12 quarts of applesauce, 8 quarts of oats, 6 cans of black beans*, 5 pounds of nuts, 5 pounds of apples, 3 gallons of granola (apple cinnamon, cherry nutmeg, and lemon ginger), 3 avocados, 2 packages of sesame sticks, 2 packages of yelloweye beans, ~2 pounds of pumpkin/sunflower seeds/almond mix, 1 canister of kale chips, 1 package of raisins, and 1 jar of honey with royal jelly* (*=not pictured) I am loved!
This past Monday, our ACF Bible study group at Duke experienced Bible-storying for the first time. What a blessing! Many times I struggle to strike the right balance when leading a Bible study. It's easy for me to teach by talking, and if comments aren't forthcoming, I often talk far more than I probably should. But this method really enables Scripture to speak for itself (a good thing, given our relative eloquence!)
For those of you who aren't familiar with the concept, storying is basically an oral inductive study. A facilitator narrates a Scripture story and then asks the audience a series of general questions to help them engage with and internalize the story, starting with facts, and moving towards concepts and application. Here's an outline of the basic elements of the study. In my limited experience, this format is an excellent way to uncover new depths of meaning in familiar stories.
Case in point: at our first study, we discussed the story of the woman caught in adultery, in John 8:1–11. Towards the end, we were exploring the aspects of God's character revealed in the story, specifically how He refrained from condemning the woman. I commented that God doesn't condemn us either, and then someone asked, "But doesn't He condemn sinners eventually, in the judgment?"
Sensing (correctly) that this was an important question, I (incorrectly) promptly launched into an abstract explanation of the moral laws of the universe, and how, rather than being condemnatory, it is totally consistent with God's character of love for Him to put a permanent end to evil. That may be perfectly true, but halfway through my monologue, I could see her eyes glazing over. As I wound down, a little feeling of despair grew inside as I realized that I had blown an opportunity to share a key truth about the character of God.
I can't remember if I threw up a quick prayer right then or not, but regardless, God stepped in to set things right. Another member of our group broke the silence that followed my attempts to patch the logic hole with a simple observation. "Well, maybe the judgment will be kind of like this story. I mean, Jesus didn't force the Pharisees to leave, right? They separated themselves from the Saviour by their own free will. And the woman--she could have made her escape after her accusers fled, before Jesus addressed her. No one was preventing her from fleeing the scene of her humiliation, from distancing herself from the one person who had the right to condemn her--and yet, she stayed."
Just like that, God transformed failure into stunning victory. I'm pretty sure my mouth fell open in astonishment as the beauty and simplicity of that insight sunk in. Of course! Why hadn't I seen it before? It all came together in an instant. Everyone will eventually face the same choice that confronted the Pharisees and the woman in that dusty temple courtyard. The essence of the judgment comes down to a simple question: will we cling to our sin and flee from the Saviour, or flee from our sin and cling to the Saviour?
Over Christmas, I was blessed to have the opportunity to spend some time at a mission project in Belize with my friend Alex. I wish I could do justice to the experience in this post... Sweet fellowship with passionate, mission-minded believers. The satisfaction of doing hard, honest labor, of eating simple (and delicious!) food, of going to bed and getting up early. The joys of playing in the dirt with the sweetest kids in the world (don't tell them I said that). The glory of song; of full-throated hymn-singing, together with people who love it as much as you do, in a room with wonderful acoustics; of waking up singing; of singing for Saturday night entertainment; of singing while riding down the road on the tractor...
Perhaps the best description of my time at MOVE is that I felt a bit like Christian, in Pilgrim's Progress, when he and Hopeful got to Beulah. There the "air was very sweet and pleasant, . . . [and] they heard continually the singing of birds, and saw every day the flowers appear on the earth. . . Shining Ones commonly walked [in that land], because it was upon the borders of heaven." It was a wonderful, physically refreshing, spiritually recalibrating experience.
Needless to say, the readjustment to a somewhat solitary existence reading tax textbooks was a wee bit difficult. But the other day I remembered this hymn that Alex and I had discovered one evening while thumbing through the hymnal:
In the heart of Jesus, there is love for you, Love most pure and tender, love most deep and true; Why should you be lonely, why for friendship sigh, When the heart of Jesus has a full supply?
In the Heart of Jesus - Alice Pugh - SDAH 577
Here I was, pining for friends in Belize, when the Source of friendship--the very reason for the existence of those earthly ties--had more than enough love to comfort me! Without a doubt, it is sad to be separated from people I love. But Jesus offers love that is more than adequate to satisfy my yearning for fellowship, and like the cord that grows stronger the more one relies on it, I believe that He becomes more heart-steadying as we learn to lean on Him more fully.
I have also been reminding myself that missions isn't simply an overseas adventure--as exciting and as important as those are--it is a way of life that may be practiced equally effectively in North Carolina, or in Belize. God has planted me in this mission field for the time being, and it is entirely up to me whether I live life here as a missionary or not.
All of those realizations have been helpful in calming the clamor in my soul and redirecting my emotions into more healthy channels, but they haven't completely mitigated the tugging on my heart. As many of you are aware, missions really has a way of getting under your skin. Somehow I suspect that I will never be completely at peace in a "traditional" career path, or perhaps I fear that precise possibility–in which case, a certain amount of discomfort is probably healthy! All that to say, I want to live like the sons of Issachar--"understanding the times"--and sensitive to God's calling.
Excelsior *More pictures of our trip can be found here.
**The other verses of In the Heart of Jesus are well worth a read--particularly the third verse!