amenities–even running water and flushing toilets! These things we are happy to do without. Likewise, for many mzungus the cost of a day laborer to wash, cook, clean, and go to market is so cheap (about $1 per day)  that, why wouldn’t you hire help? And certainly it is a blessing to the woman who now can put food on her family’s table. But for the  moment, I indulged in comparing myself to “other mzungus” and it was nice to feel like I was actually adapting well to a much different style of life and standard of living.

As well, I could easily compare myself to myself. I also recently blogged about how much busier I am here than in Amercia. In that regard, as well as others (such as being content with less and engaging more in the work of the ministry), I compare very well to “myself” of, say, just six months ago. So all the way around, I suppose I have a lot to feel good (self-righteous?) about.

But it didn’t take me long at all to remind myself that neither my “old self” nor others are my true standard of measure. The example of Christ is,  and His teachings are. And didn’t He say,

…”you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
(Matthew 5:48)

Yes, we are works in progress. Yes, we need (and receive) much grace. But let us not forget that the purpose of God’s grace is to help us grow in holiness (see Titus 2:11-13). When we compare ourselves with others or even with our own selves, it is easy to make something of our spiritual progress. But if our standard is Christ, of course we fall woefully short. I don’t know about you, but my response to that feeling of inadequacy is to strengthen my resolve to persevere in glorifying my Savior, who is more than worthy of my best effort.

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