"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering." (Romans 12:1, MSG)

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Word of Prayer - Our Unhappy Divisions


This summer, Lenora and I had the privilege of preaching a message series guided by Steve Harper's Five Marks of a Methodist. For those of you who have not had the opportunity to read this wonderful little book, it is an exploration of the five distinguishing marks identified by John Wesley in his 1742 treatise, The Character of a Methodist, that "confirm our identity as genuine and fruitful disciples and followers of Christ." These marks are:
  1. A Methodist Loves God
  2. A Methodist Rejoices in God
  3. A Methodist Gives Thanks
  4. A Methodist Prays Constantly
  5. A Methodist Loves Others
As someone who has felt deeply troubled and grown weary from the relentless reports of horrific violence around the world, as well as the violence of words I read every day on social media between those who disagree (on matters of politics and religion, in particular), this message series was a timely and refreshing reminder of how we should live - especially those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. 

And so, at the conclusion of the series, it occurred to me that a Methodist who bears these five marks, in word and deed, should have the propensity to bear one more mark - A Methodist Seeks Unity. 


Unity. 

Defined as “the state of being one; oneness; concord; or, harmony,” unity is not a word that could sanely describe the state of our world today. 

Still, our unity is what Jesus fervently prayed for that night in the Garden at Gethsemane, saying “I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me.” (John 17:21, CEB)

Moreover, each week in worship we pray, "By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world."

These prayers notwithstanding, disunity abounds.

Maybe it's because of our tendency to confuse uniformity with unity. Or, maybe it's because we're afraid that the pursuit of a more perfect union with those whose beliefs differ from our own will somehow compromise our beliefs. 

Whatever the reason, it won't change the fact that we are called to "oneness." As such, I believe we are called to bear what John Wesley called a “catholic spirit.” Wesley wrote in his sermon of the same title, “Though we can’t think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt we may.” 

Indeed, we don't have any room to doubt that we can "be of one heart," in spite of our differing opinions, because that kind of unity is not something we manufacture. We couldn't if we tried. Rather, that unity is an existing reality, because of the saving work of Christ, in which we must choose to live throughout the course of our everyday, ordinary lives. 

Hence, what troubles me most these days is the incessant and reckless rhetoric that perpetuates our disunity and fails to reflect what we, as followers of Christ, claim to believe. This is why, instead of continuing to painfully bear witness to the discord and disunity that has become prevalent on social media, I am taking a leave of absence from Facebook and choosing to pray the below prayer every day between now and November 8th. 

You might not feel the need, as I do, to leave Facebook for a season. Nonetheless, let me encourage you, dear reader, to rise above the rhetoric and join me in praying this prayer every day, beginning now:
O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 818)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Word of Prayer - A Prayer by St. Augustine

It has been some time since I posted to the blog, but after seeing this appear on Facebook as a memory from five years ago, I felt it appropriate to post it here.

A Prayer by St. Augustine

God of our life, there are days when the burdens we carry chafe our shoulders and weigh us down; when the road seems dreary and endless, the skies grey and threatening; when our lives have no music in them, and our hearts are lonely, and our souls have lost their courage. Flood the path with light, run our eyes to where the skies are full of promise; tune our hearts to brave music; give us the sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age; and so quicken our spirits that we may be able to encourage the souls of all who journey with us on the road of life, to Your honour and glory. Amen.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Word for the Everyday - Walking by Faith

Today on "Everyday, ordinary worship" I want you to meet my very good friends, Trey and Larissa Genser. They are a missionary couple with Overland Missions who are raising support for their ministry in Mozambique (a neighboring country to my beloved Malawi), so I've invited Larissa to share on my blog a bit of their story.
"In the past year I was called to walk by faith in a way I had never done before. Shortly after I began dating my husband, who has been a missionary for five years, I realized God was calling me to the mission field as well. In May 2015, I boarded a plane for Zambia to begin a 3-month intensive missionary training program with Overland Missions called Advanced Missions Training. During those three months I learned practical skills such as vehicle mechanics, GPS navigation, Wilderness First Responder training and a Come Back Alive course where I learned how to find food, water, and shelter where there is nothing. While these skills are important, they did not compare to the spiritual aspect of the training, being filled with the Holy Spirit, and the conviction about my calling to be a missionary. 
 During the training, I went on three "expeditions," which is what Overland Missions calls their short-term mission trips. On expeditions we go into the Bush and sometimes drive up to fourteen hours on rugged terrain to reach a remote village. On these expeditions you walk hut to hut and share the love of Christ with the people. Overland Mission’s ultimate goal is to reach those who have never heard the name of Jesus and share with them the Gospel message. On my last expedition I was in a small village called Sikelele. During our stay, we held several night meetings which include personal testimonies, singing, dancing, and sharing the Gospel around a campfire. At the end of one of the night meetings, a woman named Penlope came forward and requested prayer for her daughter who was ill.  We prayed for healing over her daughter and asked the Lord, in the name of Jesus, for her daughter to be well when Penlope got home that evening. The next day, Penlope came to tell us that her daughter was well when she arrived home the night before. We praised God! This is just one example of how God moves and is continually building our faith. 
 My husband Trey and I are now beginning our journey together as missionaries with Overland Missions in Mozambique. We have committed ourselves to spreading the good news of Jesus and building disciples for Christ. We are SO excited to be doing the work of the Lord. We cannot wait to follow His direction and watch as He opens the hearts of the people of Mozambique. Before we can enter the mission field we must be fully funded so that our focus is only on doing God’s work and not worrying about how we will pay our bills. This can be a scary process, but God is so AWESOME and we have faith that He will meet our needs. This is definitely a season of walking by faith but it is so sweet to see God fulfill His promises by building the perfect team of partners to send us out! After reflecting on the past year, I am completely convinced that it is worth taking every leap of faith to watch God move in miraculous ways! - Larissa

My family is proud to be on Trey and Larissa's team of partners. They are a blessing to all who know them here at home and I know that God is going to use them in powerful ways in and through the Kingdom-work set before them in Mozambique.

If you missed them sharing in church this past Sunday for our Mission Box offering, then I want you to know a couple things. First, I had the distinct joy and privilege of officiating their wedding ceremony in December. It was pretty amazing, as you can see from the special ordered ray of sunlight shining on them as they took their first steps together as husband and wife.



I also want you to know that Larissa (Johnson) is a "home-grown" member of Trinity. She was baptized here, received her 3rd grade Bible here, confirmed here, and went on several home repair mission trips that inspired her to major in construction in college. As she put it on Sunday, God has brought it all "full circle" and is now calling her to the mission field of Mozambique. 

As members of the church, we are called to equip and send those whom God calls to the mission field. That being said, Trey and Larissa are looking for additional partners for their team, willing to provide prayer and financial resources for their ministry. If you would like to know more about what the Gensers are doing, visit their Facebook page where you can also send them a message for additional information.

Mulungu akhale nanu (God be with you),

Aaron

Friday, January 8, 2016

Foto Friday - Rousseau Family Winter Retreat 2016

Thanks to our very dear friends, David and Carolyn Williamson, we again enjoyed the privilege of retreating to their cabin in the mountains of western North Carolina for a time of rest, renewal, and reconnection as a family. 

We think this might be our fifth visit but it is the first time it occurred to me to use my tripod for a family photo.
The kids love having the freedom to roam outside, taking in the cold mountain air and beautiful surroundings.



They also loved a silly string fight in the woods.
Lenora enjoyed her newfound love of sketching word art...


...while I enjoyed taking my usual long-exposure creek photographs right outside our cabin.



Along with this random inspiration:

This will be a symbol among you. In the future your children may ask, "What do these stones mean to you?" - Joshua 4:6
This was the first trip I ventured away from the cabin in the dark of night in an effort to capture the Milky Way. After being dissatisfied with the results from a trip to Nantahala Lake, I drove the next night along a nearby scenic byway and shot this from the side of the road.


My primary photographic objective for this retreat, however, was to shoot the sunset over the mountains. I had researched a couple locations online that looked amazing and drove to both, only to discover they were closed for the season. 

Fail! 

Refusing to give up, I drove into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the entrance in Cherokee, NC. When we started it was 4:40 pm and I had no idea where I was going. I was simply hoping and praying we would find a west facing scenic overlook sometime before the 5:34 pm sunset.

At 5:04 pm, just beyond mile marker 18, my prayers were answered when we happened on an overlook somewhere near 5,000 ft that was directly facing west with Clingman's Dome on the horizon. 

I could not believe the view. And, I knew from the look of the clouds we were in for a real treat. These shots are the photographic highlight of the trip!



God has blessed me beyond measure, with a beautiful family and an incredible vocation, and I am so grateful. Here's to all that 2016 has in store for us - and to next year's winter retreat! 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Foto Friday - Y-Malawi, Day eleven: Liwonde National Park

Before I left for Malawi, I bought an all-in-one camera lens so I would have the ability to shoot wide-angle landscapes and zoom close on subjects in an instant. As I packed my camera bag, I dreamed about what it was going to be like to see God-created African wildlife in their native surroundings.

It was an amazing experience to be sure.

What I could not have known at the time, however, was how desperately I was going to need the time in Liwonde National Park to decompress and process all that I had seen and heard during my time with the people of Nkhoma/Chilenje and the Y-Malawi ministry partners. Those nine days in the mission field had left me undone in ways that I could not have expected.

When reviewing my shots from the safari for this blog, I was strongly reminded of the overwhelming feelings of God's peace I had while encountering God's creation in the "warm heart of Africa." I share these photographs with you from a place of deep gratitude for such a God-filled, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The African crocodile is a fair bit more frightening than the American alligator.
Hands down the best shot of the safari!
Elephants are one of Africa's "big-five" game animals. The adjective that best describes my impression of these animals is "majestic."
Who doesn't love a baby elephant?
I find this photo particularly fascinating- elephants, crocodiles, and hippos quietly existing together in one place.
This crocodile was prehistoric in its proportions. I could have reached over the side of our boat to pet it - but would never have dared to do so.
The zebras were shy.
So were the kudus. It took me all afternoon to get a shot like this.
The sunsets were breathtaking.
Knowing that there would not be any light pollution whatsoever in the night sky, one of my hopes for the trip was to shoot the Milky Way. I had no idea that the Milky Way would actually be visible to the naked eye! It looks almost cloud like - the detail you see here is brought out in processing. This is the riverside cabin where I stayed at about 9pm. I didn't stay out in the dark very long - especially after my compadre, Will, spotted a large crocodile lurking in the bush about 10 yards behind us.
Well, we're almost at the end. My next post will conclude the Foto Friday series of my time in Malawi!

Mulungu akhale nanu (God be with you),

Aaron

Monday, December 7, 2015

Foto Friday - Y-Malawi, Day ten: Liwonde National Park

After the long days spent in the mission field with the Y-Malawi ministry partners, our team boarded our bus and traveled south from Nkhoma for a retreat in Liwonde National Park to pray and dream together about how God might be calling us to join the work of Y-Malawi. On the road, I captured this through the windshield that is one of my favorite scenic shots from the trip.


We made our way to the Shire River, where a guide named Danger (yes, Danger!) took us by boat to where we were staying. Along the way we saw fishermen and caught our first glimpses of African wildlife. I struggled a bit with finding my groove shooting photographs from a speedboat but managed to capture a few shots.



Nestled along the Shire River, Liwonde National Park in Malawi offered us several incredible opportunities to observe African wildlife up close in their native surroundings. These shots are from a brief, late afternoon safari we took on our first day.


Up next, more Liwonde National Park when the wildlife photos go up a notch.

Mulungu akhale nanu (God be with you),

Aaron
 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Foto Friday - Y-Malawi, Day nine: World Vision

Our ninth day in the mission field of the Nkhoma/Chilenje region of Malawi was spent with World Vision.

World Vision is Y-Malawi's largest partner and the primary source of funding to the other partners. Members of Y-Malawi partner churches sponsor nearly 6,000 World Vision children in Nkhoma/Chilenje. Because of these sponsorships, entire communities are being transformed in amazing ways:
  • Malnutrition reduced from 51% to 26%
  • Positive HIV testing reduced from 55% to 21%
  • Access to safe water increased from 21% to 68%
  • A 107% increase in children enrolled in primary school
These are just a few of the statistics but they speak volumes about the way hearts and lives are being changed in Malawi every day! Glory to God!

A primary purpose for our trip to Nkhoma/Chilenje was to facilitate meetings between World Vision sponsors and their sponsored children. Two members from Trinity were able to meet their children for the first time since beginning their sponsorships more than three years ago. It was a heartwarming experience to say the least.

Every time we arrived in a village for a visit, we were welcomed by not only the sponsored family but the entire community. Nearly every greeting included singing and dancing.
Janet brought a lot of fun things for her child to enjoy.
The entire village watched as Janet gave her gifts.
Janet was given a tour of the family home.
In addition to the gifts for the child, Janet brought the family gifts of necessities like maize, rice, oil, soap, etc. Here the mother is reacting to the gift of rice. She told Janet that they eat rice only once a year as part of their Christmas celebration, making the gift of rice a very special treat.
Janet received this clay bowl as a gift from the family.


Barbara's visit was very similar to Janet. She brought gifts for her sponsored child and the same staples for his family.

One particularly moving experience of the day happened on Debbie's visit. Debbie first visited her sponsored child in October 2014 and couldn't wait to visit again.

Their happy reunion.
While visiting with the family, Debbie learned that they had lost their home (a mud hut) earlier in the year during a rainstorm. So, the child and her mother were sleeping on the kitchen floor of one of their neighbors. They literally had nothing left. The mother had expressed her sadness that she was unable to return Debbie's kindness since she had nothing to give. Hearing this part of their conversation, one of the neighbors went to their home and returned with a chicken for the mother to give to Debbie.


 
Now for the rest of the story...

While petting the chicken on the bus as we made our way to the next visit, Debbie asked the World Vision representatives traveling with us about how much it costs to build a home for her sponsored family. The World Vision rep said materials for a brick home with a tin roof that would best withstand the elements cost about $300. Debbie then asked about the labor, since her sponsored child and her single mother would not be able to do it on their own. Labor to build the home would be about $100.

Now, before Debbie left for Malawi, she had friends and family give her some money to take on her trip. Debbie confessed that this bothered her somewhat, as if they were trying to "ride on her coat-tails or something." The amount she had been given? 

$400.

Debbie made what is known as a "Gift Notification" through World Vision, designating the $400 specifically for the purpose of building her sponsored child and her mother a new home.

Amazing.

So, what about the chicken? It would have been rude for Debbie not to accept the gift. Still, she couldn't bring it home either. At the next village, Debbie asked the World Vision rep to find the family with the greatest need so she could give them the chicken. Debbie also made the family promise not to kill the chicken for one meal but to allow it to live and become an ongoing source of sustenance for them.  

It was an incredible experience for me to see how $39 per month is truly being used to change hearts and lives, not just for the children but their entire communities. Before going to Malawi, my family sponsored two World Vision children already - one in Ethiopia, the other in Malawi (sadly, in another region so I was unable to visit). We've sponsored the children for years but never had any personal interaction with them, by letter or otherwise. I was so moved by how much good the sponsorships do, that I came home wanting our family to sponsor another child - specifically in Nkhoma/Chilenje. I also wanted to give the people of Trinity the same opportunity.

So, we contacted World Vision and secured additional sponsorship forms for children in Nkhoma/Chilenje. On World Communion Sunday, 150 of those children were sponsored at our three worship services, taking the number of children sponsored by Trinity to around 350. Praise God! 

My family chose a little boy named Promise, who happens to share my birthday. Now, Lenora and I have our own children here at home (two daughters and a son), plus three sponsored children in Africa, two girls and a boy in honor of ours.

If God has been piercing your heart for the people in Malawi and you are also interested in sponsoring a child, please let me know. I have a few forms left for children in Nkhoma/Chilenje. There are still more than 4,000 children on a waiting list so every sponsorship matters. Pray about it!

Up next, the beauty of God's creation in Africa - I'll be sharing some shots from our time on safari before heading home!

Mulungu akhale nanu (God be with you),

Aaron