Thursday, December 31, 2020

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Spiritual synergy is born in mutuality


(Deborah; prophetess and only female judge of Israel (held office 1260 - 1221 B.C.) 
akg-images / Balage Balogh /

When Greg asked me to marry him, he told me that we have “synergy”. He said that we were better together than we were apart. At the time, I did not get it. I did not think it was very romantic. I am so blessed that Greg had a big picture vision of how we would be better together for the LORD than we would be a part. He was more spiritually discerned than I was and recognized that when we worked together the power of God was more effective through us and that we were better at building community together than we were apart. At one point, Greg even went so far as to tell me that one day God would use me to teach in other nations. I laughed at him because I did not see the vision as he did. I cannot begin to tell you how often in my life I have pondered Greg’s wisdom and his patience in collaborating with me. I am so thankful that he was willing to abide with God and hear from God about how we would be better together than we are apart.

This reminds me of Deborah in the Bible. She heard from God a message that she needed to give to Barak. She listened and obeyed. She was patient with Barak as he learned how to collaborate to help the nation find victory over their enemy.

As I studied Deborah and Barak recently God really pressed in on me on the importance of synergy. I realized how valuable a gift it is when we were with someone that gets it. The truth is that there are two levels of partnership that must take place for us to have a synergistic relationship. Spiritual synergy must begin with God. It is about us crying out to God and seeking Him, knowing Him, and desiring to hear from Him and be with Him. When we have developed this relationship we will discover that we are just like Deborah and able to hear a clear message from God and go forth and give messages that will help route enemies in the lives of those around us. Our trust in God and His work in us makes us trustworthy to those around us which will then build in the synergistic relationship with have with others. 

Spiritual synergy is born from mutuality! Give and take! Without mutuality, the relationship will die!  Spiritual synergy is born in abiding and then is grown through agreement, concession, collaboration, exchange, and reciprocity. At any point, we can stop this synergistic momentum. We can hinder our spirituality by not abiding with God and we can hinder by not being willing to grow in mutuality with others. This can make marriage a nightmare, work unbearable, and friendships die. But, when we are willing to grow in mutuality born of abiding in the LORD then we discover that we are willing to dare to do something we might be afraid to do like Barak going into battle against Sisera or slaying the enemy with a tent stake like Jael. 

On a more personal level, spiritual synergy helps me to slay me! Yeah, you heard me! Sometimes, my greatest enemy is growing in synergy is me. When I am caught up in my emotions, thoughts, habits, or wants and desires and I do not seek the LORD before I speak or act then I am the one that has taken myself out of the mutuality of synergy. I actually rob myself of the gift of synergy. Why would I do that? UGH! It really annoys me when I do because there is nothing more beautiful than when two work together in a synergistic relationship. 

I recently read four facts about synergy by Darren T. Carte at I love the four facts that he used to summarize synergy. 1. Synergy helps us to create something we cannot do on our own. 2. Synergy releases power as we partner with others. 3. Synergy is born out of shared responsibilities in the community. 4. Synergy that is born of God will build the next generation! Think about it. It is all about RELATIONSHIPS! Our relationship with God and then our relationship with others. One feeds the other and both are what make us able to slay our enemies! 

Synergistic relationships strengthen us and lighten our load. They enable multiplication to take place and allow our tent stakes to expand beyond us. I want spiritual synergy in my life! Don't you? I find myself asking, What do I need to do to make sure that I am abiding in a healthy way with God so that I may hear His heart and speak from His heart? Who are the people that I need to seek to find mutuality with through collaboration, agreement, the exchange of ideas, reciprocity, and at times concession? I am so thankful for the maturity of Greg in my life to recognize that we have synergy! Who does God want you to do that for in your life today?

A telling of the story of the census that Caesar Augustus required told by a child in the Hope for Children Orphanage

A Bible Reading plan

Check out this Bible reading plan!  Aside from the fact that we share first names, I felt like I was listening to someone that matched my heart for Scripture reading. When I started seminary in 1992, I had a stranger in a book store ask me if I had ever read through the Bible. My answer was a simple, "No." The person did not shame me, but encouraged me to read the whole Bible to hear from God. I was shown a Chronological Bible. I bought it and began my journey to understand the character of God and how He interacted with man. This one discipline has been the most powerful tool in helping me face life's challenges. I have been reading and praying through the Bible ever since. I also love that my church, City Light Benson is encouraging us to use this plan or whatever will help us to get in Scripture.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Do it again! Asking God to repeat Himself!

(“Woman At The Well” by Bryn Gillette)

Can you tell what God has done for your own soul? I remember the first time I stood in the front of a foundations class of a hundred or more pastors and ministry leaders to share my testimony, I was terrified. My hands shook and well I would most certainly need a shower after nervousness poured out of my skin. I thought that to share my testimony meant to share my personal story. It does, but it also doesn't.  I learned very quickly the hard way that my story was as painful to listen to as it was to share. Innocent ears need not hear about the uglies. Yes, it is important to tell, but it needs to be done with discretion. Some things are not worthy of repeating, but there are some things that should be shouted from the roof tops. I wish someone would have saved me of that struggle that day, but God used it to grow me. Honestly, my heart was just for them to see how God had changed me. I wanted them to see and hear first hand all I had seen and heard. I wanted them to have what I had in the LORD. 

As I read the story of the Samaritan woman this morning in John 4, I was reminded of my testimony mess up. I realized that when this unknown woman encountered Jesus, she experienced the truth that He knew her. He knew her sin and still welcomed her. He allowed her to question Him in almost a salty way. Without confronting her saltiness, but letting her know He knew her, Jesus invited her to go get her husband. When she admitted she did not have one to bring back, Jesus simply acknowledged her lifestyle. I realize this must have been said gently and respectfully because she boldly then asked the cultural question of the day in which her community struggled and she must have been pondering. "Where do we worship?" I love that Jesus readily talked theology about worship with her and allowed her to ponder what it meant to have living water. When she struggled with the place of worship and declared she knew of the Messiah, Jesus shared with her that He was the Messiah and that true worship is not a place, but in spirit and in truth... a person.

At this point the disciples entered the scene, they had been sent to her town to get food. Imagine their surprise when Jesus was breaking all the rules... talking to a despised Samaritan and a woman at that! Their appearance stopped the conversation and gave flight to the woman. When she ran into her village she was not running from the disciples, but toward the LORD'S harvest for she had seen and heard the One who knew her. She could not contain what she had seen and heard. In fact, she left in such haste she left her jar she had carried there to get water. 

This is when I noticed her testimony. It was simple, honest, and with discretion. "Come and see the one who told me everything I ever did!" At first I noticed that she declared that He knew her. It feels good to be known, but she declared that He knew her sin. Notice she did not label or name her sin. Only Jesus did that. Yet, she felt welcomed! Enough that she was willing to tell the whole village. See, if He welcomed her, He most certainly would welcome them! Her words embodied an experience that went beyond thoughts, and meaning, but included senses. It was evident that she was different. She proclaimed without shame. This was a woman shouting in soul freedom. And we must realize that because of her reputation of more than five husband's  it was highly unlikely people would be willing to listen to her. This would cause all to walk away for fear that they might be thought to be a part of her reputation. Was it her passion, boldness, or change that caused her village to listen? Whatever, the reason we know they went to go see based on her testimony and soon they too believed not just based on her words, but on what they saw in Jesus, too. It is amazing that her testimony led to an entire village's change.

As I read this passage, I wondered on the definition of testimony. It is best defined as a first hand experience shared to tell what one has seen or heard. It is a statement of facts. But, I discovered that testimony in Hebrew carries with it the idea of "do it again" or that "God will repeat Himself". See, when we bear witness or give testimony to what God has done in our lives it is telling so that God can do it again in another.  I like to believe that the Samaritan woman felt welcomed, honored, loved, seen, and heard by Jesus. This is what made her run to her village to share with others. Once you have experienced something so beautiful, you want it repeated in another's life. So, let me ask you again, Can you tell what God has done for your own soul? In a way, our telling our story of how God has met us and changed us is us saying, "Do it again, Daddy! Please do it for my friend as You have done it for me!"

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Reflections of 2020 blessings

On Christmas day I asked my family to share what they learned about God this year and what they had given back to God as a gift. As we listened to each others stories, I sat in awe at God's goodness as each shared their struggles, sufferings, and joys. Our year has left much to reflect upon. We have lost family, friends, close physical fellowship, ministry opportunities, and jobs. Yet, we can all say we know the depth of beauty that comes through suffering overflows with the goodness of God. He has given us deeper friendships, more ministry opportunities and new jobs. This morning as I reflect upon all God did in and through our family, once again, I see how our individual lives make the collective richness of our family so complete and whole in Him. We have cried alot, laughed as muched, lamented, grieved, and repented as necessary. As individuals we came before God in community, childlikeness, surprise, depth, and worship. Through these we came to know God as faithful, trustworthy, deep, and present. We came into the year praying for theses character traits of God: refreshment, presence, creative perseverance, intimacy, and closeness with God. And we are leaving the year with them in a deeper and richer way. We found the favor of God in His presence and our ability to worship Him in spirit and in truth despite the bad and celebrating the good. Honestly, words are not sufficient enough to express the embodiment of Jesus we have known. I am feeling thankful, grateful, and blessed because our love for God and others has increased even more. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Do you see what I see?

(Light of the world by Mark Missman)

This morning as I sit by my Christmas tree while my pup is curled up on my toes and I sip my cup of tea, I am blessed by a few thoughts as I read the Christmas story yet again.  I ask myself, What patterns do I see in people's behaviors? I love that when people heard about the baby Jesus they wanted to see Him. Curiosity motivated many to go and see. Who is this Christ child? Why is He born in Bethlehem? Why is He lying in a manger? Who gets a star and a host of angels for a birth announcement? I noticed that the people that had to go check things out included the poor shepherds, the rich wise men of the east, and the evil King Herod. Both the good and the bad. The shepherds were emotional and spontaneous! They wanted to go see Him out of curiousity. Curiousity turned to reverence and awe that poured out in celebration and proclamation. The wise men used science to draw them to the historical reference to a king prophesied in the stars. Their journey was logical and calculated with pre-planned extravagant gifts. King Herod's response was passionate and intense spawned in fear and jealousy that led to a manipulative plot to kill the Christ child whose kingdom was prophesied to never end. While the shepherds longed for deliverance and hope, the wise men wanted to see history and science unfold a great mystery. Sadly, King Herod wanted to silence the Breath of Life so he could reign without competition. Isn't it amazing that a little child could evoke such passion from so many! When we reflect on Christmas we must ask ourselves, Why do I run to see the Christ child? What is my motive and reason? Am I spontaneous, logical, or manipulative? Do I come ready to celebrate, proclaim, and give Him good gifts? Or do I manipulate and plot to stay on my personal throne? 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Tidings of Great Joy

For my morning worship yesterday I drew this little bird declaring his praise song. I felt he needed the phrase, "Fear not for I bring you tidings of great joy." I basked in his declaration as I drew in worship. I realize to some that may sound odd. Yet, I know the reality that joy inspires creativity and yes at times joy can seem quite unreasonable. It may not make sense to the one observing and not yet grasping. Even when one cannot understand, we cannot hide joy because joy overflows and spills forth. 

This morning as I read about Mary's magnificant and Zechariah's praise song, it occurred to me that both spontaneously burst into praise about the goodness of God because they believed that God would do what He said He would do. When the angels declared that a child was born that would be a Savior to all men to the shepherds, they ran to go see. Once they saw the baby as the angels declared, they ran to tell everyone what they had seen and heard. See joy pours out from the depth of our well being because when we know the goodness of the LORD is certain, it unlocks a sense of purpose and unleashes the power of praise. We live knowing that the joy of the LORD is our strength because our joy is set upon the One who gives us hope, healing, and an eternal home. 
To give great tidings of joy is to declare the goodness of God. To whom might you declare His praise and know the joy of the LORD is our strength? Maybe, today you might practice declaring what you know about God and discover joy! 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Can you hear me now?

“Do you have any questions for me?” Naomi asked. I had a short list of things I wanted to confirm and one of them was “Do you want me to wear a headset when we do Zoom calls?” Naomi said that it might help with sound quality, so I reached over and grabbed a little black pouch that held a Pop Voice mic that Joshua (ASM Communications) had sent to me the year before to help with sound quality for ION/Canada recordings. I thought, “Nice! I will put to good use this gift! And how fun that God would have me using it now as a staff member for the ministry that blessed me just because!”
I plugged it in while we chatted and asked Naomi, “Is the sound quality better?”
“Yes, the hum disappeared.”
Oh, that beastly hum! I then took that foam covered end and placed it in my right ear and asked, “Can you hear me now?”
I thought, “Oh I do not really want it in my right ear I might pull it out because I am right-handed!” So, pulled it out and looked at it for a split second and realized that it was a lapel mic! A snort, a burst of air, and then spewing laughter overtook me to the point that I could not breathe.
“Uhm, Naomi, do you see what I just did?”
At this she begins to laugh, “I bet you are quite prepared for the radio podcasts!”
Oh, my! I cannot stop laughing. I probably lost a few pounds from the laughter! In case you did not get it, I put the mic in my ear and asked, “Can you hear me now?”

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Problems and Provisions

Have you ever noticed that there are those that see the problem and there are those that see the provision? I find myself shutting down or tuning out when someone starts to list the problems to a circumstance. I know that we need to look at all the issues and try to find the obstacles. I get it, but in my core, I do not resonate well when this happens. Call it a Pollyanna complex or positive outlook, but for me it is is core to my faith. When times get tough, I will begin the journey of finding out how faith will move the circumstance forward. 

This morning as I read John 6, I noticed something. Jesus was out healing and caring for the people so a large crowd gathered. He knew the people were hungry and had a need, but He wanted to teach the disciples something. Jesus asked the disciples, "Where will we buy bread so these people will eat?" There were two responses. Philip stated, "Two hundred denari would not be enough." That is equivalent to about eight months in wages. While another unnamed disciple said, "There is a boy who has two fish and five loaves of bread, but what are they for so many?" I realized that Philip saw the problem and the unnamed disciple saw a provision. Jesus didn't confront either but simply said, "Have the people sit down." Jesus then gave thanks and started to distribute the fish and loaves. When the people were full, Jesus asked the disciples to collect the leftovers. What caught me this morning was that both received the blessing of seeing Jesus provide miraculously. I really needed to hear this because I often find myself really annoyed with the one that only sees the problem. I just realized that both must have answered in faith. They were asked a question and both with their own reasoning skills answered as best they could. Their answers were not rebuked. Jesus simply showed them how He alone can make a way. Even when it is costly like eight months worth of wages or a small provision of two fish and five loaves. How we reason does not not matter. What matters is that we are in a conversation ready to receive and learn from Jesus by faith. I love that both got to see a miracle that day. And I recognize I need to be more patient with my problem solvers. Faith walking doesn't mean that we will only focus on provision. Faith walking also includes problem solving. God has used this passage to cause me to be more grace filled toward those that I might view as a naysayers. Today this will be my fishes and loaves. 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Gabriel telling Mary she will have a Son named Jesus by a student in Hope for Children Orphanage
A student at Hope for the Children Orphanage made a video for me after I put out an encouragement for people to tell the Christmas story in their heart language. I have received several videos from Hope for the Children Orphanage and it sounds like more are coming. I will post one here, but all will be uploaded on my YouTube channel.  I am so proud of them for learning the Christmas story, English, and retelling it. Thank you Sgatluak Geng, my dear brother Simon, who translated for me when I taught in Gambella, for teaching the students how to tell Bible stories! My heart rejoices in how you and your team serve so faithfully!  Thank you for all you do!

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Two Leadership Qualities We Need: Initiate and Include

Have you ever walked into a room full of people and felt not included? Did you wonder if you should initiate a conversation or awkwardly wait for someone to initiate or include you? I have felt this in family gatherings because I live far away and I often feel like the outsider looking in. They all live together and bond on a regular basis. I know they love me, but I am not a part of their daily lives. Because I travel and speak, I am on a frequent basis the outsider coming in to an already established community. It is awkward if I let it be, but I have learned something that has helped me. God is an includer and an initiator. Since, He is the ultimate leader I want to follow and imitate, I need to grow in these character qualities.

I have been reading through my Bible since 1992 and over and over I am blessed by these two leadership truths: initiate and include. We are called to be includers and initiators as well. In Genesis 1:27, we are told in the creation account that God created man in His image. And if that was not enough, He then created male and female in His image. God included mankind in His creation and then initiated an invitation to mankind to be fruitful and multiply. Mulitplication can only happen when two or more initiate and include. When Adam and Eve sinned, God initiated the conversation when Adam and Eve hid. God sought to include them in a conversation when they sought to hide in their shame. God's plan always includes us! Are we willing to engage when God initiates with us? 

Even Jesus when He began His ministry initiated relationships by seeking men of good character to include in His journey while on earth. And when Jesus sent the disciples out to make disciples He told them to go in twos. This demonstrated inclusion with one another before initiating inclusion with others. So, when I find myself standing in a room of people I remind myself to initiate and include. I often stand and look over the room and pray asking God who He wants me to initiate and include. God has given me some of the dearest friendships through this process. It is what God has done for me and it is what I need to do for you. When my kids were little I would tell them, "If you want a friend, you gotta be a friend." Friends are born only when we are willing to initiate and include. Look around you today and see who you might need to initiate and include. Break the awkward silence and take the steps to begin a conversation. Who knows what God might do as you initiate and include! 

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Uncompromising sacrifice

You could hear the hum of his wheel chair and the clicking of the dogs claws as she walked him into the classroom. Every class, the same sounds announced that my professor Dr. Matthis, his wife Odie, and pup had arrived. For three years in my doctoral studies, I watched as Odie daily drove her husband to work, set up his office and classroom space, so he could teach. She stayed on campus all day so she could care for his needs and feed him. See, Dr. Mathis had ALS, but he was called to teach. Odie new that his need to teach gave him strength, meaning, and hope so she sacrificed her personal desires and needs to help Dr. Matthis fulfill his call to teach the next generation of leaders. Odie reminds me of Ruth in the Bible.

For something to be considered a sacrifice one must give up either a personal need, want, desire, or dream for anothers benefit. When Ruth's mother-in-law packed everything up to leave Moab after her husband and two sons died, she urged her daughter-in-laws to go home because she had nothing left to give them. Ruth made an astounding choice that day. She willingly chose to give up her culture, home, people, and god to go with Naomi. If you think on it, these are the very things that make up a person's identity. Ruth chose to sacrifice her identity to go and care for her mother-in-law. No wonder Ruth is used as the symbol of loyalty and devotion by biblical scholars. 

We each have choices to make on a daily basis. We can choose to live our lives selfishly, sinfully, or sacrificially. I don't know about you, but my self gets in the way more than it should. And lest I think I don't let sin get in the way, I have to ask myself at times, if I know that I am to die to self daily and don't, wouldn't that be a sin of omission? Please know I am not trying to guilt me or you into sacrifice, but I am trying to challenge us to consider how we might walk more sacricifially. Sometimes the sacrifices might be thrust upon us because of relationships, jobs, illness or the death of a loved one. Regardless of the circumstance, it is the attitude of the service that makes it a sacrifice worth noting. Both Odie and Ruth willingly sacrificed because they lived in loyal love. It is a beautiful thing to watch, but not an easy journey to walk. 

Over the years I started to call Odie-"Odiedear" because Odiedear always affectionately called me Tara'Darlin. It is amazing how lives can be changed by one who lives out sacrificially for others. For Ruth, her sacrifice led to her salvation. She believed in the one true God. He gave her a husband and a child. Her son was a grandfather in the lineage of Jesus. We never know the outcome of our sacrifices, but the rewards always outweigh the alternatives of selfishness and sinfulness. Father, please help us to live sacrificialy like Odiedear and Ruth. Where would you like for us to sacrifice today? Help us to walk it joyfully. In Jesus name, amen!

Photo credit: Robert T. Barrett from the American Gallery

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Christmas Story: Wise Men from the east visit Jesus and worship Him.
Have you ever noticed that the good news of Jesus will cause some to want to cause harm and others to worship? How do you respond?  What good gift can you give Jesus this year? How might you worship Him? 

Friday, December 4, 2020

Christmas Story: Baby Jesus is born and shepherds visit Him

Have you ever noticed that a birth announcement can make the most rugged of men celebrate?  Today's Christmas Story reveals that God chose to first tell shepherds about His Son and that they would be the first to see Him and shout in the streets that the Christ has been born!

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Death of Worry

"Death was walking toward a man who stopped him and asked, "What are you going to do?" Death said, "I'm going to kill ten thousand people." The man said, "That's horrible!" Death said, "That's the way it is; that is what I do!" As the day passed, the man warned everyone he could of Death's plan. At the end of the day, he met Death again. He said, "You said, "You were going to kill ten thousand people, and yet one hundred thousand people died." Death explained, "I only killed ten thousand. Worry and fear killed the others." (Source unknown, but found in Holman New Testament Commentary). 

Worry seems to be in a lot of my conversations and if I am honest my mind spends way too much time worrying, too. Been thinking on this alot because Grant has quoted at least three times, well maybe more, a line from Fantastic Creatures. "Don't worry because this means you live it twice." Everytime, he says it I think some die a thousand times over. I know! It is easier said than done. I know this is why we are commanded to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Mind renewal isn't just taking a positive thinking stance. It is the willful obedience to release the circumstances to the LORD and trust Him with the outcome. Sometimes, this must done a thousand times over before we just realize, "Hey, I did not think on that today!" Where are you reliving something two, three times or more?  Beloved, release it to the LORD JESUS and enjoy the peace which surpasses all understanding to guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. No point in giving Death more than he is accountable for!

Christmas Story: Angel visits Joseph in a dream

Often hope is only found in our obedience in times of suffering. Check out today's Christmas Story and notice how Joseph obeyed immediately even when things did not make sense.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020