Monday, September 21, 2009

The Desires of a Heart

(Caution: the post to follow is a long, probably quite boring and possibly even able-to-be-interpreted-as narcissistic view into my ponderings about the future. Because we know nothing about the future except that the Lord's return is imminent, this post could be a waste of both your time and my energy. Consider yourself fairly warned.)

Trust in the LORD, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.
Psalm 37:3-5

I've been hoping and waiting for the Lord to put His desires into my heart, that I might do with my life what He would have me do. I suppose that coming from a Lutheran, that seems a little... odd. That's not exactly the way we talk about vocation. Even as I think it and type it, it feels strange, at though the next thing I'm going to say is that I've also been praying about what I should wear tomorrow. Okay, no. That's not what I mean.

The Lord lead me on this crazy journey into volunteer English teaching in the Czech Republic, lead me to be a missionary here. I should also clarify that by crazy, I only mean that 3 years ago, I probably had not a thought in my head about mission work, as far as actually doing it myself. I had no desire for that. I did not really think that it was the kind of thing that I could do. Not because I didn't (in pride) think that I was capable of it, but because I just didn't think that was the kind of thing that I was cut out for. I definitely was not (am still not...) "holy enough" to do it. Missions is the kind of thing that those other, syrupy sweet Christian girls-- one of which I decidedly am NOT-- do. It was something one had to be groomed for her whole life. Not me. I felt groomed for school, studying, teaching (wait a second... that's what I'm doing with a lot of my time...). In my mind's calculator, plugging in "Ashley" plus "missions" always returned "ERROR" or "undefined quantity" like dividing by zero.

Funny thing about God, though. He doesn't let a little thing like our silly notions about mission work or about our own innate capacity for doing His work get in the way of calling us to do what HE wants us to do.

Since I am planning for only another year in volunteer missions in the Czech Republic, I have been trying to figure out the answer to the "what next" question for some time. A year ago at this time I was toying with the idea of returning to entomology or possibly getting a M.S. in Biochemistry, possibly even going into some kind of medicine, but I had a growing interest in working for the Church rather than pursuing a secular vocation. I really can't see myself being personally fulfilled (or as being useful to others) in entomology, or in pretty much any other secular role. Weird. I never thought I would want to be a church worker.

At home this summer, I took a few days to visit Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and chat with the good men there about a possible future studying with them to pursue a career in Deaconess ministry. After speaking with them, and having an interview at the Nebraska District office for admittance into the program, I'm thinking that's still an option, but I feel like I know very little about the possibilities there (note to self: look up rostered, called deaconesses and ask questions about their work). I am really attracted to the idea of studying for a Masters degree in theology at CSL, but don't simply want the degree for the sake of having it.

At any rate, another of the ideas floating through my head for a while has been in the area of Bible translation. It's a bit of a surprise that it's become something that I'd want to even consider. When I was at the U, one of my best friends and her boyfriend were talking about joining Wycliffe after graduation and a wedding and becoming linguists. I thought they were crazy and couldn't understand why they wanted to do that. Now, as I look back, I'm saddened by the hardness of my heart at the time, and amazed that God has made such a change. And what a change.

I've been thinking and praying about the possibility of joining Lutheran Bible Translators for a while (okay, a handful of months) now. Last night before bed I hit up the LBT website. I read for about 45 minutes and just felt like I'd had the wind kicked out of me. In a good way. I seriously was so moved and in me a yearning to become a translator was so stirred that I felt nauseated in a good way (is that possible? If it is, that's what I felt). I couldn't believe it. Then my "it's bedtime now, go to bed" alarm went off (yes, I actually have a clock set in my room to go off at bedtime), and I hit the bed and pulled out my Treasury of Daily Prayer (highly recommended!). The overwhelming emotion (no, I know I'm a Lutheran and we don't operate on feelings, but this one was hard to ignore, and it wasn't something a Pepcid could cure...) didn't go away, but grew as I read the Psalm for the day, #46. It outlines the incredible majesty and power of our God, the mighty works He does and His unwavering sturdiness (the first verse of this psalm is remarkably, but not coincidentally, like the first line of the Reformer's most famous hymn), how because He is with us, we won't fear even the most terrifying disasters. Just incredible. So here's verse 10 which just stopped me in my tracks:
"Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"

I guess another thing to know about my thinking in the last year is that I've been constantly brought to a screeching halt in my Bible reading when I come across God being exalted among the nations. I can be reading along and enjoying myself, but then every time I read any text which is directly speaking about God being known and worshiped by all the peoples of the world, it catches me like a snag. I had all of a sudden a mental image of our Good Shepherd, as I wander after my own ovine thoughts, catching me by the neck with His crook and saying "look at this and ponder on it my lamb."

I say all that in order to say that the Lord is giving me desires and massaging them into my heart, desires for a future in mission work, desires of working for the translation of the Bible into all the languages of man, that all people on earth would have access to His saving, life-giving, inspired Word. I am working on delighting myself in Him, but when He places before me such captivatingly beautiful gems of a future, it's no work at all to be utterly delighted.

Okay, enough stuff about me. Please pray that God will raise up His people throughout the earth who want to do the work of missions, of evangelism, of Bible translation, of unglamorous, behind the scenes work; for His cross to be proclaimed to all the world.

Flight OS94 to Vienna

I arrived safely back in Trinec on Sunday evening, September 13th. My flights back here weren't quite as eventful as my many, interesting flights home to Nebraska. I didn't even really get to talk to anyone on 3 of the 4. My seat 'buddy' on the trans-Atlantic flight ignored me for the first hour or so of the flight, which I have to admit that I was pretty bummed about. I was really hoping for as much excitement and Jesus talk on the way back to the field as I was blessed with on the way home. Once he finally started talking to me, he told me WAY more personal stuff about himself than I probably would ever have solicited. However, that led him to ask me about myself and what I do in Europe (bingo! just the question I look forward to). I asked about his church background, and he told me he was raised left-handed Catholic (which apparently is code for Episcopal... I was confused and thought he meant that they were just bad Catholics), but that he, in the course of growing up "learned better" and discovered the wisdom of Celtic religion and describes himself as a druid. Whoa.

I had no idea where that was going to lead us in conversation, so I just asked what that meant that he believes. He said you could also call it wicca (and I thought "oh boy... he's a witch..."). It turned out to be this kind of pantheistic kind of "life force in all things" kind of idea. He told me that it basically boils down to him being a tree hugger and probably one of the "greenest" people that I've ever met, thinking that care for the environment and leaving it better when he dies than when he was born (reminds me of so many school field trips with lunches in public parks... "pick up your trash kids!"). Interesting. I asked him why he cared if the world was a "better place" when he dies, why it matters for him to work to clean up the world. He couldn't give me a much better answer than something about it being the right thing to do, or doing it for his grandkids. Oh.

I told him that God certainly does want us to take care of the earth, that when He created Adam and Eve and put them in the Garden, that He told them to care for the plants, to cultivate the garden. I also told him, however, that I would like to leave the world a "better" place when I leave it than when I came, but I can't. Everything I do, everything I touch, every relationship I enter and person I interact with I mess up. I break stuff, no matter how hard I try to do the right thing.

He said that that was a pretty pessimistic view for a Christian to have of things.

I told him that that was pessimistic, but that it was only the first half of the story. I said that God created me and him, loves both of us, but He's holy too, and all of that "messing up" in our lives is called sin (remember he'd told me a LOT about himself already) and banishes us from God's holy presence or utterly destroys us if we try to be in His presence. That's the pessimistic first half. But the optimistic second half is that Christ Jesus, God's Son, was sent into this world to live perfectly, leaving the place truly better at His death.

Now, that's a tree worth hugging!

Jesus died without deserving it, willingly, to take our punishment, our banishment, our destruction so we could be with God. I also told him that when Jesus returns at the end of time, He will restore all of creation to perfection, all people and all of nature. My friend really perked up at that point.

Until I finished telling him all this, he simply stared into the middle distance and listened hard. I could tell that that the wheels in his head were turning. He had the same look on his face as my Slovak and Jehovah's Witness acquaintances had had on the opposite direction flight just a month before.

It just so happened that we both had VERY long layovers in Vienna and were both planning on going into the city. It also just so happened (to my single, vulnerable, and alone young lady's dismay) that we managed to be heading for the train to the city at the same time. So, I was "stuck" wandering around Vienna with him for about 6 hours. The wandering also gave me more chance to speak with him about Christ and to give him an apparently much needed listening ear.

Praise God for the blessing of those many hours with my new friend, for the opportunity for me to tell him about Christ, for the opportunity for him to hear the Truth!

Please pray for "Rob", that the Holy Spirit will pursue him tenaciously, not ceasing in his pursuit until He catches another child for our blessed Father in heaven, loosing him from his bondage to sin and death, and freeing another worshiper for our blessed Jesus Christ, a worker for the Kingdom of our God.

Kyrie eleison