By Katherine Walden
“Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road straight and smooth,
a highway fit for our God.
Fill in the valleys,
level off the hills,
Smooth out the ruts,
clear out the rocks.
Then God’s bright glory will shine
and everyone will see it.
Yes. Just as God has said.”
Isaiah 40:1-11 (The Message)
I HAVE HAD THE BLESSING of being an invited dinner guest in family homes all across North America and in South America and Asia. I have dined on bamboo mats carefully placed over compacted dirt floors; I have eaten in formal dining rooms whose walls were graced with fine and expensive artwork. I have sat at kitchen tables, and at picnic tables and I’ve stood at many campfires, carefully balancing a paper plate and a Styrofoam cup of juice. I have eaten prime rib with all the accompaniments and I have shared a hard-boiled egg with a small bowl of rice between two people. More than once, I ate local delicacies that were foreign to my tongue in many ways. I have been both humbled and blessed by the kind hospitality offered, I have received with a very grateful heart each gift of friendship and fellowship offered me.
Although my hosts’ circumstances greatly varied, my hosts shared two commonalities: preparation and a desire to bless me as their guest. In Northern Ontario, they literally ploughed a road to their door and had snowmobiles ready, in case their Christmas guests needed alternative transport. In Thailand, my hostess rolled up her family bedding, storing it carefully in a corner then used the sleeping mats to form a makeshift table, carefully positioned under a single red paper streamer that was left over from a neighbour’s wedding. Year after year, I have marvelled at the charming and festive decor of a dear friend who truly loves the Christmas season and loves her friends and family even more.
One of my more memorable dining hosts was my own brother, who invited my best friend and me to his bachelor suite for a gourmet meal of boxed macaroni and cheese, with an exotic touch of a can of tuna and frozen mixed vegetables mixed in. My brother was not known for his housekeeping skills and my friend and I braced ourselves for the worst! We were happily surprised that he made room for three people to sit around his table and he had actually washed the plates and cutlery with soap and water, rather than his usual quick rinse under the tap. Our beverages were served in fast-food cups but at least they were plastic cups and had been washed. We closed our eyes to the rest of the clutter; it was the thought that counted. No matter how simple or lavish the meal; each host carefully planned the meal and prepared their homes in anticipation of my arrival.
Although my own circumstances have made it difficult for me to prepare meals for my guests, I do what I can in order to bless them, even if it as simple as heading down to the local store to buy their favourite soft drink. I dust and tidy up, scrub the bathroom as best I can and select music that I hope will be a blessing to play in the background. I make sure I am well rested in order that I can be an attentive and cheerful host and I greet them with open arms.
The month before Christmas is called Advent in churches that follow the liturgical year. The word “advent” is derived from the Latin adventus and means “a coming” or “arrival”. Advent might be defined as a season of preparatory anticipation. At the time of the Roman Empire adventus referred to the arrival of a person of dignity and great power and importance, such as a king. The season of advent provides the perfect opportunity for Christians to stop and consider what their lives were like before they became followers of Jesus, and what their lives are like now because of all his blessings.
In the same manner in which we clean and prepare our homes in the anticipation of welcomed guests and family members, let us also prepare our hearts in anticipation of the Lord’s coming. Christ, our most honoured and eagerly anticipated guest, desires to meet with us in a heart prepared for his arrival. So eager is he to meet with us that he offers to help us with our spiritual housecleaning, working with us, creating a resting place for himself within our hearts.
© Katherine Walden. Used by permission.
Katherine hails from Alberta, Canada from where she heads up I Lift My Eyes Ministries (www.psalm121.ca).
This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of FIRST!
By Virginia Kremer
WHILE waiting for something to finish cooking, my eyes absently came to rest on my kitchen timer. The last time I had really looked at it, it was shiny new. That was 30 years ago! I picked it up thinking how old and worn it was. Its imitation wood sides were scratched and there were a couple of marks left in haste by buttered fingers. Nicks on the plastic rim were the results of falls, and its face had become cloudy. As I turned it over, the decorative gold-coloured cap in the middle slipped off as usual, reminding me that although I had planned many times to glue it back in place, once the timer’s work was done, I had not thought of it again. Who thinks about an old kitchen timer as long as it works? And why not replace it by a new, modern version?
Looking at it in amazement and wondering where the time had gone since I’d received it as a wedding gift, I thought of the person who had given it to me: Anna. Tears came to my eyes. I had never really mourned her death a few years ago. Her passing away had happened when I, myself, was facing the desperate situation of my husband’s serious illness.
I pictured her jolly, smiling face, twinkling eyes, ruddy cheeks, and grey hair, once black and curly, pulled back in a bun. Anna was from a large farming family of Mennonites in Alsace. She had wanted to play the saxophone as a young person, but her very strict father considered that a sin. She had rebelled and gone out into the “world” but early on realized that without God, life had no meaning. She came back to the faith of her fathers and opened her heart to the love of God and to salvation in His Son Jesus Christ. Her life was turned around and she became an ardent witness to His grace and saving power. Her great desire was to serve Him as a missionary all the days of her life and she made known her calling to the elders of her church. Anna was a farm girl with minimum schooling and no qualifications. She was sent to work in the home of a prominent Christian family whose vocation was to send out missionaries. There, she was to clean and cook, and in other words, be their servant. She had her little room up under the eaves on the third floor and was on call twenty-four hours a day!
A call frustrated?
She never made it to the mission field. She spent her life up to her retirement doing what she did best: cooking, cleaning and working in the garden. There may have been times when she was a little frustrated; she had had such a clear calling. But wherever Anna went, be it in a shop or at the market or on the train or talking to someone at the door, everyone remarked her beaming face and cheery presence. She always spoke a word for the Lord. She had the gift of evangelism. Even the most defiant or disinterested could not resist her words of wisdom and truth. Not only did she believe, but she also put what she believed in practice. The children in the Sunday School loved to hear her tell Bible stories and several generations called her “Aunt Anna”. Some of them went on to serve the Lord.
Taken for granted
When I was in the home where Anna served, she was such a joy and encouragement to me. Somehow, she made life easier, smoothed out the rough places and made me feel at home. Yet, Anna was only a servant. Everyone took her for granted. She was always there. No one seemed to notice that the years were passing, that time and work were taking their toll. Who cares about an old servant? When she can’t work anymore, she will be replaced.
Faithful and fruitful
Anna has gone home to be with the Lord she loved and served so faithfully. She didn’t get to be a missionary and go to a foreign field as she had dreamed, but she didn’t let that stop her from being a true witness to Christ where she was. Anna served a number of God’s servants. Some of them may not have even taken much notice of her, but it wouldn’t surprise me that when we all stand before God’s throne and the rewards are passed out, Anna might just be up in the front row among the most faithful!
Now when I pick up my timer, I always think of Anna, and thankfully remember that God is not like us. He doesn’t use people and then replace them when they are old or no longer physically useful. He sees and knows the hidden motives of the heart. He does not stop at the outward appearance, the superficial spirituality, the ‘importance’ of the person in men’s eyes, the apparent usefulness or success or education. He looks at the heart, the love there for Him and for others, the humble service where there is no place for self-glory.
I’ve learned so much from my old kitchen timer and from Anna! ■
Virginia lives in France, where she worked for many years with her late husband, Etienne, as members of the Mission-Foi- Evangile.
This article was first printed in Life Indeed, November/December 2004
Three remedies for a bad temper
Which do you think is best?
Julius Caesar was troubled with a bad temper and we read of him repeating the Roman alphabet backwards when he felt his temper rising.
Matthew Henry gives an instance of a married couple who were both [given to extreme feelings], but happily lived together because they observed the rule never to be angry at the same time.
“JESUS…he shall save his people from their sins.”
“He is able to save to the uttermost.”
“From all your filthiness will I cleanse you.”
From the magazine of The Faith Mission, Bright Words, July 1892.
By John Townend, General Director of The Faith Mission
When I was a young teenager, one summer morning I set off with a petrol can in hand and cycled three miles to the nearest garage. There I paid the carefully saved six shillings and tuppence (31p!) for a gallon of petrol, strapped the full can to the back of my bike and made the return journey. I was impatient to have some fun on the old motorcycle we used in the field behind our home. Unfortunately, I failed to notice that there was a small hole in the bottom of the can and on arriving home was terribly disappointed to find that most of the fuel had seeped away.
It is my experience that we tend to be a little bit like that in our every-day walk with God. It is not that we deliberately reject God’s Word, but we often neglect to put it into action in our lives and over a period of time the blessing and benefit which God intended us to enjoy simply seep away. I understand that Hebrews 2:1 can be accurately translated:
“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest over a period of time we should let them ebb away.”
The pressures of every-day life take their toll upon us. If we fail to keep close to God, hide his Word in our hearts and daily seek the fresh anointing of his Holy Spirit upon our lives, we soon find that we are “running on empty”. Instead of knowing “the peace, the joy, the thrill of walking in his will” we become bowed down with care or weary in well-doing; we fail to be the blessing that he intends us to be.
Of course, sometimes the cause of our emptiness is not leakage but blockage. Over thirty years ago, when I was a student at the Bible College, I was deeply challenged while reading the book by
S D Gordon entitled Quiet Talks on Power. Using the illustration of a conduit channelling mighty torrents of water from the reservoir to a mill or power station below, he spoke of our lives as being channels through which the Holy Spirit seeks to flow in power, to touch the lives of those around about us. If the conduit is blocked by debris, the water soon ceases to flow and the turbines fail to turn. Likewise, if our lives are tainted with the debris of unforgiven sin, disobedience or an unyielded will, the channel is blocked and the Holy Spirit cannot flow in power and blessing through our lives. That afternoon I quietly bowed to yield my life afresh to God and ask him to forgive me for the blockages that I knew had been preventing the Holy Spirit from flowing through me.
Rivers of Living Water
It is tragic that our natural tendency is to be leaking vessels and blocked channels, when God actually intends that we be rivers of living water to the thirsty men and women around us. In John 7:37–39 Jesus reminds us that to know the fountain of living water we must:
• Thirst for Him
• Come (and keep coming) to Him
• Believe in Him
• Be surrendered to Him
• Be (being) filled with the Holy Spirit
Lucy J Rider summarised this perfectly. In the third verse and chorus of her hymn based on Isaiah 55:1 she penned these words:
Child of the Kingdom be filled with the Spirit!
Nothing but fullness thy longing can meet.
‘Tis the enduement for life and for service;
thine is the promise, so certain, so sweet,
I will pour water on him that is thirsty,
I will pour floods upon the dry ground;
open your heart to the gift I am bringing;
while you are seeking Me, I will be found.
My prayer for The Faith Mission and those who work in it is that God would enable us to be “vessels unto honour” and channels through whom he can flow; that he would bring to our lives those rivers of living water which satisfy our deepest longings and flow out to touch the lives of those we seek to reach.
This article was first published in FIRST! magazine, March/April 2009
Any form of outreach should not primarily be ‘cut and run’, in the hope that a quick exposure to an evangelistic message is likely to communicate effectively.
How did Jesus communicate? It’s tempting to think it was because He was a great orator. He clearly was. But as you read the biblical record, you’ll find few long speeches or lengthy sermons. So He must have been doing something else. When Jesus spoke to or ate with people deemed unworthy by others, He sent out powerful signals. Eating together spoke of acceptance, acceptance sparked trust, trust released hope, hope sought salvation.
Jesus’ words to His disciples as He sends them out to prepare the way for Him are instructive. Consider the order in Luke 10:5-9. ‘When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.” If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, “The kingdom of God is near you.”’
Part of the challenge of this passage lies in the order in which Jesus suggests things be done.
1. Declare peace
This formed part of a common greeting at the time. But it was also a prayer. Does it provoke us about our tendency to pray ‘against’ things when we begin to think about how to pray for our area, town, or street? Jesus is inviting us to invite Him to bring peace to that area. The mere announcement that God’s peace is coming to that place is a form of spiritual warfare that drives away destructive forces that may have strongholds there.
2. Eat with people
Eating together allowed discussion, signified acceptance, and was a redemptive act in its own right when practiced by Jesus with the social outcasts of the day. It reminds us to be with people in the ordinary rhythms of their lives, building friendship and trust.
3. Take as well as give
Creating strong friendships depends on mutual care. It’s OK for us to lean on our unchurched friends. Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink. He then gave her living water!
4. Pray for their healing
In our culture people seem ready to be prayed for, even if not all acknowledge the Healer who might come to their aid. In the Bible, healing prayer seemed to be a gateway for the message of Christ’s life. It enabled trust to grow and readied people to hear the message of the Kingdom.
5. Declare the Kingdom
The story is told of a concert in an American city, featuring a militantly anti-Christian band. Their fans sweltered in the sun as they waited for the doors to open. At one end of the street, a church group held up banners proclaiming that God hated gays. Further down the street, another church group, noting the plight of the queue, made gallons of cold drinks and offered them to people as they waited. Hundreds of young adults had some of their caricatures of Christians (encouraged by the banner wavers) undone by a simple act of acceptance and help. A church group declared peace to the crowd and helped feed them. They were much more likely to get the opportunity to pray for their needs and declare the good news of Jesus’ Kingdom to them.
Jesus often met with those considered ‘sinners and publicans’ in the company of several of His followers. We will not want to face alone some of the challenges of the culture we live in, but we will never change it by hiding in our castles and staging confrontational raids on the hearts of the lost via occasional street preaching or door knocking.
In towns and cities around the world, door knocking is starting to work again because its primary purpose is not to engineer a conversation but to simply make contact, offer prayer, or convey information about church events or children’s clubs. At first, you are given seconds at the door, but in time trust is built; people become your acquaintances and then your friends.
The challenge is this: Will we for ever regard the not-yet-Christian as ‘them’, objects of spiritual pity, rather than objects of God’s love? Will we be their friends whether or not they make an immediate response to our talk of faith? Are we prepared to enjoy life together with them on shopping trips, in the stands of a sports stadium, or relaxed around a late summer barbecue? Are we willing to connect with non-Christians and dare to believe that we can influence them for good, rather than them corrupting us? Do we believe that He who is in us is greater than he that is in the world?
Pity or compassion?
As we consider matters of social justice, are we motivated by pity or compassion? Pity says: ‘I will help you because I feel guilty, or maybe because I feel superior.’ Compassion says: ‘I will help you because you’re human, made in the image of God and worthy of dignity, friendship and aid.’ Jesus was colour-blind, status-blind, and gender-blind. He didn’t see the divisions we often see. He created a Church where there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free.
Jesus did not come with mere words of wisdom before scurrying home to a spiritual fortress. He lived among and ate with the ordinary people of His day. He was their friend as well as their Saviour. Who are your friends? Will you follow Jesus in befriending the lost?
© Web Evangelism Guide(web-evangelism.com), used with permission. The insights in this article are excerpted from Following Jesus by Dave Roberts, (Relevant Books, ISBN: 0-97292-763-8), with additional material by Gary Gibbs.
From Life Indeed November/December 2005