India Overview

I hope to blog more soon, but since our team leader Cassie recently shared an overview of our trip experience, I thought I would pass it along!  I will also add a few pictures for fun 🙂

Thank you, thank you, thank you for praying for us! I want to give you a final update and backtrack a bit to cover what we missed when we didn’t have internet access. If you don’t have time to read it all, I completely understand, but I definitely want to let you know how crucial your prayers were to the success of this team’s mission in India! We could not have done it without your support! Thank you!

Monday morning in India we woke up at 5:30 to watch the sun rise over the mountains. It was so nice to listen to the world wake up, the sun light everything up slowly, and to just be still before God. After breakfast we were taken on a tour of IGL’s campus and offices as well as given the opportunity to feed some lepers from the community. All of this was very emotional for the team, and it was hard for them to process since we were in such a rush to fit everything in before we had to leave for Chennai that afternoon. Right after we had finished lunch Danielle became sick from the heat of the day, the emotion of the day, and the bumpy car rides. Fortunately, we were able to send a prayer request out for her before we took off for Chennai and lost internet connection for most of the rest of the trip. She felt better within a few hours of hydration and sleep (in the car).

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Sunrise at Sharon Gardens.

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The hospital at Sharon Gardens, where we got to pray for patients.

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Meeting students at the community college.

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Kids at the school doing “The Hokey Pokey” for us – complete with singing and dancing!

Tuesday was a travel day, going for the hotel in Chennai, to the airport in Chennai (which was miraculously almost empty of people), to the airport in Hyderabad, to the hotel in Warangal. Thankfully, many of us were able to sleep for at least some of the travel, but we were also able to see the state of Andhra Pradesh. There are more Muslims in Hyderabad than in Salem, and many more women covered in the black burqa/burkha walking the streets. During the trip, Prati was able to talk to us about our notes. She was very pleased with them, but encouraged us to rely on the Holy Spirit for what to say, not on what sentence comes next in our notes. She is a very good motivational speaker! We were almost all in tears, but ready to trust in the Lord while we taught.

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Muslim women shopping in Hyderabad.

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Danielle & Courtney making friends at our lunch stop!

Wednesday was the first day of the State Women’s Conference we taught at. Prati Stephens

started the conference off getting the women excited for what they would learn about Worship (the topic of the conference). After lunch, Mandy taught the first lesson of the conference “The God Worthy of Worship.” She did a wonderful job, especially as the first of our team to teach. Danielle followed Mandy with her lesson “The Mandate to Worship” covering how we are created to worship and why we should. We then had a break before I gave the first sermon of my life and of the conference. It was about trusting God over everything else and not worrying. Afterward Prati got up and followed the Holy Spirit’s leading continuing the topic of trust and calling on the women to lay their burdens before God and trust Him to take care of them. It was beautiful as many women came forward to relieve their burdens to God. The team has the privilege to pray over them and even give our own burdens to God.

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Teaching at the conference.

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Praying over women at the conference.

 Thursday, the second day of the conference, I started with the lesson “The Method of Worship.” I know I talked too fast, because the translator had trouble understanding what I was saying at times, but overall I think it went well. Katrina then gave her lesson on “The Heart of Worship” and she did a wonderful job! Later, when the women were able to use a translator to let us know what they had learned from the conference, many said this was one of the most impactful lessons for them. Great job Katrina! Lauren followed Katrina with the lesson “Worship and the Word” and engaged the women so much they cheered twice for her. After lunch and a talk from Prati about the women’s ministry holding the conference, Courtney gave her first lesson “Worship and Gifts.” By that time, many of the women, and us were tired, but the illustrations she gave kept us engaged. Prati finished day two off with a wonderful sermon.

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Teaching at the conference.

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They got us and AC/fan after the first day…very cool 🙂

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Prati’s motivational preaching.

Friday, day three of the conference, Katrina gave a devotional for the women on God working things out for the good and being joyful in all circumstances. It was very well done (of course). Courtney then finished off all the lessons with “Worship and Works” or “Does your Work Matter to God” and Prati said it was the best lesson out of all of them. The women were very engaged, and the lesson seemed to summarize and build off of all the other lessons for a great take-away for the women.  Afterward the women were able to respond through a translator to tell us what they had learned at the conference. Many, many women pointed to this lesson as one that taught them a lot about worshiping God through their daily lives and work. Excellent job, Courtney!

Prati then finished up the conference getting the women excited to share the Gospel and what they had learned with their villages, friends, and family. We then left for the long drive back to Hyderabad where we stayed in a hotel for the night. Saturday afternoon we left for the airport and the trip home began. It included an hour flight, a four hour layover in Mumbai (which is a horribly large airport with SO many security checks and long lines), a 15-hour flight (yes, you read that correctly), a 3-hour layover in Newark and customs, and finally an hour and a half flight to Cleveland where we were finally reunited with family.

While most of the team did experience some stomach trouble at one point or another during the trip, Pepto Bismol helped a lot and we were mostly sick-free. Please continue to pray for Danielle and the rest of the team as we get all of the spices out of our system and readjust to eating American food again. I still smell like curry.

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Teaching at the conference.

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Our little friend for the journey and conference – Jesleah! She’s extremely bright at just 4 years old and already knows she wants to be a missionary doctor!

 Thank you all again for praying! It has meant so much for me and the team! We really felt covered and protected while traveling and in India. Knowing how many prayer warriors were on their knees for us, was so comforting and empowering as we knew God would provide everything we needed when we needed it (including the words to say). Please know that your prayers were answered many times over in India as one problem after the other was solved.

Some funnier moments of the trip (for those of you who really like to read):

  •  On Wednesday night, two of the four rooms we were staying in at the hotel had their air conditioners break, thaw, spit ice, and pour water and black mold into the rooms. Two of the team had to share a small twin-size bed for the rest of the night because one of the beds was directly in the line of fire (or rather ice and water). They were both fixed the next day, and we were able to use all four rooms by evening.
  • Prati realized the first night we had dinner together as a team with her that Danielle and I could eat a lot! She was so she took a picture of Danielle and her food for on her phone. From then on, we were the ones to clean up the extra food left on the table after the rest of the team finished their meal. It was almost a guarantee that we would want more naan, there was no need to ask. When a server tried to take our cleaned plates and offer us the warm water bowl to wash our hands in, Prati told him to put our plates back and that he picked the wrong girls to clean up after. We were simply waiting for everyone else to finish before getting seconds. We even made it into one of Prati’s sermons as she explained that Satan was trying to keep us from “eating” the Word of God and the manna given us daily. “He doesn’t eat naan,” she said, then gave us a look and explained to the women that we ate so much naan!
  • As you may or may not know, Indian traffic and driving is an adventure in and of itself, especially for those who aren’t used to it. The “traveler” we took to drive to Chennai had a bathroom in the back of it with a western toilet that could flush toilet paper (a rarity in India). Using it while the “traveler” was moving through Indian traffic was quite an accomplishment for everyone!
  •  Courtney ended up being the “one that got away” for many Indian boys we encountered. Somehow they must have known she was the only single woman among us. It was very funny to watch them try to discreetly (or not so discreetly) take her picture. She also became the best buddy of a little girl names Jesleah, who was the daughter of the couple heading up the conference. She absolutely ADORED Courtney! Every chance she could, she would sneak up on stage when her mom wasn’t looking to draw with Courtney. Jesleah made the trip much more entertaining as she made us all smile constantly! She wants to be a missionary doctor when she grows up.

We had many more, but these stick out the most in my mind. Thank you all for supporting us and making these moments possible!

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Here in India!

I thought that I would have so much to say once I got here…but I just feel so overwhelmed.  Not necessarily in a bad way, just I don’t even really know what to think, and how to express things.  I could go on and on about what we’re seen and how different it is from back home, but it is so much more than things just “being kind of different”.  It is a totally different culture, totally different mindsets, and totally different spiritual dynamic.  In even the short time that we have been here, I feel like I have taken in so much – from seeing things, to hearing things, to experiencing things.  So I apologize in advance for my rambliness (I think I just made up that word?) and for what I feel is a far injustice to our experience that is really beyond words.

So many of the physical things that we see also seem to emanate from a deeper spiritual level.

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Driving around is constant chaos.  People don’t use lanes even when they are marked, they constantly weave in and out of one another and honk all the time – it is a miracle accidents don’t happen more often!  The far majority of the billions of people here in India are far from God; they are trapped in the spiritual chaos and confusion of Hinduism.  I had the privilege of talking for a couple of hours on the plane ride over here to a Hindu man that I happened to sit next to – it was a very cool conversation of non-judgmental curiosity on both ends where we both got to share our faith and what we believe.  He told me he was sure I would have an “OMG” moment after arriving in India, and I certainly did!  But I was not only shocked about the traffic itself (which, trust me, WAS quite shocking!) but about thinking about the chaos in this culture – the spiritual chaos.  Even as Raj, the man I talked with on the plane, explained to me – different Hindus have different beliefs.  Even the belief of what “the ultimate” is differs among Hindus.  There is such disunity and such chaos.  It makes me so grateful to serve a God who is a God of unity and peace and order…and it makes me long for these people who don’t have this to come to know it!

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There is also so much poverty here, and corruption – you see little shacks for homes and even stores, and people begging in the streets.  Yet there is also extravagant wealth in some niches – Bangalore, where we saw many of the sights on our drive yesterday, is also the IT capital of the world – full of business activity and prosperity.  You know you are in the presence of some of the richest of the rich, but yet the main front you see is some of the poorest of the poor – far more stark a contrast than even what you see in American cities.  We had an old frail lady come up to the side of our van when we had to stop to pay a fee to enter Tamil Nadu, and it was heartbreaking just to see her face and her desperation.  A part of me wanted to give her money to help, but I know that people will use women, elderly and children as a front to ultimately draw in money toward whatever sinister purpose they may have.  I knew, too, that even if this wasn’t the case, that giving her money in that moment wouldn’t really do much good ultimately.  It would be spent and gone, then she would be right back in the same boat, hungry and begging again tomorrow.  But God has something even greater in Mind, as the Psalm that we read in this morning’s service says:

“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
    I will now arise,” says the Lord.
    “I will protect them from those who malign them.”

(Psalm 12:5)

And it is amazing to see IGL and other organizations partnering in this.  They are not just “putting a band aid” on the problems, they are actually working from the core.  They are addressing the spiritual issues in transforming lives, and they are also helping to equip people to be able to provide for themselves by getting education and training and jobs.

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There are also so many straying animals as you drive through the streets or walk around – dogs, goats, cows, oxen, monkeys).  Some of them may have a home or owners, but so many of them don’t seem to be strays, just wandering about.  I feel a strong parallel to the lostness of people from the True God.  Another name I studied in preparing to teach at the women’s conference was Adonai – meaning owner, or master.  God desires o be, and rightly is, our owner and master.  But with only ~3% of India being Christian, so many are lost from their true master and owner.

There are so many other experiences and insights I wish I could share, I suppose they will need to wait – in many cases to sill set in for me even, and at the very least until I get the chance to catch up on some sleep and can focus and find the time to think and write.

I have been thinking about how much I underestimate God.  I live in such a small bubble of life sometimes that I don’t think about what God is doing in the big picture, or what He is even capable of.  At a conference I went to recently (Xenos Summer Institute in Columbus), I was challenged by Lee Strobel as well as some of the other speakers to think about (among MANY other things!) my prayer life – most of all, to think about who or what I have stopped praying for.  As I have reflected on this, I also thought about why it is that I stop praying for people.  I will admit that I tend to get distracted with other things (hence, I am not the most disciplined with prayer in the first place).  But I think that when I cease to pray for someone or something altogether that it is usually because I’ve either lost hope in some way or I’ve taken the responsibility of the pursuit upon myself (rather than involving God).

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I realize at least two huge lies that I am believing about God in this:

  1. God can’t/won’t do anything about it; it’s just too much to ask of Him.
  2. My concerns really don’t matter that much to God; there’s either more important things to Him or He will just do what He’s going to do regardless of my prayers.

Now, I will cut myself off right now with continuing down the path about prayer (I’m finishing up reading a book about prayer, by the way, so I could go on for quite some time about what I’ve been learning!) and digress to my ultimate point – that there are flaws in my attitude about God.  First, with regard to God’s power and sovereignty and, second, with regard to God’s love, compassion and desire to relate.  In contrast to the hopeless mentality that I so easily slip in to, God reveals Himself as a God who is powerful and supreme, who needs no explanation or justification, who is self-sustaining and unwavering – He can do anything, but He lovingly chooses to not override our free will, and He also knows the eternal ramifications of every event that I might not even think to consider when I in my measly humanity make a request.  God is also concerned with what concerns His children.  Prayer is a chance to share my heart with God, and vice-verse; the point isn’t to bring a list of requests before a magical genie to see how many wishes he grants and thereby judge how powerful he is.  The point is to have a conversation.  God is loving and personal, He is the author of relationships, and He desires to relate with His children!  What a powerful and yet loving God we have!  With this, I would like to share some more about what I’ve been learning about God through studying His names.

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YAHWEH is revealed in the Bible not only as a title for God, but as His personal name, His sacred name.  This name is revered as so holy that it wouldn’t even be uttered in Jewish tradition; instead they would substitute “Adonai” (more to come later), or the hybrid-word derived from combining the vowels and consonants of the Hebrew words for Yahweh and Adonai, “Jehovah”.   But to me, I think it is cool just to reflect on the relational nature of God – that He chose to give us a personal name to call Him by!  I remember growing up, we were never to call our neighbors “Julie” or “Colleen” even if they said we could, it was always “Mrs. Lutz” or “Mrs. Breene”.  Or it’s like if you meet the president, you don’t just go up to him and say “Hi Barack!”, you cordially greet him and say “Hello, Mr. President”.  The title “God” can be so generic and distant.  But He also doesn’t call for us to refer to Him as “Mr. Creator” or “Mr. All-Powerful”.  He gives us a personal name – Yahweh, or I AM.  This name does in fact point to God’s closeness to humans, as it is used early in Genesis following the use of the first title of Elohim.  It says:

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (genesis 2:7)

God breathed our very life into us — that’s pretty personal!  He could have stopped at animals, but instead He chose to create humans – in His image, beings that He could relate with.

The name Yahweh means “I AM”, implying that God is who He is – He is self-existent and unchanging.  He tells Moses this is who he should tell the Israelites he is sent by:

“God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14)

God is not dependent on anyone or anything else.  He is not affected or changed by anyone or anything else.  He is unchanging and unfailing.  Thinking about this humbles me in my own weakness.  I can’t even keep my promise to be somewhere when I say I will – I am nearly always at least slightly late anywhere I am going!  But also on a more serious note, I think to myself or even tell people all the time that I will pray regularly for them…then I realize that days have gone by and I’ve completely forgotten to pray!  Thank goodness God never fails on His promises!  Even when we are faithless and wavering, God is faithful and unchanging – Hallelujah!

As the great, unchanging I AM, God adds to this name and reveals more about His character:

 

  • Jireh – “Provider”

“Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.” (Genesis 22:8)

This falls when God calls Abraham to sacrifice his only son – theram-thicket son he waited years to finally receive.  As they walk up the mountain with Isaac having no clue what is going on, he naively asks his father where the lamb for sacrifice is.  Abraham answers in faith, scared of what God is calling him to but confident in the Lord who has provided for him in the past.  In the final moment, God DOES provide a ram caught in the thicket by its horns – God’s provision.  All along God’s plan was not only to provide for Isaac’s well-being, but also to provide the sacrifice required to cover sin!  

In our moment of need, God also provides what HE knows we need.  Things may not always work out like we expect, but we can trust Him!

 

  • Nissi – “Banner of Victory”

“As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning…Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner.” (Exoduz 17:11,15)

RelyVictory_Banner-628x314ing on God gave the Israelites confidence in battle!

When we are on the Lord’s side, we too can have confidence that we are on the winning and victorious side!

 

  • Rapha – “Healer”

“[Moses] said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”” (Exodus 15:26)

God has provided the final cure for spiritual, physical and emotional sicknhealingess in Jesus Christ!  Jesus’ death on the cross has conquered sin – our spiritual sickness that separates us from God.  In accepting His free gift, we have the promise of eternity in heaven, free from all of the pain of this fallen world.  God does in fact have the power to heal us of any stronghold in our life if it is in His will (Jesus’ ministry is full of countless such stories!); but if He doesn’t take something away, then that too is for some reason that He has a purpose for.  Regardless, we can be comforted knowing that in heaven we will be healed and free from all pain and suffering.

 

  • Shammah – “Present”

“And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.” (Ezekiel 48:35)

Most people are scared of beinnearg alone in life.  At least I am.  I hope I’m not alone.  For me, this fear can get so intense that it has the potential to affect my actions and how I view situations.  I’m scared of upsetting people and pushing them out of my life.  I’m scared of situations where I feel like people don’t understand me and I’m all alone.

It is so comforting to know that no matter how scared or lonely I may be in a situation, and no matter what I may do, God promises the He is present!

 

  • Shalom – “Peace”

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Jesus tells us that the very reason He came is to bring us God’s peace.  Wepeace live in a world where it is hard to find peace.  Not only do we constantly hear about lack of peace on the political large-scale with wars constantly going on, but we see lack of peace in our own homes and relationships with disagreement and bitter anger!  It’s because peace is not of this world!  But to know the one who is peace and who offers His peace to us is life-changing!

 

  • Raah – “Shepherd”

 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15)

Jesus calls Himself by thishepherd-carrying-sheeps title.  He cares for us and sacrifices for us out of love for us.  God protects and provides for us.  He directs, leads and cares for His people, His “sheep”.  He tenderly takes care of us as a strong and patient shepherd, even sacrificing and laying down His life out of love.  David reflects on the comfort of resting in this very fact:

“The Lord is my shepherd’ I have all that I need” (Psalm 23:1)

 

And last but certainly not least…

  • Tsidkenu – “Righteousness”

“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4)

It is not the law, our own good deeds, or anything that we can do on our own acrowningccord that makes us righteous – or right with God.  It is what Jesus HAS DONE.

Jesus is the king who was prophesied to come through David’s line, and He is the one who imparts His righteousness to us!

Romans reminds us that we have no righteousness of our own:

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)

But Jesus came to impart HIS righteousness to us – He gives us the righteousness that we could never have on our own!  And we are told exactly how we get this, that simply:

“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9)

God WANTS a relationship with us, but we NEED Jesus’ righteousness for this…and, fortunately for us, He freely offers it!

 

 

 

Veil of Tears

I finally did it.  I finally watched the movie.

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My friend Liz said she would watch the movie/documentary with me, which I really appreciated since I just really didn’t feel like it was the kind of movie to watch alone.  Now I feel like everyone I know should see this movie.  For people who don’t realize what life is like for people in India, especially women, it is certainly eye-opening and heart-breaking.  For anyone who already has an idea of the conditions, culture and attitude in India, it is still amazingly touching to see live footage and hear women tell their own personal stories and experiences.

I actually managed to keep it pretty together and not be a total sobbing mess through the movie (somewhat surprisingly).  I realized, though, that more than tearing up I was catching myself in anger – angry with the injustice and hatred, and disgusted.  How could people be so evil and so far from God to do such things??  And how could people be so lacking in compassion to do nothing about it?!  I know it really shouldn’t be a shocker.  The Bible says that we are corrupted, sinful people again (“For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” -Mark 7:21-22)…and again (“You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.” -John 8:44)…and again (“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” -Romans 1:21)I guess I just can’t help but be taken aback by the stark contrast when the harsh reality of it is staring me in the face.

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A lot of the concepts of what goes on in India weren’t totally new for me to hear about, but hearing the details and especially hearing the personal stories and seeing the faces of women who have gone through such oppression definitely made the reality of it set in even more.  I am utterly humbled thinking about how good I have it!  Women shared story after story about being gang raped, being raped by men in their families, and being forced into abortion or forced to give away their children or live a life of prostitution; the struggle of women even from birth was described, from being a dread and burden to their families (if they even keep them), to being disgraced, abandoned and even killed by their husbands.  The deep-rooted corruption of society that even laws made against the Caste system and Dowry payments (which have only come in the past half-Century) can’t touch is evident.

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But in the face of all of the devastation, God is moving in IndiaHallelujah!  Organizations like Gospel for Asia (http://www.gfa.org), India Gospel League (http://iglworld.org), and others are at work advancing the message of hope in Jesus Christ and transforming lives.  People who have known no dignity in life – especially women, or the sub-human “untouchable” caste of dalits – are coming to know love, joy and fulfillment.  People who were sick from unclean water and poor hygiene or unable to provide food and education for their children are now being empowered.  God is at work fulfilling exactly what Jesus promised:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

THIS is something that I want to be a part of!  Sometimes when I think about the sheer number of people in India, and in the world (or even my own town, or close-knit sphere of influence!) for that matter, it’s overwhelming.  Immense work is already underway, and still only ~5% of India is Christian.  But considering that there are 1.27 billion people in India, this means that millions in fact have come to Christ!  God cares about each and every one of those lives…so those 70+ million lives are no small thing!  On the other hand…there are still over a billion people in India, let alone in the world as a whole, who still have yet to accept the Good News, and many still yet to hear it!  What a privilege to get to partner with what God is doing over in India!  It reminds me again that every dollar that goes to India – whether to children, to missionaries, or to other special ministries – goes ten times further than it would here in the U.S., is infinitely more meaningful than the trite things it could be spent on here, and is well spent.  And I am thrilled to get to talk with women in India about a God who loves them deeply and unconditionally and to get to be even a small piece of what God is doing to restore dignity and lift the veil of tears that has entrapped so may of these women, as well as others that they will go on to reach that I may never know about until we one day meet in heaven.  All of these people in India I may never meet until heaven, when the day-to-day struggles and frustrations, and the lifelong pursuits of wealth and success, and the accumulations of this life are washed away – but what will still remain is what’s eternal, what God has done to build His Kingdom.  And to get to be a part of building up God’s Kingdom in life now is the greatest privilege there could be!

What’s in a Name?

I have always been quite fascinated with the meaning of names.

I was excited to fihellomynameis_mnd out the meaning of my own name (“worthy of love”) and I periodically ask or look up the meanings of other names.  I was once worried that people would be concerned about my internet history on “Babynames.com” and either think I was pregnant (when I shouldn’t be!) or that I had some unhealthy obsession with picking out baby names.  It really has to do more with a fascination with name meanings (though I will admit that I look forward to one day getting to pick out baby names!).

The greatest names study though – by far – is to get to study the names of God!

I have heard some about the names of God in various teachings in the past and have always found it awesome how much the Bible reveals about God’s character through His names.  For some reason, I have never taken the time to really study the names of God myself, until preparing for India happened to cross paths with this interest!  As we got together for one of our first meetings to prepare for our trip, we looked over the teaching topics for the conference – all centered under the theme of Worshiping the Lord in Spirit and in Truth.  The first teaching topic struck a cord in my heart – the God Worthy of Worship, a look at God’s names and character and why He deserves our worship.  As I have been preparing for this teaching, I have gone through ups and downs – enthusiasm over the awesomeness of our God and what a privilege it is to know and serve Him, and overwhelming feelings of incompetence thinking about how I can even begin to convey the depth of God’s character, let alone do justice to who God is in just a 25-minute teaching!

So, what’s in a name??  Well, in today’s world a name is often no more than an identifyin2godg title – the way to know who you’re calling so Johnny doesn’t turn his head when you say Susie.  Perhaps it’s picked for some reason of significance for those named after a family member or someone else noteworthy; perhaps it’s picked because it’s unique or has a “nice ring to it”.  For a few people, the actually meaning behind a name is a key reason for the name chosen.  In Old Testament times, however, a name was more than just identification; it was an identity.  It revealed something about the character, nature and personality of an individual.  The significance of name meanings is played out extensively throughout the old testament.  Abram’s name is changed to Abraham, meaning “the father of nations”, as God promises he will be and he infact goes on to be.  Jacob, whose name means “supplanter” (one who unrightfully takes from another – just as he does) is changed by God to Israel meaning “wrestled with God” (just as he does at the time God bestows this name, and as his descendants, the Israelites, go on to do for generations to follow).

The significance of the Hebrew words used for God throughout the Bible hold a weight of significance and insight, and I have been awed and brought to humility and gratitude reflecting on God’s character and my own oversight and ingratitude of who He is!  I would like to share just a few of the insights that I have gained/have a burden for regarding God’s names.  For the time being, I would like to reflect on one of the first and most commonly used names for God, “Elohim”.

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“Elohim” is the Hebrew word used in the very first verse of the Bible in Genesis 1:1 when it say:

“In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth”.

This title points to His nature as Powerful God .  It also speaks to God’s authority as Creator and as God the Judge.

Interestingly, this title is actually a plural noun, but it is used along with singular descriptors.  This points to both the unity and diversity of God — or, the Trinity.  This is seen even into English translations in verses like Genesis 1:26, saying:

“Then God (Elohim) said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”

The idea of the Trinity can certainly be difficult to grasp, but at the end of the day, the bottom line is that we worship only ONE God, as Deuteronomy 6:4 so clearly points out:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!”

And Ephesians 2:18 goes on to highlight the distinctions within the Trinity:

“For through him [Jesus] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”

We have access to God the Father by means of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit because of what Jesus has done.

BOOM.  Thank you, Paul!

It’s amazing that something as “simple” as the form of the nouns and descriptors used of God – which can so easily be missed! – can reveal such depths about God!

BUTTT…it doesn’t even stop there!

“Elohim” or “El” is also used together with other Hebrew terms to designate various aspects of God’s character.

  • El Elyon = “Most High God”

The High Priest Melchizedek uses this title of God in Genesis 14:19-20:

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

This title stresses God’s strength, sovereignty and supremacy — how appropriate!!

  • El Olam = “Everlasting God”

This title means that God has always existed and will always exist.

This is SO hard to grasp in our human limitations!!  I am always so tempted to think of God as the greatest version of a human being that I can think of.  But He is SO MUCH MORE!!

Abraham captures this and makes a strong memory of it in Genesis 21:33:

“Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.”

God is the only thing in all of creation that has not been created.  The perpetual question of “where did THAT come from??” that we can trace back through history ends at God.  God has NO beginning.  He has no end.  He is unchanging.  He is from beginning to end, the alpha and the omega.  He is outside of time, space and creation.

It’s almost unfathomable to our human minds!  But how wonderful that we have a God who is reliable and unchangable in the midst of this crazy, always-changing, unpredictable world that we live in!

  • El Rohi = “The God Who Sees”

Hagar calls God by this name when she is fleeing from her mistress Sarah who hates her after she has a child with Sarah’s husband Abraham (never mind that the whole thing was Sarah’s idea in the first place!).  Hagar is in the middle of the desert, alone and scared, uncertain about the fate of her baby and and herself.  Her genuine cry from her heart to the Lord is recorded in Genesis 16:13:

“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

As a person who has always struggled with insecurities, people-pleasing, and feeling concerned with whether people “see” me – whether they know the real me, or whether they care about me – this title of God is amazingly comforting!!

We are reminded in this revelation of God’s character that we don’t have to do anything to impress God or get His attention — He sees us right where we are in life and meets us there!

And lastly…

  • El Shaddai = “God Almighty” / “All-Sufficient One”

This name of God is first revealed in the context of His covenant promise with Abraham (side note — perhaps I will one day get the chance to write about an awesome teaching on covenant relationship by Timothy Keller, but if you are interested, please see the October 9, 2013 podcast from Redeemer Presbyterian Church — it’s well worth your time!!) .

The use of the title El Shaddai generally refers to God’s significance, power and omnipotence.  The derivation of this title, however, is not quite certain, as several viable options exist:

  1. It may be related to the Hebrew verb “shadad”, meaning “to destroy”; therefore this would refer to God as “my destroyer”, pointing to His mighty power, including His potential to bring either blessing, protection or punishment.
  2. It may be connected to the Akkadian term “sadu” which means “mountain”; therefore this would mean “God of the mountain” in reference to His strength, might and wonders.
  3. It may be similar to the Hebrew word “shad” which is the word for “breast”; therefore this would point to God completely nourishing, satisfying and supplying His people with all their needs as a mother would nourish and supply her child.

Either way, the bottom line is that God is ALL mighty and ALL sufficient – He is powerful, and He is able to supply all of our needs!

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God TRULY is GOOD!

This only scratches the surface of the things I have read and learned about God’s character, let alone all the things I have yet to learn, and the things that are simply far, far beyond the comprehension of my measly human mind!

I hope you will come back from more on the Names of God study as I reflect on this content that I’ve been blessed to share with the women in India!

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I have been amazed thinking about the honor of going to India to see and be a part of what God is doing there – what a BIG deal this seems like to a ‘small-town girl’ like me.  And at the same time, I become increasingly aware of how I am not really that big of a deal – how even I personally know nearly a dozen people in my own church who have gone over to India in the past few years, and I have been reading blogs of interns from Ohio who are over there right now (check it out – TOTALLY awesome experiences and insights from these young ladies – adriennemoncrief.wordpress.com, demiandlyric.wordpress.com).

I am reminded that it is really not about me.

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I should really know this in the first place, and I do, but of course the pride in me wants to think that I am awesome and special and cool for getting to do this.  I am humbled in reflecting on the balance between the two – that this IS a big deal and a huge privilege…but I am just one tiny piece of the puzzle, just a small part of what God is working out in the bigger picture that I can’t even understand right now – both in India, in the life and burden of others back at home, and in my own heart and life.  I don’t want to “over-spiritualize” this whole experience…but I also don’t want to minimize and downplay it!  I could have said yes to this opportunity, or I could have said no; it could have been me, or it could have been someone else going.  But the reality now is that in just over 3 weeks, our team of 6, including me, will be getting on a plane to head for India.  God is doing things bigger than me ALL THE TIME…but I feel more on the “inside” of it in the perspective that I have now.  I am not hashing out a new path…I am simply coming onto a path that is new to me but that God blazed long ago. 

Among the other experiences India will undoubtedly hold, I am thrilled to be stepping into what God is doing within the WWM, the group that we will be serving as we teach at the conference. WWM is “Women with a Mission”, and I as I read up on what they are about (check it out! http://naicindia.in/women-with-a-mission-wwm/), I am more and more excited to support what IGL and WWM recognize and promote:

  • That God has created man and woman equal and defined roles
  • Tools for evangelism
  • That women have a powerful influence upon the family and society
  • That there are certain areas of community life that only women can touch and bring about needed transformation
  • That women have a special role in evangelism in India
  • That women must take active leadership in the local church and it’s outreach

What a privilege to reinforce the dignity, value, and vital role that God has given these women in India!  I have been increasingly burdened about the love God has towards His children, especially those who are oppressed by society and constantly told lies to the contrary. I have a documentary that has been sitting by my TV for weeks, even months, that I ordered because I really do want to watch it…but at the same time I don’t want to watch it (hence, why I have still not watched it!).  It’s called “Veil of Tears”, and it’s a movie recently released in collaboration with Gospel for Asia (another organization we strongly support) that “tells the untold story of millions of women in India who are culturally oppressed for no other reason than the fact that they are women”

DVD

(http://veiloftearsmovie.com/).

This is a sad reality.  I know it.  It’s horribly painful to me when I stare it in the face.  But ignoring it doesn’t change this reality.  I think it’s so sad and overwhelming to me because I feel helpless to do anything about it.  And, quite honestly, I am.  But I know someone who can do something about it.  Jesus said this is just what He came to do:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

(Luke 4:18-19)

I serve a God who CAN and IS doing something about it…and I so I will joyfully be a part of that, no matter how small my role may be!

What an AMAZING Lord and Savior we have!  I have been reflecting on this in preparing for my India teaching, which is on “The God Worthy of Worship” and who God is, His character, and How He reveals His love and desire for sovereignty as well as relationship with us throughout His Word.  I look forward to soon sharing some of this insight here!!

Yesterday, I went to a crossfit class for the first time.  Today, I woke up very sore.

I have come to the point in life where I actually kind of enjoy working out.  At least some days.  It can feel uncomfortable for a time, but then there is a wonderful rush of adrenaline that accompanies it.  It may cause some soreness at times, but in the end (at least if you’re doing it right) you are actually doing something really great for your body.  When trying a new workout, there may be fear of not being able to keep up or meet a goal; there might be some discomfort to tough through; but in the end, it is actually something great and there is a pay-off.  As is the case with so many other things in life, too!

Taking a step of faith is much like this. Going to India is a faith step like this for me.

It can definitely be scary not knowing what’s going to happen or if I will succeed or fail (and I really don’t like failing…or not knowing how things will turn out…or generally not being in control).  It can be awkward and uncomfortable and it usually requires getting outside my comfort zone and and sacrificing in some way.  BUT…I know that it is a worthwhile endeavor.  I know that God is going to use any step of faith that I take, whether going to India or otherwise, to do great things both in my life and through my life.  If I never step out in faith, then I am really just walking through life on my own and not trusting God.  And when I think of it that way, THAT is scary to me.  I really like to be in control; but I know that God is really much better at it anyways!  And being able to take a step of faith and put things into His hands is actually quite freeing!  I am comforted reflecting on the same thing that David did in Psalm 16:

“I know the Lord is always with me.
    I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
    My body rests in safety.

For you will not leave my soul among the dead
    or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.

You will show me the way of life,
    granting me the joy of your presence
    and the pleasures of living with you forever.”