I want to share some of my thoughts from my trip to Athens, Greece with those of you that were not able to make it to my team’s Trip Stories. Trip Stories were a wrap up for the team members, and a thank you to our supporters as we communicated our thoughts about the trip.
I have still not processed all of my adventure, but I know it was a game changer. I know it has been a game changer for me because I was buying gas the other day, costing $43.07, to fill up my car. I drove out of there praising the Lord for the ability to have money for gas and the ability to have a car to drive. I was almost in tears. Most any other time I would have been a little frustrated at having just spend $43 on GAS!
Here is portion of some of what I have processed so far: My vision of the world just got a lot smaller but my concept of the Lord Jesus got a lot Bigger.
His power to draw us to Himself when we are not even aware is amazing. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were confused, distracted, alone… (insert whatever you are), Christ has been drawing you to Himself.
That is what was going on for my new friend, Ada (pronounced Adul, rhymes with saddle). Ada is an Arab man from Iraq, who was brought up to hate every other religion except Islam. His life had been full of hatred and sadness. Ada was at the clinic every day in Athens while we were there, doing crowd control, passing out numbers and whatever else was needed. During one day it was a little slower, and he sat down to talk with our interpreter, Romona.
As I listened to their conversation, I soon started asking questions. How did you get to Greece, where are you from, do you work, etc? Ada told me his story.
A Plane, A Ship, Walking
Now “his story” probably was not any different than many of the other refugees that had come to the clinic each day. Even so, the story Ada was telling me face to face became real, personal, to me. He told me how he had come to Greece with his wife, 2 children and his brother by plane, ship, and walking. Now at that point I heard in my mind, “That doesn’t sound too bad, a plane, ship and walking.” Then I realized his ship was not a ship. It was a rubber life boat overcrowded with people. His children were in there. It took over 12 hours in the boat to get from Turkey to Athens on a cold Aegean Sea. He never told me where he got the $900 per person that was needed to get his family on that boat.
Ada wants the same things that you and I want; he wants to protect his family, to better himself. He works at the church for no pay in exchange for a small amount of supplies to help his family and to be useful. So, you see, we are more alike than we are different.
Jesus was allowing these horrific things of war and religion to happen in Ada’s life to draw him to Himself, even as Ada didn’t know who Jesus is.
Ada has changed my perception of what brave looks like. His picture is now next to the word in my dictionary.
Every Story Matters
We have a saying in our home every story matters. I have realized that to a greater degree. In no way does this new opportunity negate the responsibility of what I can help with here at home. I plan to carry that with me as I serve my patients at work, and come in contact with others throughout the days to come. I will slow down and listen, not getting frustrated that things are not happening fast enough.
Many of you have been on overseas missions and have felt the frustration and hurt throughout the world. My challenge to you is to take what you have learned and use it in your everyday life. Be the Light wherever the Lord takes you in a day. Stay connected with your mission connection abroad to continue to promote Christ to be evangelized throughout the world.
If this story has touched your heart at the blight of the Syrian refugee crisis, please help. You can contact Eirini Kapiri at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask how you can help. There are still thousands of refugees fleeing Syria every day, which the news does not report on. Their stories do matter!
P.S. I so want to thank those on our prayer team for all you have done. Your prayers were greatly felt while our team was on the ground in Athens.
Selling a Home, Back to School, Washington DC
My, my, it has been a distinct year in our lives. It has been, and continues to be, a very outstanding, not previously encountered, experience with God. I (Rick) could write of many things I am learning about God and life. He has been more than faithful to meet Donna and I where He told us to go.
Donna and I have never been this busy time-wise. We do not recommend the path we have been on, except by the reasonable certainty of God with, in and upon you. It is as a very wise man in my life told me this October, “It wears me out to hear what you’re involved in.” Like him, Donna and I will be glad when God gives us more margin. In fact, we can sense He is slowly giving us just that.
For three months Donna organized, staged and sold our lifelong home in Newburgh, Indiana. She has boxed up and distributed our belongings in at least three storage buildings across two counties. In the midst of that, Donna attended much training to work overseas in a medical clinic for refugees fleeing the wars of Syria and Iraq. In October, Donna made the trip to the Mediterranean to care for these same people, even as the buyers of our home waited for Donna’s return in order to close on our home sale. Donna has since made a temporary home for her and I in the very nice basement of our friends.
I have been to night school this year to learn Biblical Counseling, which has given me six or more delightful hours a week of experiencing many teachers and one Spirit.
In June, on a very rainy weekend, some family, friends and I also started building our new home (which I continue to work on often each week). At my full-time day job, my year has been to be part of a small team reaching unprecedented production goals while setting a stage for the future growth of the company. That work happens as I train a young man to take my management spot at the sign shop, and another peer to do my production duties.
In July a young engaged couple stayed with Donna and I for a while. A young man in his mid-twenties stayed with us for a weekend in November. Each of these three came to hear, and be reminded of, Jesus in their unique places of life. In October, I also worked with our son, Kyle, as a chaperone to thirty high school students on a trip to Washington, DC.
As Donna volunteered overseas, I very much enjoyed some days with a group of men in Paducah, KY to share the life of Jesus.
While 2019 has been a year for Donna and I to learn about things like margin, we have known supernatural mental and physical strength while going where we’ve been sent. God is so faithful.
Donna has taught me margin is the space in which we hear (anyone). It takes margin to hear my heart, to hear the cries of others, society and especially, to recognize the leading of our God. Together, she and I have learned to recognize God’s leading unlike we have ever known. Let me start with an example of how I am learning to listen to my heart.
Replacing the Lie with the Truth
The Lie: I can find my meaning and value in the voice of others.
There is something about forgiving another that allows you to show them grace. Somehow your forgiveness of them pays their debt, a debt they may or may not owe. Some debts are perceived in our minds because we respond to people according to our imagination or misunderstanding. For we are great recorders and poor interpreters. Other debts are from something done that is debt worthy. We say some debts hurt our hearts, while others offend our minds. A heartfelt hurt is different than an offense of the mind. We each create both kinds of debts. Mankind (in Adam) once owed God a debt worthy debt.
Forgiveness costs the forgiver something. It cost the forgiven nothing.
Forgiveness may cost you letting go of a lie
While offenses can be real or imagined, unforgiveness is real. Unforgiveness is always rooted in a lie that came through a hurt, an offense. Whether real or imagined, an offense requires of you a coping mechanism to live with the offense. These coping mechanisms are a way to survive, although poorly at times. Coping mechanisms are formed from what we conclude from the offense about ourselves, others and/or God. We internalize what we believe the offense says about me… others and/or God.
Wherever there is unforgiveness, we can be sure within us is some misunderstanding of God and ourselves that is a lie. Where there are lies, we can be sure there are coping mechanisms, which are part of what the Bible calls flesh – a way to try to get my needs for love, acceptance, worth and security met on my own.
I’ve learned some things about forgiveness. Forgiveness is not about the offense, and not about the person who offended me. Forgiveness is about me.
I made a list of people who offended my heart (not my mind). I wrote down the offense near their name, and asked myself what I believed these offenses said about me, them and/or God. From these offenses I noted the lies I believed. I then released the offender from the debt to me, whether a debt real or imagined. I spoke the release out loud as if they and God were seated before me.
I turned my heart and mind to God, to reason and replace the lies these offenses held over me with the truth of my identity in Christ – in Christ I am trustworthy, I am a success (and so on). An unexpected, unforeseen, incredible thing unfolded in me within a few days. My forgiveness of their debts settled my spirit, my heart towards them.
A few weeks went by before I knew what was the source of this change in my spirit. It was as if my forgiveness paid their debt, and grace (Titus 2:11-14) was naturally flowing through me towards them. I was thinking and living towards them through my heart and not foremost reasoning through my mind. It was then that the thought came to my mind – but now being received through the filter of my heart – that the forgiveness of God is what allows Him to show mankind mercy where judgment is due.
Forgiveness costs the forgiver something. It cost the forgiven nothing. Only the one who forgives can pay the debt of the offender.
My experience of life is changing. Ways I never understood as being based upon me trying to get my needs for love, acceptance, worth and security met on my own are falling out of sight.
Forgiving begins with you being willing to explore what’s pushing your buttons, gets your goat, ticks you off, frustrates you, or has made you mad – a willingness to come clean with God about what you will soon discover. It is my experience that we all have flesh patterns based upon lies, based upon offenses real or imagined, which means we have someone to forgive.
Next, you need to get physically alone, and with little or no time restraints or distractions ask God to give you awareness of your heart right now, not your mind. Begin to write. During this time resist reasoning (mind). Embrace emotion, feeling (heart). Do not overthink. Write down the names of people who God points out to you that have hurt your heart. Write down their offense.
Ask yourself (and God) what coping mechanisms have resulted for you to comfort your offended heart. Ask what lies may be behind these coping mechanisms.
Release the offender from the debt to you. Speak the release out loud as if the offender and God are seated before you. (For we wrestle against the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places, Ephesians 6. It is good for you that the unseen forces physically hear you speak into the battle, for that is the pattern of Jesus, the leader and highest example of faith in God.)
With your attention to God, ask Him to replace the lies these offenses hold over your heart and mind with the truth of your identity in Christ – in Christ I am trustworthy, I am a success (and so on).
With the Truth hidden in your heart and mind (and perhaps written on a separate piece of paper), burn the paper(s) of hurt about others that you used to come clean with God. The hurt belongs to God. He paid the price for it, the whole debt.
Forgive as often as needed.
Forgiveness changes a relationship, but not fully
Reconciliation is an offspring of forgiveness. Unlike forgiveness, which I privately gave to the offenders and now experience in my experience towards them, reconciliation of a debt worthy debt will not be fully experienced by both the offender and I until we each receive the forgiveness. Once I forgive, the offender and I may come to a place where we subsequently agree there was a debt worthy debt. At this place of repentance reconciliation can be fully known by both parties.
God’s way of forgiveness and reconciliation towards us
God reconciled mankind to Himself, meaning we are the offenders, Colossians 1:21-22, Romans 5:10-11. Reconciled means to change thoroughly. What changed? The relationship between God towards the world changed. The correction needed to obtain peace and well-being for mankind was the judgment placed upon Jesus, Isaiah 53:5. In forgiving, God paid the debt, removing the barrier in Sin. With no barrier, mercy could be given where judgment is due. God’s forgiveness made reconciliation fully possible for everyone who will believe. (In a very similar way, my forgiveness of the offender reconciled them to me and removed the barrier for me to show mercy where a debt was due.)
To believe towards God rather than yourself, you receive the way of reconciliation God offers by faith and repentance in Messiah Jesus, Genesis 2-3, Romans 6:6, 2 Corinthians 5:17-20, Galatians 2:20, Hebrews 9:11-22
In short: only God can solve the problem described in Romans 5:12-21, which is we were are all without hope unless He intervened in history. Only God can provide the life solving solution in Romans 6, and solve the struggle in Romans 7. God did this so that in receiving Him you can get to the place where you can forgive even as you are resetting your mind in Romans 8.
Set your mind as often as needed.
Lies. Truth. More Freedom.
Since 1989 I have had a growing awareness of this process of recognizing the lies I have believed about myself and replacing them with the truth of my identity in Christ. It wasn’t until a few months ago, that I realized a new experience has happened to me in 2019.
This time God gave me an understanding of what the offender is looking for from, or thinking, about me. In other words, they hurt my heart, yes, but by God showing me the need or lie believed by the offender I could release them from their action, because the action no longer defined them before me anymore than my actions do before God. To hear from God about them in this way worked in me a forgiveness previously unreached in my heart. This separation of behavior from person describes God’s way of reconciliation of us to Himself, and preceded our experience of the peace found in forgiveness, Romans 5:1-2. The separation describes my reconciliation of the offender towards me, and the subsequent forgiveness and peace that I am experiencing. That’s how God has done it towards me, and now through me to others, Romans 5:6-11.
The preceding is one example of what God has taught me through my teachers
in Biblical Counseling; replace the lie with the truth.
Seed 4 Life
Always Disciple and Counsel Others
We believe the righteousness of God prepares His way, and His way becomes a path for us, Psalm 85:13. For more than a year now, God has had me on a Biblical Counseling path. Simply put, Biblical Counseling helps us discover a lie we believe and replace the lie with the truth. Donna and I have sought the counsel of a handful of friends who love God, and us, about how to intentionally apply what I have learned. They have helped us to see far enough onto this path, and we want to share it with you.
Starting in January of 2020, I (Rick) will be transitioning out of my full-time position where I create custom art and signs. I will start by designating sixteen hours each week to provide Biblical Counseling to anyone who wants to learn to hear God for themselves – to discover things like the lies they believe about God, themselves or others and replace the lies with the Biblical truth.
It is my aim to “monetize” what I have learned, as two friends have quickly encouraged me to do. Anyone who seeks out a plan of counsel will be asked to donate to Seed 4 Life based upon their income. That means the board and I will soon develop a system of suggested donations to Seed 4 Life based upon the counselee’s ability to pay. However, no one will be turned away because they cannot pay.
If that sounds like a direction you want to encourage Donna and I, know that your prayers and financial giving will help us to begin to provide these counseling opportunities to others. We want to continue experiencing the call to always disciple and counsel others.
Thoughts from Young Adults
Young adults such as Andrew, Jesse, Jason, Jenelle and others have visited with us this year to ask wonderful questions, and most often make culturally relevant observations regarding faith in Jesus. Being with these men and women give Donna and I the opportunity to think about Jesus in ways that are experienced by others. We want and need that, and it is so much fun. Following are a few of the ideas that have been discussed with us this year. Our replies always have the aim to help others to hear God for themselves.
Question: How do we balance our desire to serve and care for others with our own responsibilities?
Reply: Love God well, who will explain to you how to love yourself and others well. Following Christ is harder than a set of guidelines or rules. That is much of the message underpinning Matthew 5-7. Faith in Jesus is at once highly conservative in that it is based upon the motives and expressions of Christ, and capable of growth and adaptation not being confined by a written code.
Question: How can I communicate well amongst stress, disagreements, and decision making?
Reply: Friendships begin around listening and possibilities. Friendships and marriages thrive around the same. We’ve observed people often feel more alive when others listen to them, and that may be why any of us quickly trust and move towards someone. For you to listen to me reveals possibilities to me. The revelation can happen as I work out my thought before you in conversation. Revealing possibilities through conversation can bring me to God’s possibilities, to expressions of His grace, Hebrews 4:16; 10:19-24, 29; 12:28.
Question: How can I prepare financially for debt and unexpected cost?
Reply: Live below your means. Wealth left to its own desire will only create a demand for itself, Luke 15:29. The buyer is always a slave to the lender. Make a reasonably detailed plan to get out, and stay out of the cycle of debt. You have no idea the freedom this will bring in many areas of your life, until you do it. Learn the tools to manage money, and learn that money is a tool. The world works hard at making you feel needy because it has a lot to sell. Choose contentment; to think like Jesus, Romans 12:2.
Question: How can I practically prioritize making Christ the center of the relationship?
Reply: Time in relationship with God often begins as a discipline. But why wouldn’t you plan for things that are good for your soul? The person you believe God to be in spirit and function is your most important point of interpreting and applying God in life, John 1:18, Romans 1:28. Jesus chose to not sin because of what He believed about Father God, John 17, 14:10. Jesus did not utilize His godly attributes to keep Him from sin and sinning, Philippians 2.
Statement: You cannot trust anyone but you for you. Question everything, everyone.
Reply: True, you must learn to hear God for yourself. Yet, to believe you are an island is a contradiction, unreasonable and unsustainable even for those who do not claim Jesus is King. For example, the way in which you eat, obtain clothes, sleep indoors or even speak openly of this belief is interdependent on you trusting in what countless others have done before you or will do – people you cannot even know in order to trust. Yet, you are trusting them right now. All the more is this not an absolute for the believer in Jesus, Hebrews 10:19-25. The Body shares the Life, which is in one another.
Statement: No one is right or wrong.
Reply: You are making an absolute, and no one can do that if no one is right or wrong. You know there are things about you that are wrong, things you don’t like. It is why all movies have a redeemer, and you love the hope they bring. For you to even consider the possibility of something being wrong inside of you is like crossing a desert alone, because to believe there might be something wrong means you have believed a lie that no one is wrong.
Question: How do I navigate friendships with gay men who are pursuing their walk with God? I’ve struggled to know when and what to say regarding truth.
Reply: I also have people in my life who are living this way, men and women. Some clarification on Romans 1 has helped me with that. While we often think of Romans 1 as describing a sinful decline, we fail to realize it is foremost a list of motives and behaviors rooted in a wrong understanding of God, Romans 1:21, 28. In other words, Paul is describing what life looked like for the believer living in Rome during the first century. Nearly each of the dozen or more Caesars governing Rome in Pauls’ lifetime lived in open sexual perversion towards men, women and children. You can read about it at your local library, where historians wrote about these men. I’ve done so, and could not finish the book.
Paul makes the point that a wrong view of God has consequences. My observation is that some wrong views have greater consequences than others. The lifestyle you are speaking to is not the unpardonable sin, but it has devastating isolating consequences for the person in their earthly life. It is rooted in a wrong understanding of God, and the role of humanity to send the image of God into the world. Some men and women living in this way have told me so in their own words. Recognizing things like this from Romans 1 helps me get to expressions of hope and grace when replying to the questions of these friends. There is a wonderful example of how to relate to them in this way in the testimony of Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. Look it up online, and listen.
One year ago, I expressed my aim to publish a commentary and study on James in the first half of 2019. That seemed reasonable before I started going to school, building a house and so forth (as I previously described) in 2019.
I remain no less enthusiastic about James, and do believe the book will be published in 2020. The manuscript has arrived to me for the final edit, and will be available through the ministries on The Hill in western Kentucky.
Most everything James teaches can be found in the words of Emmanuel, Jesus. While working on this material, I have learned the words of James naturally lead to the teachings of Paul. For it was to James and Peter (and later to James, Peter and John) that Paul came to compare his theology and doctrine about Jesus.
Indeed, James is likely the oldest and first of our New Testament writings. I worked on these notes almost weekly from 2012-2018, and have revisited them often in 2019. The effort doesn’t make me right, but I think the time in relationship with God has given me some perspectives that will encourage others a great deal.
A House and Barn
Donna and I are making notes of the ways God is showing off around us in the buying of land, selling of a home and building of a new one. Truly, we will brag on God through these stories in the months ahead. For now, let it be said that God is on display through faithful subcontractors, utility companies, city officials, nearby farmers and many friends. The house is under roof.
We are currently roughing in HVAC, plumbing and electric, siding the house and building a covered porch across the front and down the east side of the house. Please pray for Donna and I to have clarity about the barn. We have asked God to start it several times in the previous 5 months, and we have found ourselves delayed each time. There is something we do not yet know that will direct this portion of the property development. Thank you.
Life is seldom a highlight real, but we set our minds on what is of good report. We make it our aim to submit and depend upon the life found only in Christ Jesus. Thank you for encouraging our hearts. Some of you do so with regular notes through the mail, while some come from hours (and states) away to spend a few days, and others from across town to spend the evening. Our lives are richer by the fragrance of Christ with and in you. May Donna and I be the same fragrance to you.
SOME PRAYER NEEDS:
- Jesus about each step
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