Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see...

One of the things I have been learning a lot about is faith. It's a hard word to learn because you can only learn as much as you allow yourself to actually have. If you are living by faith, you know a lot about what faith is and what it requires. If you are not living by faith, you have a good textbook answer that will be followed up with a lot of tough life situations that will teach you the hard way. Life has been teaching me many things about this word. It's teaching me that it has been awhile since I have had to truly have faith. The further you step away from the details of my life the more it appears that I am living by faith. However, the closer you zero in to me and my day-to-day life you would find that it's been awhile. I'm also learning that we often look at faith as something we have and do in a singular moment. We notice it when we have to make a big decision and are facing transition. We realize it when we see controversy and have to make a stand. However, we all know that once we make a big decision the journey is not over. We continue in a faith journey long after the "big moments" of faith. Faith is not about a singular moment. It's consistently making decisions of obedience.

Hebrews is an incredible book when it comes to studying faith. I was reading chapters 11, 12, and 13 recently and several things stood out as powerful to me as I am learning about faith from life.

First, the definition of faith "is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1)." We do not have "faith" in order to get results. We have faith that God will do what He says He will do. Faith is being sure of that. Faith is being obedient because of that.

Hebrews 11 is often described as the "Faith Hall of Fame." The hall of fame is not an exhaustive list of those who have lived by faith. In fact, I believe there were certainly others in Scripture (and even in our lives) that have lived by much faith. Hebrews 11 is a beautiful display of the fruit of faith! The stories and people we read about were chosen with divine intention. We need to know that when we as believers live a life of faith we reap many things.

Verse 4 - "and by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead."

Verse 6 - "and without faith it is impossible to please God."

Verse 7 - "became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith."

When we live a life of faith we reap the fruit of faith.

Hebrews also shows us the reality that faith is a long term commitment. Hebrews 11:39 says, "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised." These people are in the "Faith Hall of Fame" because they were sure of what they hoped for and certain of what they did not see.

So what do we do with this?

We are faithful in our lives. It is not that we live a life absent of faith. The problem is where we choose to put our faith. The scary thing is that we are far too often way more faithful to ourselves than we are to our God. I do not believe we always do this intentionally. In fact, I feel like I often do so with the intention that my agenda is pleasing to the Lord. The reality is that Hebrews 11:6 is truth. We cannot please the Lord without faith. Our agendas can stop us from doing the very thing we have set out to do!

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and PERFECTER OF OUR FAITH." Perfecter of our faith! That's how we can become perfect in our faith. It's not possible for us to do this on our own. It's Christ in our lives every day working to make us more like Himself. We go through hardship and welcome discipline because these are the things that all us to share in holiness (12:10) and that produce "a harvest of righteousness and peace (12:11)."

Faith in God is what we are called to by Scripture. Through faith God creates kingdom. These are the things that ultimately matter. These are the things that will stand eternally. "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28).'"

I have no way of knowing where this post finds you. I do know that it is a truth that challenges me especially during this holiday season. My prayer is that we will daily learn to be faithful and that as a result we will "be thankful and worship God acceptably!"

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Big and Dangerous Prayers

Are you ever surprised at what God does? Like you, I pray. I pray a lot. And those prayers are mostly centered on me asking God to do something. I pray for him to show up, to reveal himself, to provide wisdom and discernment or just to provide “things”. And since I’ve been at Sweet Sleep, I’ve seen those prayers multiply as we partner with others to provide a bed for every head, a task which seems quite often insurmountable. But I pray anyway. And what I’ve found is that a majority of the time, God shows up and answers those prayers.

And I’m shocked.

I rarely pause to reflect on why I’m surprised. I just am. And then I thank God for answering that prayer and send up another one. And then I’m shocked when he answers the next one. With my words I profess to have faith that God answers all prayers. But more often than not, I am surprised when he does.

I was reading recently in Mark about Jesus and his time with the disciples in the weeks leading up to his crucifixion. In Mark 11:12, we find Jesus and the disciples leaving Bethany. Jesus was hungry. He saw a fig tree in the distance and went to find out if it had any fruit. It did not as it was not the season for figs. He then said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

The next morning, the disciples were leaving and as they went along, they saw the same fig tree withered from the roots. Peter then said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

Did you see that? Exclamation points. I don’t know about you, but I only use exclamation points when I’m REALLY excited or surprised. Peter, a disciple who had seen Jesus perform countless miracles, was surprised that what Jesus had commanded came true.

Peter was shocked.

As I read this, I was surprised at Peter’s reaction. My response was, Peter, how can you of all people be surprised when Jesus does what he said he was going to do. Did you not trust him or believe that what he commanded would happen? Then I realized that all too often, I’m just like Peter.

Jesus responded to Peter’s surprised reaction in verse 22, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, go throw yourself in to the sea, and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Wow. I’m often guilty of praying prayers to God then having an attitude of not really believing if what I pray matters to God or will be answered. But here in Mark, Jesus commands that we believe in the power of His word and might. And when he does answer those prayers, we shouldn’t be surprised or shocked at the outcome, for he has already told us that he can move mountains, wither fig trees, heal the sick and on and on.

So pray big prayers or as Jen says quite often, dangerous prayers.

Just don’t be surprised when God answers them.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sweet Sleep - Moldova - Prayer Need

Sweet Sleep Prayer Warriors!

Below you will find the text of an email from Valeriu Ghiletchi that we recently received. Val is the former Bishop of the Baptist Union of Moldova---with whom Sweet Sleep has had a partnership with since 2006. He is now a member of Parliament and, as a Christian and an orphan advocate, his seat holds an important place in the future of the country. Additionally, there’s a Nashville connection. His oldest son, Stas, graduated this past May from Belmont and returned to Moldova this summer to marry and live. His second son, Eugen, is currently a student at Belmont. Both are good friends of ours.

Please be in prayer as directed below…

Dear friends,

For more than two years, our country does not have an elected President. The political, economic and social context of the world is not very encouraging. Arab countries are shaken by Islamic revolutions. The United States and the European Union are facing a major economic crisis with consequences difficult to predict.

In this context, political instability caused by the absence of the President makes our country more vulnerable to the problems faced by the whole international community. On November 18th 2011, the Moldovan Parliament is set to elect the President. The risk of not electing the President is quite high, because until now there was no candidate to register, although the deadline for registration is November 14th.The prophet Hosea speaks of a similar situation as a judgement of God: "For the children of Israel will remain a long time without a king ..." (Hosea 3:4).

Therefore, realizing that everything is in the Lord's hands, I urge you to pray for the election of the President of the Republic of Moldova, that MPs have political responsibility and discernment to vote for a candidate which will bring the country to the normal path and that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and dignity. (1Tim. 2:1-3, Eph. 6:18).

Serving Him together,

Valeriu Ghiletchi

Friday, November 11, 2011

Celebration of our families we served this week!

Today, we join an organization in Cape Town called Open Doors, and celebrated all of the families we provided beds for during this past week.  As the women completed a parenting class and continue meeting in support groups through the services of Open Doors, they received the gift of bed(s), beddings, mattress and Bible for their children. 

Over the past week, we have been in the homes of these families and have gotten to know the children as well.  Today, they came together for us to celebrate their success and to encourage and affirm them. 

I was amazed to hear some of the women speak so passionately about what they had learned through Open Doors, how grateful they were for the beds (and what it meant to their children), and how much they wanted others in their community to be empowered as well!  I can clearly see the foundation that has been laid as this first class has graduated and the revisions are being made to begin a 2nd class.  God is clearly at work, and with the partnerships between Living Hope, Open Doors, and Sweet Sleep, transformation in these poverty stricken communities is beginning to take root! 

"For I know the plans I have for you', declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." -Jeremiah 29:11

Seeing poverty in silence...

Yesterday, we all had difference experiences as we walked through the wetlands of Masipumalele. Masi is a township that houses around 35,000 people that live on about 100 acres.  Before entering this area, we were told to stay together or we could become lost in the maze of tin "storage sheds".  (If you go to Sweet Sleep's Facebook page, you'll see the pictures of this area). 

As one who is deaf, my experience was in silence.  Therefore, my other senses are heightened, especially sight and smell.  As I looked into the eyes of the people there, I saw hopelessness like never before, even in children and babies.  It was actually quite surreal. 

There was no smell of nature...flowers, trees, or grass.  It was mostly dirt, wood and tin.  The hopelessness was understandable.  The hope of Jesus and His promises is desperately needed.  Fortunately the home where we built 4 beds, a local church family had adopted them and were very much involved in their lives. 

As the grandmother (the primary caregiver along with her husband) saw the new mattresses, she was overwhelmed with emotion.  Not long before we arrived to Cape Town, this family was sleeping on the ground.  Then to receive 4 new beds, mattresses and bedding, it gave them a glimpse of hope through their gratefulness.  However, their eyes still showed great despair...for the poverty was overwhelming.  At least now, we know they are resting better and remembering God's love for them through His provision of the beds and through His love we displayed by words and actions.  

Honestly, this blog is hard to write because nothing I say will come close to expressing what we saw and experienced.  Some things have to be experienced first hand to understand.  Though not everyone will have this experience, we can all pray for every family in Masi to know Jesus and to be adopted by someone or a family, and to be lifted out of such extreme poverty.  Remember, I am sharing about our experience with just one family out of 35,000 people...


Thursday, November 10, 2011

The way things are seen

About ten years ago my wife and I had the privilege of buying our first house. It was great ranch home on about an acre lot in the Crieve Hall area of Nashville, TN. After being there for a year or so we decided that we needed to purchase an 8' x 8' shed that would allow us to house our lawnmower and yard tools in a safe and dry place. It was well made and served its purpose well.

Today as we continued our work in the township of Ocean View I couldn't help but be humbled as we began to install three twin beds in a shed of similar size intended to sleep a family of six. It was not of the same quality or craftsmanship of the shed in our yard, but it was their home.

After our time in Ocean View we traveled to the wetlands in the township of Masiphumalele. Masi is a township that houses around 35,000 people that live on about 100 areas or on average 350 people per acre. The same amount of land in which our first house and shed sat houses hundreds of people in the most poverty stricken area I have ever seen.

As we traveled through the maze of corregated metal shacks I was struck and pained by the circumstances in which we were currently maneuvering and that these children lived. I couldn't process in my mind everything I was seeing. As I became more overwhelmed I couldn't help but recall 1 Samuel 16:7 - "But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

As we have had the opportunity to spend time with these families over the days it has been a joy to be able to see this lived out firsthand. The love of Christ, the spirit of giving and the ability to find joy in tough circumstances is amazing and shows the true heart of people. The same houses that I looked at and saw nothing but rusted metal God looks at and sees a beautiful and blessed place.

God never promises that through faith in Him we will not face adversity or troubles during our time on earth. But He does promise that though faith and acceptance of Christ we will live in unrivaled beauty in eternity with Him.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A Different Impact

I've been on five bed building trips with Sweet Sleep in four (or five depending on who you ask) different countries. Every experience has been unique, with different cultures and different specific situations. That said, there have also always been common threads that hold true across cultural and political barriers. In Cape Town, both of these characteristics hold true. The setup here differs significantly from the work I've previously done with Sweet Sleep since it is focused on individual homes rather than larger scale orphanages or organizations; but the characteristics of the people we are working with, and what they are looking for, remains.

When I was here in the summer with Jen, we met several of the church and community leaders working in the neighborhoods and townships with the greatest needs with regard to providing for vulnerable children. It was encouraging to see how many people were working to serve those in need, but also a bit overwhelming to see the extent of that need. We were fortunate (blessed and directed) to eventually meet with staff from Open Door, an organization working out of the Ocean View community (while the name technically provides a true description of the community, it doesn't adequately reflect its state -- while it's certainly not the most impoverished area, there are significant drug and other problems that result in many kids living in bad home situations or away from their parents). We were able to work with the Open Door staff to set up the seeds of a parenting program to be tied to the delivery of beds to some of the neediest in this community, though.

Coming back to Cape Town, we'd heard that the classes went well and that the soon to be bed owners were very excited. And while the specific situations of the people receiving the beds varied, all would be providing a better, safer place for vulnerable children. While we knew this coming in, what I didn't expect was the profound change the classes and beds would have on the caregivers.

Though we still have a few to meet, the caregivers we have met thus far have been unanimous in their praise for the value the classes added and the amount of help they've already provided in raising the children in their care. In addition, the staff of Open Door have shown great enthusiasm about the success of the classes and how productive they were -- and how they fostered support groups among the caregivers that have continued beyond the timeframe of the classes.

Sweet Sleep has traditionally worked through orphanages to provide directly to the children housed in them, and in doing so worked toward its mission of providing a bed for every head. What we are beginning to see in Cape Town is the opportunity for that work to not only impact the child but the caregivers as well, and subsequently the culture around the children. This additional level of influence offers a great opportunity to impact the overall culture of the area, and exponentially expand the reach of Sweet Sleep in these neighborhoods. With the great local partners, there's an opportunity to eventually make an impact that's multi-generational. Most importantly, it allows the same type of impact opportunity for witnessing to the people of these areas and encouraging those who are already our brothers and sisters in Christ.

God has set up many threads to form a beautifully emerging pattern in Cape Town. I'm very excited to see what the future holds, but just as much by what we are already seeing.

"A Bed With Legs"

If you've been following our trip blog so far you know we're not really "roughing it" as far as the trip accommodations go: the sound of the Atlantic Ocean waves singing me a sweet lullaby at night and the beautiful colors of the sun setting over the ocean painting a lovely view from the dining room table each evening. I was running on the beach the other morning and my view consisted of ocean waves crashing down to my right, sandy white beaches straight ahead and the sun rising up over the mountains with a light fog to my left - talk about picturesque! As I ran and reveled in God's beautiful, elegant and peaceful handiwork, though, the thoughts and memories of all the poverty stricken areas we've seen, stories heard and experiences incurred reminded me that this is far from any form of Utopia. While I have many amazing stories I could ramble on and on about (to all my friends & family - don't you worry...you'll hear ALL my stories when I return), I'd like to share about our bed building experience today with Genevieve. This story is from a bit of a different perspective though as it's more about the mother figure than the child. She is 27 years old and lives with in a 2 story dome type structure along with 4 other family members (the total square footage of the dome might be the size of my living room). She and her sweet 7 year old daughter live in the tiny attic space of the dome. The space was so small we had to make a custom bed frame to fit the area. She didn't care though. She was so excited when we arrived -- just like a small child on Christmas morning. Her beautiful toothless smile was beaming as it stretched from ear to ear while she anxiously waited for us to assemble the twin size bed that she will share with her daughter. I didn't think it was possible for her excitement level to increase any more until she realized she was not only getting a new bed, comforter, linens and pillows, but that her bed was "a bed with legs" (mini custom size legs to be exact, but legs nonetheless). In her 27 years she had never had a proper bed, let alone a bed with legs! Being the same age as her I had a brief "what if that were me" moment and what would my attitude look like...would I be that joyful if I were in her circumstance? The simple joy she had for something we consider a "basic need" and far from a "want" or luxury made me realize not only how blessed we truly are, but also how much we can learn from others. It was such a humbling moment that I hope and pray I never forget it. I'm also hoping her joy was contagious so I can bring a little back home with me! :) Later on that morning we sat up in her tiny attic on her twin size bed and discussed all sorts of things, including a mutual love of reading. She had a stack of books she had read and when I asked her which was her favorite she pulled out one called Life Swap. Basically in her Cliff notes version of the book she told us it was about a rich woman and a poor woman switching lives. As you might have guessed, eventually they switched back at the end with a renewed clarity on life with that the "grass isn't always greener on the other side" mentality. Ironically enough, the poor woman's name in the book was Amber. So as you lay down tonight on your comfy pillowtop oversized mattress I ask that you think of sweet Genevieve and her daughter tucked away sleeping sweetly tonight in their first ever "bed with legs."
"Give thanks to the Lord, for is he good; his love endures forever." Psalm 107:1