Monday, February 24, 2014

Lessons from Cuba 2

It was a Wednesday night at church.  Services are held, the pastor told us, twice on Sunday morning, once on Sunday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night and Friday night.  His “congregation,” he thinks, numbers somewhere around 500.  Most of his congregation comes from within the neighborhood, because they have to walk to church.  There is no parking lot.  The church “hopes” to build a new facility just up the street.  The pastor wanted to show us the property after worship, and have us pray over the land with him.

The pastor’s current church facility is a one room building designed to hold about 75 people max.  This Wednesday night must have been pack-a-pew night.  However, it was unlike any pack-a-pew night I’d ever witnessed.  It was definitely more like pack-a-pew night-on-steroids.  For certain, it would have been a US fire marshal’s nightmare.  People just kept coming, and coming, and squishing onto the hard benches they call pews, and standing alongside the walls. When I thought they couldn’t get any more people in, they filled the center aisle – and stood through the whole service (I know we ended with over 200 people...). We were the honored guests; we got the front row – right in front of the fan.  Ah!!!! It had to have been in the high 80’s with about 90% humidity.  Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the smell, and I don’t mean the smell of perspiration, which in itself presented a problem. I mean the sewer smell.  Wafting in through the open windows (keep in mind, there’s no glass on any of the windows) came the odor of raw human waste so strong it could gag a person. 

But…I’ve never experienced worship quite like this night.  There were no projectors.  No power point presentations.  No words to the songs on screens above. No YouTube videos to engage the audience.  No skits, no stage sets, no greeters with programs, no child care classes.  Ah, but there was a guitar player, a drummer, and a few vocalists with microphones. They led. Everyone followed…everyone sang…everyone clapped…everyone cheered…”amens” and “hallelujahs” were frequent.  Even among the littlest.  There were announcements.  There were long passages of Scriptures shared.  There were prayer requests and prayer.  More singing.  The pastor got up and shared (Was it a message before the message? Could have been.  It was in Spanish, so I don’t know).  More singing.  Then Bay was introduced.  He spoke, using a translator, which doubles the amount of speaking time.  Still people remained squished.  They smiled.  They shouted.  They clapped and cheered when he said something they liked.  They engaged with their entire beings.  Many found Jesus that night, and there was more celebration! Then, it dawned on me…church in Cuba is not something to do; it is not a place to go; it is an EVENT!  It’s not about the individual getting something; it’s about the individual participating and giving something.

This thought was solidified after the service.  I overheard one of our team members saying to one of the worshippers in attendance (through a translator), “I love your worship!  There is so much energy in your church!  Are you always so enthusiastic?”  I locked eyes with the gentleman, and tears began to pour down his face.  He thumped his chest, turned to our teammate, and sincerely replied, “It is all we have to give!” 

It is all they have to give.  Yet, honestly, it is more than I’ve ever seen given in a comfortable, sweetly smelling, American worship center.  It is all they have to give.  It is all Jesus wants us to give.  I want to give so generously!  I want to give from my all…  I want worship to become not just a place to go, not even an event, but THE EVENT of my week - the highlight!  I want to be asked about my personal worship, and with all my heart, be able to say, "I give out of my all..." That would be the kind of worship Jesus talked about with the Samaritan woman - worship that is in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).


A sample of worship:

Monday, February 17, 2014

Lessons from Cuba 1.5

One of the reminders for me, while in Cuba, of which I really needed an elbow-nudging from the Lord, related to my passion for teaching.  As I mentioned last week, it meant a lot to hear women (and women from a whole different culture) speak such encouraging words. As a result, I was reminded how much I love to teach.  Sometimes, that love gets lost in the day-to-day of chores and research, and, sometimes, I wonder if I really do love it, or if there is another motivation for standing behind a microphone.  I am quite aware of my limitations, the inabilities I possess.  I don’t speak to large crowds, and I wouldn’t want to!  I appreciate looking into the eyes of the women I stand in front of and connecting with their hearts.  I am not a dynamic speaker, and would never claim to be; I am just a story-sharer: a truth-teller.  The same goes with the way I write.  I just speak, or put-on-paper, what I know has been true for me.  If it works for someone else, hallelujah!  Yet, over the past weeks, I have whispered a prayer in my heart, so quiet, I’ve not been sure it is even worthy of being labeled a prayer.  It’s probably been so soft, because I haven’t been certain I wanted to know the answer.  Buried deep inside the prayer-whisper has been a core of insecurity padded by the question of my purpose-on-earth, my kingdom-purpose.  Not in a morbid way, but simply in a “what-am-I-doing-now” sort of way.  Ah, “but, God!”  One of the richest blessings of life, as sweet as any chocolate-truffle (and truffles are definitely my favorite!), is when God answers a whisper-prayer, even if it has never crossed my lips.  Not only did he answer it; but, also, he knew it would be asked, and he answered it, more than 2000 years ago!  This morning I sit in awe!  What a Papa!

Really, the whisper-prayer could boil down to two questions: 1) Lord, am I still your vessel, your mouthpiece?  Do you still want to use me to teach other women?  2) Am I still to use my fingers to type up a written message?  Is a blog useful to you?  Is my motivation sincere?  These are important questions for me.  As I mentioned, they sit at the insecure core of my heart.  Years ago, I was challenged by another speaker-friend to consider my mission statement.  His words were to write out what I thought was my calling in one sentence.  His challenge was to make that sentence precise enough it could be written on a matchbook cover.  I took the challenge.  In my contemplation, I took into account what I loved to do, what my spiritual gifts were, a “dream” God seemed to have planted in my heart, Scripture verses that had come alive and seemed to be “mine” to own.  As I filtered through all of that, I had written my mission statement: to disciple women through the written or spoken word. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since.  It makes it easier to say “NO” to those things that don’t fit, where I would just be expending energy, but not being effective for the Kingdom.  So, my unspoken question of the heart was critical – how it would be answered could change EVERYTHING.

Then Cuba.  Yes, the Lord reminded me how much it thrills my soul to share what He is teaching me (even if I don't have the lessons down perfectly).  He, also, reminded me it’s not about the audience size, or even what the audience thinks, but am I doing what I am passionate about?  It doesn’t matter whether I think I’m being effective or not, but he had, also, assured me through those precious ladies that he will not let his word EVER return void.  Then this morning, out of the blue, I read an obscure verse, in the middle of Matthew, that became mine-to-own, a verse written over 2000 years ago!  After speaking to his disciples in parables, Jesus asked them if they understood what he was teaching.  “Yes!” they had replied.  Then he said this (I am writing it the way I “heard” it, but it doesn’t change the integrity of the Word):
Therefore, every writer who has become a disciple, a student who enrolls himself under a teacher with the purpose of instructing others, is like a head of a household, who brings forth out of his treasure things old and new to be used to multiply the kingdom.  
Matthew 13:52.

Do you see it?  I love to write. I am a disciple of a masterful teacher (Jesus).  I love to teach.  I have been given a treasure (the Word of God).  Jesus’ “therefore” is for me!  One-on-one; one-on-seventy; one-on-seven hundred, it does not matter!  I have been called as a “head of a household” of faith.  Not to teach irrelevant babble (2 Tim 2:23) that leads to further ungodliness; but to handle the Word correctly; to be a vessel of honor, sanctified and, yes, useful to the Master (2 Timothy 2:20-21).  In my own little way, I am still called-out for the same purpose…and my only responsibility is to be obedient and faithful in persevering. 

Questions for you who might be reading:  What’s your calling? Are you still living in it in spite of whether or not it feels like you are being a useful vessel?  God needs hands, feet, voices, eyes, ears, and hearts in a multitude of ways.  Once he issues the call, it appears it stays much the same to the end, perhaps with just a tweaking or two.  May you be encouraged, from one “wonderer” to another, just to keep living out your mission, in spite of the whisper-questions of your heart!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Lessons From Cuba 1

I interrupt the study I've been doing on "the words of my mouth," in order to share a few lessons learned from my Cuban brothers and sisters. This past week, we had the privilege of taking a team of seven into Cuba on religious visas to lead a pastor's conference (wives and other church leaders included), hold evangelistic services at night (yes, you read that right), and encourage our faithful believing siblings in Hope and a Good Word.  We went to be teachers...evangelists...leaders. We became the taught, the reminded, and the led. In all the years I've been privileged to be a missionary, I find this to be the case.  I need these humbling, gentle nudges from The Lord.

What I want to share is both a blessing for me, as a speaker, but most definitely, a conviction at the same time. First day, of the first of three women's conferences, a gal I recognizedf rom last year came up to me. Even though my translator was very close, it was obvious this gal had spent some time practicing her English, as she said to me, "My favorite teacher. I am your disciple."  What a great gift she passed to me that moment! My heart swelled in emotion...  Yet that wasn't all.  She went on, in Spanish, using the translator, close at hand. As she continued, she held out a notebook, which I recognized as the one we had given out the previous year. Her words: "Look! Your notes from last year. All of them. I have been teaching them to the women in all our churches." Her writing was immaculate, but the ink was beginning to fade, and the paper so worn. There was no question that she had spent multiple hours in those notes.

However, she wasn't the only one to share that story. Those words were repeated in different ways from multiple women, in multiple venues. It humbled me. Not only was I acutely aware of the responsibility I have to speak truth, but so aware of how much value is placed on the Word. I am asked overand over for copies of my notes, though I rarely speak from notes (a basic outline, yes).  As I listened to these gals assuring me that the words from The Word I had spoken to them were incredibly helpful to them, and they were still passing them on, it made me ask myself some questions:

How much do I truly value the Word?
How often do I take the teachings I am so privileged to receive in abundance, and pass those on to others?
How eagerly do I come to church, or conferences, ready to hear from The Lord?
How often do I let a critical spirit stand between Truth-spoken and Truth-received, because someone doesn't speak in a style I relate to...or enjoy...?

Yet, I don't even speak the language of these women!  It takes twice as long to say what I have come to say! I don't understand their culture well, and they don't know mine...  But their hunger for the Word and the God-of-the-Word, superseded all of those things. How challenged I was by their delight in truth.  How they have spurred me on to appreciate and to pray for a deeper longing for God's Word.  For days now, this verse has been swimming through my head:

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy, and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, oh Lord, God of hosts.
Jeremiah 15:16

Oh may this be true for me!!!