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Bibles For China – A Testimony – May 2017

When landing in Beijing and going through customs I looked around to see who was there that I could visit with, just because that’s pretty much who I am. Right there in front of me in line was Sim. Now this is a big deal for me. She had landed from Singapore and I had flown from Chicago. My flight was early so in my opinion for the two of us to be standing in line together was an added blessing from God. We were able to get our luggage and then meet other members of our team who were coming from Beijing and Ohio for us to all be together for five days serving as members of the Bibles for China team that would be distributing Bibles in rural China.

Sim has been with us on other trips and to have her join us and be an encouragement to both the Chinese community and our team has been a wonderful experience for her as well as for the rest of us. She comes to be with us at her own expense because of a dedicated heart for her love of the Bible and His people. She feels that the Lord has placed a call upon her life to be one who makes a difference in the world. We thank God that she has a willingness to show up where the Lord is moving and make herself available with a heart of love, joy and passion for serving.

I asked Sim the question. Tell us about how you heard about Bibles for China and why do you join us? Her reply is as follows:

Sim’s words. “I came across Bibles for China when I was searching online for opportunities to do mission work in China. God led me to search for mission opportunities in China because of previous experiences ministering to the mainland Chinese during a short missions course I did in Hong Kong 2 years ago. Also, China has a very special place in my heart because although I am a Singaporean, my ancestors came from Fujian province in China. During my trips with Bibles for China, God opened my eyes to see His heart for the Chinese. I have also been greatly encouraged by the many amazing testimonies shared by the Chinese Christians, especially of those who stay in the more rural parts of China – how despite them staying a few hours away from the nearest church, they still continue to go to their church to worship and serve God faithfully.” Sim does make a difference.

Maybe the Lord is asking you to be a Sim for the ministry. Pray with us as many from various parts of our world are asking “What or how would I do what the Lord is laying on my heart that needs my involvement.” We just have just finished a wonderful trip where we sensed the leadership of the Lord and his affirmation toward Bibles for China in keeping our mandate crisp and focused on “A passion for Bibles. A heart for China”. Together with you, we are blessed when we are in the center of His will.

Help us send Bibles to China

Write It Down!

Write It Down!

Those three words still echo in my mind.

I was sitting in training, having just started working in a youth psychiatric facility. The segment of the training was about the necessity of documentation, or charting for short.journalingsample

You see, we were the eyes and ears of the psychiatrists. These young people were here to receive treatment to resolve some very serious issues. Without documentation of their daily lives, charting by those of us assigned to supervise and participate in their daily lives, the doctors were left in the dark.

Another phrase that echoes in my mind, “If you don’t chart it, it didn’t happen.”  Talking about what happened was great.  A verbal testimony of the latest events on the unit was necessary, BUT the written documentation is what justified the treatment and the child remaining on the unit or not.

The written chart became a tool for me, too.  The young people that were my responsibility on a particular shift were more than names and numbers.  They had a story.  We were encouraged to read their history, learn their background and read the charting of the events during their residency as a means of becoming aware of the trends in their behavior, etc.

We have a short memory.  Our attention span is short.  Our contemporary culture and media have trained us to think in segments that last 30 seconds to five minutes.  Many of us cannot give a reliable verbal report of what happened yesterday, much less what took place over months and years of our spiritual life.  Much is lost to us over time.  That is one of the main reasons a written record, a journal, is important.

Israel was led astray, abandoned God and sought to worship idols.  Over the years, they often forgot the deliverance afforded them by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They abandoned the festivals that memorialized God’s ongoing deliverance.  They abandoned the temple and the Law.  In the Old Testament, we see this repeated more often than a contemporary worship leader repeats a chorus in worship.

What rescued them?  What called them back?  Read 2 Kings 22 and 23.  During the reign of Josiah, the long-forgotten book of the Law was rediscovered in the temple.  When it was read in his presence, he tore his robes in grief and repentance before God.  Then the book was read in the presence of all the people and the covenant was restored.  What called them back?  What caused them to remember and be restored.  It was the written word.

In times of suffering, we need written reminders of God’s provision and faithfulness.  We find these in the Bible, to be sure.  We can also find them in our journal, our personal story, and hear God’s reminder.

In times of testing and persecution, we need written reminders of God’s comfort and encouragement.  We find these in the Bible. to be sure.  We can also find them in our journal, our personal story, and hear God’s reminder.

Last night, a member of my small group shared a powerful testimony of the value of a journal.  She had received a set of journals after the death of a relative.  The record of a faith journey, over many years, has become a rich treasure of comfort and inspiration.  It inspired her to begin keeping her own journal, which God has used in her life and the lives of others.

JWS Journal

Like this member of my small group, I have a treasure that was passed down from a deceased relative.  It is a satchel full of “important” papers from my Great-grandfather, John Wesley St. John.  He was a pastor, long ago.  Within this satchel is a collection of his sermons, all of them type-written.  In the margins and among the lines, there are hand-scrawled notes and comments.  I periodically pull these out and read them, not because they are particularly awe-inspiring in their depth and exegetical prowess.  No, I read them because they are part of a very personal story of a faithful God who continues to call His servants to proclaim the Living Word.  I find inspiration in the way he wrestled with a particular text and attempted to faithfully preach it to the people to whom God had called him.  I’m grateful that these have been preserved and have come into my hands.  One day, I hope they will be passed down to another.

The written word.  It’s an amazing gift that has been given to us.

This life we have been given.  It, too, is a gracious gift.  It is precious and meant to be shared, now and in the future.

Write your story.  God will use it.  Write it down!

 

 

Fuel for the Journey

A friend recently asked me, “What would be your ideal vacation?” I leaned back and thought for a minute, remembering my wife and I spending 6 wonderful days in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, celebrating 20 years of wedded bliss. I thought of the week-long road-trip we took with our oldest son, celebrating his home-school graduation. Then, this popped out of my mouth, “One that would never end.” We both laughed. My friend’s question got me thinking. Whether it be a long road-trip, a cross-country journey on the train or the bus, or a trip “across the pond” by plane, there is a common need…fuel. Even a stay-cation, made popular because of the rising price of said fuel, needs, well, fuel.
The same is true for our spiritual journey. Getting from our personal starting point to God’s desired destination must be fueled by something. I’d like to make a few observations and practical suggestions about how that happens.

First, this journey is fueled by grace.  I know this may seem obvious to many but it gets lost in the shuffle, at times.  Any discussion about spiritual growth must begin with an important caveat that this all begins and ends with God.  God initiates this relationship and it is He that is faithful to bring to completion what he has started in us.  Scripture demonstrates this.  In the midst of a discussion by Paul about his ministry and that of Apollos, is found in 1 Corinthians 3.  He says there, “I planted.  Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow”  (3:6 NET).  In general, Paul is hoping we understand that he and Apollos were being used by God to facilitate the growth of the church and, therefore, the believers in Corinth.  Specifically, I think we find a principle here that there are things we can and MUST do to facilitate our growth.  That being said, it is “growth in grace,” because we can plant and water, but God causes the growth.

Second, this journey is fueled by spiritual disciplines.  Yeah…I know, that is a combination of two words that can be seen as merely boring watchwords of religious practice.  BUT, they are so much more.  Keith Drury divides these into three basic categories: disciplines of abstinence, disciplines of action and disciplines of association.  Fasting (giving up meals to pray), solitude (getting alone to hear from God), and simplicity (purchasing only the necessary or living sacrificially) are examples of abstinence.  Scripture (reading the Word of God, hearing God’s voice, and applying it), Prayer (bringing your private praise and petition to God), and Penance (doing restitution for wrongs by making them right are examples of action.  Community (connecting with others in a smaller group of sharing, caring and learning), Testimony (hearing or giving a witness to God’s work in the soul of an individual), Eucharist (participating in the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace).  It’s important to notice that some disciplines are private or individual disciplines.  Others are corporate.  The private, individualistic journey of faith is almost foreign to the Bible.  This walk is meant to take place in community.  We are bound together, in unity, through faith and practice.

Third, this journey is fueled by accountability.  Every Paul needs a Barnabas.  Every Timothy needs a Paul.  There are a number of people, over the years, who have proposed some form of what I’m talking about here.  It’s about a growing mentoring relationship.  It’s about accountability and encouragement that only happens on purpose.  There are numerous facets to this relationship that cannot be described here.  In our recent SoulShift study, David Drury writes, “You need to hear someone else and be heard by someone else – someone who can really know what you mean, someone to whom you can relate, someone who can even call you out from time to time, someone who might be able to tell when you’re exaggerating or leaving key parts out of the story, someone who has been tempted in ways you’ve been tempted…you need a key convo (conversation) in order to shift yourself forward spiritually” (David Drury and Steve DeNeff, SoulShift: The Measure of a Life Transformed, pg. 155).

A few years ago, my wife called me, “James…I don’t know what’s wrong with the car.  I barely made it over a couple of hills and now, it just shut down.  I was just able to coast it off the highway.  Come help.”  I found her, and my son, sitting in the vehicle a few minutes later.  I got into the driver seat, turned the key…the fuel gauge was below EMPTY.  Yep…she’d run out of fuel.  You may find yourself running on fumes, today, spiritually, barely making it over the hills you are climbing.  You may even be, like my wife, distracted and hurrying through life…BAM, you are out of fuel.  The good news is: you don’t have to remain so.  God has provided all things necessary for life and godliness.  Lean into Him.  Begin to develop a spiritual discipline or two.  Find someone to link arms and walk this journey, together.  Find a community of faith.  It doesn’t have to be the best, the brightest, the latest or the coolest.  Get plugged in, connected, engaged…and grow, bearing fruit and glorify your Father.

Amen.

Longing for Something Better

It is good to give thanks to the LORD, And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; – Psalm 92:1

I heard a preacher say once, “I just can’t be good.” He then went on to relate the story of his failing to resist the temptation to eat the crust off of a pie cooling in the window as a child, along with the severe punishment for eating that crust. Years later, now an evangelist, staying as guest in someone’s home, he faced the same temptation. There were two pies sitting and cooling for later. He found himself alone and severely tempted to eat the pie crust. Before he knew it, he had eaten the crust from both pies. He described himself as being “consumed by the crust, because it was so good.”

I don’t know about you, but I find myself consumed by many things. Most of the time, those are “good” things, like fresh-baked pie crust. Nevertheless, they become a hindrance to experiencing the better things of God, like thanksgiving and praise. Please don’t misunderstand. I see nothing wrong with enjoying the good gifts that God has given us…family, fellowship, food, etc. However, when they consume all of our “productive” time, we must evaluate and adjust our priorities.

The Psalmist proclaims two things “good” in this verse. Giving thanks to the Lord is good. Singing praises to God is good. Notice that God is the object of both of these activities. In my own life, I would have to confess that the most precious memories I have involve God as the object. Sure, I have had some great times doing other things, especially enjoying good food (with gratitude to God). Those things cannot compare to the sweetness of giving thanks and praise to God, though.

Give Thanks!