Thursday, December 1, 2016

Who is India?

Before my first visit to India in 2006, I said I wanted to see India, but only from a low flying plane--I was apprehensive of touching foot to ground. Then my husband made his first trip as International Coordinator for the Emmaus Bible Courses and I accompanied him to provide companionship, video interview men who worked with Emmaus, and wash his socks. 

India proved to be all that I had envisioned in terms of masses of people, colorful saris, pungent aromas of spice and incense, fiery foods, unsurpassable traffic, and, yes, filth. 

Our first impression, as we stepped out of the airport at midnight, our passports newly stamped and a tight grip on our luggage, was being greeted by a sea of impassive, staring faces. It felt like every eye was on us from dark and bearded faces under turbans or with noses pierced and foreheads smeared with Hindu vermilion under saris and dupattas. Our contacts were also in the crowd with a small sign that read "Fleming". Once we saw the sign we followed them, through dark and fog stepping over sleeping bodies completely enveloped in blankets, to the car.

When we arrived at their tiny apartment they said, "By the grace of God, we have arrived home." And they led us in a prayer of thanksgiving. I soon discovered that "By the grace of God" was a common phrase, but not taken lightly. Each time we ventured out we survived the traffic, our path crisscrosses by bicycle rickshaws, motoshaws, motorcycles, thousands of pedestrians, a few cows, and a multitude of honking cars and trucks. And when we walked, we also watched for piles of trash, manure, and once my husband pushed me so that I was forced to skip a step and I looked down to see that I had jumped over a large, furry dead rat.

We recently made my fourth trip to India (my husband's fifth) and I learned not what, but who India is.  

India is the woman in her late 60s who takes the kameez you hand washed to her balcony to dry and returns it not only ironed but mended.

India is the shopkeeper who pulls out half a dozen children's outfits to show you and when you say "thank you" without purchasing any, he says, "Welcome, ma'am."

India is the housewife who spends four hours cooking three kinds of curry, rice, chapatis, and sweet curds, making certain to not add the customary chillies so that the foreigner can eat it.

India is the taxi driver who uses his horn more than his brakes, improving your prayer life as he takes your life in his hands six times an hour, and then patiently waits in an impossible traffic jam for someone to start moving somewhere so he can turn around and take you home at the end of the day.

India is the university student who is so fascinated by the story of the five martyrs in Ecuador that he spends an hour interviewing your husband, nephew of Pete Fleming, for his weekly program on a local TV station.

India is the young girls visiting an ancient Hindu temple in their bright salwar kameez taking selfies and then asking you to pose for another with them.

India is the friendly Christian worker who meets your train at 7 a.m. with a smiling face and a strong arm to carry your suitcase.

India is local church elder who thanks you over and over again for taking the time to visit his church and his ministry.

India is the underfed man who looks old enough to be your grandfather, pedaling your bicycle-shaw through the wet streets for a few rupees.

India is two girls sharing one dupatta so they can both have their heads covered.

India is throngs of barefoot people streaming into a temple to pray to their gods in the hopes of warding off evil and gaining blessings.

India is the attentive faces of tribal people who have found the Lord as they listen to a sermon and learn how to study the Bible for themselves.

India is the four businessmen who invite you to sit in their berth while you ride to the next stop (where you were actually supposed to board) until your seats are vacated.

India is the college students in the train berth across from yours passing phones around to share pictures and laughing loudly, then offering you a piece of their chocolate before we all open our beds for the night.

India is the man on the train who sees you awake at 1 a.m. and asks which stop is yours, telling you the train is delayed and it won't be for an hour and a half. Later he comes back by your bunk to let you know your stop is in ten minutes.

India is the airport security woman, who takes you into a private booth to run the metal detectors over you, commenting, "You are looking very smart today in your Indian dress."

India is the Muslim man who finds an empty bunk on the train to do his prayers.

India is the believer who carries a supply of gospel tracts and hands them to every person he speaks to, even the guides in a museum.

There is no one face to India. And, as dirty as it can be, I have a love for and fascination with this nation with its hordes of people facing a lost eternity.

Won't you pray for India?

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

It Happens Every December

This is a concept worth repeating. One I first wrote about three years ago when the juxtaposition of Thanksgiving and Christmas struck me as absurd the way our culture celebrates. I'd love to hear what you think.

Just as sure as the leaves change color and fall off the trees.

And then it is all undone in December.

Facebook friends begin using #30daysofthanksgiving hashtags and talk about a Thanksgiving Challenge. At churches and in homes paper turkeys and trees boast of all the things for which we are thankful.

But in December we begin to make lists--mental, written, or on Amazon--of the things we want. 

Does that strike you as incongruous? 

I did it with my kids every year, but a couple of years ago I was asked to speak to some college girls on "contentment" and it gave me a whole new perspective on thankfulness.

The world thinks we'll be content if we have a little bit more. 
Or if we learn to want a little bit less.

Is that what the Bible teaches?

Or how about:

In other words: God is enough.

How can we teach our children this? I am not sure I succeeded with being the one who taught this to my children. I'm not sure I have come to truly believe this in my own life. But I'm working on it.

I'll give you a few of my ideas of how we can teach this to our children, but I would love to hear from you and know how you are working on this. Please let me know.

  1. Be an example. Are you someone who is always talking about wanting the newest, the better, the improved? Or do you exhibit contentment? What do you talk about?
  2. Talk about contentment. If you look online you will find all kinds of quotes about contentment. Read one to your kids each night at dinner and ask if they think it's true. Is this is a clever statement or the path to contentment?
  3. Read what the Bible says. Look at the verses I have mentioned here and others. What does the Bible say is the basis for a Christian to be content? Ask who they can think of in the Bible that lived contentedly...or didn't.
  4. Look for real life examples. Talk about people who are living life content with having God in their lives. Ask your children, "What would true contentment look like in your life?"
  5. Be thankful. That year I challenged the college girls and myself to not just list things they are thankful for, but start their thanksgivings with "I'm thankful for God's presence in my life because..."
Leave me a comment and let me know your ideas for living and teaching true contentment.

P.S. I took these photos a several years ago while on a "leaf crunching" walk with my youngest daughter when she was a college sophomore. Today she is a college graduate working at her first full time job and serving in many ways at our local church. Her desire is to go overseas to serve God.

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Ten Thanksgiving Conversation Starters

What do you do at Thanksgiving to remind yourselves what you are thankful for? We have done a variety of things to help our kids learn thankfulness at this time of year and to remind our family and guests about the true meaning of Thanksgiving. But going around the table to say one or even two things you are thankful for might make you miss out on some of the things that happened in the past year that you do want to be thankful for. 

That's where specific questions come in. If you have specific questions to ask people, that will open up memories that they might not have thought of otherwise. And as one person begins to share their answer, others around the table will have their memories jarred as well.

It also helps keep the conversation upbeat. After the food has made its way around the table or everyone has gone through the buffet line, ask someone (preferably someone who has been a bit forewarned) to read their question and answer it. Tell everyone that the "rules" are 1) no one can make fun of anyone's answer and 2) everyone who wants to can answer the question. Let the conversation flow. But if it starts to flag or degenerate, pipe up and ask the next person to read and answer their question. 

I've made the questions below available in printable format. If you buy printable business cards such as Avery® Business Cards 28878  (Avery®  Template 8371they will print just right or print them onto cardstock and the guidelines will show where to cut to get cards of uniform size. 

You might want to turn them over and print your guests names on the back to use as name cards.

Here is the link to the printable format.

Here are the thanksgiving questions:
What teacher are you thankful for this year?

What unexpected event came into your life this year that you are thankful for?

Tell about a Bible verse you are thankful for this year.

What are you most thankful for about your family?

What memory did you make this year that you are most thankful for?

What food on this table are you most thankful for?

I'm thankful for my job because __________________.

One thing I am thankful about my parents is __________________.

What place have you been able to visit this year that you are thankful you got to go to?

What event that made the news are you thankful for?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Meals With Gladness

We followed the careful directions around corners and down hills until we came to a house at the end of a cul-de-sac where we recognized several cars. "I had no idea this neighborhood was here!" I said to my husband as we got out of the car and I carefully carried my salad up to the door. Only the screen was between me and the house and as we walked up we heard someone call, "Come on in!" Several others had already arrived. Two were setting the table, while a couple of the guys were putting up another table in the family room off the kitchen. The husband was carving meat and the wife slicing bread. Another guest was stirring gravy. While I settled my salad on the counter which would serve as the buffet, more guests arrived. 

photo by Isaac Injeti

After we all arrived and the food was ready, we formed a line and served ourselves. We had no trouble keeping the conversation going as we settled into places at one of the two tables, even though some of us knew each other by sight only before tonight. When everyone was seated, our host got our attention and said, "We wanted to ask everyone to tell us if they had a mentor for their spiritual life and a little about that person and how they helped you grow." One by one we went around the table telling who was the most influential person in our spiritual growth, whether it was a formal discipleship relationship, or an informal friendship. It was fascinating to see all the ways God used to help each one of us grow in our walk with Him.

At our church we call these times "Meals with Gladness" taken from Acts 2:46:

Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple,
and breaking bread from house to house,
they were taking their meals together with gladness
and sincerity...

Photo by Hannah Injeti

It is sort of assigned hospitality. Here's how we do it:
  • We have sign up sheets at church for three Sundays for all who want to be involved--one sheet for those who want to host a meal and one for those who want to be guests
  • When the deadline for signing up has arrived we assign guests to host homes with people we think they will fit in with, but don't know each other well (yet).
  • We call the hosts to let them know who is coming to their house and ask them to contact their guests with the meal time, directions, and to ask them to bring part of the meal. (A creative host can even set a theme for the evening or suggest needed attire, if they will be outside, etc.)
  • Everyone goes to their assigned house and has wonderful time of fellowship. At some homes they answer conversation questions, play games after dinner, have a sing, or they can just visit.
Everyone always enjoys these and says we should do more than two a year. Of course, people can do hospitality more than when it is assigned and create their own meals with gladness!

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

10 Steps to Simplifying Life

One day as I was planning my week's menu and grocery list, I was dawdling online looking for recipes that sounded good to me. I finally found enough dinner menus to fill out the week and tried to make sure I either had all the ingredients, or they were on my list. Then I checked the clock. How did it get to be 10:30?! I grabbed my list and purse and ran out the door to get the groceries done before I had to be at an 11:30 appointment.

Photo Credit

When I arrived at Aldi, I realized I didn't have my shopping bags. That meant that while I was shopping I would have to be on the look out for empty boxes or buy some bags at checkout. As I wandered up and down the aisles I remembered that I was supposed to remind my husband to bring a book home from his office. I scrounged through my purse for my phone, but I didn't have it with me. Must have left it on the counter.

Have you ever had days like that?

I have to admit that saying, "One day" at the beginning makes it sound like it never happened before. But that has happened to me many times, along with forgetting my grocery list, and many other goof ups. 

How can we simplify our lives and remember the things we want to and need to? I have a few suggestions:

First things First -- The first two big things I do in the morning are have my Quiet Time with God by reading the Bible and talking to God about what He is teaching me from it and exercise. If I don't get my QT done before breakfast, as much as I enjoy it, I have a lot of trouble settling down to do it later in the day. If I don't start my walk by 8:15, it keeps getting cut shorter and shorter, until I scratch it off the list completely. So I have to do these two actions first.

First things Last -- I am a big night before believer. When I had four kids in school I always made lunches the night before and set the table for breakfast then, too. I made sure the kids uniforms were clean and available, checked to make sure they had their backpacks packed (giving this responsibility over to them more and more as they grew.) Those things aren't a part of my life any more, but if I'm planning to work the next day, I plan what I will wear and have a lunch ready. Saturday night I gather all I need to take to church on Sunday morning. The fewer decisions I have to make under time constraints the more likely I am to do well and arrive with everything. (Guess I should do this with grocery lists!)

Do the Big Thing -- Some jobs look big, but really aren't. Things like making your bed. I remember as a kid when I was told to clean my room, if I really didn't want to, I would make my bed and then I would realize it wasn't such a big job. If I was eager to straighten up my room (this did not happen often!) I would do everything else first and then when I felt like I had worked a long time, but the room still looked awful, I would make my bed and voila! my room was done! Dirty dishes and clutter fall into these categories, too.

Do the Little Thing -- When you tossed that paper at the trash can, did you miss it? Bend down and pick it up right away. Did you spill some milk when you poured yourself a glass? Grab a rag and wipe it up. Did you notice the light switch has dirty finger prints? Get a disposable wipe and clean it while you are thinking of it or you will think of it 20 more times. Why waste good thought time? Little things add up to big things very quickly.

Do not Pinterest -- This is the modern way to "keep up with the Joneses." Your house does not have to look like that. Your kids' birthday party does not have to be like that. Yes, I Pinterest, and I recognize that it is fun to look through the ideas. But don't get caught up in yours having to look like theirs. 

Pinterest -- You can use Pinterest to help simplify your life. I keep my recipes on Pinterest. That way, anywhere in the world that I am, I can bring up my favorite recipes. This is great when I'm visiting my daughter in Germany or my daughter-in-law in Chicago. 

Think of Others -- When we are thinking about others, our decisions are simplified because we want to do what is best for them. So whether your goal is to make your neighbor happy, prepare your child for adulthood, or see to the comfort of your parents, when you consider the goal, it makes figuring out what you should do a lot easier.

Think About Yourself -- Whether you are an introvert like me who needs time alone or an extrovert who doesn't enjoy it, having some quality time to think is a good thing. This does not mean zoning out while binge watching Netflix. Adding white space to your life can take many forms--a walk, a talk with a thinking friend, a group Bible study, reading a page or two from a thought provoking book, journaling, praying with a friend, just sitting and enjoying the beauty around you. These kinds of things will calm down your racing heart and mind and allow you to move through life more calmly.

Live for Jesus -- "Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you." Matthew 6:33. When seeking God is the first and foremost goal in your life, the other things will fall into place. You will begin to see what is truly important and what is not. I struggled with what to talk about with my 95 year old friend when she was dying. So many things seemed to lack importance in the face of her entering eternity. That kind of rearranging of what's important happens when Jesus is our reason for living.

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More ideas to simplify your life.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Take Care What You Listen To"

I admit that I like to listen.

I usually have something on to listen to when I'm working. It might be an audio book, an Adventures in Odyssey episode, or some HGTV program from Netflix. If I'm ironing I like to watch a British police show. I even have an audio prayer list for when I'm walking.

So these words of Jesus spoke to me.

I know He wasn't talking actually about this kind of listening, but, maybe He was. Have you ever watched a mystery show where there wasn't at least one character who claimed an alibi of an illicit rendezvous? We start to think that's normal. It might make me wonder, "Am I abnormal to believe sex is for inside of marriage only? Does it make me not grieve when I hear of someone in sexual sin?

What about even home improvement shows? When I watch those shows the message is: My house is not good enough. I need a chef's kitchen and an open concept floor plan in order to invite anyone into my house and to be happy myself.

I'm not saying these things are wrong to entertain ourselves with once in a while, but I need to watch them thinking about what Jesus said, "Take care what you listen to." Mark 4:24

He was also talking about being careful of what kind of Christian teaching you listen to. Is it right doctrine? Test it against the Word of God and solid Bible teachers. We absorb so much more than we think we do and it can start to affect the way we think about God and the way we live. Besides, no one wants to be wrong!

So what are you listening to today?

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

How Many Loaves Do You Have?

Jesus had taken his disciples away to a secluded place via a leisurely boat trip to recuperate from their missionary journey. However, the crowds figured out where they were going and managed to get there first. So much for rest in a secluded place.

Photo Credit

When Jesus went ashore He felt compassion for the people because He knew they were seeking the truth, but had no one else to guide them to it. He began to teach them. The disciples grew impatient for their alone time, and were probably hungry too, so they called Jesus aside and suggested He send the people to nearby villages so they could get some food (and go away).

Jesus told the disciples to provide the food for everyone themselves. They quickly did the math and figured it would cost two thirds of a year's income to do that and wondered out loud where that money would come from.

As He so often did, Jesus answered the question with a question. "How many loaves do you have?" (Mark 6:38) When the disciples stood there eyes wide and mouths gaping He added, "Go look!"

The disciples obeyed and found a total of five loaves, and also two fish. Commentators tell us these were probably like bread rolls and sardines, but even if they were full-sized baguettes and twenty pound trout, what would that have done to feed 5000 men?

But Jesus fed everyone. After giving thanks for the food He kept breaking off pieces for the disciples to pass out until everyone ate and was satisfied. (Do you think the Lord's arms were tired?)

When God asks us to serve Him He doesn't want us to wait until we are rich, trained, have a lot to share, or think we are capable. He asks, like God asked Moses, "What is in your hand?" (Exodus 4:2). He wants to know what you already have that you can use for Him, not what you hope to have someday. If you are waiting for "someday" be forewarned: someday seldom arrives. God wants you to start to serve Him today, right now, with what you have not what you hope to get.

How many loaves do you have?

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Here are some ways you can serve right away:

  • Visit a shut-in half an hour a week.
  • Babysit for a young mom so she can take a much needed nap.
  • Invite people over to share whatever you can afford to make, maybe a pot of chili.
  • Sort through your closet and give your unused clothes to a refugee family.
  • Accompany a sick person to a doctor appointment so a family member doesn't have to take more time off work.
  • Mow grass, rake leaves, or shovel snow for someone.
  • Offer to fold and pass out bulletins at church.
  • Or if you have money but no time, give to a missionary.

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