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My Wheaton Moment

June 14, 2017

Years ago, our older daughter was looking at colleges. She applied to several and was accepted by all of them except one. Wheaton. She had already decided she didn’t want to go there and had chosen a different college that she was excited about. But it irked her that Wheaton didn’t choose her.

Why not? Why didn’t they want her? What was wrong with her?

I told her that it didn’t matter since she didn’t want to go there anyway. She didn’t choose them so why did it matter that they didn’t choose her?

She still wondered why.

Why not her?

I teased her about it every so often.

But no more!

I had my own ‘Wheaton moment’ last month. The church planting council I am a part of was going to nominate two people to serve on the international council of our organization. Serving on the international council was an opportunity to serve and help our mission achieve its goal of church planting among least-reached peoples. My name was mentioned along with two other names to make up the slate from which we would vote.

As I thought about this opportunity, I realized that I was already juggling several projects and had some training opportunities coming up with which I would be busy. I also thought about my strengths and wondered if they would be needed as much as what the other two people would bring. As I looked at timing, gifting and personnel, I decided to vote for the other two people.

And so did the majority of others. I was not elected onto the council.

It’s strange knowing I did not vote for me and had already decided that not being on the international council would be best for me and the council—yet after hearing that I wasn’t chosen by others, I started wondering why.

Why didn’t others vote for me to be on the council? What was wrong with me? What was I lacking? Was this a vote against my leadership capabilities? What weaknesses were people seeing? Maybe I didn’t contribute to meetings as much as I was hoping I did.

I was reeling and this shocked me. I learned a long time ago that my value as a person is not related at all to my accomplishments or to other people’s opinions of me. I know these concepts well and have applied them to my life; I’ve even taught them to others! And yet in this one instance it took only a few seconds for old doubts and long-buried feelings of insecurity based on Satan-driven lies to rise to the surface. I was left doubting my significance and value.

Why not me?

I was embarrassed that it affected me. After all, I’m 59 ¾ years old! I thought for sure I had outgrown feelings like this!

A bonus of being older is that through the years I have learned what to do when confronted with feelings that erupt from lies (you aren’t worthy, you aren’t important, your gifts aren’t needed). I forcefully waded my way through those untruths and got back to truth found in the Word of God,

In truth and by God’s power, I can be set free from feelings based on lies.

I can focus on truth. I am loved by God. I am gifted by God with gifts of his choosing. I matter to God so much that his Son died for my sins so that I could be reconciled to the Father. I am a member of the body of Christ and as such have a role to play with his power— not left to my own limited resources. The Lord has a purpose for my life and sovereignly places me where he can use me for his glory.

I thank God that has put me in this place for this time. I am confident that this decision was God’s will and praise him for his plan.

I sincerely believe that those we voted on to the council are needed and well-equipped. They will provide valuable insights and clear thinking. I am happy for God leading in this way and I pray often for this council that God will guide their steps and establish the work of their hands.

Believers in Jesus are not held captive to lies; we are not hopelessly doomed to repeatedly give in to temptation. We can choose truth and be set free.

And there is always hope that when I turn 60 I will have finally outgrown those pesky adolescent-like feelings of insecurity that occasionally flared up in those first five decades!

I gave God my life but not my toothbrush!

May 11, 2017

Lessons I’ve learned in the past continue to be an encouragement to me in the present as I seek to serve God in my small ways. Let me share one of my favorite life-impacting lessons involving a toothbrush:

During our early years in the Middle East, one morning during my quiet time I had such a burning desire in my heart for God to use me. My heart was reaching out to God. I poured out my soul before his throne. “Oh, God.” I cried. “Use me to honor your name. Whatever the cost—prison, beatings, martyrdom—I want to serve you. Take my life today to use as you see fit. You are my King and I give myself to you.” I shared this desire with others in our team. I felt so ready to lose anything for the kingdom.

Then we had a houseguest . . . again. Elliot used to come to our house a lot. He had no money, no job, and no place to stay. I would get so tired of serving tea, reheating dinner when he came late, washing the extra pajamas and sheets, and rearranging our kids so he could have a place to sleep. I grew to have a very poor attitude in my service toward this brother. Soon he stopped coming.

Later I heard he was sleeping at the bus station and not eating regularly. Stricken with remorse, the next time he called, I asked him where he had been and invited him to come see us again. You see I had had my quiet time and I was ready to give up my life for the kingdom.

Then he used my toothbrush and he left it bloody. I was angry. It was my favorite toothbrush—though I hadn’t realized it till then! He was my husband’s friend—why didn’t he choose to use my husband’s toothbrush? I would have to go buy a new toothbrush. I knew I could never find another like it. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. “God—look what happens. I did this for you. I wanted to help this guy out and what does he do? He picks my toothbrush to use and get bloody. I can’t believe it! I have to buy a new toothbrush. I liked my toothbrush. God, it isn’t fair!”

Then I heard a still, small voice. “You offered me your life. You mentioned beatings, prison, and a willingness to be martyred. All I asked from you today is your toothbrush.” 

It is easy to get grandiose in my thinking about sacrifice: anything for you, Lord; anywhere for you, Lord; anytime for you, Lord. When what God is looking for is my service to him in the here and now details of my life, the small things I have to give today. It isn’t likely that I will ever be beaten, stay in prison or be a martyr. Maybe that is why I am so ready to give myself to God for these spectacular opportunities to serve (at least it sounds spectacular in a book written by someone who survives it all).

What God wants from me is to be open day by day, minute by minute to serve him by giving him not only my life, but my toothbrush as well.

(One of my Screams in the Desert, published by William Carey Library)

My oldest son shared a new thought with me a few years ago, “Maybe he used your toothbrush before as well, but this one time he forgot to rinse it off and put it back.” I thanked him for making me aware of that possibility! Sigh.

Ripples

April 14, 2017

ripples

Don and I visited the Billy Graham Library (billygrahamlibrary.org) a few years ago and came across this plaque. It traces ripples. Edward Kimball led Moody to Jesus. God used Moody in the life of F.B. Meyer who in turn led Wilber Chapman to the Lord. Wilbur worked with Billy Sunday who invited Mordecai Ham to speak where Billy Graham came to know Jesus. Then, of course God used Mr. Graham to share the Gospel with many people around the world. It is fascinating to see what happened because of one Sunday School teacher talking to a shoe clerk about Jesus! Investing in people who invest in other people who invest in other people …. God ordains the most amazing ripple effects from the smallest acts of obedience. I am fairly certain that Edward Kimball did not know the impact this one act of obedience of sharing the gospel would have. He was simply being faithful to what God called him to do one day at a time.

I was at a retreat recently and a woman shared a picture of a fountain with me. There were individual drips of water dropping into the pooled water below, but each small drop affected the water as the ripples expanded further and further. The symbolism is beautiful!

Sometimes we may be aware when God uses us to cause ripples! We might be talking with a friend, instructing a child, performing an act of kindness and a person says thank you or somehow lets you know that God used you to change them. They then take what they learned from you and God uses them to touch other lives. Those lives touch other lives. Ripple effect in action. Even when seeing it happen, we probably can’t know in this lifetime how far the ripples go!

Most times, however we don’t know when God is using us to make ripples! Merriam Webster’s definition of ripple effect is: spreading, pervasive, and usually unintentional effect or influence (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ripple%20effect). Many ripple effects are unintentional. Maybe because of small beginnings or the time it takes to trace the outcomes—whatever the reason people often live and die without knowing the full extent of the influence their lives had on others.

Part of the fascination of ripple effects is that we are unaware of what word or action may start one! It would most likely be something little that one wouldn’t think would spark a wildfire. When William Carey went to India, he wasn’t thinking about becoming the “father of modern missions”! He was simply being obedient to God’s call on his life one day at a time. When Hudson Taylor went to China, his goal wasn’t to start the China Inland Mission, but to share the Gospel with Chinese people. There are other famous names to whom ripple effects can be traced.

There are many, many more people who are not known to us but who God used to create ripple effects to accomplish his purposes around the world. Pastors, missionaries, teachers, doctors, construction workers, carpenters, nurses, homemakers, college students, teen agers, musicians, electricians and plumbers—it isn’t a person’s profession that causes ripple effects. It is trusting in Jesus and obeying God in what he has called us to do.

I think of my mother-in-law. She moved about five times as an adult and all the moves were within a one mile radius. Even so, she influenced people around the world!

She inspired several generations through her teaching and praying at church whose members lived that out in their community. Ripples.

She volunteered at a thrift store that sent Bibles to South America. Ripples

She loved people. She loved Jesus. Because of that love, she witnessed to and prayed for neighbors, co-workers, sales people, and ex-cons—just about everyone she met. Ripples.

She also raised and discipled five children. One child grew to pastor and serve the Lord in America, Italy and Africa as well as other countries along the way. Another son pastored a church for twenty-two years before God called him home. We still hear stories of Larry’s legacy that live beyond him and are influencing a new generation. The third son pastored churches in Illinois and Texas and faithfully works with young people who need Jesus. Her last son has served God in his home country as well as the Middle East, India, and Spain. Her only daughter counsels those who are hurting and need healing in their hearts and minds. Ripples.

One life given to Jesus … lived in one town for his glory … led to ripple effects felt around the world. And though she is in heaven now, her life is still rippling!

Often we look at our actions and determine if what we did was valuable based on immediate reactions and results. We have our idea of what success looks like. If it doesn’t appear that our ministry is prospering right away, then we might think we’ve failed or made a mistake. We may be tempted to give up or stop trying. We may grow discouraged and wane in our obedience to the Lord.

We forget about ripples. We overlook the Almighty One who can take one act of obedience or one step of faith and create a ripple effect for generations to come!

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up,” Galatians 6:9

Ripples.

Team life is a little like banking!

March 16, 2017

Don and I were living overseas when our kids were younger. Our older two children went to a national private school where they learned Arabic, English and a little bit of French. It was time for a parent-teacher meeting. I was feeling rather busy and thought Don should be the parent to go there. He was also feeling rather busy and he thought I should be the one to go. We had several ‘discussions’ about this topic. In the end, I went (being a good, submissive wife) but not with a very good attitude (this pretty much cancelled out the positive aspect of submitting!). I think it would be safe to say I had a very negative, bitter attitude. I was mad…so mad that I didn’t want to talk with him or be near him.

Soon after this squabble we had a team meeting at our apartment. I’m not sure what I expected to happen, but I was still so mad I didn’t care. I did not sit next to him at the meeting. Did I think no one would notice? It was apparent to my teammate that there was an issue since Don and I normally sat next to each other (and talked to each other!). After our meeting, she came up to me and asked, “Did you and Don have an argument?”

“Yes we did,” I replied. Before I could go into the unfairness of me having to go to the meeting, she simply said, “Get it fixed!”

Now, my friend is one of the sweetest, kindest, most compassionate women I know. When she told me what to do I knew she was right. I didn’t get angry. I wasn’t upset … maybe a little surprised but more convicted than anything! After the team meeting I did what she said. I got it fixed!

One of the reasons she could confront me and I could accept it and change my attitude, is that I knew she loved me. In the ‘bank account’ of our friendship (so to speak) she had been making many deposits. She called me to see how I was, we babysat each other’s kids, we did ministry together, we took care of each other when we were sick, we prayed for each other, we worshiped together, she was someone I could turn to when I was having an awful day. I remember one morning in particular. Picture a frazzled mom, four little kids, a pair of scissors and a cut up curtain. Before breakfast.

After the school bus picked up two of my kids and the other two were at their preschool I went to my friend’s building and knocked on her door. Unannounced and unexpected, I stood at her door crying. Still in her robe and quite busy herself, she took me in, let me cry and talk as she listened, cared, comforted and prayed with me. I left her apartment—not with solutions but with a strong sense of being cared for and supported.

Sometimes what happens on teams or any friendship is that the relationship ‘bank account’ has too many withdrawals—confrontations, criticisms, misunderstanding, poor communication—and the relationship can’t handle the strain of yet another withdrawal when there have been no positive deposits.

We have been blessed with loving team mates. These are friends who loved us enough to make regular deposits into our lives so that when it was time for a withdrawal, we knew it was coming from love and support.

There was another time when I was feeling overwhelmed with life and ministry and I thought we were handling it well. However, I guess it became obvious to our team we needed a little boost. The team took the initiative to take care of our kids and surprised us with a weekend away at a favorite hotel. We were blown away by their kindness. We came back refreshed and refueled. After that, they could have confronted us about anything and we could have handled it our relationship bank account was overflowing!

Loving teammates who care enough to proactively love us and to lovingly confront us are precious soul mates. Friendships can handle the hardships, stressors, disagreements, and differing opinions when the relationships are strong due to the loving deposits we make by caring, listening, serving and praying.

There have been a few times when we have been overdrawn on our bank account. There have always been fines, fees and spiraling consequences for bounced checks. We sadly ended up losing more money than the original amount of the overdraft! It was maddening.

It is the same thing with relationships. Loss, sadness and pain are always associated with too many withdrawals and insufficient deposits.

Have you made any deposits today?

Regret and Fear; Faith and Life

February 10, 2017

In thinking of our first cross-cultural ministry, I have a regret. Actually, I have more than one, but there is this one that I’ve been pondering.

The culture where our team ministered was resistant to the Gospel. At different times there were crackdowns on those who shared Jesus Christ’s gift of salvation with people. If there was a complaint against someone; if someone was seen as too bold or gave literature to an informant that person might be in trouble. He could be taken in for questioning and released, imprisoned, or possibly deported. We saw all three things take place among people we knew. I can’t think of any western minister who was severely tortured or martyred. I do know of national believers who were and I felt powerless to help them.

The government in that country used fear as a weapon to effectively to keep people in line. Secret police were kept busy keeping tabs on what was going on in the country. They routinely visited churches. When small groups of believers met together, some were enticed or coerced by authorities to provide information on people. As a result, some were deported and others were jailed. There was always the tension of seeking to be very wise and yet always bold when sharing the Gospel.

For someone who tends to be timid and more compliant—like me—the temptation to give into fear when under strain can feel overwhelming. I don’t like getting into trouble and I don’t like causing other people trouble! My regret is that I had let fear become a factor in my own life more often than I care to admit. As a result of that fear, guilt entered the picture especially when I shared the Gospel. This is not good for a person who is called to ministry!

I remember one time in particular feeling a heavy burden of guilt after sharing the story of Jesus with my national friend. At first she seemed excited about Jesus and His love for her, but then as she thought about consequences of choosing to believe in Him her eyes dimmed. She asked me, “Do you know what would happen to me if I believed the Gospel you are sharing?” I did know. She could lose her home, her husband, her children and her life. All that she loved could be stripped away from her for trusting in Jesus. I felt like I was inviting my friend to a life of misery and not to God’s wonderful plan for her life. In my sadness I turned to God’s Word and read Hebrews 10:32-39 soon after that encounter.

Hebrews 10: 32-39

But remember the former days, when after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

I was reminded that I should not be asking her to lose something that I myself am not also prepared to lose. Knowing and following Jesus in this life is not always easy. However, He has promised not only to never leave us, but to give peace and joy in the midst of whatever suffering we encounter in this world. He also promises us an eternal home in heaven with Him! I had to keep in mind what is to be gained in eternity, not focus on what could be lost temporarily. I was emboldened by God’s Word to keep sharing the Gospel. By faith overcoming fear, I could determine not to let the momentary overtake the eternal. This life is fleeting; the life to come is everlasting.

May God continue to help me stand firm by faith and not shrink back. May I consistently choose loving Jesus over loving temporary possessions and momentary safety. May I incessantly and fearlessly love others and point them to Jesus who is our only eternal hope in the midst of a fleeting world.

 

An Unforgettable Date

January 13, 2017

Five years ago when Don and I were in India we began reading a book called Forty Unforgettable Dates. There are chapters for husbands and wives to read separately with ideas for dates and topics to talk about on those dates.

Don read chapter one. As a result, he took me for lunch at a lovely hotel and had questions he asked me to draw out how I was feeling about life and relationships. He listened actively while we both enjoyed a tasty buffet meal! Afterwards we went shopping to purchase something to remember the day. We bought a table cloth for our dining room table. Once we purchased it we saw on the label it was really a bed sheet. But, it was our table cloth and worked perfectly!

I read the next chapter. It was my turn to treat him to a special date! As I looked through the ideas I got excited. Don loves photography and nature. I wanted to encourage him in that and give him the gift of exploring God’s creation. So I went on line and discovered there were some ‘spectacular’ water falls that google maps said were about two hours away from Bangalore. I couldn’t pronounce the name of the water falls (Shivanasamudra Falls) but it would be a great day trip. I contacted a travel agent who arranged a car and driver. I didn’t tell Don where we were going. He was going to be so surprised!

I packed a picnic lunch and could just imagine us sitting by the water falls enjoying nature, talking together and Don taking some amazing pictures of God’s beautiful world. The car arrived in the morning. We got in and began our trip.

One hour passed. Two hours passed. We stopped for coffee. Three hours passed. I was so confused. It wasn’t supposed to take this long! We should have been there by now. Four hours passed. Five hours passed. The roads were not in good condition. Traffic was crazy at times with other motorcycles, bicycles, cars, trucks and animals.

The driver who said he knew where we were going was lost and kept stopping to ask for directions. We finally arrived at the water falls. It was obvious that others had the same idea I had! There were people everywhere. There was nowhere to have a picnic. The falls were pretty but I don’t know if I would use the word ‘spectacular’ as the web site did.

We spent twenty minutes walking and taking pictures. That was probably ten minutes more than necessary!

After seeing the boats, I didn’t really want to take a boat ride. I don’t think Don did either.

water-falls-041

So, we decided to leave.

We got back into the car to begin the five-hour trip back home. About half way there, I tried to put a positive spin on the hot weather, long drive, bumpy roads, crowded location, gnawing hunger and all the unexpected events of the day by saying, “It really hasn’t been that bad, has it?”

To which Don gently replied, “I’m trying to think of a nice way to say how awful this has been.”

However, I have often reminded him that the title of the book included the words “unforgettable dates” and I think that accurately describes our trip to the waterfalls. He has been unable to forget it.

No matter how hard he tried!

And just in case he does forget … I have a picture to remind him!

water-falls-037

 

 

 

 

Selfish Ambition or Seeking to Serve?

December 14, 2016

Public speaking was one of my favorite classes in high school and college. Mentors at church opened doors for me to teach young people and plan Bible studies for youth retreats and ministry outreaches. I remember standing behind the pulpit in an empty church and thinking how cool it would be to speak to audiences about Jesus. I have loved almost every opportunity I’ve had to speak as well as all God teaches me in preparing for those times of teaching. I am almost always a bit nervous, but am thrilled when I get to teach or speak from God’s Word.

A few years ago I was being considered as a speaker for a women’s event. The director of this ministry came and heard me speak at another conference and I wanted to do a really good job. Please understand I always want to do my best, but this time I was also hoping that I would be asked to come speak at the event she was planning. After my ‘trial run’ I waited and waited to hear back from her but never did. I prayed about it. I tried being patient. I wondered why I wasn’t being asked. Didn’t I do a good job? Was I not a good communicator? I thought I was gifted in this area…but maybe not. I could be wrong. I didn’t fall asleep from boredom when I was talking but maybe that was only because I was the one talking and the only one who wanted to hear me! Why wasn’t I being asked when I really, really, really wanted to speak at this event?

As I was having my quiet time one morning, I remember interacting with God about this and ardently sharing my desire (yet again) to speak at this event. I sensed that He was asking me this question, “Sue, if you are not the best person for this particular audience and if I can use someone else more effectively, do you still want to do this?”

At that same time I had been reading in Philippians and came to 2:3 and 4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

How much of my desire was selfish ambition? Was I seeking to feel value based on what I did rather than my identity in Jesus? Did I just like the idea of speaking and being in front of people? Did I like the attention more than I wanted to use my gifts to serve? I told God I did not want to be the one speaking when someone else would be more effective and helpful to others. I asked Him to use whoever they chose (and He chose) to speak and to abundantly bless her ministry.

Spending time in prayer is an effective way to examine myself and fight against such selfish ambition. When I am tempted to be selfishly ambitious or to feel envious of other people with opportunities that I wish I had, I feel convicted and I pray. God is at work in me and empowers me to thank Him for opportunities to serve him that come my way. However, now I also pray for others doing what I love to do and doing it by God’s invitation and grace. I pray that God would bless their ministries, open more doors for them and give them even more opportunities to use their gifts for his glory.

It was some time after I had been praying for this women’s event and God’s blessing on it that I was asked to speak there. But by then my desire was based on doing God’s will, the desire to honor him and to be used by him to build into others, not to build up myself or try to gain value by what I did. Selfish ambition, this time, had been defeated.

In reality, how we serve God is much less important than actually knowing him. Do you remember the time when the disciples went out and were healing the sick and casting out demons? They were all excited about what they could do, but Jesus replied to them in Luke 10:19-20:  “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy, nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

We can be thankful that God gives us gifts, but let’s praise him even more for the forgiveness of our sins and the miracle that our names are written in heaven. We actually know God, the creator of the entire universe; we became his children when we trusted in Jesus as our Savior.

He has gifted each one of us to serve him. Whether we teach, lead, show mercy or give it is only by God’s grace and power and it is always for his glory. It is a thrill to serve God and use the gifts he has chosen to give us.

Ultimately though, our most joyous honor is to be his children!