"Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, "Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of
God in my hand." So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword." Exodus 17:8-13 ESV
I am extremely blessed! I have a dear, sweet friend who recently shared this passage with me. She hastaken the initiative to faithfully contact me weekly to encourage me, pray for me, listen to me and help me more than she will ever know. She heard a message on these verses and realized that though Dwayne and I might be "in the battlefield", she can belike Moses and lift up hands in prayer. And it works! There are times we know that someone is praying for us at that moment because of inward peace.
Perhaps Aaron and Hur thought they couldn't do anything for the battle. However, Moses, Aaron and Hur were faithful in what they could do and did do, and God directly blessed their actions. But as I reflected on thispassage on my own, I realized that she would not be able to hold her hands upforever on her own – she cannot pray and encourage every missionary. Moses needed help himself and others came along beside him to share that burden. Some have asked for specific ways for people to practically "hold up the arms" for missionaries. Here are just a few ideas.
1. PRAY,PRAY, PRAY! R.A. Torrey said, "The reason why many fail in battle is because they wait until the hour of battle. The reason why others succeed is because they have gained their victory on their knees long before the battle came. Anticipate your battles; fight them on your knees before temptation comes, and you will always have victory." Don't wait until prayer meeting or until a crisis happens. Develop a habit of praying with consistency.
2. Mission Newsletters – please read them. I know I often will see a newsletter and put it off until later (which means I never read it) or I skim through it barely considering what is said. Most missionaries try to highlight only the important parts of what's going on. The best way you can encourage a missionary is not to just read the newsletter, but to send a brief comment, question or encouragement back. There is usually much, much more they want to say, but they know your lives are busy too. Since what we are fighting requires prayer, we want you to know how best to PRAY.
3. Reach out and contact them with the purpose of ministering to them. It doesn't have to be an hour long phone call– just an email, text, letter, Skype, or care package. Tell what you are doing, how things are going back home, what's happening in church – things you might find "boring" are very comforting to us, living perhaps in uncomfortable or different situations. And when you PRAY, please let those you are praying for know it. It is an incredibleblessing to get a text or an email with the message "I've just been praying foryou" or "I'm getting ready to pray for you right now – how can I pray?"
4. Please share spiritually. Oftentimes missionariesare sent to a place because there is a lack of gospel there. We need spiritual encouragement too. We are told to reach out to the nations and bring them the gospel in their heart language, but it is a great benefit to hear the gospel in our heart language! A ladies group from Poland, NY skyped me a few months after I had been here. They sang a couple songs and after we talked,they prayed and allowed me to PRAY with them. I was struck with the fact that it was the first "American" prayers I heard (outside our family prayers) since I had been here. What an emotionally blessed time that was for me!
5. Remember the kids. Not our kids, but yours! We are thrilled when we hear comments or questions from young people. Talk to your kids about missions. Let them get involved with drawing pictures, sending emails or letters. (Personally, we have a "kids corner" on our website where our kids try to put up things that might be interesting to your kids.) Have missionaries into your home
when they come back to the States. Consider visiting a missionary with your family. Encourage your kids to follow missionaries' facebook pages and learn what is happening around the world with the gospel and PRAY for them.
6. Finally – Support. I hope that you've noticed an underlying theme in this blog – PRAY - that is the best way to help a missionary. But Jesus was wise in saying, "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." - Luke 12:34. We have found that the people who pray the most for missionaries are the ones who are invested personally in missions. If you are not personally supporting a missionary, beyond what your church may be doing, please consider starting. Sacrificial giving WILL change your perspective on the mission field.
Yesterday I heard John Piper talking about Billy Graham. As best as I can remember how the story goes - Billy Graham said to a group of supporters, "I think there are some of you in this room who will receive a greater reward in heaven than I will." When met with skeptical looks from the listeners, he gave this quote, "Do you not understand that God rewards faithfulness, not fruitfulness?" Those that are faithful in the small things are rewarded more than those less faithful even though they might appear fruitful. God looks at the heart that follows him, not the outward appearance. So faithful friends – great is your reward and deepest thanks as you hold up your arms for us.
Psalm 116:15 – "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints."
Psalm 116 is my favorite passage of scripture. It has meant so much to me at so many different times in my life. I thought of this verse immediately when I learned that my father had died. We are here in Serbia and there is a 7 hour time difference from back home. Mom called me at midnight. I was scarcely awake when I heard her crying on the other end saying, "He's gone! Dad is gone."
He had recently turned 70 and was is great health. My parents were on a cruise celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. It was a quick and massive heart attack. There was no coming back.
It doesn't seem precious to us when our loved ones die, but it is precious to God. As sad as we are to lose dad, Jesus is even more extremely happy to see him! This is a soul that Christ gave up the riches and beauty of heaven to come to earth and live for. This is a soul that Christ forsook the tempting pleasures of earth and died for. This is the soul that Christ overcame death and rose again for! Now Christ has the honor to see the fruits of all He accomplished. He is very pleased. This soul is precious to Him!
Dwayne and I were asked to give our testimony at the Baptist church here in Serbia last Sunday. I went to Psalm 116 again. It describes my testimony perfectly. "I love the Lord for He heard my voice. He heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live..." (vs. 1-2) I have always thought that the Psalm described me so well. However, this time, I looked at it in a different light.
"Be at rest once more, O my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.
For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
in the land of the living." (vs. 7-9)
I used to think these verses applied just to me - delivering me from the death my sins deserve, my eyes from the tears shed over my past, my feet from the many times I fall into my selfish desires, so that I can now walk before God during my lifetime.
Now I see these verses apply even more to my dad. His soul can finally return to his rest because the Lord has been good to him. He has been delivered from death. His eyes no longer cry. His feet no longer stumble. He is walking – right there, before the Lord! And he is definitely in the land of the living –where there will never be more death, but eternal life!
I can't end this any better than the Psalmist did – Praise the Lord!!!
Tim Hoak, a very good friend of mine, has an illustration that he uses to help remind him to trust in Christ's promises when things seem dark. It has to do with steps, and I'm reminded of this often here.
Here it is:
"No matter how many times we go up and down the same steps, if it is dark, we hesitate at the top or bottom because we can't SEE the last step. We don't want to fall, miss a step, or get hurt. We're too used to "walking by sight." But if we've been up and down those steps many times, we know exactly how many steps there are. What else we know is that the number of steps NEVER changes. It's always the same. So, if we start at the top or the bottom and simply count thesteps, we don't have to hesitate, even though we can't see, because we know exactly how many steps there are, and that number has not changed. But we're so used to seeing that we still tend to hesitate. We need to learn to count and trust because the number of steps doesn't change. The darkness is like the difficult things that come into our lives that we don't understand. We just can't see how this or that is going to work out for good. It's just too dark and we find ourselves stumbling around and afraid to move. When those things come, it's time to count the steps. The steps are like the character and promises of God. They never change. When life is dark and it is difficult or even impossible to see, we just have to count the steps – remind ourselves of the promises and character of God because those things NEVER change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever."
I find that I'm walking a LOT more in Serbia than I used to,and going up and down many steps. Our apartment has smooth concrete steps that are fine during the day, but pitch black in the dark. I've counted them often, but hesitate at the last step always. It reminds me, as I think about this analogy, to trust; especially as I'm often afraid to make a move.
I'd like to add something else to this picture lesson. Even when it's not dark and we can see the steps, if we haven't been up and down them before, we need guidance and trust. There are small things I've realized over the past month that I take forgranted. One of them, oddly enough, is "predictably formed concrete steps." Walking back from town to my apartment the other day, I walked across the bridge that spans the Danube River. There were concrete steps, and I started up them and absent-mindedly continued up. I'm used to the fact that formed steps in public are predictable once you get past the first one. That doesn't apply here in Serbia. They might throw in one that's 2 cm higher or lower. I tripped on them pretty badly. I thought of my friend's analogy, and thought how I cannot rely on my own built-in understandings even in broad daylight. I seek the familiar and predictable, to give me a sense of control. This is not where the Lord wants me. He doesn't want me to trust him only in the dark places, but also in the light, and in those tiny moments that I feel good and try to just handle things myself.
So, I'm grateful for Tim's illustration to remind me of this. I feel I'm no longer moving in and out of my comfort zone. It's completely disappeared. Trusting in Christ is all that remains.
God has been teaching me about having a quiet spirit. I hadn't been outwardly grumbling or complaining, but inwardly I struggled greatly with a huge disappointment – let me set the scene. God was kind enough to get our entire luggage to Serbia, unharmed and in one piece. I had people praying specifically for boxes 6 & 7 which held our electronics and the Christmas presents we had for the kids. They had been inspected, but nothing was missing or broken. However, there was one other very dear item that was important to me. So important, that instead of praying, I carried it on with me to ensure its safety. It was an external hard drive. All of our documents, passwords, homeschool programs, music, photos, videos and more were loaded onto the drive. I had it safely in the carry-on suitcase.
When we were close to boarding in Chicago for our long flight to Warsaw, the flight attendants came and told us the flight was full & that they wanted to check some carry-on bags to the final destination to make room. They took my suitcase. They asked me to remove anything valuable first, and I removed the hard drive from its safe place. Then we had a rushed boarding experience because they allowed us to get on the plane first since I was traveling with a small child.
Now we are settled into the apartment in Serbia. I looked in my purse and could not find the hard drive. No problem, I thought, I'm sure I've just set it aside while unpacking. Then slowly, as more things are organized and finding their place, I realized there was no hard drive.
A stone rolled over in my inside. I prayed fervently for the Lord to help me find it. I was constantly reminded of the widow who lost a coin and rejoiced greatly, even called friends and neighbors to celebrate when it was found. To me this was more precious than a coin. I rechecked places several times, even though I knew it wouldn't be there. Now I was inwardly struggling. I fell asleep praying for a miracle. I woke up retracing my steps in the airport when they took the bag. Perhaps it wasn't completely in my purse and fell out during the rush. I pined for it throughout the day. Continually questioning why this was so difficult for me to be content when God has answered so many other countless prayers. I fixated on this one that was unanswered.
Then it hit me. I'm throwing a self-centered pity party tantrum because my request is not answered. I'm praying about the wrong thing. Instead I needed to pray for my own growth, my unconditional love for Him, my open hand on everything – from the important things to the petty ones. I started to pray for a quiet spirit. One that would go on living with eyes set on eternal things, not focused on the earthly ones. He answered my prayer.
I Peter 3:3-4 – "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight."
I wanted to find a verse to go in my blog & this was the first one I found. It made me smile, because this morning I thought, if I had to pack for this move over again, what would I do differently. My response was less jewelry & more ziplock bags! My worth in God's sight is a gentle and quiet spirit. He finds it unfadingly beautiful! I want to be gorgeous to Him. I still have a long way to go. I'm making small steps, but it's been two days of peace and for that I'm incredibly grateful.
Alex left to go back to the States today. We finished packing up his suitcases last night. While going through his stuff, he pulled out a small silver hard drive. Then I remembered. My purse was full, so I quickly stuffed it in Alex's carry-on. I'm crying again even as I type this. I don't deserve it. His peace was sufficient. But His mercy and goodness and lovingkindness overflows my cup. How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of his salvation and call upon the name of the Lord in the presence of all his people.
"And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Luke 15:9-10
So, it's been almost three weeks since I've been in Serbia, two for the rest of my family. Depending on who you ask, we've either done an incredible amount of work so far, or haven't even gotten started yet. It's almost impossible to explain in a blog the difficulty that comes with trying to assimilate into a new culture. Short term mission trips, even the month-long one we went on to Romania in 2011, are unique in that they are somewhat unreal. You find that you can endure pretty much anything, because in the back of your mind you're thinking, "this will be a great 'experience' that I'll really enjoy talking about back home". Also, short term trips are extremely focused and the schedules are packed out with activities and work.
When you actually move to a different culture, even one you've been on in a short term trip, it's completely different (speaking from my current experience). There's no schedule you should expect, because there's no need to pack out a two-week time frame. The nationals know you will be there indefinitely. You don't have a "guide", assistant, driver, host, or anything like that because now you are living there. They expect you to fend for yourself as much as possible because eventually you'll have to. People may welcome you there, get you the essentials you need, and then you have to start figuring things out.
When we tell our friends back home that on a given day we managed to buy groceries and figure out how the electricity works, they may think, "seriously, that's all you did today?" They don't know that we wanted to take a nap after accomplishing that. For Christmas Eve we went to the apartment of an American family we met in church. They've been here about 3 months, and were impressed that in two weeks, we were able to do things like drive and successfully order a washing machine!
What we've discovered is that, right now, thousands of things require lots of thought and figuring out. If you want chicken at the store, you have to be able to say chicken, and then understand when they ask you questions about said chicken in Serbian. When you check out, you may understand they are saying something about a "card" but no more, and there are 6 people behind you and you're drawing attention. You don't know how to get gas, how to change a tire, how to read street signs, what to do if your car gets towed because you're so confused about the parking, or why your landlady seems to want you to stay in the apartment today. You could call someone to ask a question, but you'd be calling hundreds of times a day, so you try not to. Martin Luther said that at one time in his life, he felt that if he were to confess his sins properly, he needed to carry a priest in his pocket all the time. I feel that way, only replace "priest" with "translator". And that's not even counting the questions about how to get a Visa, how to fix the problems with the internet or how to change the doorknob when you've never even seen doorknobs like this. Even moving a bed or a couch from one room to the next can take hours, because you have to take the things completely apart and they are made in a confusing, complicated way. We can't even figure out when Christmas is, as Serbia celebrates it on two days with each one having different celebrations.
So, right now, we haven't accomplished things the way we would in the States. We redefine "accomplishing", and are grateful when we feel like we've lived a normal day. I've started working, but haven't done the "9-5in the office" thing. I'm setting goals, communicating with those I'll be working with, meeting with other pastors, going to several churches to network,and starting to define a job that doesn't even exist yet. It's certainly astart.
Soon, I hope to be writing with news of kingdom things. For the moment, we're just trying to exist. And right now, that's pretty exhausting.