Too much? Too little?

“Comparison disturbs contentment.”

I’m coming to the end of Cynthia Heald’s book entitled A Woman’s Journey to the Heart of God. One paragraph began with the sentence quoted above. She then quotes Amy Carmichael who pictures our discontent as a mountain:

“There is a mountain which, when I find myself compassing it, I call by this name, Discontent with the ways of God. It has other names which sound nicer, but I think this name strips it of all pretence.”

I’m not sure why I have been pondering the whole concept of contentment lately. It may be because of this book (duh!), but also because of some blogs that I have been reading that are discussing a recent trip to Africa with Compassion International. These writers are awesome women of God struggling to make sense of what they saw — and then blogged about — and how to deal with the excesses of American culture. How to help their children get their arms around another culture without making them feel guilty for the things with which God has blessed them. For identifying what are needs and what are wants.

I understand their conflict. When we first visited Ukraine I wanted to take all the orphans home with me. Or at least give each one of them a hug. I am convicted once again to wait for God’s clear direction on how I am to personally get involved with the plight of the orphans here in Ukraine. (I checked with Compassion and Ukraine is not on their short list, at this point.) My heart aches for these children — knowing that the majority of them will end up on the street once they hit the teen years.

But I digress. And my dreams for “my” orphans is the subject of another post…down the road.

So, back to contentment…or the lack thereof. The paragraph concludes with these sentences:

“If I envy, and if I am discontent, it is because I am dissatisfied with God’s provision for my perceived needs. My eyes are focused on what I have been denied, not on what I have been given. And it’s all God’s fault!”

I’m wondering whether this can’t also be played back in reverse: If I am discontent, it is because I am dissatisfied with God’s provision for my perceived needs…not by what I have been denied, but by what I have been given…when there are so many people with so much less.

Have I mentioned that I am a spoiled American missionary? Elsewhere I have written that I am not in a physical war zone, I don’t worry about whether my family is safe or whether they might be kidnapped. We are not persecuted for our faith here and we are free to proclaim the Good News. Though food prices are currently going through the ceiling, I don’t wonder whether I’ll have enough to eat. We always have coffee. And I must say that I am content…for the most part. I miss friends and family. I wish I could have all the orphans in my home.

When I see the folks here with so much less materially, I am blown away by their sweet trust in Christ. One elderly woman when asked if there might be anything that she needed, smiled, clutched her Bible to her chest, scanned the sparsely-furnished room, and said, “No. I have everything that I need.”

She is content with what she has AND with what she doesn’t have. I’ve concluded that “things” are okay! I actually reached that conclusion years ago. Things are things. We can have them, use them, appreciate them. But if they ever become more important to us than Christ, crucified and risen, then we need to quickly get on our knees and repent.

I guess I would have to say to my newly-found friends who are trying to process what they saw in Africa: Certainly write about it. Share your feelings. But don’t make life decisions based on those feelings…feelings come and go. Continue to ask God what He is teaching you through this journey. Allow the “disturbance” to cause you to search your own heart. God placed you in America for a purpose…He could have had you born ANYWHERE. Seek His face, not His hand. Rest in the assurance that He will use this life-changing experience for His glory, in some way, at the time of His own choosing. Instill in your children the concept not of guilt for having too much stuff (though maybe life could be simplified a bit?!), but of thankfulness for the blessings from God. Recognize that God sent you to Africa for His purpose. He will work through you as He works in you.

God is good and He is faithful. He has placed each of us exactly where He wants us to be. He has given us what we need to be about His work. We just need to be faithful to His call. Some of us are in the “waiting for marching orders” stage. Some of us are in “fast forward!” Some of us are on foreign fields while others are assigned to the homefront. One not more important than the other.

We all have our own struggles. God will use them to mold us into the character of His Son.

So, sometimes comparisons can cause a good disturbance…forcing us to rethink our own priorities, our own treasures. Be still. Wait. Listen.

God is at work.

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Word Choices

In Ephesians, the apostle Paul firmly believes that it is possible to be angry and yet not sin. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find it hard to control my tongue if I become really angry. I want to lash out and make sure everyone knows just how right I am. Paul Tripp really showed me myself in his book War of Words as he wrote:

“How tempting it is to give in to thoughts of helplessness, forgetting the indwelling presence of the Spirit! Consider the Christian mother who is in a screaming match with her teenage son when the phone rings. She turns from what appeared to be an out-of-control verbal barrage and answers the phone with a lilting, “Hel-lo-o.” She has chosen, for selfish reasons, to exercise the self-control that had been possible all along. She had also chosen, before the phone rang, to give in to the passions and desires of the sinful nature in her argument with her son. We are confronted here with the power Christ has given us to speak as he has called us to speak. Cling to him! The restraint we need is found in him; it is not a technique acquired in a communication course.”

What seemed to be out-of-control was actually just a choice.

How many choices do I make in a day concerning my talk? Am I speaking words of truth, of love, of restraint, of grace, of forgiveness?

As an ambassador to the King, am I representing Him honorably?

Sin attitude

Jerry Bridges never fails to make me think — sometimes he touches on a topic that I have thought about a lot. But with a slightly different angle. Sin is one of those topics. Goodness gracious, if we haven’t thought about the sin in our own lives…well, we’re just deceiving ourselves. Surely we can’t imagine that we’ve finally “made it” and we sin no more! But just because we are ALL sinners does not relieve us of our responsibility to live holy lives. Sorry, the excuses don’t cut it: “Hey, I can’t help it! Don’t blame me, I’m only human. It’s no big deal. Who’s to know? We all fall short. Nobody’s perfect.”

In the first chapter of The Pursuit of Holiness, he cites several scripture verses to help us understand the concept of holiness. And, yes, it appears that holiness is to be a part of our lives. He then asks:

“If holiness, then, is so basic to the Christian life, why do we not experience it more in daily living? Why do so many Christians feel constantly defeated in their struggle with sin? Why does the Church of Jesus Christ so often seem to be more conformed to the world around it than to God?”

Good questions, eh? He then suggests the answers to these questions. He writes:

“Our first problem is that our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God-centered. We are more concerned about our own ‘victory’ over sin than we are about the fact that our sins grieve the heart of God. We cannot tolerate failure in our struggle with sin chiefly because we are success-oriented, not because we know it is offensive to God.”

I have known that sin is chiefly against God, though it will always affect others, for a long time. I know that. But I don’t always view my own personal sin in that light. Well, if I’m taking the time to really consider what God is trying to teach me through different situations, I tend to think about my sins as against God.

But, I all too often tend to skim over my sins…just give them a quick glance, nod my head in recognition, maybe even mumble “sorry” and ask for forgiveness (in a light-hearted way, if that’s possible!). I hadn’t considered why I didn’t take all of my sins seriously…and seriously take them to God. Ack! It’s pride! I’m too proud to admit to myself and to my God that I haven’t resolved sin issues in my heart. As if He doesn’t already know…

Self-centeredness and pride. Those were the two biggies that we pointed out to our children as being almost always the root of any of our problems and conflicts. If we looked deeply enough.

And, you know, they’re still the two biggies.

Lord, forgive me. I have sinned against You. And it is breaking my heart to know that I am breaking Yours.

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Life is Ministry

Today Paul Tripp (through his book War of Words) reminded us that

“A ‘life is ministry’ attitude must govern all the words we speak. We do not step out of life into ministry. God’s call extends to every moment of life!”

He goes on to say:

“…the most powerful moments of ministry come in times of difficulty, large and small. We know that the Lord uses difficulty to advance his work in our lives. And if we are one of his primary instruments of change, most likely some of our most wonderful ministry opportunities will come in moments we would rather avoid.

“Often in such moments we are so caught up in our own emotions (hurt, fear, disappointment, anger, embarrassment, discouragement, etc.) or so caught up in our own desires (for a quick solution, to be right, to be appreciated, to escape, to win, to get out with the least amount of damage, for comfort and understanding, etc.) that we lose sight of the opportunity God has given us to speak words that promote his redemptive mission.”

He concludes this section by writing:

“A rebuke is not a condemnation but a call. Words of exhortation are not a judgment, but an encouragement to follow the Lord. The confrontation is not a sentence, but a warning. We speak God’s words to each other not because we are higher or better and not because we are capable of fixing people. No, we teach, encourage, admonish, correct, and exhort because God has commissioned us to do so. This call is not one sector of our already-too-busy lives; it is itself a lifestyle. It is what we are to be doing wherever we are, whoever we are with.

“Ministry will come unexpectedly, often wrapped in difficulty. In the midst of these opportunities, we want our talk to be consistent with God’s call, for we have accepted the fact that we have been chosen to be on the King’s mission.”

Mr. Klitchko

Who would have ever thought that I would have a post about boxing?

But, then again, who would have ever thought that I would be living in Kyiv, Ukraine?

Well, Vladimir Klitchko (one of the “Klitchko boys,” as we lovingly call them) faced a Russian last night in Madison Square Garden. This bout was billed as a unification fight — pitting champions against other champions and attempting to create one real World Champion.

This fight gives Mr. Klitchko his third belt.

Just in case you like visuals, here’s a picture.

So, three cheers for Ukraine! Budma, Hey!

World Wide Mail

Snail mail is a treat no matter where you are. The fact that someone takes the time to (usually) hand-write a note, puts it in an envelope, finds a current address, stamps the envelope and MAILS it…well, it’s a dying practice, but one that I hope will soon make a comeback.

Yesterday we received a card from North Carolina. Not so unusual. Except that the card had been mailed in November! It was a Thanksgiving Day card, and we received it in February! That is not the norm, even for here.

Jim also received a copy of one of his pediatic journals. I didn’t pay too much attention to it, but when I noticed that something had actually been marked out on it, I looked a little closer.

Turns out this journal was mailed in the U.S. to our address in Ukraine. Seems this journal took a little sidetrip, though: the postmark reads South Africa! Go figure.

All I can put together is that South Africa is probably abbreviated SA and Ukraine is assuredly abbreviated UA. (I know, UK makes more sense but turns out those initials were already used…heh!)

Have journal will travel.

How to Cook a Husband

Long, long ago (in 1981) I received a framed recipe with instructions on how to cook a husband. Cynthia made the frame from a dish cloth, and then gave me matching pot holders…all as a wedding shower gift. Though the pot holders are faded nearly beyond recognition, and kitchen splatters mar the frame, the sentiments of the recipe (found in the front of an old cookbook) are as good as new:

How to Cook a Husband

A good many husbands are utterly spoiled by mismanagement in cooking and so are not tender and good. Some women keep them constantly in hot water; others let them freeze by their carelessness and indifference. Some keep them in a stew with irritating ways and words. Some wives keep them pickled, while others waste them shamefully. It cannot be supposed that any husband will be tender and good when so managed, but they are really delicious when prepared properly.

In selecting a husband, you should not be guided by the silvery appearance as in buying a mackerel; nor by the golden tint as if you wanted salmon. Do not go to the market for him as the best ones are always brought to the door. Be sure to select him yourself as tastes differ. It is far better to have none unless you will patiently learn how to cook him.

Of course, a preserving kettle of the finest procelain is best, but if you have nothing better than an earthenware pipkin, it will do — with care. Like crabs and lobsters, husbands are cooked alive. They sometimes fly out of the kettle and so become burned and crusty on the edges, so it is wise to secure him in the kettle with a strong silken cord called Comfort, as the one called Duty is apt to be weak. Make a clear, steady flame of love, warmth and cheerfulness. Set him as near this as seems to agree with him.

If he sputters, do not be anxious, for some husbands do this until they are quite done. Add a little sugar in the form of what confectioners call kisses, but use no pepper or vinegar on any account. Season to taste with spices, good humor and gaiety preferred, but seasoning must always be used with great discretion and caution. Avoid sharpness in testing him for tenderness. Stir him gently, lest he lie too flat and close to the kettle and so become useless. You cannot fail to know when he is done. If so treated, you will find him very digestible, agreeing with you perfectly; and he will keep as long as you choose unless you become careless and allow the home fires to grow cold. Thus prepared, he will serve a lifetime of Happiness.

And, now, back to reorganizing the kitchen…

Heart talk

Continuing to read Paul David Tripp’s book War of Words. In today’s chapter the author is giving us some solid guidelines to aid us in communicating in a manner worthy of being called an ambassador to the King. The book is a goldmine loaded with nugget after nugget of spiritual truth. One such truth:

“We must begin by admitting that people and situations do not cause us to speak as we do. Our hearts control our words. People and situations simply provide the occasion for the heart to express itself. Humbly confessing this opens to you the floodgates of God’s forgiveness and power. ‘He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9)”

No wonder we are cautioned to guard our hearts…

Apples and peanut butter

Now that our new ministry partners feel somewhat settled in their new country, and the wedding of our daughter has taken place, we have committed to getting together every other week for an entire morning. Keep in mind that the travel time between our places is over an hour, so it is definitely something that NEEDED to be scheduled if we were going to get ‘er done. We rotate which home we meet in so that the travel is divided between us.

The Cranes came to our place this morning along with their pre-school daughter. As we did four weeks ago here, we talked about all kinds of things for an hour or so, and then Lera and I went into the kitchen to slice apples and dish out the peanut butter. Little Lera didn’t miss a beat — she knew exactly where to find the snowman spreader, which dish was best for the peanut butter, and where I kept the snowman plate.

We returned to the meeting room and we adults resumed our conversations. Talking about the excitment of a scheduled visit to a baby house next week — a potential place for ongoing ministry. Talking about the medical Bible study, and the teaching of English to the physicians at a major children’s hospital. Looking at various websites to see what is appealing to us (and elements that we don’t like) as we try to design a website that represents all of Ukraine Medical Outreach. Discussing what is needed at various orphanages versus what people send.

At one point, I looked over at Lera and asked her if she’d spread a little peanut butter on an apple slice for me. She quickly said that she would, and climbed down from her chair, and presented me with what HAD been HER apple slice. Peanut butter spread on one end. And a child-sized bite missing from the other end.

How sweet that she would offer me her very own apple. We all had a great laugh, and then I thoroughly enjoyed my slice…knowing that she had given me her very best.