Lessons from a Burned Finger

Burned FingerI burned my finger tip the other morning. Entering the kitchen with bleary eyes, I was surprised to see that the coffeepot had come on automatically even though I’d forgotten to set it the evening before. The only reason I can give for stupidly touching the base of the coffeemaker is that caffeine hadn’t yet entered my body. And brain. Apparently there is a memory switch inside the appliance that—even if I haven’t set it the night before— “remembers” previous settings. So, yes, it was on and it was hot (very hot), and no, there was no coffee or water in it.

Ice cubes tempered the immediate pain and, even without caffeine, I knew where to find burn ointment and Band-Aids™. I hurriedly made coffee (so as to be immune from further foolish actions), showered and made ready for the day. But as I went about my regular activities, my attention was on that finger. It hurt. I went to the gym and did my two miles on the bike. And thought about my finger. I did leg presses. And thought about my finger. I came home to study for an upcoming discussion. And thought about my finger. I even prepared supper that evening. And thought about my finger.

But something else happened that day. I became exasperated with my ‘finger focus’ and breathed to God, “What good can come out of this?” (Other than remembering to never touch hot appliances.) And into my mind came this reminder: Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Could this relatively minor bit of stinging pain be a reminder to think about the picture I saw in the morning paper? A Syrian mother holding an unwieldy bundle of her possessions in one arm and with her other hand clutching a little girl as they hurriedly fled fighting in their country, on their way to a refugee camp in Turkey? My stinging finger made me stop right then and pray for her and thousands of others.

But then I thought of a man who seemed to find pain and suffering wherever he went as he pursued his God calling, drawing people into God’s Kingdom. The Apostle Paul quite graphically describes his everyday lifestyle as one of endurance, troubles, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless nights and hunger. But he had learned a lesson that helped see him through all that. In writing to his friends, he bursts forth in praise: All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. (2 Corinthians 1:14 The Message)

A stinging fingertip is an absolute zero compared to Paul’s suffering and to the suffering of those around me and those an ocean away. But I asked God to let me think of and pray for real sufferers throughout that day. While I don’t want more burned fingertips, I need to remember the pain.

Jim’s Four Ds

I don’t often take all my ideas from others for this blog (although no ideas are totally original), Jim Downingbut when the thoughts come from a vibrant 101-year old man whose life radiates the love of Christ, it’s time to pay attention. Not only has he ministered with The Navigators for many years, but his personal experiences include being “on site” at the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

There’s little doubt that the search for fulfillment in life is common to all. We might not describe it in those specific terms, but we all want the sense that what we are doing is of worth, and more importantly, that we are of worth. One person writes, “Fulfillment is about living according to what’s fundamentally important to you and listening to what your heart says you really, really want to do… Fulfillment isn’t a destination; it’s a way of being in your life.”*

So what does Jim Downing at age 101 say is the secret of fulfillment? He succinctly describes the process with what he calls the Four D’s:

Discover your gift. Self-assessment is not reliable; ask those who know you best.

(If you are unsure of your gift(s), or if you haven’t honestly reviewed them for some time,  stop here and take Jim’s advice!)

Dedicate your gift to a higher cause.

(No matter the activities that fill your day, no matter how you earn your living, what is the ‘higher cause’ to which you have dedicated your life? Be specific: what ‘higher cause’ activities are you currently involved with?)

Develop your gift. Be the best at what you do.

(What have you done this week in the development process? Have you read a book that contributes to the process? Are you in a study or fellowship group where your gifts are growing, or where others challenge as well as encourage you? A temptation for those of us growing older is satisfaction with ‘good enough.’)

Deploy your gift. Use your gift to help others.

(Jim’s military experience becomes visible in this word deploy: ‘to move [troops] into position for military action.’ What better description of the Christian’s call to action. Look for ways—perhaps new and challenging ways—to deploy your gift.)

The smile on Jim Downing’s face proves that he’s still in the business of discovery, dedication, development and deployment of his gifts. Not just for personal fulfillment (a beautiful side benefit), but so that what we pray becomes reality: “…Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”


*Lisa Mitchell

Random Thoughts from Breckenridge…

In absolute silence I’m sitting here in a near-luxurious time share room in beautiful Breckenridge, Colorado. Puffy clouds skitter across blue skies and mountain peaks surround. For nearly three days I have no appointments, no meetings, no tasks crying out to be accomplished. Should I dare to peek at coming commitments (24 Advent meditations to write, two major meetings to prepare for, lessons to research, a calendar full of ‘regular’ stuff…), my mental, emotional and spiritual solitude would be disturbed. In fact, even as I sat quietly with my coffee this morning, those responsibilities were like squirrels on my shoulder, tails wagging with impatience, claws seeking a foothold. But–with coffee-fueled, Holy Spirit-inspired determination–I chased them on to the balcony where they still sit peeking through the window. For these days I want to think deep. Speak to God with utter frankness. Read slowly. Ponder God’s word and the words of wise writers. Chase away the squirrels.

First I opened my phone app to Jesus Calling. Before I could even read one word of today’s devotional, the words “Jesus calling” seemed printed in bold. I  pictured him calling me this morning. “Come with me, child, during these hours, see me at your side. Feel my arm around your shoulders. These are days for you to hear me speaking just to you.”

After sitting with those thoughts until my coffee was cold, I turned to Psalm 84 and was again stopped after the first few words: “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!” Jesus said “abide in me as I abide in you” so one of the Lord Almighty’s dwelling places is in me, in these days, in these moments. The psalmist goes on to say that his soul–the deepest part of his being–“yearns “for the courts of the Lord.” I have those random moments of yearning for more of Christ’s presence, but oh, that it would be a constant hunger and thirst for ever more of him. And did Jesus himself speak these familiar Hebrew words as he walked on dusty roads and prayed on hillsides: “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for her young….my soul yearns, even faints (to return to) the courts of The Lord”? While fully committed to his Father’s plan (his plan), was  he ever lonely while surrounded with slow-learning disciples, people more hungry for miracles than for him?

From Jesus Calling and the psalms, I turned to poets of the 17th and 18th centuries. I laughed aloud when I read this line: Call home thy thoughts that rove abroad”! Even Isaac Watts had squirrels! And then, “How good it is, when weaned from all beside, with God alone the soul is satisfied,”* and finally..

Allured into the desert,
With God alone, apart,
There spirit meeteth spirit,
There speaketh heart to heart.
Far, far on that untrodden shore,
God’s secret place I find;
Alone I pass the golden door,
The dearest left behind.
There God and I–none other;
Oh far from (all) to be!…
Still, Lord, alone with Thee.*

 And so I walk and sit and listen in these days…still and alone with him.

*Gerhard Tersteegen, 1697-1769; The Christian Voice of Mystical Verse, compiled by A.W. Tozer.


Missionary? Global Christian?

GlobeI had the good fortune to grow up in a church where missions was an emphasis. I had the not-so-good fortune to grow up in a church where missions was an emphasis. First the good part. Across the top of the platform (or chancel) was a wooden beam inscribed with these words: Go into all the world. One week annually was set aside for a conference where missionaries from around the world told their personal stories as well as stories from their fields of ministry. At the end of the conference came a call for commitment to missions service. I remember as though it were yesterday when such a call became personal for me, even though I was barely a teenager. I don’t recall overwhelming emotion, but a definite stirring in the core of my being.

Now for the not-so-good part. Imbedded into my mind was a very narrow view of missions. Because most of the speakers at those annual conferences worked in far-flung corners of the world, I naively assumed that a “real” missionary would go to one of those places. Most likely an African country since most of the pictures, stories and “souvenirs” were from there.

Several years ago I heard the Reverend Charles Swindoll say that Christian leaders have mistakenly given the impression that missions is only for the select few who believe they have been specially called and therefore, the “person in the pew” is not only off the hook, but is often considered to be a second class Christian.

So did I hear mishear my “call”? Since I have not lived in a remote African village (only worked there for and with nationals on short term projects), have I been disobedient to that call? (Let me be honest, after fifteen years ministering to the diplomatic and business community in a sophisticated West European capital city, where “native dress” included a three-piece suit for my husband and a modest black dress for myself, some still wondered if that was “real” missionary service!)

The word missionary is a legitimate (though not necessarily a biblical) one. C. Gordon Olson writes, “In the traditional sense the term missionary has been reserved for those who have been called by God to a full-time ministry of the Word and prayer and who have crossed geographical and/or cultural boundaries to preach the gospel in those areas of the world where Jesus Christ is largely, if not entirely unknown… All Christians are to be missionary-minded in obedience to the Great Commission, but not all Christians can be missionaries in the proper biblical sense of the word.”

I cannot disagree with Olson in the broad theological sense. But could not God call a woman educated in the field of economics or physics or medicine to cross the “cultural boundary” of those somewhat secularized fields to be a missionary? And does not God call all followers of Jesus to be global Christians, with our eyes and ears turned to the needs of the world and the whispers of the Spirit as to how He wants us to be personally involved? Using local newspapers as prayer lists for people in our own neighborhoods and cities. Searching the internet for how we can pray for peace in the Ukraine or Iraq or Pakistan. Sharing our goods with those who have far less.

Perhaps if we first and passionately taught that all Jesus’ followers are to be global Christians, we would find more fertile ground for the Spirit to call some to the “full-time ministry of the Word and prayer,” willingly following Christ to those areas where “Jesus Christ is largely, if not entirely unknown.”

Jewels, Not Junk

Coke EarringsIn her poem What to do with bits of string, poet Luci Shaw writes, “Women in Africa roll old magazines into beads, varnishing them for sale in other worlds, jewels from junk.” When I read those words, I recalled the roadside stand in an African country where a young girl sat selling ornaments made by her mother and aunt. Earrings, shiny red metal cut into small circles with the Coca ColaTM logo clearly visible. Bracelets made from newsprint rolled tightly into cylinders only a quarter inch in diameter. Brooches crafted from fallen bits of woods, rubbed shiny with a safety pin glued to the back.

I wear bits of jewelry like these and love to tell stories of their creation when people offer their compliments. Some women have even asked how they can learn to make such baubles to earn extra spending money although many grow silent and somewhat pensive when I explain that the mere pennies I paid will buy rice for a family’s supper that evening.

Too often we see ourselves only as ordinary junk. Perhaps we have not grown up with affirmation or, much worse, we have been abused and heard shouts that we are nothing but junk. We compare ourselves to those who possess more, who have attained more, who appear more beautiful or handsome. We see ourselves as mere bottle caps, bit of discarded wood or newsprint.

Then God breaks in with the message He declared at creation: “This is VERY good!” And as He works in our lives to re-create us after sin’s damaging work, He says: “I know what I’m doing…You are altogether beautiful…I have plans to take care of you…” God takes the raw material of our lives, polishes us, shapes us not into mere baubles, but into valuable gems exhibiting His own beauty to tell the world we are jewels, not junk.

I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.

You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.

Jeremiah 29:11 and Song of Solomon 4:7 (The Message)