Small Gestures

My mother is famous (in our corner of the world, at least) for sending greeting cards–hundreds each year for birthdays and anniversaries.  Nearly every day, she sits down and chooses birthday cards, signs them, puts them in envelopes, addresses them, stamps them, and dates them to put in the mail box.  She has learned over many decades just how long it takes for cards and letters to travel to various parts of the country and world, and times each card to arrive as close to the actual date of the event as possible.

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As a girl growing up, I found this ritual time-consuming, wasteful, and bizarre.  The calendar was a crowded mass of names, copied faithfully from last year’s calendar and crammed full of new births and recent marriages.  Once the card had been chosen and signed, Mom would have to look up addresses in an ancient address book crammed with scraps of paper and index cards with changes, notes, and other esoteric information.   Mom sent cards to people I had never heard of or met– old friends she knew from school, people my father knew from his army days, distant cousins, people who used to live in the neighborhood from before I was born.  Each year, there would be cards returned to sender as people we barely knew moved and mom lost contact with them, often for good.

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When I was old enough and sassy enough, I asked her why she bothered.  What value did she see in doing something so simple, yet so complicated– who cared whether someone they had never met (or barely remembered) sent them a 2-cent greeting card?  She patiently answered that perhaps no one cared (though she hoped it meant something), but she did it because one year, when she was young and times were very tough, she had received a beautiful birthday card from an unlikely source– the only card she received that year.  It came from her “uncle” Ralph, who was not actually her uncle, but a dear friend of the family.  “Uncle” Ralph had grown up in an abusive home, and had lost two sisters in childbirth.  He knew the pain of being forgotten on his own birthday, and wanted to make sure it didn’t happen to his “niece.”  Mom’s birthday wasn’t “forgotten” that year, but there was no money for fancy cards that year– just enough for a small, unfrosted cake and many good wishes.  Mom faced other “tough” years as a young wife and mother, when she couldn’t afford gifts or cards for birthdays.  This one small gesture so impressed my mother that she made it her mission, when she could afford to do so, to send as many greeting cards as she could to as many people as she could.  As a follower of Christ, moreover, she does it from a heart that wants constantly to show love to just one more person for whom Christ died.

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In the many years since my impertinent question, I have seen the incredible ministry my mother has had, and have heard from some of the many lives she has touched with her cards and her kind thoughts.  Time after time, I have heard of people who were strengthened and encouraged by her example and her thoughtfulness.  She is the living extension of God’s heart as she lovingly signs each card, walks it out to the mail box, and sends it on its way.

Many people have stopped sending greeting cards– we are more likely to send a text message or tweet a birthday greeting– if we think about it, or if it pops up in our news feed and we can just click a button. Yesterday was my birthday…I received three actual paper greeting cards (and yes, one was from my mother, one from my mother-in-law, and one from the ladies’ group at church).  I was blessed and touched by each one– and by the dozens of on-line greetings and random birthday wishes in the days before (and probably after), as well as the hugs and special time spent with my husband and other family members.

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I don’t send cards through the mail as my mother does, but I find myself typing Happy Birthday greetings on all my friends’ news feeds– sending happy thoughts to them,  their children and grandchildren; their spouses and cousins (though I’ve never met them)–and each time, I am reminded that even a seemingly small gesture can make an enormous difference in someone’s life.  And, because of Mom’s example, I write every name in my prayer journal.  As I turn the pages each day, I see the names of two, three, or even ten precious souls– all infinitely and passionately cherished by the creator of the universe–and I have the honor to lift each one up in prayer to the One who knows and loves them best.

Look Up!


My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary,
Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray,
Take all my guilt away,
Oh, let me from this day
Be wholly Thine!
May Thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart,
My zeal inspire!
As Thou hast died for me,
Oh, may my love to Thee
Pure, warm, and changeless be,
A living fire!
While life’s dark maze I tread,
And griefs around me spread,
Be Thou my guide;
Bid darkness turn to day,
Wipe sorrow’s tears away,
Nor let me ever stray
From Thee aside.
When ends life’s transient dream,
When death’s cold, sullen stream
Shall o’er me roll;
Blest Savior, then in love,
Fear and distrust remove;
Oh, bear me safe above,
A ransomed soul!

Hymn lyrics by Ray Palmer 1830

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 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3 New International Version (NIV)

When was the last time you spent a little time sky-gazing?  Looking up at the stars?  Or even looking up at ceiling tiles or roof lines?

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It turns out that the very act of looking up is good for your body, mind, and soul.  Looking down, on the other hand, can, over time, lead to neck and back problems, and contribute to depression.  (for more info, use a search engine to look up “health benefits of looking up” or click here: https://www.spine-health.com/blog/modern-spine-ailment-text-neck )

The author of Hebrews reminds us that we should be “fixing our eyes on Jesus” as we run the “race marked out for us”. This is more than just watching the road ahead or looking up at the sky.  We look up at Jesus because:

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  • He is the Author and Finisher (the pioneer and perfecter) of our Faith.  Faith must be anchored…we will believe in something, or we’ll fall for anything, someone has said, and if we don’t make a choice to fix our eyes on Jesus, we will end up looking around or down for something else.
  • He is our guide.  Like a highway sign keeping us on the right road and keeping us from taking a wrong turn, we look to Him to stay on track.
  • He is our example.  In looking up to him, we are also learning how to live and endure and overcome.
  • He is our advocate and encouragement!  How much better will we run when we look up to see Him cheering us on!
  • He is our goal.  We run to Him, so we look up to see how close we are to running into His loving arms.
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Hello, My Name Is…

Have you ever been to a conference for work, or a large meeting or convention, where you were required to wear a temporary name badge?  It might be a simple sticker with a space to write your name, or it might be a pre-printed card set inside a clear plastic pouch attached to a lanyard or a safety pin.  It may have a stripe or box in a bright color, and/or an introductory word or phrase, such as “Hello..” or “My name is…”
Perhaps you’ve had to wear a name tag for work on a daily basis, or you have to carry an ID tag pinned to your shirt, lapel, or around your neck or waist.

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Such tags serve a purpose; they are functional, if boring, and even if they are also annoying, they are temporary.  Some of them give a little more information, such as where you are from or what company, or plant, or building you represent.  Name tags make it easy to identify someone and put a name to a face.  But a name tag cannot reveal much beyond a person’s name.  Sometimes, a name tag doesn’t even meet that simple criterion.  I have a simple name, Lila, that is commonly misspelled and misspoken.  I have had people look right at my name tag and call me, “Lisa,” “Lily,” or “Leah.” Wearing my name on my shirt or hanging from my neck may (or may not) make me identifiable.  It does not make me knowable or known.

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When we come before the Throne of God, we need no name tag.  God not only knows our name, He knows us intimately– our thoughts, our attitude, our fears, our hopes, our weaknesses and strengths. He has numbered the hairs on our heads, and knows the words we will say before they reach our tongues.

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This knowledge might cause us apprehension– there can be no hiding from God–even if we can lie to ourselves about our actions, motivations, and feelings, we can’t lie to Him.  But this intimate knowledge should also ease our every fear– God knows all about us, and loves us unconditionally.

Prayer can be many things– joyful, contrite, needy– but it never needs to be small talk!

Bless the Lord, O My Soul


A Psalm of David.
103 Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord executes righteousness
And justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the children of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
14 For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.
17 But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
On those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
18 To such as keep His covenant,
And to those who remember His commandments to do them.
19 The Lord has established His throne in heaven,
And His kingdom rules over all.
20 Bless the Lord, you His angels,
Who excel in strength, who do His word,
Heeding the voice of His word.
21 Bless the Lord, all you His hosts,
You ministers of His, who do His pleasure.
22 Bless the Lord, all His works,
In all places of His dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

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Often in our churches, we focus on two factors of our relationship with Christ– worship and obedience.  Worship focuses on His majesty and worth.  Obedience focuses on His power and authority.  But when the Psalmist speaks here, he is actually focusing on another element.  Blessing isn’t so much about majesty or authority; it isn’t about obedience or worship.  It is about communion.  We bless and are blessed, not just by a word or deed, but by the speaker or doer–they bless us by what they say or do, but they ARE a blessing to us for who they are.

God is worthy of our worship and obedience, but he wants us to be a blessing– to come to him in Love and fellowship, and to be blessed by Who He Is as we meet with him.

Today, worship God.  Obey Him.  But let’s take time to bless Him and be blessed in return as we spend time with the Lover of Our Souls.

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The Road to Hell…

I started down the boulevard,
Freshly paved, smooth and gleaming,
Its lanes clearly marked and a gentle rise
Toward a glorious horizon.

New construction sites caught my eye;
Here was progress– here was the future!
I drove on, excited in my new course,
Dreaming of destiny and fulfillment.

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Gradually, the scenery changed.
Construction gave way to abandoned projects:
Half-finished high-rises, silent storefronts,
Driveways leading nowhere, weedy parking lots.

Now the road, so smooth at the beginning,
Twisted and turned without purpose.
Gravel and broken pavement lined with
Abandoned cars and broken glass.

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Frightening thoughts intruded–
I had seen no open stores, no gas stations,
No houses, or other cars for miles.  I was alone.
There were no crossroads; no places to turn around.

The road that had begun with so much promise
Was now a rutted path going nowhere.

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I woke up in a cold sweat– it had been a dream.
More– it had been a warning.

I had “good intentions” for my journey.
But the easy road, the appearance of future success
Had lured me away from the path marked with suffering
And paved with ancient truths.

I had packed no maps, ignored the GPS, and trusted to “instinct”
To lead me, not to a fixed destination, but to “discovery.”

I drifted back to sleep, and dreamed that I was back at the beginning.
Roads branched out all around me.
The gleaming new boulevard no longer held any appeal.
But now I studied the other roads.

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There were so many; roads leading to “enlightenment”;
Roads offering “fame” and “immortality”;
Narrow paths promising “mysticism”;
Superhighways advertising “happiness.”

Off to the right, there was a tiny filling station–
The old fashioned kind, with a service man.
He offered to fill my tank, but then he said,
“They all end up in the same place, you know.”

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I looked up into his eyes–eyes that held in them
The wisdom of the ages and boundless love.
“Enter in at the narrow gate…”
“I am the way, the truth, and the life…”
“This is the way, walk ye in it…”

He turned and walked through the back door
And I followed him down a sunlit path,
Up a small rise, and into glory.

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The Weight of Words

Words have weight– I’m not talking about thousand-page novels or multi-syllable legalese terms– some words simply weigh heavier on the mind and heart than others.  Some everyday words spill out like dust motes carried on a light breeze.  They hang suspended in midair, without any set purpose or destination, and finally settle, forgotten, until someone sweeps them away.  Other words explode, sending shards and pellets at unwary targets.  Some words thunder like falling rocks in an avalanche of guilt or anger or hatred.  And some rare and precious words have the weight of a quilt or a hug, or an arm lifting you up when you are falling.

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One of the amazing things about prayer is that as we pour out our words before the Savior, the weight of our words is lifted off our hearts and minds and given to him to carry– the weight of the guilt, the weight of worry, the weight of grief, the weight of anger, the weight of hurt.  Not only does God take on the weight of our words (and our pain and guilt), but he makes sense of it all– maybe not instantly, or in the way we imagine– but he brings order and goodness out of our chaos and burden.

 

 

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And those everyday words swirling around like dust fall into the light, where they shine like gold dust in His presence.  When we bring everything to God, he transforms it; he transforms us.

 

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Our words have weight in prayer.  And our words to others have weight, as well.  Today, I want to weigh my words carefully.  Are my words burdening others, or helping them lift a load of care?  If I had to carry the weight of my words– my criticisms and clever put-downs, my accusations and angry tantrums, my bragging and comparisons– would I be dragging them behind me with joy and pride?  What if, instead, my words were filled with the weight of shared laughter, encouragement, hope, and compassion?  What if my words held the weight of truth and kindness and peace?pexels-photo-210012.jpeg

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Prayers From the Cockpit

Years ago, a decorated fighter pilot, Robert Scott, wrote a book with the title, “God is My Co-Pilot.”  It was made into a movie, and the title became a  popular phrase for bumper stickers, posters, and more.

Theatrical trailer for “God Is My Co-Pilot” –youtube

More recently, there have been several people who have spoken out against the catch-phrase, by saying something to the effect of ,”If God is your co-pilot, someone is sitting in the wrong seat!”  I mean no disrespect to Mr. Scott, the book, the movie, the bumper stickers or the critics, but I think both sentiments kind of miss the point.

There is a much better analogy in the title of an lesser-known book by another pilot.  Pilot and high school basketball coach Floyd Eby wrote a book called “Calling God’s Tower– Come In, Please.”

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I’m not a pilot or a coach, and I’m not claiming that Scott’s title is bad.  Certainly, when I pray, I believe that God is always right beside me, that he hears me, and that he knows my thoughts and my heart intimately.  I think that is the intent of the co-pilot analogy, and as such, it rings true.  But God is much more than a partner, a co-pilot, or a colleague.  The other danger of this thinking is that we take God for granted.  If God is my co-pilot, I won’t turn to him for help unless something is going wrong and “my way” isn’t working.

So what about “switching seats?”  Shouldn’t God be my pilot?  He is God and I’m not.  It is true that this represents a better view of God’s authority and sovereignty.   It is also true that God is greater, stronger, and wiser than I am.  But I think this view, though more accurate in portraying our position, gives rise to another dangerous idea– that I can sit back and be little more than a passenger, while God does all the flying.  One of the valid criticisms of modern Christianity (especially in America), is that we know about Christ, and talk about Christ, but we don’t always live for Christ.  We see the finished work of Christ as an excuse to sit back, smug and complacent about morality, evangelism, obedience, and good works.  We shout “Jesus Paid it All!” and mumble “All to Him I Owe.”  We want to sit in the cockpit for the pretty view, but we don’t want to learn how to fly the plane.

God has given us the privilege and the responsibility to be the pilots (or drivers, or captains) of our lives–he gives us the free will to make choices and steer our behavior or actions.  We are not helpless passengers on a fatalistic trip through this life.  He has equipped us to know the thrill of soaring and banking and flying through the clouds.  But God doesn’t leave us to fly blindly through the haze and clouds and glare.  He gives us his word, which, like a map, chart, instrument panel, or GPS system, shows us where and how we should go.  And, like the air control tower, he gives extra guidance, listens to our needs, and provides assurance as we stay tuned to him.

God also sees and knows more than we do in our cockpit.  When I call on him, he knows all that goes on above and below, ahead and behind– he knows about the storms in the distance or the other planes scheduled to arrive or take off from the airport.  I can trust his advice, his commands, and his presence more than my own judgment or eyesight.

I want to learn how to fly; I want to soar like an eagle, and I want to come in for a safe landing at the end of my journey.  I need to keep in constant contact with God’s tower and follow his wise flight plan.

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Field Day

My husband and I are licensed amateur radio operators.  This weekend, we participated in an exercise/contest known as “Field Day.”  Every year for Field Day, tens of thousands of radio operators across North America spend twenty-four hours trying to make as many radio “contacts” as they can, in conditions that mimic being “in the field” or off-grid.  Many groups, clubs, and even individuals will set up in camp sites, open fields, county fairgrounds, barns, sheds, and other locations.  Some will use their radios on generators, batteries, solar power, or the lowest power settings available.  Some will have campfires and cookouts; others will order in pizza, but all of them will be seeking to make radio contact with people from all over the continent.

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To make an official “contact,” certain key elements have to be exchanged.  Every licensed amateur operator has a “call sign”– a unique identification code.  There is also a “report”, telling how many radio stations are being used by the group, and what kind of conditions and power supplies are being utilized.  Finally, there is a section code, telling where the station is located.  Most codes are similar to the two-letter state codes used for mailing letters, GA for Georgia, CT for Connecticut, BC for British Columbia.  All three elements must be sent, received, and understood by both operators to qualify for a “contact”.  In other words, if I am listening, and I hear an operator in Texas give his call sign, his report code and his section code, it doesn’t count unless I know he has heard my information, and he knows I have his.  Only if both parties have exchanged and verified all information can the contact be “logged” and counted.

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Communicating via radio is an amazing experience, even in this age of cell phones, and Skpye, and social media utilizing satellites.  Knowing that your voice is being carried by the thin air and transmitted to someone across miles using simple machines that use less power than a desk fan or a microwave oven is mind-blowing.  But on Field Day, it is even more miraculous to listen as thousands of voices are carried simultaneously.  The radio hums and crackles with the static of ten thousand tongues all trying to get their message out–“Here I am!”  “Can you hear me?”  “Did you get my message?”  “Where are you?”  “Who are you?”  Letters and numbers and codes all mingle and form a messy barrage of sound.  Voices, beeps, pops, whistles, and more assault your ears, before you can tune into just one understandable voice.  There is a thrill in hearing that lone voice calling out their message..they could be anyone from any number of places.  You get ready to respond, and then you hear it—static of a hundred other stations trying to get through.  All those radio waves carrying the hopes and messages of a hundred or a thousand others just like you, wanting to make contact; wanting to be heard and understood.

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Sometimes, miraculously, you get through on your first try– you send your call sign, and the other operator repeats it back, telling you it’s ok to send the rest of your message and receive his/hers.  The two of you exchange the three elements, sign off, and you can tune to another frequency and try to make another contact.  Most of the time, though, you spend several minutes calling out your ID, hoping to be acknowledged, only to listen as others get to make their contact, waiting your turn.  Even more frustrating, as you wait, sometimes the atmospheric conditions change and the voices all fade out into a low buzz of static– the contact opportunity is lost.  Conditions may change in another minute– or an hour– or not at all.  I may hear from someone in Alaska, or Vermont, but I won’t be able to count them as a contact this year.

Field Day is exciting; sometimes frustrating, sometimes exhilarating.  There is a thrill to making a contact and finding out that you’re talking to someone from Alberta, Canada, or South Florida, or Rhode Island, or the San Joaquin Valley in California.  It’s exciting to make a contact, and realize it’s someone you know from a neighboring county!  We have a logbook program on our computer that “shades in” the various sections as you key in a contact, so our map becomes colorful as the contest period continues, and we tense up to see if we can fill in most of the sections– can we “get” Hawaii?  Nova Scotia?  Wyoming?  South New Jersey?  Will the weather and atmospheric conditions cooperate?  Sometimes a series of thunderstorms or solar flares can break through or distort the radio waves and make it impossible to stay tuned in long enough to send and receive even a short message.  Sometimes, you can make clear contacts with certain regions and not with others, even ones close by– one year, we got zero contacts with a neighboring state, while getting several other regions hundreds of miles away!

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While Field Day is exciting, and it serves as a great way to test and practice with radio equipment in case of a nationwide or region-wide emergency, it is still just an event–a single 24-hour period of making contacts with complete strangers (in most cases) for a couple of minutes.

Prayer is a thousand times more amazing than Field Day for a number of reasons.  Think about it:

  • God is ALWAYS listening–twenty-four hours, seven days a week, every moment, every year of our lives.
  • God is ALWAYS tuned in to our cries– there is no distortion, no static.  He hears millions of cries simultaneously and with perfect clarity.
  • We don’t need a “call sign” or identity code.  God knows each voice intimately..He doesn’t have to ask us to speak louder or more distinctly.  He doesn’t hear an “accent” or lisp, or rasp in our voice.  He doesn’t have to ask us to repeat our request three or four times because He didn’t understand us the first time.
  • We don’t need a section code– God knows where we are better than any GPS system every invented.  We can’t hide from Him, and He isn’t surprised to find out where we are, or where we came from.  He already knows where we are and where we’re going!
  • Our messages can be as personal and as lengthy as we want.  God doesn’t need to “hurry up” to get to the next person’s request, and He wants to hear all our thoughts and needs.
  • Prayer is not an event or a contest– it’s not a practice run–it is an actual conversation with our Loving Father!
  • You don’t need a license, or a radio, an antenna, or a microphone to contact God!
  • We can pray for others anywhere, anytime, for any reason, and God already knows the details– where they are, what their needs are, and what is best in the long run.  Just as He already knows us intimately, He knows the needs of everyone we’ve ever met– and everyone we haven’t met yet!  Some groups will have made upwards of 500 contacts over the course of Field Day– God can make millions in the same moment, and not miss a single one!
  • God doesn’t want to make contact with us to fill a quota for a contest; He doesn’t want to hear from us because it’s thrilling to hear from someone new.  He wants to have a relationship with us– filled with love and trust and hope and joy.  He doesn’t just want a Field Day with us– He wants Eternity!

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GO!

Mark 16:15 New International Version (NIV)

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

The Great Commission (above and also in Matthew 28:18-20) is not a suggestion.  It is a command.  In the nearly two millenia since Jesus gave this command, the world has grown smaller in many ways– it no longer takes months to sail across oceans or travel over hazardous mountain passes; it no longer takes weeks for letters to arrive.   The Bible has been translated into hundreds of languages, and can be downloaded onto phones and other hand-held devices.  We don’t even have to physically travel somewhere in order to talk “face-to-face”– we can Skype!

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We live in a global society that was unthinkable even one hundred years ago– but there is no less urgency about the Great Commission.  God is still sending people out of their comfort zones, away from home and family, to spread His word, to awaken revival, and to bring news of peace and salvation.  Not everyone is called to travel, but all are called to go–how can that be?

Prayer is, of course, one element– we can pray for nations, people groups, mission organizations, and individuals around the world.  We can also give– money, time, materials–we can commit to being partners and team members “on the home front” or volunteer to visit or do short-term mission work.

I highly recommend both– but I want to issue a challenge to a greater involvement.

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Several years ago, I stumbled across a used book (it was already out-of-date when I found it) called Operation World: a day-to-day guide to praying for the world, by Patrick Johnstone.  For each day of the year, there was a specific part of the world/people group/nation to pray for, with maps, statistics, the names of national leaders, information or estimates about literacy rates and religious affiliation.  Later, I found a yearly calendar/prayer diary that did much the same thing– I assume it is no longer being published as I haven’t been able to find one for many years, and it was a great loss.

In the years since, I have tried to use almanacs, online sources (including the CIA Factbook), “Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It…” Proactive Prayer Points  and lists in my prayer journal to broaden my outlook.  Even more than that, I have found it useful to “GO” to other countries by bringing them into our home– international cookbooks, maps, newsletters from missionaries and mission groups, music, photos, foreign language Bibles or testaments, “adopting” a child through Kids Alive (https://www.kidsalive.org/)  or World Vision ( https://www.worldvision.org/)or Compassion International ( https://www.compassion.com/)(either through financial support or prayer support or both).

God so loved the WORLD–He is a global God, who wants so very much for us to love one another, understand one another better, and learn from one another.  But He also wants the world to love HIM– not a pantheistic, watered down, homogenized version of a god, but the God of Creation; the God of Salvation and Reconciliation; the Messiah; the Ruler of All.

This doesn’t mean ignoring people close to home– pray for your neighbors, your family and friends, your community, and home nation…but often, we get so involved in our own burdens, our own drama, and our own concerns, that we get cut off and isolated from other children of God– and those who are longing to hear some Good News.

alley architecture building city
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Go–whether on a plane or on your knees; at your church or at your kitchen table– GO!

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