Friday, December 24, 2010

What gift will you give Jesus this Christmas?

What gift will you give Jesus this Christmas? That was a question a friend asked me a week ago. A good question considering that we are all busy buying gifts to give our loved ones this season but do we remember the One whose birthday it is?  What gift do we give Him? I am struck by how easily we can quickly forget the Giver of good gifts. I know my heart is prone to wander as I get caught up in this season of giving gifts to others but do I stop to think what gift I am giving Jesus? We can never out give God and He is no man’s debtor, so what can we possibly give Him? After all, He has everything, He owns the world and all that is in it, He is the Creator of Heaven and Earth. He owns a cattle on a thousand hills, He is sovereign, He omnipresent, omniscient, so what does one possibly give to our Lord! Not an easy question really as we know how hard it is some times to buy gifts for those who are near and dear to us. 

As I ponder this my mind has been reflecting much on Mary during the Advent season. She received a very special gift some 2000 years ago when the angel Gabriel appeared to her proclaiming that she was highly favored and that the Lord was with her (Luke 1:28). The angel said to her: ‘you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”  34And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" 35And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.

God initiated this conversation with Mary. He sent His angel to speak to her to tell her of the gift that was being formed and shaped in her, a gift no less than the Holy Child of Israel, the One who is the Way, The Truth and The Life, The One who is the Bread of Life, The One who is The Light of The World, The One who Is the Good Shepherd, The One who is The Resurrection, The One who is the Alpha & Omega, the One who is the Great I Am and yet the One who is the Lamb of God, The One who came to set us free from sin, The One who came to give us eternal life. What a gift that God was giving to Mary. I wonder how much she really understood about this gift that was being bestowed upon her and in her that would shape and transform the history of the world. This was God’s gift to her, a gift that was surely beyond anything she could ever ask or imagine.

But what was her gift to God? Could she even give Him a gift? Really, here she was a young 17 year old girl, a virgin, what could she possibly give to the Creator of the Universe. Mary’s response is simple and yet profound. Mary said to Gabriel, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38) Mary’s gift to God was simply accepting the word given to her. She believed in her heart and received in faith the promises spoken to her. Jill Carattini, from RZIM ministries writes:  Two thousand years ago, a young girl believed that the promises of God spoken to her were miraculous enough to affect generations to comeBut more than recognizing God's words as true, Mary allowed truth to have its way with her.  Such an orientation may seem irrational to many, but it reflects the beauty of a soul able to stand on a greater rationality. Mary received God and his promises as more than mere words.  She surrendered to God as Savior, allowing her life to be deeply and personally transformed, in both wonder and painThe sacrificial birth of Christ into the world among us brings about some of the loudest knocking ever known to human hears.  The gift of a Son into hands that would harm him presents a most sacrificial gift and a striking invitation to sacrifice everything to have it.  As C.S. Lewis describes, "The Christian way is different: harder and easier.  Christ says, 'Give me all.  I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you—No half-measures are any good.  I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down.  Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent, as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit.  I will give you a new self instead.  I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.'"(2) 

To each of us, Christ comes as he came to Mary herself, wanting to stretch us spiritually, physically, emotionally, and socially, taking away everything, even all we might have thought good or godly of ourselves: our good names, our good futures, our innocence.  Mary certainly had reasons to say "No" to the invitation that came to her on angel’s wings.  She was facing an assuring future: a husband to wed, a home to create, a good reputation.  Saying "Yes" to God and the words of the angel Gabriel was to put all of this on the line, everything she had and might have once clung to with good reason.  Could you do the equivalent?  Could you release security, love, reputation, or even your youth from your own determined grasp?  Mary’s risk was no less difficult than the most sacrificial act you could imagine of your own life.  Saying "Yes" to the Christ child and to the knocking of his love will surely bring down the houses we have built, even the rooms that house the things we hold onto most fiercely.  

Yet this is precisely his invitation:  "6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace"  (Isaiah 9:6).  He comes with the annunciation of great sacrifice and pregnant impossibilities, and he assures us not to be afraid.  Where meek and foolish souls give everything to receive him, they still find themselves the wisest.

So as I think of Mary’s gift, I am reminded that the gift that we can give to Jesus this Christmas is our hearts, our souls, our minds, our everything. Jesus wants it all. He is asking each of us to say ‘yes’ to Him to whatever He is asking us to do or to be. Like Mary, are we willing to say ‘may it be to me according to Your word’ or ‘may your word to me be fulfilled’. Are we willing to believe God and take Him at His word? Are we willing to let God’s word, His truth have its way in us? Like Mary, the gift that we can give to Jesus this Christmas is to believe in His promises, to take His word to heart, to accept His truths, to walk in obedience to His word, to receive whatever He wants to give to us. ----that may not be easy, for these gifts that we may give to Him may come in the form of pain, in loss, in grief, in brokenness but as God gives and takes a way, He never takes Himself a way from us. And so as we celebrate His birth afresh, may we like Mary yield and surrender to His Lordship daily,  may we offer our lives to Him as a living sacrifice as a spiritual act of worship, as we say ‘Yes’ to Him, as we give Him our hearts completely and unreservedly,  may the gift that He unleashes in us lead us into a journey of greater freedom, greater wholeness, greater power, deeper hope, deeper joy, deeper peace and most of all a deeper love for the One whose love toward us is everlasting. After all, the greatest gift that we can give to Jesus is to love Him with all that we have and all that we are!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Cambodia Bound!

Over the past 10 years as I have had the opportunity to go to Cambodia each year, God has been shaping and forming His call upon my life. In 2008, I along with 5 others had the privilege to run a vacation bible school in Svay Pak---a community renown among the world as ground zero for child sex trafficking. Little did I realize then the impact this dusty town would have on my life and the seeds God would plant for this year’s trip.

Last summer while in Cambodia, I was having a meeting with a missionary who was serving in Svay Pak and she shared horrific stories of kids who attended the daily kids club held by our Ratanak partners at Rahab’s House. Some of these kids were so badly assaulted and abused that they could barely walk, others could barely sit and others had bruises on their thighs. These were kids that I knew. kids that I had played with, held, hugged as if they were my own children. I left that meeting disturbed in my spirit, overwhelmed by emotions that I could not express. God had planted something in my heart but I didn’t know what.

The following morning the Lord revealed what He had deposited in a way that I had not anticipated. Two of my team members asked if there was anything they could pray for me on and instantly Psalm 2:8 came to mind ‘Ask the Lord for the nations and He will give you them as your inheritance.’ That morning, I felt led to ask the Lord for the community of Svay Pak as my inheritance. This is one of those outrageous bold prayers as Svay Pak is not exactly the type of promised land flowing with milk and honey, at least not in the visible reality, yet I was reminded that we serve a God who is in the business of doing the impossible—of transforming and redeeming communities that the world has forsaken but God has not forgotten.


And so upon returning home I began to pray daily asking the Lord for a vision for Svay Pak. About a month into that prayer, God began to reveal what this vision would look like when I received an email from my colleague Brian McConaghy who runs The Ratanak Foundation. Brian described a ‘red building, that was being built to be the largest sex tourist hotel/child brothel on the main street in Svay Pak. It would be a place where sex tourists and pedophiles from all over the world could come and live as long as they want and rape and assault the kids in the community to their hearts content. But because of the surveillance going on in the community, because of the raids and Christian presence of our Ratanak partners from Aim4Asia, the owners of that building felt it was too high risk to continue to build and so the opportunity arose for the Ratanak Foundation to buy this building at the end of October. The vision for this building which we now call ‘The Sanctuary’ would house a Christian school for kids in the community who had no other access to education. It would also have a medical clinic to support the community, it would be a place of residence for local staff and expat missionary staff and finally, it would be the new home for the growing church that had run out of space at Rahab’s House (a former brothel, that is now an outreach centre and church). When I first heard of this vision, I began to cry for I felt God saying to me ‘Lisa, this is the vision, this is the vision, your future is tied up with this building.’

The ‘Sanctuary’ officially opened on Wednesday May 26 with over 600 people (including government officials, village leaders and villagers) sitting through the sweltering heat for 3+ hours. They heard the gospel in song, drama, word and action (see photos from the previous blog entry)


While God had shown me the vision, I am a person who likes to be in control and likes to plan ahead and know details, and so I began to pray asking God ‘what my role in Svay Pak’ would be. The Lord’s response came via my colleague Brian McConaghy who said ‘Lisa, you don’t need a role when you are going home. God has blessed you with amazing friendships in that community, go and spend time there and the Lord will show you the next step. At that moment, I felt that God was challenging me to take a step of obedience, to trust Him, to let go of my need to control and to go with a blank slate that He would fill and shape as He so desired. After all, Kenny Luck in his book on Risk says: Predictability, Control, Safety and Comfort are words that Jesus challenges us to throw out the window. Because, when it comes to our faith, all the energy spent eliminating risk from our life actually becomes a barrier to progress in our spiritual journey. Jesus said, “If you try to keep your life for yourself you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake…you will find true life” (Mark 8:35). There really is no such thing as the “safe life” when you are committed to Christ–when you seek to become a person after God’s own heart. Instead, Jesus personally challenges us to bet our life totally on Him.

So on June 3rd, I will be leaving to go and serve in Svay Pak for 2 months and the Lord has indeed been preparing the way. Over the past 5 months, I have had the privilege of having regular skype phone calls with Pastor Chantha and his wife Bunthan who oversee the ministries in Svay Pak as they have shared the needs in Svay Pak and we have spent time praying through them. These conversations have fueled my burden for this community, a community that 2 years ago, I had such a revulsion towards.

As I head on this adventure to Svay Pak, I would value your prayers for I know there will be bitter and sweet moments. After all, the darkness still exist in Svay Pak---there are still little kids being sold into sexual slavery on a regular basis ---they are like sheep being sent to the slaughter, but I am convinced that as we join together in praying big and bold prayers, that the God we serve and love will breakdown and tear down the walls of injustice and the ancient gates in this community so that the King of Glory can fully enter in and transform both the people and this place from one of darkness to a place of light. For in Svay Pak, Christ has so clearly moved in to take up residence and He has already begun to give us the privilege of seeing treasures in the darkness, of seeing Jesus in the least of these, in the faces, in the laughter, in the hugs given and received from the 120 little girls and boys who come to Rahab’s House Kids club. We have seen Him transform a former brothel to a community outreach centre called Rahab’s House. We have seen Him thwart the plans of man who would seek to destroy lives by halting the construction of the largest child brothel in Svay Pak and transforming it to His Sanctuary, and we are witnessing the first fruits of a harvest as the church at Rahab’s house has grown to over 200 people in just two short years as young and old come to know Him as Lord and Savior. Indeed we are seeing the forgotten become the chosen, the broken become the restored and the captive become free. These are some of precious gifts that we have witnessed, yet we ask Him for more, to see His kingdom come in all its fullness and His will be done in Svay Pak as He redeems an entire community to worship Him in Spirit and in truth.

For those of you who would like to journey along with me in prayer on a daily basis, you can follow my activities on the Ratanak blog: where I hope to provide daily updates. As well, keep checking on the Ratanak Facebook page for video prayer updates from Svay Pak. Thank you for your prayer support and for your willingness to stand in the gap!