30 April, 2017

Uncertainty over hard decisions

This weekend a friend shared a helpful article on Facebook about searching for God's will and why it isn't always clear what we should do. It resonates with me as we made a couple of hard decisions last week. Decisions that I don't want to talk about here, but required us to choose between two good and important things and also required us to not be concerned about what other people thought (please don't worry, these decisions don't have long-term implications regarding our current ministries in Japan).

Jon Bloom writes in the article:
But conformity to the world or to Jesus is most clearly seen in the pattern of decisions we make over time. That’s one reason why God makes us wrestle with uncertainty. He wants us to mature and have our “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). (from here)
 He also writes:
Shouldn’t we expect God to direct us more explicitly in these [big, life-shaping decisions]? 
The answer is no, not necessarily. Why? Well, the short answer is because he is God, and we are not. “It is the glory of God to conceal things” (Proverbs 25:2). His wisdom and knowledge are unfathomably deep, his judgments are unsearchable, and his ways are inscrutable (Romans 11:33). Considering all the factors in play in the universe, it is likely no exaggeration that there are trillions of reasons for why God directs the course of our lives, and he prefers to carry out his purposes in ways that confound, surprise, and humble humans, angels, and demons.
Good points. We're simply not equipped to deal with making decisions with all the knowledge that there is to have, so we have to do what we can with what we've got. And in the process we will, if we allow God's spirit to work in us, be gradually transformed into people who are more like Jesus. (Romans 8:29 and 12:2)

It is helpful to remember, though, as we go out into another week and daily wrestle with uncertainty, that God wants us to wrestle with these decisions, but also that he is right by our sides throughout it all.

Here's one more Scripture to ponder:
I was senseless and ignorant;
    I was a brute beast before you.
 Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever. (Ps 73:22-26, NIV)

27 April, 2017

Difficult news to get our heads around

I'm feeling overwhelmed by a number of things, but the biggest is that we've had two missionaries in Japan die from cancer in the last two days (one from Scotland, our Field Director, and one from Japan who was working in another part of Asia)

As I try to put thoughts down, my words are a shambles of bits and pieces, please also excuse my lack of clarity. Whatever I put down seems to be inadequate. I'd like to be profound, but the case is simply that we don't understand. It makes no sense to our mortal minds. I wish I could be a fly on the wall in heaven today as these two men figure out what was going on, why they've been called to heaven so early and left those who loved them behind.

What I can say is that my emotions are mixed. On the one hand I feel a bit like David when his first child with Bathsheba died (2 Samuel 12:15-23). He pleaded with the Lord for this life of his child while he was ill so much so that his attendants were afraid to tell him when the child died, however David cleaned himself up and appeared to be "normal" again:
22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him,but he will not return to me.”
So, in a way, it is a relief that we now know these men are with Jesus. Yes they will be missed and we still don't understand why they had to die in the midst of fruitful ministry, but the end of the waiting period is over. I hope that doesn't sound callous, if it does, please keep reading.

I feel like the grieving has continued on several levels for months, but especially these last four weeks or so. Obviously when we first heard last year it was a shock and we've prayed ever since. Then in February things were looking up, it looked like the stem-cell transplant had taken for our field director, but in late March the news was bad again and continued that way.

Periodically we heard news that cheered our hearts. Our Field Director's wife (my OMF line manager) was particularly good at pointing out all the good that God was doing in the midst of this horrible situation. For example, after they knew there was no earthly way to recover from this they had a few weeks to say all they needed to say to one another before he went to heaven.

It is only just over two years since another OMF missionary in his 50s died from cancer. I wrote about that here. On top of that a teacher from CAJ is also battling what looks like terminal cancer and less than two years ago another missionary in the CAJ community also died from cancer. It feels like an epidemic and it's easy to give in to fear, but I know our Lord doesn't want that. Sometimes it seems hard enough that we've been called to minister in a land that shows little fruit, but this too? 

It is scary to me, putting this down in black and white with the intention to hit "publish" when I'm done. However the psalms give me courage. Psalm 42 is a good one to dwell on:

vs 3 My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
vs 5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God. (NIV)
The night before my birthday early this month we received what turned out to be the last email from our Field Director. Here is a portion of what he wrote:
I challenge you to keep on with the good work and ministries you are engaged with in Japan in the hope that many will turn to Jesus and be built up in Him. 

We are not a people without hope. We have found the words of one of the verses of Stuart Townend’s song very helpful in recent days:

There is a hope that lifts my weary head, 
A consolation strong against despair,
That when the world has plunged my in its deepest pit,
I find the Saviour there! 

And the second half of the first verse:

I stand in Christ, with sins forgiven;
And Christ in me, the hope of heaven!
My highest calling and my deepest joy,
To make His will my home. 

May God be glorified in all things.  We all have the hope that one day we will meet again in a better place.

Your brother in Christ.
Here's the whole song: 

Here are the lyrics of the whole song:
There is a hope that burns within my heart 
That gives me strength for every passing day
A glimpse of glory now revealed in meagre part
Yet drives all doubt away
I stand in Christ with sins forgiven
And Christ in me the hope of heaven
My highest calling and my deepest joy
To make His will my home.
There is a hope that lifts my weary head
A consolation strong against despair
That when the world has plunged me in its deepest pit
I find the Saviour there
Through present sufferings future's fear
He whispers courage in my ear
For I am safe in everlasting arms
And they will lead me home.
There is a hope that stands the test of time
That lifts my eyes beyond the beckoning grave
To see the matchless beauty of a day divine
When I behold His face
When sufferings cease and sorrows die
And every longing satisfied
Then joy unspeakable will flood my soul

For I am truly home
Indeed, our colleagues are now truly home. And those of us left behind who still suffer, will have courage whispered in our ears and hope that lifts our weary heads.