Thursday, September 14, 2017

Comforting Each Other -- II Corinthians 1:1-7

I have always thought of the Apostle Paul as a stern, hard person who laid out a lot of rules and didn't experience a lot of emotions.  Of course, he explained a lot of doctrine to us, but that just confirmed in my mind that he was somehow above and beyond the messiness of life that most of us experience.  He was somehow able to cope with all the hardships he faced in victorious ways that the rest of us can never hope to achieve.  

Getty images, from
But I've been spending a lot of time in II Corinthians and am learning to see Paul in a new way.  He very much struggled with his emotions.  He actually wanted to be liked and respected.  He despaired of life and was very discouraged and depressed at times.  This letter is very personal and helps us see Paul as just an ordinary man fully devoted to the gospel rather than some sort of super saint who found it easy to face hardship and to be a good Christian and who expected the same of others.  No, Paul knows first hand what it is like to struggle in the Christian life and II Corinthians really helps us see into his heart.

I will be doing a few blogs about what I'm learning in II Corinthians.  I hesitate to do yet another devotional type of blog, but this is what I'm learning and the process of putting it into words is helpful to me whether or not anybody else reads this.

I am also reading a book called Paul for Everyone:  II Corinthians by N.T. Wright, which I highly recommend.  Rev. Wright is able to take you deep into the Word of God while keeping it simple to understand.

II Corinthians starts out by talking about the God of all comfort.  The word comfort is used in 10 times in the first seven verses of II Corinthians.  

The dictionary defines comfort as 

a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint.
"room for four people to travel in comfort"
the easing or alleviation of a person's feelings of grief or distress.
"a few words of comfort"
ease the grief or distress of; console.
"she broke down in tears and her friend tried to comfort her"
I often think of comfort as being without pain or discomfort.  But the word in the Greek, as used in this passage,  is the idea of calling someone to come near.  It is the idea of:

  • being with another person 
  • speaking words that change another's mood and situation
  • giving courage, new hope, new direction, new insights
  • meeting people where they are and helping them be strong enough to see new hope, new possibilities, and new ways forward  (NT Wright)
One of the things I don't like about the culture we work with in Niger is that during times of grief people are not allowed to cry or carry on.  Instead they must show strength and acceptance.  But one thing they do so very well during times of grief and hardship is come near, to come along side, to give comfort.  For three days friends and relatives come and sit with the family.  They tell stories of the person's life and of how they died.  Friends and family add their stories.  People bring meals, do laundry, and just live alongside the person who is grieving.  This is the comfort Paul is talking about.  Coming alongside others and living their life with them.

Living in community

Comfort is so much more than just patting somebody on the back, giving them a quick hug, or quoting a verse to them.  All of those things will be involved in comforting, but it really means I must walk with people and to be with them during their hard times.  It means having to leave my comfortable routine and it means getting involved in other people's messy emotions. It will be exhausting physically, mentally, and emotionally.  One of the hardest parts of comforting others is that I want to make things better and after all the energy I spend in comforting somebody, it might still not be better for them.

As we go through II Corinthians, we see how much Paul was in need of comfort.  But Paul tells us that knowing how to comfort others is learned from the comfort we receive from others and from our Father.  This passage also gives some practical ways we can comfort others:
  • Simply share your story of how I came through a difficult time.
  • Let Christ overflow from my life to others.
  • Tell others my experiences of suffering, but be empathetic.  Their experience is not the same as my experience.
  • Pray for and with that person.
  • Give thanks for answered prayers.
  • Encourage continued holy and sincere living, even in suffering.
  • Focus on God's grace.
  • Remember with them that we are owned and loved by the Father and He guarantees that some day the world will be set right.
  • Stand firm in faith.

I'd like to learn from you, too.  In what ways have you been comforted?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

August Reading List

One of the nice things about so much time on the road is lots of time to read!  One of the big things I read this month was John's dissertation (thesis if you follow the UK system).  I was one of his proofreaders, so I spent a lot of road time on that.  It's really very good and I can even understand most of it!

Without further ado, here are my other books, in the order read:

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome.  Three men take a trip on a boat from London to Oxford, with many an adventure along the way. Truth be told, though, a lot of the adventures are reminiscing about adventures. I love the dry British humor in this book and even though it was written in 1889 it is still humorous today. One of my favorite sections was the description of being a hypochondriac.

Rab and His Friends by John Brown.  This is a short story rather than a book, though it was published in book form. I got the free Kindle version after seeing it in a list of required reading for high school back in the day. It's a rather sad, depressing tale of a faithful dog, his master, his mistress (the dog's that is) who has breast cancer, and their dog. I didn't care for the writing style or the story itself, to be honest.

Through the Eyes of Hope by Lacey Buchanan. Lacey Buchanan writes about her son who was born with a severe cleft palate and without eyes. At first she would try to hide him when she was in public and she questioned God about why He allowed her to have such a handicapped child. But she came to understand that God uses tragic circumstances for His glory and that her little boy's story needs to be told. She is open about the rocky time their marriage went through as they both dealt with this challenge in their own ways. It is a beautiful and heart-touching story. As far as the writing itself, I felt that she jumped around a lot and it wasn't really written in a chronological order so I felt that things were repeated and felt a bit confused about where and when certain things were happening. For that reason alone I gave it four stars instead of five.  I highly recommend this book and I know you will be encouraged by it, especially if you are dealing with difficult things right now.

Humility, the Journey Toward Holiness by Andrew Murray.  You will definitely want to read this book, and you'll want to read it either with a pen and notebook in hand or have a copy in which you can write and underline as you read. This book is fairly short, but Andrew Murray covers a lot of depth in a few short pages! Some of my favorite quotes: 

"Humility, the place of entire dependence upon God , is from the very nature of things the first duty and the highest virtue of His creatures. And so pride -- the loss of humility -- is the root of every sin and evil." 
"His humility became our salvation. His salvation is our humility." 
"[Humility] is not something that we bring to God, or that He bestows; it is simply the sense of entire nothingness that comes when we see how truly God is everything." 

I believe being humble is something I will have to work on for the rest of my life, but this book is such an encouragement to stop thinking about myself and to see how truly God is everything.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

An Apple a Day ... for Days and Days

We have just returned from a six-week road trip.  I didn't blog much during that time for several reasons.  First, one thing after another was going wrong with my computer by the time we left Niger, so I decided to not replace it until September.  That would give me time to just unwind and time to spend with family without the distraction of the computer.  I think I did that fairly successfully, though one ends up substituting their phone for a computer.....  So, blogging required borrowing somebody else's computer, which is inconvenient for everybody.  And we were really busy with family, so I honestly had little time.  And then the internet was pretty slow at places, so that was a hindrance as well.

Now we are in one place for awhile, I have a new computer (yeah! ....though I am a little sad to say goodbye to my old one that I had for seven years), I have some time to work on my blog, and the internet is fairly good.  So, I'm back in the land of blogging.

This blog actually jumps back in time a few weeks to when we were at Suzanne and Theo's house.  They bought a house a few years back that has a very large yard with apple, peach, and cherry trees.  

The apples were coming ripe while we were there, so we helped Suzanne with trying to use up the apples.  If it's true that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, they should be a very healthy family!

First, we picked them.  Actually, the easiest thing to do was to just shake the branch and then pick them up off the ground.  But the more fun thing to do, at least for Heavenly, was to climb the tree to pick them. 

Then we washed them off a bit.  The deer came by often to eat the apples on the ground and left their droppings, so apples that fell on the ground were not necessarily very clean.

We cored, peeled, cut, and tasted, then cored, peeled, cut and tasted some more. 

It was definitely a team effort.  I think Tera mostly just tasted. :)  Heavenly was a big help and claimed the job of coring.

We made an apple crisp.  It was eaten so quickly we forgot to take a picture of it first.

We dehydrated apples.  Those didn't last long!

We made apple sauce.  That was a huge hit!

And we put sliced apples in ziploc bags with all the dry ingredients for apple pie.  All Suzanne will have to do is dump the contents of the bag into a pie crust, add butter and a top crust, and have a delicious pie.

What an abundance of apples!  And the thing is, no matter how many we used, there were hundreds more.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Fun Weekend with Family

We enjoy our kids and grandkids so much and probably the hardest part of being in Niger is being away from them.  So we are enjoying every loud, crazy, cuddly moment with them that we can get.

Last week we were in Michigan with Daniel and Kelly and their twin sons, Levi and Everett.  They are three months old and at that age where they smile with their entire body.  They are so cute and what's nicer than sweet baby cuddles?

On Thursday we walked around a park with Levi and Everett in the stroller.

This park wends its way through some of the wetlands that feed into the Huron River. 

The nature walk is quiet and peaceful (at least on a warm Thursday afternoon!).

Friday we drove back down to Ohio.  Then on Saturday Suzanne and Theo, with their three, Tera, Hezekiah, and "Heavenly" and us met Daniel and Kelly with Levi and Everett and the Columbus Zoo.  This was Tera's third birthday celebration.

We were quite the crazy crowd with six adults, five children, two strollers, and a wagon.  Thankfully we managed to keep track of everybody and everything throughout the day and didn't have any major meltdowns. 

We saw lots of animals.

Had lunch together.

We took some pictures with the grandchildren.


And saw more animals. 

After about 7000 steps, I had to sit out because of the pain I'm experiencing with the plantar fasciitis.  That's more than I could have walked a few weeks ago, so that's a good thing, but I've got a ways to go towards complete healing.  While the others went on to see more animals, I sat on a bench and people watched.


It was a great family day!

The next day, Sunday, was Hezekiah's dedication at church.


It was a nice ceremony in which Suzanne and Theo, along with the church, promised to to raise Kiah in the wisdom and admonition of the Lord.



Sunday night we went to a concert in the park.


 It was actually three churches who worked together on it.  We were so surprised to see a friend who lives in Virginia!  She and her family were in the area visiting her grandparents.

I let Tera play with my camera.  Some of the pictures turned out pretty crazy.

But she got some good ones, too.


And that pretty much sums up life with the grandkids ... crazy, but good.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Our Home Assignment So Far

We left Niger on July 7 and since our arrival back in the USA we have been focusing on resting and spending time with family.

We spent our first week in Connecticut with John's mom.  We also saw quite a bit of his brother and sister-in-law and visited our sending church for our first Sunday back in the US.

Then we spent two wonderfully relaxing weeks at our rental home in the Poconos.  We rent an apartment at the Missionary Retreat Fellowship which rents furnished homes to missionaries and other full-time Christian workers in need of a rest or a home during home assignment.

We feasted our eyes on the green all around us, did some shopping, and mostly just read or worked on fun projects. 

John did do some work the first week, finishing up his corrections on his dissertation.  He has now sent it to several people (me included) to proof-read it.  When he gets it back from the proof-readers, he'll send it to his supervisors and when he gets their ok's, it goes on to the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.  They will then let John know when his defense will be.

Last week we headed to Ohio to spend time with Suz and Theo, Tera, Kiah, and their foster daughter to whom we'll refer as "Heavenly".  We really enjoyed spending time with all three kids, though all three were a bit under the weather with a cold. 


One night we went to the county fair and had a good time there. We were getting stuff out to the car when we came out to see Tera all ready to go.  She was a bit disappointed when we told her she had to ride in her seat.

 We saw animals and went in the arts and crafts barn. 

Both Tera and Heavenly got to choose one ride, but they (Heavenly especially since Tera doesn't really have the concept of money yet!) are saving their money for a bigger event later in the month, so they didn't ride everything they might have liked to.  As we were walking down the midway, I looked back to see where everybody was and saw this.


Tera was having a "moment", aka over-stimulation melt-down, and Theo was talking to her.  Both Suz and Theo are so good with their kids, but Theo has an incredible way of bringing calm to tense situations (he'll be a great cop!).  He is firm, but always fair, gentle, and kind.  I seriously couldn't ask for a better dad for our grandkids.

We also spent a good deal of two days combing through Heavenly's hair that had become badly tangled.  It's not my story to tell, but the end of a very long story is that it looks great now.

This past weekend we came up to Michigan where we got to meet Levi and Everett, our new twin grandsons.  I'm starting to be able to tell them apart, but I really have to think about it before I make my guess!



Daniel and Kelly are also rocking this parenting thing.  They are so calm and involved with both of the boys.  I don't think God could have picked better people to parent twins!  Kelly is such a good mom and I couldn't ask for a better mom for our grandkids.


We get more grand-baby time next week before heading south to view the solar eclipse, for meetings at our mission headquarters, and then on to Florida to visit my parents.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

July Reading List

I have three books this month I really enjoyed and two for which I have very mixed feelings, but mostly I didn't like.  Both of those were by the same author.

The first book I really enjoyed was Mountain Top by Robert Whitlow.  So I had apparently read this book before, back in 2007. Usually once I get a ways into a book I start to remember it if I've read it before, but I didn't remember this one at all. I really enjoyed it, though. Robert Whitlow writes about the law scene, but he also has a lot of the supernatural in his books. In this particular book, a pastor who had formerly been a lawyer and who still has his license, takes on the case of an older man who dreams dreams that have meaning. Taking on this case pro bono results in trouble at his church, but becomes a life-changing experience for both him and his wife. It is really a story of renewal and revival.

The second book (and third, but I didn't finish the third one) was The Color Purple and The Temple of My Familiar both by Alice Walker.  is one of those books I've heard a lot about, so when I saw it free on Kindle I decided now was my chance to read it. So, I'm going to go against the flow here and say that I don't understand all the accolades this book gets. On the one hand, Alice Walker is a good writer and she definitely tells a story that needs to be told, a story of abuse and of anger. However, there was so much about the book I was uncomfortable with: too many sex scenes, approval of homosexuality (though you could see how Celie would be uncomfortable in relationships with men), and sleeping around. Those things I could actually understand as a real picture and a story that needs to be told. But the whole pantheistic view of God .... enjoying the color purple in nature is god, etc. I think many reviews I've read point out how Celie found God; but I think you'd have to say she found a god. So, if you read this, be touched by the story, but please don't let it inform your theology! I also tried to read The Temple of My Familiar, but I COULD NOT get into it at all. I almost never don't finish a book, but three chapters in and I was done. I just gave up on it.

The third book was Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace by Jan Johnson.  The Songhai people have a proverb that says, "One foot can't follow two paths". This is the theme in Jan Johnson's book, Abundant Simplicity. She encourages us as believers to have a "single eye". What is my focus in life, my goal, my aim? If that aim is to live a life that is glorifying to God and treasuring a relationship with Him, then we need to live simply so we don't focus on all the stuff we have, on all the junk we need to take care of, on all the ways we are trying to impress or to please others. Though Mrs. Johnson gives suggestions of ways to live simply at the end of each chapter, she also says that how you choose to live simply will differ from how others live simply and will differ at different times of your life. For example, simplicity may involve having only one car. But if only one car means hours of inconvenience for somebody in your family, then maybe having two cars will actually contribute to simplicity. Mrs. Johnson gives a lot to think about and my big take-away from the book was learning to ask myself three questions: What do I want? What do I REALLY want? What am I longing for?  I highly recommend this book, but I'll be the first to say that you need to already be at a certain point emotionally where you are ready to give up clutter, confusion, and chaos. If you thrive on those things, maybe this book isn't for you. 

The other book by Alice Walker I read was Possessing the Secret of JoyPossessing the Secret of Joy came bundled with The Color Purple and The Temple of My Familiar, but I am treating this as a separate review. Again, Alice Walker tells a story that needs to be told: that of female genital mutilation. However, the way the story was told was not appealing to me, mainly because the author was all over the place. Each chapter was told by a different character, which was fine, but I could not figure out where they were or what was happening. The story didn't seem to follow a logical progression. In the end it finally made sense, but it was hard getting there! Ms Walker's pantheistic theology is again seen in this book: "Was woman herself not the tree of life? And was she not crucified? Not in some age no one even remembers, but right now, daily, in many lands on earth?" "Religion is an elaborate excuse for what man has done to women and to the earth." If you want to learn more about FGM, go ahead and read this. Otherwise, I don't really recommend it. (By the way, FGM is practised among some groups in Niger, but not among the Songhai.) Ironically, this book left me depressed, not possessing joy!  In fact, I'm not sure who in this book ever possessed joy.

The final book was Saving Grace. I enjoyed this book. I think it was a bit long and wordy in places and could have been tightened up, but for a first novel published when the author was only 22, I think overall it's outstanding. I'm looking forward to reading more books written by Ms Phillips and I am hopeful that her writing style will get better and better. The story itself was good, but it did take until past the middle of the book for the plot to get to the point where you couldn't put the book down. I do recommend this book! 

Happy reading!