Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Hardening of the Arteries

When I was in fourth grade, much of our seatwork was done from the board. After noticing a gradual decline in my seatwork grades, my teacher became aware that I was squinting toward the blackboard. Concerned about my eyesight, she contacted my mom. We went to the eye doctor, who was astounded at how poor my eyesight had become. "I don't know how she can even walk around like this," he said. I was fitted for my first pair of glasses.

I'll never forget that day. When the optometrist placed the glasses on my face, I couldn't believe my eyes. Everything was so clear! All the way home I exclaimed what I could now see. Every brick on that building! Every leaf on that tree! My life had dramatically changed. I had no idea just how blind I had become.

When a change is gradual, like a slow descent into blindness, we are often not conscious that it is even happening. Hebrews 3:13 warns about this: "Encourage one another daily... so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." Sin has a hardening effect. When a sin remains unconfessed and unconfronted, it dulls our spiritual senses. Hearing the voice of God grows increasingly difficult. Blindness has come, in part. The irony is we most often are not even aware of its increasingly detrimental effects.

After a year of thinking he had gotten away with grievous sin, David's well-kept secret was finally exposed. God sent the prophet Nathan to bring David's adultery, lies, and murder out into the open. At that confrontation, David suddenly became aware of his loss of spiritual sensitivity. In Psalm 51, he wrote, "Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice... restore to me the joy of your salvation." The sin had come at a price: David grieved the lost joy of intimate communion with God.

When our hearts are hardened by the presence of sin, we lose far more than we realize. Our sense of God's presence in our lives is dulled. We completely miss the many ways He reveals Himself in our daily routine. Peace evaporates as we endeavor to live out life on our own. He is no longer our highest priority. We are living for ourselves, which is a sad and unfulfilling goal, since self is never satisfied. Bitterness eventually ensues. What started out to appease the flesh ends in torture.

The effectiveness of our prayer life is equally disrupted. Richard Foster writes on this in his book, Prayer: "Sin, by its very nature, separates us from God, rupturing the intimate fellowship and dulling our spiritual sensitivities. We become nearsighted and develop thickened eardrums, if you will. The result is an inability to discern the heart of God and an asking that is askew...Therefore, our prayers are hindered."

Like plaque that slowly and silently collects in the arteries, eventually creating a blockage that endangers the life of its host, sin is a foothold for Satan to use in the pursuit of his goal to destroy us. We nurse anger until it becomes bitterness. We justify selfish decisions to ourselves. We continue in our lack of integrity and rationalize it doesn't appear to hurt anyone. Sin and the father of lies himself have deceived us. And soon our hearts are hardened.

God will not allow us to drift off indefinitely. "God disciplines us for our good... it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:10-11) He loves us too much to allow our own self-destruction. So He gets our attention, most often by introducing hardship into our lives. As we begin to feel need, we seek Him out once again. And in the light of His presence, our sin is exposed for what it is.

Yet we do not need to wait for the discipline and its painful effects. We can confront the problem right now. Ask God to reveal the sin that has hardened your heart towards Him. It has already been paid for and forgiven through the precious blood of Jesus Christ. But it is hurting you, robbing you of well-being. As you come face to face with the sin, be honest with yourself and with God. Acknowledge it for what it is. Let Him know you understand you cannot overcome the problem without Him.

Jesus told His disciples, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10) Don't allow sin to replace the abundant life He has given you with spiritual insensitivity. Live your life in the light, as it is meant to be lived.

"Search me, O God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139:23-24

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

An Impressive Ending to a Shaky Beginning

David and Svea Flood, Swedish missionaries, left their homeland in 1921 for the primitive jungles of interior Africa. While staying at the main mission station in the Belgian Congo, they joined forces with another young Scandinavian couple, the Ericksons. Both couples felt led by the Lord to take the gospel to the remote village of N'dolera.

The devoted missionaries were not welcome to live among the people in the village, because of the chief's fear of displeasing the gods. So the determined missionaries built their mud huts a half-mile up the mountainside from the town. As the months went by, the only contact they were allowed with the villagers was with a young boy who sold the missionaries eggs and chickens twice a week. Svea Flood shared the gospel with the boy. Eventually, he came to Christ. He would be the only convert in the entire time the missionaries lived in the jungle.

Life was difficult in such primitive conditions. Malaria took its toll on each of the missionaries. Discouraged and sick, the Ericksons decided to abandon the post and returned to the mission station. David and his wife Svea remained in the jungle alone. Soon Svea found herself to be pregnant. After a difficult labor, severely weakened from several bouts of malaria, Svea gave birth to a little girl. But the ordeal was too much for the sickly mother. She died seventeen days later.

Desolate and overcome with grief, David dug a crude grave for his young wife, took up his children, and abandoned his post. He arrived at the mission station, giving his newborn daughter to the Ericksons before leaving the continent for Sweden. His days in missionary service were over. Just eight months later, both the Ericksons took sick and died. The Flood baby, named Aggie, was given to American missionaries there at the mission station.

When Aggie was three, her adoptive parents brought her home to America. They took on a pastoral position in South Dakota. Aggie grew up there, married, and had children of her own. Her husband became the president of a Christian college in Seattle, Washington.

One day a Swedish Christian magazine arrived in Aggie's mailbox. She did not understand the language, but flipped through the pages of pictures. Suddenly one photo jumped out from the page. It was a picture of a primitive grave site, with a white cross engraved with the name Svea Flood. Aggie raced to her car clutching the magazine and drove across town to a professor she knew could translate the article for her.

The article told the story of two young missionary couples who ventured into the jungle to set up camp outside the village of N'dolera. A baby girl was born, and the young missionary mother died, but not before a young boy had been led to Christ. After the missionaries departed, eventually the grown boy persuaded the chief to allow him to set up a school in the village. One by one, he led each of his students to Christ. They, in turn, shared the gospel with their parents. Even the chief eventually came to know the Lord. As a result of that single convert's witness, over six hundred villagers were now believers. God had been faithful to use what the missionaries had mistakenly thought was a futile effort and wasted sacrifice.

Years later, Aggie attended a conference in England. She heard a man from Zaire tell about the spread of the gospel in his nation. Over 110,000 converts now lived in what was formerly the Belgian Congo. As his message ended, Aggie made her way to the front of the auditorium. With the help of a translator, she asked the man if he had ever heard of her parents, David and Svea Flood. "Yes madam," he replied. "It was Svea Flood who led me to Jesus Christ. I was the boy who brought food to your parents before you were born. In fact, to this day your mother's grave and her memory are honored by all of us."

While all missionary stories do not have this kind of spectacular ending, we can appreciate what this one serves to remind us. Very often, our well-intended efforts end in less than impressive results. We fail to say the right words at the right time. In our fear of blowing it, we hesitate to even try.

Rather than aiming at perfection, we just need to get in there and try. We can do so without fear, because God is not limited by our failure to do things just right. In our weakness, God does His best work. His power alone can work the greatest of stories. And he chooses to do so through our fledgling, awkward attempts at representing Him. Our God is mighty to save.

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the that no one may boast before Him...Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:27-31

Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving; not by many or by few. 1 Samuel 14:6