Friday, September 16, 2011

Chapter Five...

People gathered in the living room, quietly chatting together as the light from the fading sun spread streaks of evening beauty through-out the midsummer sky. Songbooks were passed around the circle, and someone chose a favorite. As Anthony played his guitar nearby, I sat on my aunt’s old wooden piano bench and watched the faces around me.

The children wiggled in eager anticipation for the weekend ahead, while the mothers rested from their daily labor. A young man brought his young non-Adventist girlfriend to open the Sabbath with us, and a middle-aged couple who had faced their share of hardship and loss in their lifetime sat nearby.

After we knelt for prayer and asked God for a blessing from His Word, Pastor Nathan began to tell a story of a missionary sleeping on a ship who was being vehemently shaken awake by a desperate sailor. He was asked to pray to His God, lest they all be victims to the violent elements of a tempest.

This man knew that God was displeased with him. He had disobeyed and not been content to rest in the center of his Lord’s will, and in an act that could have been suicide, anger, despair, or all three, he ordered the sailors to throw him overboard.

In a short while, we realized that Pastor Nathan was re-telling a story that we all knew well - the tale of the prophet Jonah who ran away from God. But in reality, many of us had but skimmed the surface of a much deeper meaning hidden beyond mere words in this small book. We realized that the story of Jonah’s experiences closely resembled our lives, in some way or another.

Why do you think that the book of Jonah ends with God asking a question? our friend asked us. His gaze swept the room, and then he continued. “Because this story is your story…

“Ask yourself where you are in the tale of Jonah. Maybe you are hearing God calling, and are wondering whether you should choose His plan for your life, or run in the opposite direction. Maybe you have taken the boat to Tarsus and a sailor is shaking your shoulder, waking you up to reality. Maybe you have just been spit upon the seashore in a daze, and now your eyes are turned towards Nineveh and the mission that God has called you to accomplish. Whatever the case, the story of Jonah is your story.

“Jonah chapter five remains yet to be written. How are you going to write it? Are you going to continually choose Jesus in your daily walk, or will you follow after selfishness? What will the rest of the story be….” A hush rested in the room.

“When I get to heaven, I will ask you how it was written. And I look forward to hearing how you wrote chapter 5.”

Growing up, I had little concept of how infinitely precious time was. It was hard for me to comprehend that one day I would be a teenager or learn how to keep a home. I knew what I wanted to be someday, and envisioned myself living an adventurous life full of victory for God, but those future years seemed so distant, so far away.

But as I sat in my aunt’s living room in late July of 2011, surrounded by my friends, family, and church members, I realized that the years had flown by, and I was soon to reach a turning point in my life. It was only a matter of time when everything I had learned in my home would be put to practice - and to the test. No longer did I have years ahead of me to cultivate being faithful, diligent, meek and gentle at heart in this my present situation. If I did not know how to thoroughly put my trust and faith in God now, I would be thrown into life without the stable, abiding hope that would last despite hard times which were sure to come. In God’s Word, I needed to be completely educated. With His Spirit, I needed to be entirely transformed.

Upon the ledger of heaven, someday I would surely see the story of my life written out as only an angel can. What if I read it, and found that I could have done more to share the gospel than I did? Would I shed tears of regret for moments that I spent in idleness which I could have used for the Master’s sake?

The reality of the life that lay ahead me, still fresh and new in youthfulness, touched my heart that summer night. Stubbornness to my own ideas of life would only hinder my way, and pride would destroy it’s blessing on others. The time God would grant me in the future would attest one day to my faithfulness to follow His dreams - not my own.

Oh Christian, tread carefully as you walk this narrow path. We cannot go back and erase the past, so let us move forward with Christ’s strength lest we ruin the future and end up with a chapter five that is not worth writing. We have only one, single life to live. As each moment ticks past, we cannot unravel time, and we cannot change it. Whether your story will be one of entire victory and surrender completely to our Lord, or if it’s not as beautiful as you know it could have been had you proved entirely faithful, will be determined by your decision.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Simple Encounters and Sowing Seeds

Dr. Jesse slid her chair across the floor and eyed me, mentally calculating her words.

“What church do you go to?”

This was not the first time I had been asked this question. Friendship evangelism (often with adults) was something that I loved to do. And after every experience where I would end up sharing my faith, I felt even more indebted to my Redeemer. I wanted to do more for Him than ever before. The happiness and peace that I experienced from serving Him was thrilling.

I had come in for a regular check-up at the local clinic, and Jesse was asking me the usual questions that doctors tend to ask teenagers.

…“So tell me, do you have plans concerning education? You’re homeschooled, right?”

“Yes,” I smiled, “I am accountable to a high school up in Maine called NARHS.”

“Do you enjoy learning at home? I’ve met homeschoolers that have more friends than I do,” she laughed quickly, “and then others that are more socially lacking.”

“Oh I love home schooling!” I replied. “I enjoy being able to work out my own schedule and learn things at home that I wouldn’t have normally been able to at school: such as being a homemaker, cooking, childrearing, etc. in addition to my school work.”

“So do you feel like you have enough friends?”

“Oh yes. You know that every person we come in contact with will have an influence over us, which can be either negative or positive. What I enjoy about home schooling is that I can choose my friends much more carefully. And I have some very good ones.” I smiled faintly as I thought of a few in particular.

She nodded and tucked a wisp of dark hair away from her face. “So let’s say that you complete high school. What are you going to do then?”

“I’m planning on taking a correspondence course on Christian counseling.”

“Oh,” she nodded. “What then?”

“I’d like to spend time doing foreign mission work. But honestly, I want to go wherever God leads me, and to fulfill His mission for my life wherever I am.”
She hesitated, and I watched her carefully.

“Now I know many people your age are thinking about dating,” she went on to the next question on her list. “Have you ever thought or are you thinking about getting into a relationship?”

“I think that the world’s kind of dating is not worth my time,” I replied. “It is a bunch of young people fooling around with emotions, and all too often it ends with broken hearts. I don’t want to be like that. I want to be able to give my whole heart to my future husband - not broken pieces. So I won’t get involved in a relationship until I feel the Lord is leading me in that direction.”

A soft expression rested on her face. “Good, very good.”

It was then that she asked me about my faith. I was sure it wasn’t among the list of general questions she was supposed to ask.

I told her that I went to the little Seventh-Day Adventist church in Newbury.

“Oh?” she asked. “I knew some Seventh-Day Adventists up in Maine…they would invite me over for tofu egg…” she stopped. “….casserole? I can’t remember what they called it.”

After a few minutes, she brought up the subject again. “Now Seventh-Day Adventists…do they go to church on Friday?”

Now it was my turn to puzzle. “No,” I shook my head, “they worship on Saturday. We take the 4th commandment literally when it says the “seventh” day.”

“But are you sure it’s not on Friday? Every Friday night when I drive by that little church on my way home, I see cars parked along the road.”

“Vespers!” I exclaimed. “That’s what you’re talking about.”

“I hope you don’t mind me asking these questions,” she turned to me. “I grew up in a family of pastors, but I am still trying to figure things out.”

“I don’t mind at all. I love hearing about other people’s faith and what makes them believe what they do. I want to study the Bible for myself and know what I believe, because when you grow up in a home with particular beliefs, it is very natural to follow along with whatever you’ve been taught. There are so many churches in America…and I want to be sure that I’m in the right one.”

As I left the office, my heart was praising God for yet another opportunity to share His influence. “What a joy to serve Thee, oh Lord. I want to do this for the rest of my life!”

The ability to serve Him was an honor that I knew I didn’t deserve. I didn’t see anything in myself except unworthiness and merely being willing to serve as His instrument.

The only way I could think of it, was that His beauty melted my incapability by His sweet presence. I smiled happily, praising Him that I had the privilege to bear His image to a dark and dying world. And what comforted me as I pondered this experience, was that I knew His love during the course of my life wouldn’t just change the hearts that I touched - but mine too.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Willing Hands

I paused in the middle of the kitchen floor, rubbing my fingers across the smooth black broom handle in my hands. I could see the trees budding and the flowers blooming outside the window, for spring had come again to Vermont. Usually I enjoyed listening to a favorite CD when I was cleaning or making supper, but this time I wanted to be alone with my thoughts.

Remembering….back to a time when I was a tiny girl, with the big blue eyes and golden ringlets. It was only a split second of memory, but I could still recall pausing by our family’s VCR in the living room one day. My attention had been captured by the words of a missionary on a 3ABN program, stating the lack of workers in some foreign field, and describing the urgent need of truth to those who had no knowledge of God.

Right then and there without hesitation, I told myself that I would go to the darkest, toughest place to work in the world, and shine for Jesus. That someday when I was older, I would labor and give every ounce of my strength and love for others to know Christ.

I had been only seven years old at the time. I knew little of death and woe, or the pain and heartbreak of sin. But I knew the love of Jesus as a child, and that was enough. Enough to know that life wouldn’t be worth living without Him, and I would never be satisfied until His dreams would be fulfilled through my life.

Growing up, my desire to be a missionary only grew stronger. “Someday,” I had told myself, “I will do a great work for Him. And until then, I will be faithful with each task and trial that comes my way.” And as the years rolled by, I grew and became closer to Jesus. I found Him to be my closest friend, my wisest Guide, my tender comforter. And I felt Him calling me to do a special work.

As I thought of these things, I lay aside the broom and began to prepare for supper. I realized that I had already formulated my life plans: finish high school within the next year, take that course in Christian counseling, get married, and then go right off to the mission field. Write books about my experiences, work at 3ABN, start an orphanage….the list went on. There were endless possibilities, and so many things to do. “With every ounce of my being, I want to be in the frontline of the battle,” I told myself. “To strike a blow to Satan’s kingdom of darkness and work against his realm of despair that time and time again crushes those who believe his lies. I want to shed the light of truth, and the glory of Christ’s character to the world - yes, this is my dream!”

But what made me pause and ponder that pleasant afternoon at home, was the thought that maybe my Lord’s plans for me were a lot different than the ones I had formulated during the course of my sixteen years of life. Could it be possible that my idea of working at the “battlefront” was much different than His? Would I be content with dedicating my entire life to something that I considered less exciting, less fulfilling, than what I wanted?

These thoughts demanded my entire concentration. I realized that if I could not be content with God’s dreams for me (no matter what they were) then it would be impossible to make a difference at all - no matter what I did. My work would be worthless. My striving would be in vain.

My mission was to fulfill the Lord’s dreams for my life - wherever He called me. And whether that was to souls held in bondage in far-off India, or to remain in New England, living a quiet life among the people that I had always known there, I would be faithful and content to follow His will.

My parents were expected to return from their shopping at any minute now. The silence was only interrupted by the faint bleat of my sister’s little goats outside in their pen, and the whistle of the wind on our hillside.

As I determined in my heart to be faithful no matter what, I could sense my Master’s presence. I understood that whatever the task set before me - even if it appeared to be too small in my eyes - was a dream that He had called me to fulfill by His grace.

You only have one life to live. This battle is getting yet more intense as time rushes on, bringing us closer to the day when our Lord will come in glory. Set your mark high, and serve Him with every moment, every breath of the soul. Allow Him to shape your destiny and you will never regret it. No task is too difficult - or too small – to accomplish for Him.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Precious Influence

Broad pines creaked as their thick layers of bark trickled with rain water. Droplets fell from lofty branches. Each landed with a decided plunk onto the forest floor, carpeted with lush ferns, dead pine needles, and thriving moss on an occasional rotting tree stump.

I stepped lightly, my thoughts blending with the sound of each quiet "plink - pink - plink" of the gently falling rain. It was late spring and now the trees had blossomed and budded, confidently stating that winter was finally past and a new summer lay ahead for me to enjoy.

“In all of my thirteen years I have never felt so restless,” I thought. “I feel in the mood for something new – something different – and something more exciting than the daily household life that I’ve known for such a long time.” Even though my family did a variety of activities together and we had plenty of socialization, nothing would have been good enough for me at that point. Discontentment had been something that I struggled with in the past, and it was welling up again inside of me.

“I know better than to cherish thoughts of discontentment and discouragement.” A rustling to my right caught my attention as a plump grouse was startled and with a vigorous flapping of feathers, flew to a high pine branch.

Bringing myself back to my train of thought, I walked further down the path. With a sincere heart I prayed simply that God would give me the right spirit to be content no matter what. I longed for more friends - but the Lord had to teach me first that I would never be content without Him placed at the very center of my soul.

Nothing that friends or adventure can offer can take the place of His presence in the heart. Once I realized how precious He truly was, I would never look at life the same again. With this treasure, I could go forward with confidence in His almighty power.

God brought this change to me that He had promised in a beautiful way - through a role model. This person was a quiet young man with the humbleness that makes a person truly great. He defied the world's standard's set for young people in this day and age, and his life was testimony to his devotion to the Lord. I looked up to him and admired his steadfast faith yet more and more as time passed, until he became a hero.

We never talked or so much greeted each other when I saw him at church on highschool breaks. I could only look on and admire His love for Christ and yearn for that same experience in my life.

I sat in church one day, listening to him as he described his mission experience in India.

"In the midst of a strike, waiting on top of a bus for hours and hours - when you have no place to sleep, and all there is to do is to simply wait. As you walk through a steaming jungle, wet and tired and weak. Through it all, you can have peace, knowing that God wants you there. It's all ok - because that is the place where the Lord would have you."

"Am I in the place where God wants me to be?" I pondered. Deep down in my heart, I knew that I was - here in my home, here with my family. If Jesus was my treasure - if he was first and best in my heart, there would be no limit to what He could do through me. From the influence of a godly young person who had not the slightest idea that I had taken his words to heart, I was encouraged and strengthened, and I still haven’t forgotten his words. When I was tested and challenged, I wanted to bear everything with that same courage and fortitude. When I was given chances to witness, his dedication inspired my heart to give everything I possessed for Christ's service.

Don't ever underestimate your sphere of influence. You may never know how your life has touched others, but be sure that you will always have an influence. Whether it will be for good or for evil is determined by yourself. Your very presence - by how you carry yourself, dress, and act - is a representation to the world of your discipleship. One careless slip of your dedication to Christ could alter the course of other’s lives as well as your own.

They may never tell you that they are watching – but be sure that someone is. The whole world is looking on as God’s people are being prepared for the final test of discipleship. Each and every day you are touching other people’s hearts whether you realize it or not: and you never know how much your influence may mean to an unlikely person.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Nearest to Home

“I’ll understand if this is uncomfortable for you, and if you’d rather not answer this question, that’s fine. But tell me, what do you think is the role for a woman according to biblical standards?”

“To raise godly children, be a support to her husband, and keep a household,” I replied.

It was the last morning of the Northeast Youth Retreat at the breakfast table when Dr. Edwin Nebblett joined our group and began to converse with us.

“So, with the knowledge that you have that this is God’s plan, what should you be doing right now?”

“Preparing myself for that role.”

Paraphrasing his counsel, he said: “Start now. Do what lies nearest to home – it is your mission field. Spend time preparing yourself to fill the role God has designed for you to the best of your ability.”

I knew that my mission field was right here, right now, but I realized more clearly how important every learning experience is. Each day brings valuable lessons and opportunities for growth that will shape my character. In the continual and mundane household tasks of cooking, watching the children, and cleaning; in my school work where I have to learn discipline and practice perseverance; I am given golden opportunities for God to prepare me for my own home someday.

But there was another point that Dr. Nebblett brought out which I had never thought of before: my life work will compliment my husband’s work in the future. Whatever his mission is, God will prepare me to stand by him as a support and as a blessing to what he has called us to do.

Every decision that I make – whether I consider it large or small – will still be a building block of my life; molding, shaping, and changing me into the person the Lord wants me to be. The choices I make today – and the choices I make all along the way – will shape my destiny.