Saturday, April 14, 2012

We Live in Limbo - Becky

Something I appreciate about Nicaraguans is that they will eat a fruit at any stage during the ripening process. For example, they will eat mangoes when they are soft and sweet (which would be the norm for me), but they especially like them when they are hard and tart, mixed with vinegar and salt. There is another fruit here called a jocote, which can be eaten when it is green, yellow, or red. The texture and flavor for each color is very different, but each is perfectly acceptable here. Fruit is something they have in abundance here while they may not have as many options for other kinds of food, so they have learned to work with it.

This attitude is something that they apply to other aspects of life as well. In a country where most of the people are working with what we would consider to be less than ideal conditions and resources, they "make do." There is no point in being picky about their preferences because they probably won't get their preferences anyway. (This is not to say that a child won't complain to his/her parents about the food on his/her plate, but I am talking about the attitude of the culture in general.) Even if there is the possibility of getting something better in the future, it takes so long for anything to happen around here that they just deal with whatever they currently have. (People may not have much money, but they have plenty of time.)

Even though I have never personally experienced true poverty, I think I can relate to the people here in some ways. As far as having to make do while we wait for what we really want, Tommy and I have been "in limbo" for pretty much our entire relationship. (Yes, I know that the phrase "in limbo" is not the same as the game in which you maneuver under an ever-descending stick, but when I think of the phrase I always get the song stuck in my head.) We waited 3 1/2 years to get married as Tommy paid off his debt and I looked for a job. We lived in a cheap apartment for 4 1/2 years, the last two of which were spent looking for and trying to make a deal work out on a house. We finally got our house and were looking into getting a dog and, eventually, having a child, but then our economic situation changed and we had to wait on those things too. Once we made the decision to move to Nicaragua, we waited for what seemed like forever for someone finally to rent our house. Now that we are here, it took us a while to find a house that we wanted, and we are still waiting while the house is being completed.

But, that's okay.

I was feeling frustrated the other day, thinking about all of the good things that we can't do yet because we are not in our house yet (having our Nicaraguan friends over for dinner; starting a regular Bible study; as well as other, various "relationship-building" activities—also, having some actual privacy when we want it). The feeling of being in limbo was there yet again. Then it struck me that we have ALWAYS been in limbo ...and it has been okay.

In fact, the whole time we have been feeling like, "If we can just get [x], then everything will be okay," we have had exactly what we have really needed at the time. The temptation is always to rest our hopes on whatever the "next thing" is and to feel anxious, like we're not really complete because we're only in a "temporary" situation. But, first of all, what if the thing that we're waiting for never comes? Will all of the "life" that we spent waiting have been wasted? Second, is the thing that we're waiting for really going to fulfill us anyway? Sure, it may make things nicer, but I can say from experience that no matter how much I have gotten in my life (whether physical things, relationships with people, "better" situations), I have always wanted more.

The truth is this: Resting our hopes on the "next thing" doesn't work. If we really want to have a life that feels "fulfilled" and to feel "okay" in whatever situation we're in, we need to hope in something that never disappoints. The only thing that fits the bill there is God. What I mean is that (for example), rather than feeling like we can't really start our ministry until we have our house (even though, hopefully, it will be easier to do so with the house), we should feel satisfied in the fact that God has us exactly where He wants us right now. If our trust is in HIM instead of in the thing that we're waiting for, we will ALWAYS have exactly what we need in every situation. We can also trust in His timing that it is exactly what it should be. I have seen friends go through the long, emotional process of adopting a child. I know that some things are VERY hard to wait for. But, if we are trusting in God through the whole process, we can have peace that passes understanding, and, if we allow ourselves to "rest" in Him, we can even have the ever-elusive patience.

I think this is very important for all of us to grasp because, if we look at humanity and all of time as a whole, there is NEVER a time when ANYONE ISN'T living in limbo, really. Until our physical bodies die and those of us who are in Christ go to be with him, we will be living our whole lives in limbo. Romans chapter 8 implies (at least by my interpretation) that even the rocks and the trees are frustrated by existing in an imperfect, temporary state. First, here are verses 18-25:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

I definitely know what it feels like to "groan inwardly." The good thing is that God provides for even this situation, as we read next in verses 26 and 27:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

Being "in accordance with God's will" is the key to this whole thing. We know what we want, but God knows what we need. In fact, the next verse, verse 28, sums up the reason why there is no need to worry or grow anxious in ANY situation:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

God has everything covered. There may be things that we wait for expectantly, and those things will hopefully be blessings to us once we receive them. But, even RIGHT NOW we have exactly what we need. We read in 2 Peter 1:3:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

Someone who understood this concept was the Apostle Paul. He says of himself in Philippians 4:12-13:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Speaking of being "well fed," I love the scene from the movie "Annie" where Miss Hannigan talks to the orphan children about their lunch:

Miss Hannigan: "And we're not having hot mush today."
Children: "Yay!"
Miss Hannigan: "We're having cold mush."
Children: [groan]

Some days we are just stuck with "cold mush." There is something else that we really wish we could have, but we don't have it. This could be something as important as waiting to adopt a child or something as trivial as wanting our fruit to be of a certain ripeness. This afternoon I was hoping for a sweet, juicy mango, but the vendors in the market were only selling mangoes that were either way over-ripe or totally green and hard. Taking my cue from my friends here who have learned to "make do," I went with the green mangoes ...and it was okay. I would prefer to be living in a house right now instead of in the mission ...but it is okay. If my love and trust is in God, everything else will "work for the good." In fact, it is already good, just not in the way I might want.

What things are you waiting for? What do you do when you don't get your preferences? Does it help at all to know that God is in control? Do you ever feel upset that God is "allowing" things to be the way they are? What thoughts help to encourage you in that situation?


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Importance of Relationships

I have recently been reminded of the vital importance of relationships, especially for those of us who are Christians. This is a topic that is very broad, so I am by no means going to cover it in its entirety. But, it is something that is at the heart of what we are trying to do here in Nicaragua. Since I can't give all the specifics of various "real" relationships here, I want to put out some points about relationships in general:

1. Everyone needs to be reconciled to God. All of humanity has been separated from God by sin (thanks to Adam and Eve). However, since we were created to be in relationship with God, Jesus died on the cross to get rid of the sin problem. Now, the only thing "between" us and God is Jesus, so to get to God we just have to go through Jesus. (If we "know" the Son, we "know" the Father; see John 14:6-7.)

2. It is our job as Christians to help reconcile others to God. (I have to credit my friend Kim for explaining this point so well in her blog post.) Now that we have discovered the way to God (through Jesus), it is our responsibility to help others find their way so that their relationships with God will be what they were created to be.

3. We need to be reconciled to each other. This point is so important that Jesus himself prayed about it in John 17:20-23 (emphasis added):

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

4. All of us who are "in Christ" make up the Body of Christ. (See 1 Corinthians 12:27.) One reason we all need to be unified is that we are supposed to function as a single unit. However, being unified doesn't mean that we are all uniform. Each of us is a different part of the body, and it is expected (and necessary) that we will be, well, different from each other. When we are working as "one," though, we are a force to be reckoned with. God makes a big statement about what we can do as humans after the Tower of Babel incident (Genesis 11:6): "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.

5. We need each other in person-to-person relationships as well. The model of individuals joining together to form a single organism works on a smaller scale too. Not only were were created to be in relationship with God, but we were created to be in relationship with each other. Forming the bigger organism of the Body of Christ starts with our individual relationships. We can do more with each other than we can separately (see Ecclesiastes 4:12), and there is something special about what Jesus says in this verse (Matthew 18:20): "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

6. It is through personal relationships that we can effectively minister to people. When Jesus was physically on the earth, so much of his ministry was person-to-person. He healed people individually, speaking directly with them and many times physically touching them. We have many examples of him having personal conversations with various people, and always he was drawing them to himself. (With crowds he had the tendency to drive them away, but with individuals he made real connections.)

7. How we treat each other is of utmost importantance. Everything we are supposed to do is summed up in the word love, as we see in Matthew 22:37-40:

Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Not only do we need love for ourselves, but it is through our love that we show Christ to the world (see John 13:35). (This goes back to us being the Body of Christ.)

8. Because we are not perfect, our relationships are not going to be perfect. However, where we really see love come into play is when there is an offense given and the victim chooses to respond with forgiveness. This, more than anything, shows God's love to the world.
. . . . .

Again, this list is not comprehensive, but the main point that I am trying to make is that we need each other. When the 1st century church met every single day, I think they really got it (not that we have to do exactly that, but the principle is still true). We need each other collectively (as the Body of Christ), in smaller groups (our congregations, our "small groups," our groups of friends, etc.), and one-on-one. We need others, and others need us.

What other thoughts about relationships have I missed? What are ways that we can try to be more unified as the Body of Christ and on a smaller scale?