Monday, November 30, 2009

The Blind Side

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"
Isaiah 58:6-7

We’ve been talking about what God requires of us, us – meaning fellow believers in Christ. In my last post I shared what God had required of my friend, Jen Gash, of Sweet Sleep. For her, it is a life devoted to providing beds for orphans in some of the darkest places in the world. Now, don’t click off this page just yet because you have no desire to travel to “dark places”! Hang on just a second……

You see, we can find in God’s Word SPECIFIC ways of how He desires us to follow Him and live a life set apart from the world so that He alone can be glorified. Most of us can rattle off a list of things like, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Love the Lord with all your heart,” and “Take up your cross and follow me.” In these three quotes alone, God is telling us how to live an abundant life on this earth. OK – still, don’t click off just yet. We are getting to the good part!

For example, ALL believers are required to “love” our neighbor (found in Leviticus & several time in the New Testament). Now surely you know that “neighbor” doesn’t mean the person literally living right next door to you. Jesus is talking about mankind in general. So, how do we do that? The Bible doesn’t say, “Love your neighbor by baking a pie for a widow on their birthday.” Or “Love your neighbor by keeping your kids off their lawn because you know they are really picky about how it looks!” Or “Love your neighbor by building beds for orphans in dark places.” You see, the AWESOME thing about God’s Word is that yes – He is totally specific as to how we are to live. BUT – He wants to be even more specific and tell you step by step, “Ginger, this is how I want YOU, and You alone, to love your neighbor….” If we really desire to be all that God created and planned for us to be – we must do our part in looking into His Word, finding these specific callings He has for believers and then say, “OK, Lord, How do you want me to live this out?”

Above in Isaiah, we see yet another calling – another requirement for us in Christ. He lists 9 ways that He has chosen for us to show Him and a lost world that we are indeed followers of Chirst.

1) loose the chains of injustice
2) untie the cords of the yoke,
3) set the oppressed free
4) break every yoke
5) free the enslaved
6) feed the hungry
7) shelter the homeless
8) clothe the naked
9) acknowledge kinships (taking care of family)

Have you ever prayed and asked God how He wanted you to live out any of these?  Jen has.  He wants her to live a life, as I said earlier, devoted to the care for orphans.  Now, He probablly doesn't have that for you.  But what has He called YOU to do?

I watched the movie, The Blind Side, this weekend. It’s an amazing story of how a family in Memphis, TN lived out this very scripture. It’s a story of how God asked their family to do something very specific for Him. Of course Hollywood doesn’t get into all the “God stories”, but you understand that their beliefs play an important role as to why a very wealthy white family with two kids - choose to take in a homeless African American teenage boy.

As we were leaving the movie, the couple behind me started talking about the film. The lady said this, “I like the story line. But it’s hard for me to believe that somebody would do that for somebody else.”

Have believers become so much like the world, that when scripture is lived out, it is so far from the norm - that other’s find it hard to believe?

Freeing the enslaved, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked……etc, as a believer – this should be a way of life for us! This should not be because it’s the Holiday’s and we feel guilty about how much we have and sorry for those who don’t! It should not be odd to live this way on a daily basis! But, it is.

So, will you be an oddball with me? Let’s talk more in a few days:)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

An Unexpected E-mail; What God Requires

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.
 Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them,and do not hide from relatives who need your help."
Isaiah 58:6-7

I recieved an e-mail from a dear friend today.  Her name is Jen Gash and she is the President and Founder of Sweet Sleep (an organization that builds beds for oprhans around the world). I had planned on using Is. 58 to continue my posting over the next week or so - talking about "What Does God Require from us?".  These were not the words I inteded to pen.  But God has said it best through Jen.  She is living out what God requires.
The way that Jen and I even met is a TOTAL God story to be shared in another post.  But for now, read her words below. Allow yourself to be in Jen's shoes.  And - if you dare, allow yourself to be an orphan in Gulu. 

"For nearly 22 years northern Uganda has been in a war-- a war which I have never known about until a few years ago. I had vaguely heard of "invisible children" or child soldiers or night commuters. Really all I knew was that a crazy evil man attacked villages at night, killing as many as possible and
kidnapping children to be in his rebel army. I knew that each day, at dusk, children would walk long distances to sleep in safe shelters so the rebels could not get to them at night. This was all I knew.

Earlier this year God changed all of that. God made it clear-in many ways---He was calling Sweet Sleep to work in Uganda....
Recently this war entered into a time of peace. I've been trying to learn about the plight of the children in this area. This rebel army, the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) would attack villages during the night. As they
attacked, LRA soldiers would kill as many adults as they could and they would force the children of these villages to kill their parents or be killed themselves. From there the children were kidnapped into the LRA army and forced to become child soldiers. These children have lived through tremendous atrocities.

In July, while our first team of 22 was providing beds to two orphanages six hours away from Gulu outside the capital city of Kampala, I took a day to travel to Gulu to see what Sweet Sleep had provided and to understand what more we could do. What I saw and learned that day has changed my life, and the ministry of Sweet Sleep

There are far too many things to share about that day. However, I do want to tell you one story: In Gulu I spent the day with 5 teenagers who had either been child soldiers or who had lost their parents, they took me from camp to camp showing me huts and some of the beds Sweet Sleep had provided. I had never been in a hut before and focused on taking in everything I could.

Actually, it was a little crazy to think I was in a hut in the middle of nowhere in east Africa. At one point in the afternoon we ducked through the doorway into another small hut. I looked around and saw it was just as all
the others: a hard dirt floor, curved walls made from mud and little rays of light coming in at the top where the wall met the simple straw roof. I stood there and looked at the contents of this hut: one little bed with a pink
blanket and one toothbrush somebody had woven in and out through the straw of the thatch ceiling. That was all. I asked a question I'd not yet asked, "Who lives here?" The answer that followed rocked my little world.  The teens told me that a 14-year old girl and her five younger brothers and
sisters lived there.

I heard their answer, but I didn't understand it. So, I asked, "Where are her parents and why have we only given them one bed?" The answer that came was dumbfounding to me. I learned that in the Gulu region there are still one million displaced people-people who have lost their homes and everything they owned---because of the war. I learned that three-quarters of those people are children living in child-headed households. Yes, read that again.

That's about 750,000 children with no parents or grandparents or even orphanage to protect or care for them.

This information struck something deep inside me. Spending the day watching and studying those 5 teenagers struck something even deeper. I kept asking myself what in the world our ministry could do there. I knew we couldn't give them back what had been taken away from them---we couldn't give them back their parents. I knew we couldn't take away what had been forced upon them---those children had watched as their families and villages had been brutalized.

What could we do? God and I wrestled with this for weeks and weeks and weeks. One of our driving verses at Sweet Sleep is the one God showed me on my first flight home from Moldova: Proverbs 3:24 which says, "they will lie down and not be afraid; they will lie down and their sleep will be sweet." Here, in Gulu, this verse just did not make sense to these children.

In the months that followed, God showed me another verse, also in Proverbs, that says, "Once our eyes are opened, we can't pretend we don't know what to do. God who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls knows that we know, and holds us responsible to act."

The answer, I realized, is that I had seen and had learned and was responsible to share their story with all of you so that you, too, would know and be able to respond. The answer for Sweet Sleep was that we respond just as we have always: we work together with everyone we can in order to find resources that will bring beds and hope to as many children as possible. This is the good news. It's such good news that hope
is coming to these children in the form of a bed which communicates to a child things about God's promises so that peace can slowly begin to come to their hearts.

So, we are moving on to bring true sweet sleep to these tired and traumatized little ones. We face a challenge before us that is greater than ever. It is our ministry's responsibility and challenge to connect the message of God's hope, His love, grace, forgiveness, protection, provision and redemption, to the beds which we will provide. And, to equip those children with scripture that they can begin to learn and memorize which will enable them to push out the fear that grips them at night----the time the rebels come. If they can lie in their new beds and know they are loved and protected and then claim a verse reminding them of this knowledge, they can begin to have little victories over the fear that grips them. And, peace and hope and love can slowly come to their little hearts. This is why I desperately need your help.

The decision to spend 3 weeks in Gulu over Christmas was made very recently and last week I was in Haiti working on future ministry opportunities there. Now that I'm back I'm faced with a harsh calendar that tells me I only have a few weeks to raise the money we need for these children to have beds. My hope is you can help me find people who want to do something great this Christmas. We are providing 450 beds and need 320 more. A bed in Gulu consists of a straw mat, a mattress, sheets, blanket and a mosquito net, for a cost of $88. Of that, $8 is for a treated mosquito net to help prevent children from being bitten by a life-threatening mosquito infected with this disease......"

Sweet Sleep

This is what God requires of Jen.  To minister to the orphans in Gulu.  The above verse says, "Only Jen Gash is to free the oppressed......"  Oh wait, nope.  Don't see a specific name there.  Huh? You guess that it means that you and I are supposed to be involved in feeding, clothing, sheltering..... the poor - the oppressed?  Looks like it to me.  So, what are you doing about all that?

Monday, November 16, 2009

I DO the very thing I DO NOT want to do!!!

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.

Romans 7:15-17 (New International Version)

 I’ve walked most of my Christian life feeling like I’ve kinda got this Christian thing nailed down. I accepted Christ at age 9. I was a good teenage kid – very involved in my youth group. Went to a Christian college, married a pastor’s son. As an adult, I’ve gone to church regularly, led a women’s ministry and often teach Bible Studies. I stay away from “big” sins, I’m a good wife and good mom – I do devotions with my kids….

AND, I have recently realized that all of this that I’ve mentioned about myself has made me a member of an exclusive club. It’s a club called “Comfy Christianity”. I’m in a club that has tag lines and slogans such as “I’ll pray for you.” “I’m here if you need me.” And, “Bless your heart.”

Which in reality likely means:

1) As soon as you walk away from me, I’m going to forget your prayer request because first of all I’m just busy and secondly, I’ve got a ton of my own.

2) Please don’t need me – my plate is too full as it is.

3) And, too bad you are having a hard time right now.  I hate to tell you this but, life is just great for me right now.

If you listened closely, you would recall that all these comments I just made have one thing in common. It ALL comes back to “me”.

Now, when I make those kinds of comments, “I’ll pray for you” and so on --- my brain is not going: Don’t pray for anyone else only think of yourself!!!!  I don’t set out to have selfish intentions, but that is what they are. I think of what Paul says in Romans 7...I DO the very thing that I DO NOT want to do!

If I were not a Christian, I would still be a “good” person. IF Christ was not in my life – I would still not be a murder. I would not be robbing banks. I would still stay away from those “big” sins. I would be a decent wife and a good mom.  In short, I would look like the rest of the world.

Aside from my car not being in my driveway on Sunday’s and Wednesday nights – can my neighbor see any other change in me? 

You would have thought that after YEARS of Bible Study, I would have figured this out by now.  I really feel like a total dummy.  I've stayed at home since the birth of our daughter in 1999 - so no "witnessing" in the work place for me.  My friends all go to church.  And, it's a little difficult to share the Gospel with the world when you are always holed up in Bible Study.

Hummmm --- sure sounds like God Requires More....  Chew on Roman 7:15-17.  I'll be posting what is "required" soon.  Give you a hint - take a look at Micah 6:8:)