While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. Luke 2:6-7, CEB
Just as Mary and Joseph cared for Jesus in his humble birthplace, may we too care for Jesus by caring for those closest to us. I pray as well that our reflections on the Nativity story will open our hearts, and our guestrooms, for Jesus to be borne into our daily life experiences.
This reminds me of the last verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
The theme for our worship gathering at Valley Life Church this Sunday is First in Mission. As I was thinking about it, I was reminded that as Christians we are to be people of good news. This doesn’t mean that we need to be “shiny, happy people holding hands,” but rather people of hope. This was Jesus’ message when he read the following passage from the scroll in the synagogue.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
(Luke 4:18-19, CEB)
This passage is a message of hope for people who need good news. We receive good news from people who have received good news. We can’t give what we don’t have. So, how do we get the good news? This was Jesus’ first message he preached.
“The time has come, and the kingdom of God is near. Change the way you think and act, and believe the Good News.”
(Mark 1:15, GW)
We receive the good news when we change the way we think and act and realize that God is here, now, working with and for us for our good and God’s glory. It’s this change of perspective that allows God to bring freedom and healing in our lives, which establishes hope in us. It is this hope that we get to, in turn, share as the good news. Jesus’ message of hope from Luke 4 is also the scope of his ministry, which is now our ministry as the body of Christ.
If you have hope, share hope. If you need hope, reach out. I have learned that those who know and love us also have hope to share with us.
By the weather we have been enjoying lately in SF Bay area, it would be hard to know that this Wednesday was the First Day of Fall!
Sunset and fog, Half Moon Bay, CA
I love the equinoxes! They are the two days of the year that are in perfect balance. Equinox means equal night. We get 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. It is also the day when the sun rises and sets due east and due west, respectively.
What, if anything, does this have to do with us?! It is simply a reminder of God’s expansive wisdom, grace, and love. Wisdom within the cycles of balance and reset. Like the Sabbath, God knows we need things to be renewed, so we don’t lose heart. Grace through the truth that, “this too shall pass.” Love, because God created this universe for us to partner with God, and God with us in the gospel promise of making all things new.
The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God. Without a sound or word, silent in the skies, their message reaches out to all the world. Psalm 19:1-4 (TLB)
I pray you take a moment this weekend to pause and receive God’s love letter to you through the beauty of creation.
This June (20-28) I am traveling to Antigua, Guatemala, with two eldest children, Lydia and Clayton. This is our third trip together. When we are there, all of our service projects, from start to finish, are done with children in mind. The stoves we install protect children from smoke inhalation and burns. The concrete floors we install protect children from intestinal parasites that infect them through their feet. We also provide children’s clothes and shoes, child sponsorship, and a Vacation Bible School. To do this for just one child is more than worth the cost of going to them! For me, though, these trips are an opportunity for Autumn and I to provide for our children the opportunity to see how children in the two-thirds world live and let them love and serve these children, who, when it comes right down to it, are just like them, beautiful and worthy of every opportunity to grow up happy, healthy, and whole.
Jesus said, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.” (Mark 10:14, CEB)
These service trips are sponsored by a Christian non-profit, Now Is The Time Missions, and a church, Valley Life Church. Christians of all stripes regard themselves as the body of Christ, a perpetual extension of the ministry of Jesus Christ. My heart, as well as all I get to serve with in Guatemala, is to be Christ to these children. Since they can’t possibly come to us, we will go to them!
Seeing my children play with these children in the villages we visit is so precious to me! My children are as much of a motivation to go to Guatemala as the children we get to serve.
In order to make this possible for my children and me, we need to raise $1700 each. That’s $5100 for the three of us. This cost is beyond our resources to fund. Would you consider partnering with us? Donating money for us to go not only covers our airfare, food, and lodging, but nearly half of the $1700 goes to funding the service projects that we will be doing. No money goes to either organization sponsoring this service trip. Everyone involved are volunteers and raise their own support, even the directors. This is a very good use of your money!
By donating money to help us cover our fees, we get to be an extension of your ministry to these children. We get to be Christ to them for you. This is an opportunity we don’t take lightly. We deeply appreciate your support!
Greetings from Antigua, Guatemala! Our time here has been amazing! God has been doing really great things, not only in the lives of those that we get to meet and help, but in our lives as well. We look forward to sharing those stories with you all.
I want to share with you a short encouragement. In our team worship gathering this evening (Wednesday) we looked at the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand.
“He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, broke the loaves into pieces, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. Everyone ate until they were full. They filled twelve baskets with the leftover pieces of bread and fish.” (Mark 6:41-43, CEB)
So often we come to God and feel that what we have to offer is insignificant and insufficient. In our time together we were able to discover how God was able to take what we had and make it more than we could ever imagine. God can do that for you as well. My prayer is that we would have eyes to see and hearts to understand what God is doing in our lives, and that in God we are enough.
Our time in Guatemala was fantastic. My two oldest children had a blast. Even though we were in a completely different culture, we seemed quite comfortable. For some people culture shock happens on the way into a new culture. For others, it happens on the way back to their culture of origin. Our team in Guatemala discussed this the night before we left to come home. This reminder helped me to navigate the cultural differences.
Part of our conversation that evening was on how the new culture affects us. Shawn Smith, our mission director, illustrated this by calling the culture of origin, square, and the new culture, circle. If someone from a square culture spends time in circle culture, he will begin to appreciate some circle ways of doing things. His experiences in the circle culture will change his perspective. He will know that he is not a circle, but he may also feel that he is not quite square anymore either
In our conversation, we coined a word, squircle.
Living as a squircle will have its challenges and benefits, but either way it will be a new normal.
As Christians, we are in some ways a squircle. We have experienced the love of God. We’ve received the grace of new life. We have seen the example of Jesus’ earthly life. We have embraced the hope of the gospel — all things put to rights and all things made new.
These experiences change us. We don’t fit any longer in the world as we know it. We are still in process toward becoming like Jesus. This is the now and not yet of the kingdom of God. We find ourselves in the middle. It’s in this middle place that people of God can make the most difference (granted we don’t wall ourselves in to preserve our “squircleness”).
With all cuteness aside, my prayer is that when we find ourselves in this in between place, we will realize that we are not alone. This is where we find Jesus and his people. Remember, we love God best when we love other well. This can only be done from the middle.
The human body has an amazing ability to filter out or prioritize the stimuli so that we can focus on what is presently at interest. This capability is also used to navigate socially. It only makes sense that we make family, close friends, organizations we associate with a priority. Yet, there are times when we are faced with situations that are out of the normal. Physiologically, it could be stubbing your toe, or socially, getting an unexpected phone call. Further more, we can place ourselves in situations that are completely outside our context for living. In a sense, these are forgotten places. We know they exist, but since they are not an immediate priority in our life, we simply don’t pay attention to them.
They are forgotten because they are also undesirable and uncomfortable. To the affluent, these things are refuse, to God they are holy. In God’s economy, that which is set apart is holy, even that which is considered refuse.
For me, our trip to Guatemala is just that, putting myself in a forgotten place. Though it is forgotten to me, it is not forgotten to God. My prayer as I’m in Guatemala is to continue to find God and experience the holy with these forgotten people and in these forgotten places. As I walk through my day, may I make place for the holy, discovering it as God reveals.
Soon enough I will forget this too, just like when our bodies filter out unnecessary stimuli. But, by experience a pathway is formed, recall is faster, and the forgotten is not so forgotten anymore.
We are just about finished preparing for our service trip to Guatemala. I will be taking my two eldest children with me. I am excited for the opportunity and humbled by their willingness to go serve people who live in extreme poverty in a developing country. The phrase, “a child will lead them,” is truer than you know.
As the three of us we going out to run errands last night, the thought came to me that we are not the only ones preparing for this trip. Jesus is too.
“Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.” (John 14:1-4, CEB)
Jesus was not only preparing an eternal home for his followers, but a place among the communities of the world. The Father’s house, the family of God, spans the globe as much as it spans eternity. Just as Jesus is preparing our hearts for this service trip, I trust that he is preparing hearts in the communities that we will be serving in. As a friend said to me this morning, “Jesus is already there and is waiting with a warm welcome.”
This is as true across the street as it is across the globe. Jesus is preparing a place for you.
Just this last Sunday, missionaries to Guatemala, Shawn & Damaris Smith visited us at VLC. They are directors of a missions organization called “Now Is The Time.” Their by line is “Because there is never a good time to go.” As you can imagine, their invitations to serve with them for a week in Guatemala have been turned down with the reason, “It’s just not a good time for me to go.” In all fairness, at times this is a legitimate answer. But let’s face it, how often have we turned down opportunities to __________ (you fill in the blank) with the response, “It’s just not a good time for me…” I know I’ve done it more times than I care to admit.
I’m not just talking about short term missions trips. Opportunities come our way constantly, either as invitations from people or directives from the Holy Spirit. It is almost criminal the number of times I’ve brushed off an invitation with the excuse, “I’ll pray about it,” or just ignored the leading of Jesus, pretending to not hear and not see. In the name of inconvenience I’ve turned off my heart and separated myself from the life flow of God that comes through service.
When I first thought about embracing inconvenience, three passages of scripture came to mind: 1) the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus taught to turn the other cheek, relinquish our coat as well as our shirt, and go the second mile ; 2) the story of the good Samaritan where the priest and the Levite refuse to be inconvenienced by the injured man; and 3) James’ teaching about faith and works, saying one has faith but doing nothing to show it.
Of course the story of the Good Samaritan is the classic text illustrating how someone chose to be inconvenienced for the sake of someone else’s well being. He didn’t have to. The priest and the Levite walked by without rendering aid. Somehow, the Samaritan man valued the injured man’s life enough to take time to do what was in his power to do. I think that is all we are asked to do, as well.
So my encouragement is to not only be open to the possibility to serve, but also to purposefully as the Lord if and how we are to help when we see a need. Jesus may say “Go ahead and lend a hand,” or he may say, “I have someone else to help out here.” But in the asking, we must be willing to be inconvenienced. For it is in the giving, we receive. It is through blessing, we are blessed. It is in the laying down of our lives that life flows back to us.
I pray God’s grace on you as you choose to be inconvenienced for the glory of God and the benefit of others.