Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Bells

Christmas Songs!!! Which one just came to your mind? Do you have a favorite? I know one of my Mom's favorites is "Carol of the Bells." Can't you hear the voices singing it? "Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells..." A favorite of mine has always been "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" in large part because for as many years as I can remember, my Mom has sung it at our church's Christmas Eve service. In fact last year, a good friend worked his magic and made it possible for me to watch my Mom sing live through the incredible technology of skype!

Well, out of all the incredible Christmas songs there are to choose from, one has rung anew in my heart this year. It is "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" by Casting Crowns. Have you listened to this new version of the traditional carol? Here are the lyrics: (You can watch a YouTube video of them performing this song by clicking the first picture link at the top of this blog page.)

"I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols play, and mild and sweet their songs repeat, of peace on earth goodwill to man.

And the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir their singing (Peace on Earth)
In my heart I hear them (Peace on Earth)
Peace on earth good will to man.

And in despair I bow my head; "There is no peace on earth," I said. "For hate is strong and mocks the song," of peace on earth goodwill to man.

But the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (Peace on Earth)
Does anyone hear them? (Peace on Earth)
Peace on earth goodwill to man.

Then rang the bells more loud and deep; God is not dead nor does He sleep.
(Peace on earth, peace on earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail; with peace on earth goodwill to man
(Goodwill to man)

Then ringing singing on it's way, the world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chain sublime, with peace on earth goodwill to man.

And the bells they're ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (Peace on Earth)
With our hearts we hear them (Peace on Earth)
Peace on earth goodwill to man.

Do you hear the bells, they're ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like an angel singing (Peace on Earth)
Open your hearts and hear them (Peace on Earth, goodwill to man)
Peace on earth, peace on earth
Peace on earth, goodwill to man."

Every time I listen to this song, I am struck with the question, "Am I ringing my bell for Christ?" Have you every listened to a hand bell choir perform? The skill and precision create such a beautiful sound to the audience listening. As Christ followers we are the "bells" in His eternal handbell choir. He has designed you specially for His glory and to sound His love to the world around you.

Do you hear the bells ringing? Do the people in your office, neighborhood, grocery store, school halls, or church hear His amazing song ringing through your life? In this world it is easy to get discouraged because there doesn't seem to be peace on earth, and it seems that hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth goodwill to man. But be strong because the bells are ringing loud and deep, "God is not dead nor does He sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail; with peace on earth goodwill to man."

Have you laid your "bell" in the hand of the Master Conductor so He can create the master piece which will draw the lost to Himself? Ring aloud for Him. Ring out His sweet melody to everyone you see and meet. This dark world needs the melody of our Saviour, and He has designed you to be a part of His choir. Let Him ring true through you!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Counting the Cost

"As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, 'I will follow you wherever you go.' Jesus replied, 'Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.' Still another said, ' I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.' Jesus replied, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service to the kingdom of God.'" Luke 9:57-58, 61-62.

"What does Jesus want from us? Total dedication, not half-hearted commitment. We can't pick and choose among Jesus' ideas and follow him selectively; we have to accept the cross along with the crown, judgment as well as mercy. We must count the cost and be willing to abandon everything else that has given us security. With our focus on Jesus, we should allow nothing to distract us from the manner of living that he calls good and true." Life Application Bible, p.1820; Luke 9:62

In the American Christian Church we often speak of "counting the cost" of following Jesus. But, do we really understand what that phrase means? Do we really understand what it means to "pay it all" for Him? I am realizing that we need to be very careful using some of the phrases we use in the church today, because I am not sure we really understand the depth of what they mean.

18 months ago I worked alongside some very dear friends as we packed up my belongings in order for me to move out of my house, as I was preparing to follow my Jesus to the ends of the earth. I joked at that time that I had a better understanding of why the rich young ruler had such a hard time deciding to sell his belongings in order to follow Jesus. Last year I stored, gave away, threw away, or sold all of my earthly belongings. Little did I know then that the counting of the cost was not over! Oh no, not by a long shot! I am learning that it is not a one time deal, but a daily process followers of Christ must go through.

What do you hold most dear to your heart? Think about that just a second. Honestly, what is the one thing, or few things that are the most important to you? Those things that you think to yourself, "I would follow Jesus anywhere as long as he doesn't ask me to give this up..." We can not serve two masters at one time! We just can't do it! God is a jealous god. If we really want to follow Him, we must be willing to hold everything/person in the palm of our hands, with our fingers stretched out wide! That's right, not clutching them tightly in our fists. When we clutch them tightly, it just hurts more when God asks us to let go of them. If we hold them in an open palm, we are acknowledging that they are not really ours, and He is free to do with them as He sees best.

When we put anything higher than Him, we are loving the creation more than the Creator. What does abandoning all for Him mean to you? Well, I thought I had that phrase all figured out last year. Oh how wrong I was! Choosing to follow Jesus is a daily choosing to sacrifice yourself and everything outside of Him that gives us security. Jesus wants total dedication. Will you let Him show you what that means in your life? I haven't figured it all out yet in my own life, but I choose today to let Him have His way. I choose to have open palms, and when He asks me to let go of the precious "things" in my life, I choose to crawl in His lap and let Him love me through the hurt. No one understands better than Him what sacrifice really means!

What does abandoning all for Him mean for you?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My Life as a Rubber Band!

Well, a lot can happen to a girl from HSV, AL in 2 months!!!! Since the last time I posted something here, I made it through Christmas and New Year's Eve/Day. My Christmas box did not arrive until January 4th! So it was different to wake up Christmas morning with no presents to open. Gave me time to think deeply about what celebrating Christmas really is. I spent the afternoon at my mentor's house with her family. It was a lot of fun and her husband is an excellent cook! New Year's Eve I joined two of my team mates for dinner at Outback! The steak was delicious!!!! After dinner I was off to ring in the new year with two other missionary families. It was a fun night of playing games and watching interesting Japanese TV. Not quite the same as watching the ball drop in Times Square (which I did watch by the way, but it was New Year's morning for me!) Then at 1AM on January 2nd, I watched my Auburn Tigers win the first bowl game of the year, the Outback Bowl. WAR EAGLE!!!!!!!! 2010 is the year of the TIGER!!!!!

The Tokyo mission team went a couple of hours north to Kairuzawa for our AGM (annual general mtg). This is the city that hosted the curling events during the Nagano Olympics. So, there was plenty of snow on the ground while we were there. It was a good time of fellowship, meetings, and worship. We do not attend American style churches here in Tokyo. We have church in places like peoples' homes/apartments, restaurants, or karaoke rooms, so to worship in a large group, and in English was quite a blessing for us.

At the end of January I flew to Hong Kong for a week of R&R. I met up with Malorie Smith (missionary in HK) and she took care of me for the week!!! Thanks again Mal!!! It was a lot of fun. I have posted some pics from the trip. The Jade Market was quite the experience!!! BUT, HK Disney was one of the highlights of the trip. I have now been to 3 of the 5 Disney parks (WDW, Tokyo Disney, HK Disney). Only two to go - DisneyLand CA & Paris!!!! "You gotta have a goal? Do you have a goal?"

As much fun as my trip was, I really did miss Japan. Actually on the bus ride to the airport in Tokyo, my heart hurt to think I was leaving this country. As difficult as the past few months have been for me, God has called me here, turned my heart to the people and their culture, and I realized this is becoming "home" for me! The day I left HK is was hot and humid, even at 6AM. BUT, when I arrived in Tokyo it was freezing and raining!!! It actually snowed 2-3 inches that night. It was the most snow Tokyo has had in a long time!

While on my trip I received an email from our "big" boss here in Tokyo informing our team of an IMB change that was being put into action immediately. My supervisor changed over night. So, the stretching (now do you get the rubber band reference in the title?) continued!!! It seems that just the time you begin to think things are settling down, someone yells, "fruit basket turnover!" So for the next couple of weeks my team went through changes in leadership, which in turn created some changes in strategy and vision!

Now, all during this time I had been praying about what I needed to be doing to put myself in the best position to eventually turn around and come back as a career missionary because the possibility of this is not looking as promising as it did this time last year. Those of you who are Southern Baptist know the situation with the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Although the amount of offering given was incredible for the economy to be as bad as it was, it fell short of the amount needed for the 2010 projections. Therefore, the IMB has made major cuts in order to live within the "means" we have been blessed with.

What does this mean? Well one of the cuts made was the number of missionaries to be sent overseas. So, now there are not as many open slots, which means that fewer people will be appointed for full time mission service. I found out in January at our AGM that there will be very few added to Japan over the next few years. When I heard this news I really struggled to not get discouraged. God and I spoke many times about how I stepped away from a ministry I loved, a city I loved, and friends and family I love and who love me, to follow Him here, for what I believed was career. Each time I "reminded" Him of these facts, He lovingly REMINDED me that what He has called me to, HE and HE alone will make happen. I began to have a peace about what I knew needed to happen to help me be in the best position to possibly transition to career in a couple of years, but I also knew I could not let my hand orchestrate the details. It had to be God at work, or it would not work at all!

Each time God has moved me in ministry He has first prepared my heart for the change/move, then the "call" to the new position literally came out of the blue. Not one of my ministry/missions positions came about because I pursued the position. Well, this time is no different. Have you ever noticed that God tends to work the same way in your life? Interesting isn't it? Anyway, as I prayed for His peace and direction, He gave me His peace and told me to be patient. Then on Tuesday (2/16) around lunch time I just knew that a change needed to be made sooner rather than later, but I could not see how it could happen. So, I just decided to wait on God and see what He had up His sleeve. At 3:45PM I received a call from my supervisor saying that our Tokyo mission team was making a major change in our structure, and the leadership decided to move me to a new team to better position me for the future possibility of coming back in a career position!!!! WOW!!!! I had no idea they had even been discussing details about me. God was at work, and once again knocked my socks off!!!!! So, in August I will move to a new team and begin a new ministry here in Tokyo. Not sure yet what this new ministry will look like, but I have a "feeling" that it may involve children somehow. :) It does not guarantee me a career position, but it will help me a great deal when that time actually comes.

So, at 10 months with the IMB, and almost 8 months in Japan, A LOT has changed!!!! Those of you who traveled with me on mission trips know that I always gave you a rubber band to wear on your wrist, or carry in your pocket. It was to remind us during the trip that being stretched is a good thing. It may feel bad at the time, but it means we are being used. A rubber band is ONLY useful while it is being stretched. If it isn't being stretched, then it isn't being used!!!! There have been moments when I thought I was being stretched beyond what I could bare. But, God was faithful each time to give me strength and encouragement through His Word and His people.

I ask you, are you allowing God to stretch you? Or are you playing it safe and staying in the box so you don't have to feel the pain of the stretching? Please hear me when I say, that although it does hurt, the joy you receive from following God far out weighs the discomfort!!!! It is scary to stand on the "line" and think, "I don't know if I want to leave this comfortable place to go someplace I have never been before." But once you take that first step your whole life changes. No it won't always be easy, but God did not create you to live on the mountain top right now. No, you were made to walk through the valley, and He has promised He will never leave you and He will never forsake you! In Psalm 23 it says, "Though I WALK through the valley of the shadow of death." Notice it does not say, "though I sit/lie down in the valley." No, it says WALK. So, keep walking with Jesus through the pain of the stretching in the valley!!!!! I challenge you to get out of the "box" and join the "rubber bands" who are being stretched for the Glory of God!!!