Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas with no presents? Can it be?

Our Christmas Tree from 2010, the Year of 'No' Presents
It all started about three years ago, when we gave Christmas presents, and for whatever reason, all our kiddos were struggling with their attitudes on that day.  My children are sinners too, and they had been on the road, were just a bit cranky, and unthankful. Although they received some beautiful gifts, they didn't say "thank you", and started fighting right away.  We dealt with their attitudes, and my husband made a decision that the next year, we wouldn't be giving them presents for Christmas.  This was not punishment, but an opportunity to see that we can have a fine Christmas without presents.

To be honest, I wasn't too crazy about this plan, but I wanted to make the best of it.  We told each of the girls to work a little every week and earn money, because this next year they were going to give something instead of get.  The Bible says, "It is more blessed to give than to receive,".  We said that this next year we were putting that statement to the test.

I was surprised at how wholeheartedly the girls worked, and we added up the total that they were earning.  The next year was our first Christmas in Tizayuca, Mexico.  They were each doing a little something, earning a peso here and there, and I tallied them up on a paper attached to the fridge.  As the holiday season got nearer, they began to get excited about how much they were earning.  The week before Christmas we chose a family in our church with health needs, and purchased them a heater to help with keeping their home comfortable.  The girls had earned nearly $60 altogether, and they were so delighted to help someone with their own work.

That is not the end of the story, however!  Since we were new in Tizayuca, and it was the first time we lived in Mexico far from the border.  We didn't really know how the mail works here.  We were pleasantly surprised to see three good-size boxes of presents arrive in time for Christmas.  This was unusual, although we had at times received boxes from some dear friends, we had never had so many presents for the children, and this time, they waited patiently, enjoyed the Christmas story being read, and thanked God for the greatest gift He has given us.  They had a greater appreciation now of what it means that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son".  I told the girls that God always blesses those who give, and their biggest blessing was to see that God was pleased.

However, I did not realize what a miracle it was that those boxes even arrived at our door.  Now we kind of know how it works.  Mail is delivered on a motorcycle.  Boxes don't come on these motos.  You have to go down and get them, and if the box doesn't have a number to track, it's very unlikely that you will be able to get it from the post office.  They don't give you notification that you have a box either; you are supposed to track it, then go and get when you see that it has arrived at your local post office.  Since then, we haven't received any boxes from the mail carrier, and several that were sent to us went back because we didn't pick them up in time.  The fact three large boxes came to our door was a work of God!

More than the overload of presents we had that year, I am delighted to see how God has worked in the hearts of all my children.  They love giving, and Christmas just gets more and more fun.  My biggest challenge in the holiday season isn't finding super gifts for everyone, it's making sure all of them are given an opportunity to exercise their giving muscle, whether it's making something, or earning money to buy for someone.

It always pays when you put God's promise to the test.  While we didn't actually have the presentless Christmas we were planning on having, we got to see that God's heart is giving, and He gives back more every time. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Inside info on good ol' Saint Nick!
Not much is known about the man named Nicholas, who's life's story evolved into the Santa Clause. We know that he was the pastor of the church in Myra, where he was born.  Most of the stories we have are legends that have filtered through several different cultures, and there is no physical, written evidence of him from that time.  During the third century, the church faced two great persecutions, and Nicholas spent some time in prison for not forsaking his faith.  He made a name for himself through his generosity.  He had come from a wealthy family, and he gave liberally, trying to do so anonymously.  His most famous story, which very well might have some truth in it, is that he secretly gave money for the dowry of three sisters to keep them from being forced into prostitution.  Poor children were known to leave their shoes out on their doorstep so he could drop coins into them at night.  He wanted people to give the glory to God, not himself, so he did his best to hide his giving.

As you can imagine, the rumors spread about him, and after his death, many Christians were inspired by him to continue the practice of anonymous giving.  As the rumours spread, they began to be corrupted by pagan fantasys, and eventually his legend morphed into the myth we have today.

So here's my two cents.  I think Nicholas, or at least his legend, was a shining example of Christ's Spirit in action in the Christian.  We have been given to, the greatest Gift of all. Therefore, it behooves us to give, without grudging; doing our best to let God recieve all the glory.  We understand more of God's heart the more we give.  This story is far more beautiful to me for it's sweetness and humility than Santa.  That's not to say that Santa Clause is the devil.  I just think Christians needs to guard their focus, and many times the clown in the red suit is a distraction to us from the heart of God, which is love.

For us, the trappings of Christmas are all optional.  We've celebrated Christmas on the road, without decorations, we've even celebrated without giving gifts to one another.  (That's a separate post!  I promise to tell that story;  it's a good one.)  We celebrate this truth, that we have eternal life, an unspeakable Gift that came at an unspeakable price from God Himself;  that Christ is one of us, that He knows us, understands us, and loves us anyway, and that without sin, He is able to redeem us to the uttermost.  As we are encouraged in Philippians 2:5, to "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:" I think we ought to see others with more patience, be more willing to help others, and more willing to tell them of God's Gift.  I think Nicholas had that one down!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Blog reboot

My life has swung way out of the range of my blog to keep up with.  We are kept busy with ministry and homeschooling, and the blog is left on that back burner is never getting attended to.  I thought I would move the blog off the back burner for various reasons.  Family and friends love to keep updated on our life, and I enjoy the interactions with them when I discuss current events.  I also want to keep the old creative juices flowing, even though now it's a little out of my comfort zone to stop and think so much at the end of the day.  Therefore, I'm not bringing it forward much.  I'll prepare one blog post a week, unless something is going on in ministry.  (Real life still trumps the internet.)

 Another reason I want to do this is that my daughter has started writing again on her private blog, and I want to keep her motivated to write once a week too.  If you are part of the cool crowd of privileged individuals who have received an invite to her blog, you can check it out.  If not, make a comment to request one, and if I know who you are, I'll send you one. 

Here is a random picture of a camel trying to stick her head in my window.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Repost: A little unasked for advice

A young girl asked me for advice the other day. Advice about BOYS. She met a nice young fellow at camp, and he wanted to communicate with her as a boyfriend. Now, I understand the young man’s perspective more than one might think. I know him, and he’s been saved for three months of his fourteen years. He’s excited about everything that has to do with church, and he’s lost all his previous ambitions; he only wants to preach. A young lady who wants God’s will for her life is something new to him, and it is attractive. (Nothing wrong with that) He doesn’t yet understand about how to have a Christ-honoring relationship with such a person, so he is relating to her according to the rules of his old life. At this point, I assume he doesn’t know any better, especially since I sent a similar young fellow packing in my first year of college right when he wanted to “go steady” with me. It wasn’t the time for me to be thinking about marriage, and I didn’t need any distractions with my first year of college. When God put me back together with that guy after we had both matured a bit, we knew it was His work! For more on this story, go here, here, here, and here!
I told the young lady these things, and also this: You are in a very important time of your life, and it is a time to guard your heart! These years, if you are submitted to God’s Holy Spirit, He is preparing you for His will. He’s building something precious in your life, making something beautiful. Your relationship with Him is being established, and you don’t need distractions. These years don’t come back when they are gone; don’t lose what God is doing in your life!
This is for the young ladies that read my blog. Those of you that I know personally, I want you to know I pray for you by name often! I know that God has a plan for you, that it is the best plan for you, and there is something in your life right now that can destroy you. I don’t know what it is, but our enemy always puts up something that we have to make a choice about. Am I going to trust God, or worry about my family? Am I going to make room for Him in my life, or am I going to seek my own interests, and let Him have my leftovers? Am I going to pour out my hurts to Him and leave them there, or am I going to get bitter and angry? One of these things that can turn us off the path God has laid for our feet is wrong thinking about romance, boys, marriage, and the future.
You see we ladies are full of dreams! Exciting dreams, dreams that make our heart go pitter-patter-pumpernickle! There is a powerful ton of emotion built up behind those dreams, and the hope that those dreams might be realized in this amazing person is enough to sometimes shut down our ability to reason. If you have seen the movie Bambie, think “twitterpated”. And I know whereof I speak. I have talked to a lot of twitterpated young ladies. You are a smart person, but emotion can turn the heads of the brainiest among us. For this reason I offer you my advice. (Yes, unasked for by you, but I love you all to bits, so you have to put up with it!)
• Keep your relationships Christ honoring.
• Make good friends, and keep your closest friendships at a spiritual level. (I'm talking about all your friends, not just guys, but especially guys!) Be aware that extra time with someone builds intimacy. If you run out of things to talk about, you will be tempted to start bringing up more personal things. Not a good idea!
• Always keep Christ first, and if any friendship is pushing away your thoughts of Him, step away from that friendship! Believe me, I speak from experience, Mr. Right, at Time Right will not push away Christ! I am so glad I told my “Mr. Right” to “just be friends” when I did! God's time was perfect. If he’s got a spiritual bone in his body, he will understand and appreciate what you are saying; if he doesn’t understand, you really don’t want to tie your heart up with him!
• Also, if God has placed authority in your life, honor it! Honor your parents, and don’t hide anything from them. Respect your pastor and consider his advice carefully.
• Find spiritual older woman who can hold you accountable, and pick their minds! Don’t worry about bugging them, they will love it. Just don’t say you are following my advice to find someone “older”, or you will get me into trouble!
Most importantly, keep your dreams and desires subjected to God’s will. Seek His face, and determine in your heart to never deny the Holy Spirit. You can’t afford at this point in your life to let something come in and mess up the amazing things He’s preparing you for!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Shout out! My Comfort Zone

Large Buckwheat Hull Pillow
I know I have many friends who are chronic pain sufferers.  This trial is something only another sufferer can truly understand.  It involves loneliness, because it's practically invisible, but has the power to take over one's days and nights.  I do not suffer from chronic pain, but my mother has for many years, and she has been an inspiration to me, as I've watched her struggle through questions, find God's grace, and grow in it under the burden of daily, continual, debilitating pain.  My mom has worked hard on her health, trying to find the right treatments.  Now she is starting a new business selling products that comfort. While these do not treat pain, everyone with daily pain understands the importance of comforting yourself in the midst of it.   I hope you will check out her website and consider some of these products!

While again, I do not suffer chronic pain, as her daughter I have enjoyed some of these items, and would love to tell you how they comforted me!  The flexible microwavable hot pack filled with rice was used during the birth of a couple of my children to help me through labor.  I've also used it many times for muscle pain and a few "out of adjustment" backs.  The pack forms to you so you can absorb the soothing heat, and it is wonderful and relaxing.  I would not want to be without it in my house.

I also have two of the buckwheat pillows, and they went with me all over the Western United States, and some areas of Canada on deputation.  (The pillows pictured are these.)  I took them into every hotel I went to, and they kept my neck from straining after many long hours in the van.  For traveling, it was invaluable, and I honestly can't sleep well with a different pillow.  It's so much better than a fluff-filled pillow that squishes down  gets out of place.  They also form to the body and provide support without applying pressure.

Thank you for taking the time to read this!  I'm excited about my mom's new business venture.  She's makes wonderful products, and her heart is for others.  The site is still under construction, but here it is!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Where is your joy? Why the 1963 version is way better than the 1954 original

So Send I You, written in 1954, has been referred to as the greatest mission's song of the 20th century.  I can't argue with history, but the words of the first verse always stick in my throat a little when it's sung in a mission's conference. "So send I you -- to labor unrewarded, To serve unpaid, unloved, unsought, unknown..."
Unrewarded?  Mark 9:41  "For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward."
Unpaid? 1Pe 5:4 "And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away."
Unloved? Jeremiah 31:3a  "The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love:..."
Unsought?   Jeremiah 31:3b "therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee."
Unknown? Mat 10:30  "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered."

Jesus said that, if a servant of God is not willing to lay aside all his ambitions and desires, his very life even, and take up his cross to follow Christ, that servant is unworthy of Christ.  I get that.  But it only seems to be that one is unrewarded, unpaid, unloved, etc, if we forget our primary relationship with God.  Well then, yes, we are of all men, most miserable!  That is because in order to serve God in a way that would please Him, (at home or abroad) one must relinquish one's claim to earthly benefits and blessings.  That is not to say we don't receive them, but that they are not ours to claim, but to manage for Christ.  He can remove blessings and bestow them as He sees fit.  Then, we are completely dependent on that relationship with Christ for our joy and peace, not on our earthly circumstances.  If our focus is earthly,  we will be depressed pretty quick, but if our focus is on Heaven, we see that we never made a sacrifice at all.  This is what God desires for everyone.

There is a great truth in this old song.  "So send I you to lose your life in mine."  this thought is an excellent meditation for the servant of God.  Jesus put it this way,   " If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." Matthew 16:24b Paul put it this way,  " I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily."1Corinthians 15:31

So while I acknowledge the truth of emptying yourself, I hesitate to sing this song.  It sounds a lot like my heart sounds when I'm having a pity party.

The author of So Send I You, Margaret Clarkson, recognized this, since she wrote it in a time in her life when she was feeling isolated and sad, and later learned more about what missions is all about.  She rewrote it, and hoped that the churches would take up the new words in place of the old, saying, "Above all I wish to be a biblical writer, and the second hymn is the more biblical one."  I think so too!  Here are the words:

Margaret Clarkson, 1963
So send I you -- by grace made strong to triumph O’er hosts of hell, o’er darkness, death and sin,
My name to bear and in that name to conquer -- So send I you, My victory to win.
So send I you - to take to souls in bondage The Word of Truth that sets the captive free
To break the bonds of sin, to loose death’s fetters -- So send I you, to bring the lost to Me.
So send I you -- My strength to know in weakness, My joy in grief, My perfect peace in pain,
To prove My pow’r, My grace, My promised presence -- So send I you, eternal fruit to gain.
So send I you -- to bear My cross with patience, And then one day with joy to lay it down,
To hear My voice, “Well done, My faithful servant -- Come share My throne, My kingdom and My crown!”
“As the Father hath sent Me, so send I you.”

Read more about this neat Christian lady here.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Camp pictures

The setup

Beautiful spot

Quiet, calm

A small lake, with a path around it.
We rested!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ice Cream, Mexican Style

Took the kids out to ice cream today.  David had mamey flavored ice cream, Elisabeth had grape, Rebecca had mango with swirls of hot chili paste, and Ruth had Beso de Angel, or kiss of the angel.  It came with multicolored candy pieces, marshmallows, maraschino cherries, several different kinds of nuts, raisins, mango and mamey pieces, coconut, and chocolate chips.  I told them that most of their friends in the States have never had anything like this ice cream.  They looked sad for a minute, then said, compassionately, "We need to have them come and visit!"

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Grumpy Finds a Cure

I was grumpy today.  I felt awful, dizzy, foggy, and just wanted to go to bed.  So I did four things.  I took a ten minute nap, drank a full glass of water, ate a banana, and got out my song book.  You might see how a nap, re hydrating, and a natural sugar boost from the banana would help, but a song book?  Yes!  Music makes me feel better, pulls my mind from its obsession with how I feel and focuses my heart directly on the message of the song.

The problem with doing this is, I have to do it by faith, because singing is the last thing I want to do when I feel so rotten.  In fact, for a little while, I don't like it at all.  But then something happens, and it happened today.  I started singing a beautiful song, "The Cleansing Wave";  a song from 1872 about the fountain that not only cleanses our sin for eternity, but also gives us a right to spiritual victory over sin today, when we allow God freedom in our lives.  God used the song to speak this sweet truth directly to my heart.

"I see the new creation rise;I hear the speaking blood.It speaks! Polluted nature dies!Sinks ’neath the cleansing flood.The cleansing stream I see! I see!I plunge, and oh, it cleanseth me!Oh, praise the Lord! It cleanseth me!It cleanseth me—yes, cleanseth me."  Phoe­be Palm­er

As I sang, the gross way I was feeling became unimportant.  This is one of those songs that fits perfectly with its melody.  Victory cries out along with the words, lifting the heart to the truth in the words.  I am so thankful that God made such a clear avenue to my emotions and my spirit through music.  When they are out of order, I can use this gift to turn them to the One Who deserves their focus, and I can give Him glory in this moment.  While I remained somewhat fuzzy and tired mentally, I did not have to respond with sinful attitudes and actions.

 Next time you are in a "grump", grab your song book!

Here is a link to the cyberhymnal page where you can read all of the song if you want to, and video of a beautiful piano solo of The Cleansing Wave.

Monday, April 23, 2012

What should I do?

What to do when my daughter tells me she just saw a giant hairy spider the size of her hand go under the couch.
A.  Run screaming from the house, never to return again.  Maybe we can sell it fully furnished?
B.  Cancel all appointments for a week while sterilizing every last item in the house.
C.  Burn the couch and be done with it.
D.  Tell the child to leave the poor spider alone and keep the house quiet while I go take a nap.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

I hate to say facebook is eclipsing my blog, but my life has accelerated to the point that I only really have time to spit out facebook-size little blurbs on what is going on.  It's been great fun, living the past year!  Between ministry, laundry, homeschool, and caring for an insane, large pet, I rarely get the chance to prepare something interesting (to me) or thoughtful.

Should I put facebook-size blurbs on my blog? Or should I wait for something profound to hit me?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Don't be afraid!

The other day, I was watching the Sound of Music with the kids after dark.  There was a thunderstorm raging, and the electricity snapped off, leaving us in darkness.  This happens a lot around here, and the kids know they must not all panic and scream.  (What happened the first few times the electricity popped off when they were much younger.)  Nevertheless, I could hear timorous tittering all around me, as I groped for the lighter to light a candle with.  I could hear my seven-year-old nervously telling our dog, "Don't be afraid, Shasta!  Don't be afraid!  Just don't be afraid!"  When I held up the small flame, there she was on the floor with our rather large dog, arms clasped around the dog's neck in a stranglehold.  "Don't be afraid, Shasta!"

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

What blog?

I have been gently reprimanded for neglecting my blog in favor of facebook.  It is understanding, since my loved ones would like to see more of my thoughts than the little blurbs I have time to dash out on the "instant social media".  I had plans to do a thanksgiving post, a Christmas post, a year-in-review post, and others, but they never materialized.

The biggest news for us now is that we are looking for a new area to plant a new church, and plans should get us moving in the next two or three months.  We do not have a place settled yet;  we are studying several different areas.  I thank the Lord that He has always given us firm guidance, and expect Him to do the same.  We will go when He leads!

It won't be easy to leave this group.  They are more precious to me, the closer we get to our departure.  God has been so good to us to let us be a part of the birth of this ministry!

Monday, February 06, 2012

A picture is worth a thousand words!

First Anniversary Service!
We met here for over a year.
Greeting church members in the new building!!
A place where many lives have been changed
God knows how to put together a team. It's an honor to serve with these people!
One of the divided classes in the Vacation Bible School.  We had to get creative finding classroom space!
Vacation Bible School!!
It doesn't look like it, but this is a battleground.

At the dedication of the building in August.
Some of the children in our church getting into the spirit of Mexican Independance Day!
The Christmas program was incredibly sweet
The heart of this church is winning souls.  This is our group that goes out every Saturday to reach it's neighbor with the gospel.
These aren't all the great memories we have had.  I hope I'm able to share with you some of the excitement we've experienced here.  The bottom line is, God wanted to do something here, and we got picked to be part of the team He used to do it!  The devil has fought hard for this ground, but he has no power against God's church.  We have seen lives changed, hard hearts softened, people of all ages dedicate their lives to God's service, and most importantly, the gospel bring people from death to new life in Christ!

There is no better thing in the world than serving the Lord!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Year In Review

 This is our last prayer letter.  I wanted to show what God did during the year.  It's kind of unbelievable, looking back at all the blessings we've had, not without battles.  All the glory is our Lord's!  He did it, and we rejoice to be here for the birth of this church.  We pray that the fruit God has given remains to bear more fruit to His glory!

My next post will be some of the pictures I included in the letter.
January-December, 2011;  Year in Review

Dear Praying Friends,

            In this past year, God has done an amazing work here in Tizayuca, Mexico.  I wanted to provide a quick month-by-month review of the year for our supporting churches and friends.  God has blessed and done great things for us!
January:  We started building on the property God provided for us.  A building was an urgent need, as we were meeting in the back yard of one of our church members.  The space was getting very crowded!  I preached on the theme of revival all month long.  God added a man to our pastoral team, and he is acting as a music minister and youth pastor.
February:  Brother Jaimez, our co-laborer here, was injured on the 4th in accident, and began a month of bedrest, to heal bruised lungs.  God blessed the church as they took care of the Jaimez family during this time.  God gave us a great blessing with letting me get plates to put on my van so I could drive legally in Mexico after permissions I was using were cancelled. 
March:  We had our First Anniversary service on the 6th.  We had seen real spiritual growth, and many came forward that day for believer’s baptism, which they had been putting off.  The next service we had nine baptisms in the little inflatable pool we had purchased for the purpose.  Later that month, I travelled to the border to cancel permissions on the van, so we could use the plates.
April:  The focus was Stewardship, and we held a conference.  As we preached the sermons, many people came forward to ask more questions and pray about how they could please God in their stewardship.  They have a heart to do God’s will, and God blessed them for it!  God provided a way for the unmarried couples in the church to get married without paying the punitive fine, and one couple made their union legal and honoring to God. This couple has since grown by leaps and bounds.  They are praying about a calling to ministry, and are serving faithfully in the church, learning all that they can with a hungry heart.  Obedience brings great blessing!
May:   On the 8th, we had our first meeting in the new building.  While there were no windows, or doors yet, the excitement was tangible.  Our emphasis was on missions.  On Mission’s Sunday, families from all over Mexico presented the need for missions in their home state.  Awareness of the need for evangelizing the world increased and people began to be more serious about weekly soulwinning and learning how to win souls.
June; We held a Family Conference, and we spent this month focusing on helping families.  Satan is attacking families everywhere, and Mexico is no exeption.  We worked on teaching biblical family dynamics.  Since then, many of the couples have been working on improving their relationships and building families that please God.
July:  We had a Kid’s Camp right in the church building!  The youth group helped taking care of the children, and they had a wonderful time.
August:  At the beginning of the month, we had a work day to prepare the building for the Vacation Bible School, then we worked together as a church to invite the children in the area.  God rewarded our labor with 58 precious young people lined up the first day.  More children came every day until the last day, when we had 106!  There were 40 professions of faith, and we have had three visiting families.  One family who discovered us at the VBS is still coming faithfully and growing in Christ.  We dedicated the new building on 22nd, giving not just the stone and mortar of the building, but ourselves to serve the Lord in this place.  In a very sweet blessing of God on us, He called one of our teenagers to service during this conference, and she went to Bible College a week later.
September  The theme was Liberty in Christ.  September is Mexico’s patriotic month, and while we are thankful for our religious and personal liberty, we praise God also for the liberty from sin that He has given us, so that we can live righteously before Him.-
October::  Our weekly evangelism had grown again to the point that we needed another clinic to teach the new generation of believers how to share their faith.  I taught on personal evangelism, as well as how to disciple new believers, and we are thrilled to see many of our faithful soulwinners discipling others in the way of Christ!  Excitement over winning souls and obeying the Great Commission is growing!
November:  The emphasis was on the importance of giving thanks this month, and we had a sweet service of Thanksgiving, with many tears and praises lifted up to God for the many, many victories we received at the hand of our great Saviour.
December:  A holiday month, December is usually a very busy time in churches, and we were busy also.  I preached on keeping our focus on Christ, and on His gift of Salvation, so that we can have a holiday that brings honor to Him.  Activities included a couple’s banquet, a Christmas musical in which all the children participated, and a special Christmas service when we remembered Christ’s wonderful gift of His own life to us.

I am amazed when I look back that this year and see all that God has done in our lives and in our families as a church.  I praise His name for the many victories!

Thank you for taking the time to read our report, as well as your faithful support and prayer.  God bless!

In Christ,

Missionary Ryan Case