Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Remember - Learning to live what we already know - Chapter 7

Chapter 7

So, what is the secret to remembering? There are whole boatload of memory tricks and tactics to help you improve your memory. There were 22,900,000 hits on Google when I typed in “secrets to remembering,” and maybe some of them even work. I once bought an e-book on how to improve my memory. It probably would have helped had I read it.  But, when we are talking about remembering, we are going to need more than a memory enhancer book to help us.  In fact, when it comes to spiritual things, there is nothing an e-book can do to help us in this department.  The truth is that we need to remember with our heart before we remember with our head.

God indicates as much in the following verse:

Jer 31:33  “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Why do we need the law within us and why does our heart need to have the law written on it?  Shouldn’t it be enough to just remember with our head? In fact, it does not seem to be the way. Look at this verse a few verses before the previous verse:

Jer 24:7 “I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.”

Why do we need a heart to know God? Shouldn’t reading the Bible, His word, be enough?

Psalm 77:6 “I said, ‘Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.’ Then my spirit made a diligent search:[.]”

This verse in the Psalm 77 indicates that remembering is actually something your heart does.  In this psalm both meditating and remembering are similar and the heart is how he will remember.

The point I am trying to make here is that we need more than just head knowledge to remember God. Kind of like that old saying, the way to a man’s heart is through his mouth. Well, maybe not at all like that, but it could be like this: The way to remember in the head is through the heart. The key to remembering with the head is to remember with the heart.  But, the true reality is that if it is up to our heart to remember, we are in big trouble. Look at the Bible’s indictment on the heart.

Genesis 6:5 “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Genesis 8:21 “And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.’”

Ecclesiastes 9:3 “. . . the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.”

Jeremiah 4:14 “O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you?”

Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Ezek 16:30 “How sick is your heart, declares the Lord God, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute, . . . .”

Matt 15:19 “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

Mark 7:21 “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, . . . .”

Luke 6:45 “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

It is pretty clear in the verses above that our hearts are evil. Why is this significant? Because our hearts determine our steps. We usually do what our heart thinks, feels, and wants to do. Even when we know that it isn’t the right thing to do, more often than not, we do it. Our heart is the want part of us and out of the heart, the wants are evil, wrong, and sinful.

It is always the answer for the reason we sin. Why do we do it? Because our heart wants to.

So, even if we did remember God’s word or His commands in our hearts, it probably wouldn’t help.  The verses below show this all too clearly:

Jeremiah 3:17 “At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart.”

Jeremiah 7:24 “But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.”

Ps 81:12 “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.”

Heb 3:12 “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”

So, to remember with our head we need to remember with our heart. But our heart is evil. And does not want to do anything God wants, let alone remember anything that would change our ways.  So, what now? It is like trying to obey a command to overcome gravity or a need for air.  It is impossible.

We need a serious heart surgery. More than just a bypass, we need a heart transplant. Something has to drastically change in order to restart this dead, evil heart. Something has to change if we are going to remember our God with our heart.  Thankfully, God knew that and He let us know that, as well. And that is just what He did, He gave us a new heart.

Ezekiel 36:25-26 25“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

What a clear, indicting, amazing picture for us to grasp.  Our heart is like stone; it is lifeless, impenetrable, and unfeeling. God is going to make it flesh. He will make it alive. He will penetrate it.  He will allow it to feel.  To remember, we simply need a new heart.  We need a heart that wants to remember, that wants to do right. It is God who performs the heart surgery. It is God who gives us the ability and the want to do what He commands. But, how does the heart surgery work?

Well, honestly, I wish God would have used a different metaphor to describe this heart surgery.  Paul uses sports like running and boxing to explain his points. Jesus uses seeds, fish and walking on water to explain his points. Peter uses gold to explain one of his points. But, God chooses to use something that is well, a bit embarrassing and uncomfortable to talk about, especially as a male. Circumcision. There, I said it. Over here, in Zambia, circumcision is all over the place; billboards, brochures, signs and buildings. They are encouraging all men to get circumcised as one simple way to avoid getting HIV and other sexual transmitted diseases. But, as you can imagine, the circumcision line isn’t exactly overflowing with people. There is no waiting line at the door. No one is beating down that door lately. Circumcision is painful for all who must encounter this medical procedure. I know one guy who was not circumcised until his high school years and  he was angry with his parents for months.

With any cursory reading of the Old Testament, it will be impossible to avoid this concept of circumcision. In fact, in the Old and New Testament, the word circumc-something is found 73 times. God first commanded circumcision in Gen 17:10 for every male. It was for all males, 8 days old, which medically speaking has been revealed is the best day to do this procedure. It was to be a covenant between humans and God. God gave this command to Abraham when he was 99 years old. Yeah, exactly. Ishmael was 13 when he was circumcised. He could not have been very happy about this new “covenant” that God decided to wait thirteen years to instill, not to mention the men and slaves in his family. Isaac lucked out; he was just 8 days old when he underwent this procedure.

There are a bunch of stories throughout the Old Testament about different situations regarding circumcision. In Genesis 34, Simeon and Levi destroyed the entire Hivite nation that was recovering from being circumcised. Hamor, the Hivite, was love sick and ultimately defiled their sister, Dinah, the daughter of Jacob. The two conniving brothers, Simeon and Levi, made a deal with the Hivite people saying if they were circumcised, then Hamor could marry Dinah, the girl of his dreams. Well, during this inevitable healing process, Simeon and Levi killed all the men and plundered them as a revenge for defiling Dinah.

In Exodus 4, Moses was about to be killed by an angel of the Lord because Moses had not circumcised his son. It was the wife of Moses who circumcised the child and then touched Moses’ foot with the foreskin that saved this great leaders life.

And if you thought that was a crazy story, check this one out. Joshua had to stop his pursuit and conquest of the Promised Land for everyone to be circumcised before he crossed the river. Can you imagine? The entire generation of Israelites who have wandered their whole lives in the desert They finally get a chance to go and conquer and they are told they need to all be circumcised. The entire nation was circumcised and they waited until they healed.

These are indeed crazy, weird stories. But, what is crazy is that there are more verses about circumcision in the New Testament than the Old Testament. Both John the Baptist and Jesus are circumcised. But, the bulk of talk on circumcision is, ironically, about the Pharisees. It turned out the Pharisees became prideful that they were circumcised and the Gentiles were not. It became a physical thing. We are circumcised. You are not. And they totally missed the point.  You cannot miss the irony of this. The Pharisees were the most trained, dedicated, and committed Bible scholars of their time. They read, taught, memorized, debated, and meditated on the Torah like no else. They knew all the verses about circumcision and they knew why God commanded it. They could remember the word better than anyone. Many, if not most, would memorize the entire Old Testament. If you asked where you could find circumcision, they would rattle it off for you. And yet, somehow they missed the whole intent of the verse. We need heart surgery because we can’t remember because we don’t want to remember. We need heart surgery because we are sinful, prideful, and self-centered.  The truth is, we cannot remember because we don’t want to remember. So take all of the circumcision context and look at these next verses:

Deut. 10:16 “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.”

Uh, what? How do I circumcise the foreskin of my heart? Oh, metaphor. There is something that needs to be cut off so I can have a heart that keeps me from being stubborn. God loves us and wants us to love him, but we can’t and so our heart needs to be free to love.

Check out this next verse which says kind of the same thing:

Jer. 4:4 “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.”

If our hearts are not changed, we are destined for wrath.  That is the simple truth.

Now, there is one thing that needs to be said, though I cannot speak with experience here, and that is, you cannot circumcise yourself. I am pretty sure that has never been done and I will be willing to bet just about anything on that statement.

Thus God makes a significant statement here:

Deut. 30:6 “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

Why will he circumcise the foreskin of our hearts? SO WE CAN LOVE HIM. With all of our hearts.

That was the point of the last chapter. Loving God and loving man sums up all the laws, but we cannot love without the heart. And we cannot love with our heart as it is. So, God says, “I will make it possible. I will circumcise your heart so you can love me.”

What God purposed in Abraham finally has come to fruition. Paul writes about it in
Romans 2:29: “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”

Circumcision is a symbol of a covenant and a metaphor to speak about what God does to and for the heart. This symbol shows us how God will change our hearts and the result of that changed heart.  Because of this change of the heart, man has gone from wrath to praise.  We can obey the greatest commandment because God has made a great commitment to us, to change us so we can please Him.  We can love Him.  We can remember to love Him.

So, how does that work itself out? How do we remember Him into each day?  It’s all about to come together.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Farewell Church Tour, part 1

It seems a bit surreal, that is for sure, to be starting a farewell church tour.  I picked a hot time to do it, 95 degrees today.  We have just 53 days left before we come home and I wanted to get to a bunch of churches before I left. So,  I started today, visiting Pastor Jere's church in Valley View.  It was a special day to be there for a number of reasons.  My friendship with Pastor Jere started at pretty much the inception of this church.  I preached and visited several times when it was in its rented location. And then this happened.  And slowly but surely, they have built up this church. The outer walls are complete and they are getting it done. But what was more amazing to me was what is going on inside the walls. The church has grown and there are many young men are in the church. Pastor Jere is an amazing leader and trainer and pastor.  Here is just one example from a  previous blog.  What is so uncommon in Zambia, in training other leaders, Pastor Jere has focused entirely on and it is paying off huge. It is amazing how understated and quiet this man is and yet what a legacy of leaders he is leaving in his wake.  I hoped to encourage them in my preaching, but I left way more encouraged than I could have ever given. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Timing is everything, or Our Rite of Passage

Greeting blog friends, I asked Kamryn to write this blog today. Figured our
lives were getting a little too routine that we needed something to awaken
our yawning readers, a little blog rating boost for you today. Enjoy!
Hey guys, Kamryn here. We have a major blog on our hands, hence part of the
title. This blog is about Dad's and all of ours right of passage. Hence
the title again. But why the "timing is everything part?" Listen closely.

It was a Tuesday, a hot one. Dad and Julia were sick, and our gardener was
at school. Aunty Mirriam was swimming with Jojo, and I had just finished
helping Rhoda read, when Aunty Mirriam rushed in with Jojo, her face white.
And she said,"(Listen guys, this part is important)There is a huge snake!!!"
So I ran out to the porch with her. The snake was in the bushes, and pretty
soon mom joined us. She said, "What is it? " "A snake" we all said. Now,
Aunty Mirriam doesn't exaggerate. So when she says huge, she means it! And
when that thing slithered out of the bushes, I knew that was the biggest
snake we had ever seen in our yard. Let me rephrase that. The biggest
snake I have seen in Lusaka. I am not joking.
Now do you see why I said timing is everything? Dad was sick. Mwape gone.
What do we do? Get dad.
Poor sick dad in his room, was texting mom. He was oblivious to the chaos
going on outside. This is what he was texting," I am sooo sick. I feel
like..."and that is when mom burst in.
"A snake!" She panted. Guys, this is Non-fictional! True story! And it
only gets worsen (although it does have a happy ending!) So my poor sick dad
leaped out of bed, and ran down the hall. Meanwhile...
The snake was getting away!!! I was getting ready to throw something at it,
Aunty Mirriam was saying, "Where's Daddy?" Rhoda and Bradyn were holding on
to Jo who wanted to go see "her snake." And then daddy arrived. Aunty
Mirriam scurried off to get some rocks, while Mom went across the street
looking for someone to help dad get it. But it was me and Bradyn who
managed to get some people. When the guy came, the first thing he said
was," That snake is VERY dangerous. It is very poisonous." Well thanks,
SO they started throwing rocks. The snake shot out of the bushes, and the
men were throwing furiously. Dad got it once, but it didn't stop. They
chased it up the yard, and the snake slithered into a crack between the wall
and the guardhouse that was full of junk. What to do, what to do? I know!
The man walked out of the gate and went back to the house where he was a
guard, and came back with another man and a long stick(plus a hoe.) They
got all of the stuff out of the crack, to find the snake standing straight
up in a crack in the wall. Great. Go in there to get it, and never come
out again.
While we were standing there pondering, a random guy from the street came
in. "Hello" said mom. But this is just what we needed. One of the men
had such a brilliant idea. Why not climb onto the roof of the guard house
and to pour paint thinner down the crack that the snake was in? BRILLIANT!
BRILLIANT, I tell you! The paint thinner would burn the snake, so he would
have to come out! Then we wouldn't have to go in! So the guy got up there
and did it. It slithered out, and dad screamed," Its coming!" And then
I... climbed on top of the car. Not my bravest moment, but really, what
should I have done? And then POW! Dad nailed it with a rock! And then the
other guys hit it with sticks and then Dad flattened it's head with a
shovel! You know, the only time I appreciate snakes are when they are dead.
So, that's our morning. A classic day in paradise!

We finally killed a BIG DANGEROUS snake all by ourselves! We have earned
our rite of passage to being a proper Zambian! Which of course, isn't easy
I assure you!
Well, since our guard Mwape didn't know about the occurrence that day, we
missionaries decided to do something which would scare the skin off him! We
laid the snake in front of the door in our gate, and we waited. No, I
waited. And I say from personal experience that the result was TOTALLY

So, Steve again... Check out the video and let it be known, that Stephanie was indeed the first one to pick up the snake... Brave girls I live with!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Answered prayer observer

This is an awesome picture of Patson and my daughter Jo-Jo! Patson came
over for breakfast the other day so we could talk about his school and help
him write up a plan for the future. There are some great ministries
wanting to be involved in helping him with the school in the area of
training teachers and building construction, but the first step is really
putting his vision on paper. We are are working together to help think
through what the logical next steps should be. Patson is a dreamer and I
have seen God answer incredible, crazy, way out there dream/prayers. So, I
find a great bit of tension with helping him think through what is logical
and what is faith because I don't want to squelch but I also want to help
him be able to get to the next step. Anyway, all that to say, please pray
for Patson and his school/church. He is on the cusp of some amazing
progress and needs your prayers. He has 77 students in his school, two
volunteer teachers, no money for a feeding program so instead he just shares
from the food his family makes and he also shares with the 77 kids, his one
pit latrine. So, as you can see, there are lots of needs. I am hoping to be
able to be a liaison and help out however I can next year.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The countdown begins...

My blog tracker shows me that this is blog 978. Crazy. My goal is to have a blog #1000 on December 15 when we leave. It will be a sweet video recapping our 4 years in Zambia. I also put a timer thingie on the blog, counting down the days until we leave Zambia. Only 69 days until we board the plane. We are looking forward to seeing our family and friends and our church. But, I am not sure why I did it, because it isn't like we dying to get out of here... We love our friends and our "home" here which is crazy when we reminiscence about how hard it was when we got her, a little over four years ago. I remember at times, (here comes the honesty) hoping we would get sick so we could come home, because it was so hard in so many ways (I heard another missionary say that one time on a tape so I don't feel too sinful:) And now, I say we are leaving to the children and their lips puff out in a pouting look. So why leave if we like it here? Because we have prayed and we believe God is calling us home. What is he calling us home too? Not sure exactly. The one thing that is clear is church planting. That is abundantly clear. But, where, how, when, and what isn't so clear. So, we just step out, no, more like leap out on another adventure in trusting God. The landing may not be as comfortable as we would have hoped for, but after seeing how God turned the Africa Adventure around, it has built our faith. But a building faith is only as good as it is remembered, so by reminiscing, our faith is strengthened, and as our faith is strengthened, we can trust God even though we return to a tough economic environment and with the unknowns of our return. God is with us. This much we know. The rest are just details.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Just another drive through town

I love the adventure of driving around. Never a dull moment. These pictures
are as followed: a construction pic of Bread of Life Church, soon to be the
biggest church in Lusaka. Never thought a tire that big would fit in a
truck that small. Mad Max. Since my middle name is Max, I have a special
affinity to this store. If you are going to sell something on the street, I
am thinking this umbrella is a pretty good thing to sell in both the sun and
the rain. Random, I know... But, pretty funny, too!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Church at our House

We invited our church over to our house for the morning... It was simple
church. No projection, no sound system, nothing. Just a couple guitars, I
preached loud and we had extra time to eat and fellowship and play... It was
a brilliant morning (as my UK friends in the church like to say)... Our
community church is truly multi-ethnic, though there are definitely a white
person dominated church. We have people from Germany, Belgium, UK,
Australia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, U.S. Canada, Zambia, Singapore and many
more... It has been a great experience becoming the body of Christ with so
many different nationalities.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Flowers in the hot season...

Flowers of the season, courtesy of Kamryn:) Keep in mind, it hasn't rained
in months!