Sent By the Children

This past weekend our kids (with a little help the parents) shared with their peers about our coming adventure in Japan. It’s rewarding as a parent to hear your own children articulate the importance of sharing the gospel in another country, even at the significant cost of losing their social status at school, the chance to drive a car at 16, and going to Senior prom. As much as we try to teach them about the reasons we are leaving California for Tokyo, I can’t help but think their understanding comes from having wonderful teachers and examples at church who have nurtured a love and understanding of God in them for many years. We have been blessed by the men and women who have taken a personal interest in helping our children grow in faith.

The greatest blessing  was having the other children pray for us. It was moving to hear the simple, straightforward prayers from the mouths of these children and the childlike faith behind those words that gives God such pleasure. We look forward to being included in the prayers of these young prayer warriors from across the ocean.
We just passed the 6 week mark in our countdown to depart for our new adventure. Time is flying by right now with so many things left to do (or so it seems). Praying for the will and discipline to tackle the unpleasant tasks and enjoy the last few weeks of our time in California.

On George Muller and Faith That Changed the World

This week, I finished a biography on George Müller, the Christian evangelist who went from being a gambler, liar and thief to a man of faith who provided care and education for over 10,000 orphans over nearly 60 years in Bristol, UK during the 19th century.

The life of George Müller is remarkable on many accounts, but none so much as the way he exercised his faith in God. Though he was entrusted with the care of hundreds, sometimes over a thousand orphans at any given time, he never once asked anyone except God to provide financially for them. When there was need, even to the point of having no food to put on the table, Müller and his wife Mary would simply retire to their room and pray, and God would answer, in many cases immediately.

Many famous stories have been documented about Müller’s faith in prayer. At one point, with over five hundred orphans to feed breakfast and not a scrap of food to be found, Müller gathered the orphans around the empty dining hall tables and they prayed together for God to provide them with a meal. Within minutes, a knock came at the door. It was a local baker who said in the middle of the night, he felt an overwhelming urge to get up and bake bread to take to the orphanage the next morning. While the children were eating the freshly baked bread, another knock came at the door. The milk delivery driver said his vehicle had broken a wheel right outside the orphanage. In order to fix it, he would need to unload all of the milk and he didn’t want it to go to waste, so if the orphanage could use it, they could have it for free.

Müller kept detailed records, not only accounting for every penny of his finances (which he would only use as the donor specified it should be used) but also for every prayer request he made of God and the date and way it was answered. Müller not only saw how faithfully God answered prayer, but he recorded everything so that it could be used as an encouragement to others about how God could be faithful to them! Because amazingly enough, serving the orphans was not George Müller’s primary calling; his calling was teaching others that God was absolutely faithful.

It was estimated that over 1.5 million pounds passed through the hands of Müller as he served the orphans. He never kept a penny for himself, and died with 160 pounds in his estate, most of which was the value of his furniture. Nevertheless, he was able to travel the world on multiple occasions  preaching the good news of the gospel and sharing about his faithful God who provided every need for the orphans at just the right time. He never lacked for God’s work to do and was preaching over 300 times per year while running the orphanages and supporting missions work into his late 80’s.

As I reflect on serving in ministry over the past two years, I also see how faithfully God has provided for me and my family. Though I certainly never prayed like George Müller prayed, nor believed in God’s provision like he did, God has still been completely faithful, even generous in providing for us. And when I look at where my faith is today compared to where it was two years ago, it has changed. Though perhaps it isn’t so much that my faith has grown, but that my understanding about God has grown. Müller discovered and practiced a great truth about God; not only is He capable of providing for all of our needs, He loves to do it when we ask. Because as we rely on God for all of our needs, we bear witness to His power and faithfulness to those around us.

But I am even more inspired that God didn’t just provide for the little things of the Müller’s daily life. He provided in abundance for the sake of the orphans. George Müller dreamed big, prayed big, and received big from the Lord. In a sense, his whole life was a challenge to God to show how powerful He is. And God not only came through every time, but He surpassed all expectations George Müller ever had.

Ephesians 3 concludes with this reminder that God’s power  is not limited even to the capacity of what we can imagine:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

George Müller inspires us to pray big prayers and expect big answers from God. As Hudson Taylor, missionary and friend of George Müller once said: “God’s work, done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” Perhaps Taylor was thinking of his friend’s example when he said these words.

Opportunity = Opposition

Have you been discouraged recently? We face adversity everyday in some form or another. It takes the form of office politics, apathetic professors, or even seemingly well-intentioned acquaintances handing out unsolicited “advice”.

In my Bible study this morning, God lead me to a passage I had not seen before about how the apostle Paul viewed adversity which shocked me back to reality. At the conclusion of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells them this:

“But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” 1 Corinthians 16:8-9

In the same breath, Paul states that a great opportunity has been opened to him AND there are many in opposition to his work! What appeared initially to be a contradiction started to make sense when I thought about it carefully.

How many times in our lives do we have a great opportunity to do something important or meaningful and discover there are many who oppose us? There are the friends and family members with good intentions who don’t want to see us take a risk and possibly fail. There are others who recognize the opportunity and want to get a piece of it for their own glory. And there are the hopefully few who truly do not want to see us succeed at something great.

This is a constant theme in our lives and especially in the ministry, where we not only contend with human opposition but spiritual opposition as well. If the people of the Tohoku region in Japan are seeking spiritual answers to their lives, doesn’t it make sense that cults and other false religions will spring up to try and take advantage of them? When the door of opportunity is opened wide enough, even the thieves will be able to get in.

But the point for you today is if you are facing adversity in your life right now, stop and look around. Perhaps the adversity is great because the opportunity for you to do something important is even greater. Paul did not shy away from opportunity simply because there were many who opposed him. He jumped right in head first and took them on. What are you being called to do?

Why I Dislike The Book of James

[I thought about titling this post “James? Blunt.” but I thought that was a little too snarky and I don’t even like his music.] 

I never liked the book of James. In fact, I have tried to avoid reading James whenever possible. Unlike Paul, James doesn’t start his letter with praise and encouragement; he just jumps right in and starts telling it like it is. I realized that James is written like a lecture from a stern parent: full of good advice but delivered in a very blunt way. The study notes of my ESV Bible state that of the 108 verses written in James, 50 of them are commands! Wow, that does sound like dinner with your Asian parents!

But hidden beneath the facade of a lecture is James’s deep concern for the readers of his letter. His style indicates his desire for his audience to take real action and not just read it and nod their heads in agreement. If James was so concerned for the early church to take his advice seriously, then it makes sense that we too, should consider the matters he addresses to be critical to the church.

It was in James this week that I learned how to get God to respond positively to my prayers 100% of the time. Often times when we don’t get what we pray for, we feel that God wasn’t listening to us or we failed to pray hard enough. But I learned in James 4:3 that we do not receive what we ask for because we ask wrongly! According to the Scripture, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

And there is the key. Many people take James 4:2 out of context: “You do not have, because you do not ask.” Name-it-and-claim-it based churches use this verse to suggest that prosperity is ours for the asking, just let your request be known to God and like some genie in a bottle, poof, it’s yours! Yet you only have to look one verse beyond to see what a load of garbage this line of thinking is. We don’t receive what we pray for because we pray for blessing, healing and comfort out of our own selfish desires.

Yeah, we don’t see it that way. When we’re sick, we pray “God heal me so I can do Your will.” when we really mean “God heal me so I can get back to the office before my work starts piling up.” The apostles never prayed for prosperity or comfort, not because they didn’t desire it, but because they already knew God did not desire it for them. When they prayed for healing, it was always for the glory of God. Healing was done in the name of Jesus, and  the result of the healing was that someone, often many someones came to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Even Paul said he would prefer death to be united with Christ, but for the sake of the church, he remained alive to do God’s will even if it meant being persecuted, shipwrecked and imprisoned.

So how then do you get God to respond positively to 100% of your prayers? Pray according to His will, not yours. In other words, understand your motives before the prayer even leaves your lips.

Yes, I am being a bit facetious here. There is no way we will ever completely understand our true motives when we pray. God knows our motives better than we do, which is why He answers our prayers according to His pleasure, not ours. So sometimes we will suffer, even tragically, to bring about an eternal good in our lives or the lives of the people around us.

Still, just the thought of asking for something to spend on my passions makes me think a bit deeper about my prayer life. What am I really praying for? Is it for the glory of the Lord to be revealed or is it for comfort, prosperity, or recognition in my own life? These are all worldly treasures and James continues in chapter 4 to say this:

…whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (v.4)

Ouch. But that’s just James telling it like it is.