Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Entitled To or Entrusted With?

After being greatly challenged by The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns, I passed it down to Joshua to read. I loved his summary: "Basically this book is about how we are not really entitled to anything, but that God has entrusted us with everything that we have. The question for us is: what are we going to do with what He has entrusted us with?"

Over the past several years, God has been developing within our family a growing heart for the poor. The past few weeks, we've been listening to a series of messages from David Platt in Birmingham called "Radical." And today, I read the book he wrote by the same name. Similar ideas and life applications as The Hole in our Gospel and just as challenging!

God has been speaking to me and softening my heart through these books, messages and the verses they are based on. Now, instead of resisting the idea of our moving into a relatively poor part of the city of Lanzhou, I am feeling excited about what God has in store for us through our new housing environment. I had been feeling "entitled to" a more comfortable apartment and grudingly asking God, "So just how poor do you want us to live?"

As we are in the process of sorting through what feels like mountains of accumulated stuff in our apartment and filling up boxes to give away, it feels freeing. This morning, CJ (the driving force behind all of our sorting) said, "I just love getting rid of all this stuff!" I am thankful for his motivation and that his attitude has rubbed off on all of us.

We started reading through Matthew this week, and the verse "Freely you have received, freely give." (Matthew 10:8) keeps ringing through my mind. In reality, much of our stuff has been given to us. And now we can pass on what we no longer need. Truly, everything we have is a gift from Him.

Not focusing on what we think God "owes us" but on how He might use what we have produces a feeling of gratitude to replace the feeling of discontent. We have been realizing more and more how much we have been blessed and what a privilege it is to be a blessing to others.

Just like Abraham, we are "blessed to be a blessing." (Genesis 12:2)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Gift

Our courtyard was blanketed with snow in the early morning hours today. It was magical. A gift. Before the arrival of footprints and bike tracks to trample the snow, it was pure, white, untouched, perfect...

As I settled on the couch to read and reflect in a peaceful time of silence, I smiled inside with a secret that I couldn't wait to share with my family. I reentered the kitchen several times to drink in the beauty of the snow while I refilled my mug of tea.

Charly was the first to arise, and hear the news. His eyebrows lifted, and he went to see. "Wow!"

A little while later, Joshua entered and I shared the news with him. His eyebrows lifted just like his Dad's, as he too went to check out the snow from the kitchen. He didn't return right away, so I knew he had gone into Jordan's room. She stumbled across the living room after him (only half awake) so they could both wake up CJ. He was not as eager to get out of bed, but Joshua and Jordan managed to talk him into a snowball fight. The kids have learned that you have to enjoy the snow early here because it does not take long to turn black!

While I watched the kids playing in the snow, something caught my eye down by the trash cans. It looked like a message...

In English letters: LOVE
(the E is already a bit stamped out, but I think you can see it)

I marveled over where the message had come from. When our kids returned home for breakfast, they confirmed that it was not them. A mystery.

I thought back to yesterday afternoon, when just as I entered Home World, the first verse of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" was playing and I passed a row full of stuffed Santa Claus and glittery Christmas decorations. The beautiful music of the real meaning of Christmas seemed so out of place in that commercialized setting. And I wondered if anyone in the store understood the words of the song or if anyone cared. It was to this kind of world that Jesus came. To those who were not looking for Him.

How fitting this morning to see the message in the snow beside the trash cans. It is the message that I long for our trash collector to know as I watch him fill up his wheelbarrow full of trash countless times throughout the day. He was the only one out in the courtyard, long before the sun came up, when I first discovered the snow. I think of him as like the common shepherds who were honored to be the first to hear of the birth of Jesus (from the announcement of angels!).

And Jesus himself came into this world as a helpless baby, amidst the smell of animals. He completely entered into our humanity, in the most humble kind of conditions we can imagine.

And it was one of our neighbors who stamped out the message in the snow. It was a message for me. For our neighbors. For the world. I'm almost sure it must have been a child, with some kind of understanding of what that message means and its connection with the snow and with Christmas. The reason Jesus came was to bring His LOVE to the world.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Light of Heaven

I love the first words spoken by Zechariah, after 9 months of God-ordained silence, when his infant son John the Baptist was presented to the LORD for circumcision:

"Praise the LORD, the God of Israel, because he has visited his people and redeemed them.
He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David,
just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago.
Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us.

He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant with them,
the covenant he gave to our ancestor Abraham.
We have been rescued from our enemies,
so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness forever.

And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High,
because you will prepare the way for the LORD.
You will tell his people how to find salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.

Because of God's tender mercy, the light of heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of perfect peace."
(Luke 1:68-79)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What Kind of Kingdom? part 3

The Kingdom of Heaven is a Kingdom that Jesus brought to the earth. It’s the Good News of forgiveness of sins, that Jesus made possible through His death and resurrection.

It requires repentance and becoming humble like a child.

It is a Kingdom for those who recognize their need for a Savior.

And we must have a love for the truth to recognize who Jesus is and to believe what He says.

Jesus said, “I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death to life.” (John 5:24)

At the core of Jesus’ mission on earth and His teaching was the preaching of the Good News to the poor. And so, He expects the same of His followers.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

Then the King will say to those on the right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:31-36)

Thus, Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God was prepared for those who love and take care of the needy in the world. Whatever we do for the least, we are doing for Jesus. If we refuse to help the poor and needy, we are refusing to help Jesus and will be counted among the goats, who will receive eternal punishment instead of eternal life. (Matthew 25:44-46)

When Jesus returns, in all His glory, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, He will come as judge of the nations, and there will be a new Kingdom of Heaven. Then, Jesus will be given authority, honor, and royal power over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language will obey him.” (Daniel 7:14)

The apostle John began his letter of Revelation with the words:
"This letter is from John to the seven churches in the province of Asia. Grace and peace from the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come; from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness to these things, the first to rise from the dead, and the commander of all the rulers of the world. All praise to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us. He has made us his kingdom and his priests who serve before God his Father. Give to him everlasting glory! He rules forever and ever! Amen! " (Revelation 1:4-6)

And at the conclusion of the letter, describing the new heaven and the new earth:
“No temple could be seen in the city, for the LORD Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations of the earth will walk in its light, and the rulers of the world will come and bring their glory to it.” (Revelation 21:22-24)

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let each one who hears them say, “Come.” Let the thirsty ones come—anyone who wants to. Let them come and drink the water of life without charge…He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”

Amen! Come LORD Jesus! (Revelation 22:17, 20)

What Kind of Kingdom? part 2

Just before his crucifixion, Jesus was questioned by Pilate, the Roman governor who thought he held power over Jesus’ life. Trying to decide what to do with this man, who seemed innocent enough, yet had raised such anger and hatred from the Jewish leaders, Pilate wanted to know if Jesus was indeed the King of the Jews.

Then Jesus answered, "I am not an earthly king. If I were, my followers would have fought when I was arrested by the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” Pilate replied, “You are a king then?” “You say that I am a king and you are right,” Jesus said. “I was born for that purpose. And I came to bring truth to the world. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true. (John 18:36-37)

Those who love truth will recognize Jesus for who He is. The Messiah. The true King. He came to heal the sick, to bring the Good News of the forgiveness of sin, to lift up the humble, to humble the proud, to obey His Heavenly Father even unto an unthinkable kind of death on the cross. Because of the joy set before Him. To give us life in all its fullness. Many didn’t, and still don’t, recognize Him for who He is.

For this was Jesus’ mission:
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the downtrodden will be freed from their oppressors, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18-19, Jesus reading from Isaiah 61:1-2)

And those receiving blessing in His Kingdom were those whom people didn’t necessarily expect:
“God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are gentle and lowly, for the whole earth will belong to them.
God blesses those who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for they will receive it in full.
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted because they live for God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” (Matthew 5:3-10)

King Jesus first came to earth as an infant, born in Bethlehem to a girl named Mary. He grew up in Nazareth, and was known as the carpenter’s son (Matthew ). The crowds followed Him when He began to perform miracles, but then he ended up on a cross and was deserted by His followers.

God had given this message to Daniel, “the Anointed One will be killed, appearing to have accomplished nothing.” (Daniel 9:26) And so it seemed. Until the resurrection. And then it became clear that His death had, in fact, accomplished everything.

What Kind of Kingdom?

“The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed; no one will ever conquer it. It will shatter all these kingdoms into nothingness, but it will stand forever.” (Daniel 2:44) This was the conclusion of Daniel's interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue. (“His Purpose”)

And then later, in Daniel’s own vision, one who “looked like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven…approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and royal power over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)

Years before Daniel interpreted the dreams of the king of Babylon and received his own visions of future events, Isaiah had also prophesied about the coming King and His Kingdom: “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. And the government will rest on his shoulders. These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His ever expanding peaceful government will never end. He will rule forever with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David. The passionate commitment of the LORD Almighty will guarantee this!” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Clearly, there is power, majesty, authority and eternal rule in the Kingdom of God; along with peace, fairness, and justice.

But a Servant King?

It is easy to see why many misunderstood the Kingdom of God. Even Jesus’ disciples were confused, and argued over who would be greatest in Jesus’ Kingdom. And the mother of James and John once boldly requested that Jesus guarantee her sons places to sit at Jesus’ left and right (Matthew 20:21). What a thing to ask! But it was how she understood the Kingdom, and she wanted her sons to be honored. Can we blame her?

Jesus called a small child over to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I assure you, unless you turn from your sins and become as little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)

Repentance and humility. Becoming like a child. Not looking for a place of honor or position. This is the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus unveiled.

“For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served, but to serve others and to give my life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

During Jesus’ lifetime, Jews were anxiously awaiting their Messiah. Hopefully one who would free them from Roman oppression. Many did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah because he did not match their hopes or expectations in the political arena.

“Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen. He is my Beloved, and I am very pleased with him. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not fight or shout; he will not raise his voice in public. He will not quench those who are weak, or quench the smallest hope, until he brings full justice with his final victory. And his name will be the hope of all the world.” (Matthew 12:18-21, quoting Isaiah 42:1-4)

On the road to Emmaus, the resurrected Jesus revealed Himself to two of his disciples, who were full of grief over who they had thought Jesus to be (“Welcoming Unmet Expectations”). Jesus opened up the Scriptures to them (Luke 24:27), so that they could understand His true purpose in coming to the earth and know that the prophecies about the Messiah had been fulfilled perfectly and completely through His life and death. As Jesus had hung on the cross, and proclaimed, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), they now understood what he had finished. And this new understanding changed everything!

A short time later, Jesus appeared to a gathering of His followers in Jerusalem.

“When I was with you, I told you that everything written about me by Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must all come true.” Then he opened their minds to understand these many Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah must suffer and die and rise again from the dead on the third day. With my authority, take this message of repentance to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me.’” (Luke 24:44-47)

The Kingdom of God is for the forgiveness of sins for all who turn to Jesus. This is the Good News. The Best News we could ever receive. And it filled the disciples with great joy (Luke 24:52).

Have we experienced this great joy? And does it compel us to take Jesus’ message of repentance, with His authority, to all the nations?

“Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, just as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10)

Friday, December 10, 2010

His Purpose

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is LORD of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in manmade temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need there is. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand which should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose in all of this was that the nations should seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from anyone of us.” (Acts 17:24-27)

“The LORD gave him (Nebuchadnezzar) victory over King Jehoiakim of Judah.” (Daniel 1:2)
Nebuchadnezzar had once thought this great victory was because he was so powerful. He came to learn that the LORD in heaven’s power far exceeded his own. And that any power he had was only because the LORD Almighty had handed it down to him.

Because God gave Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego “an unusual aptitude for learning the literature and science of the time. And God gave Daniel special ability in understanding the meaning of dreams,” (1:17) they stood apart from the other young men who completed the king’s three year training period with them. “In all matters requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, the king found the advice of these young men to be ten times better than that of all the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom.” (1:20)

God had a wonderful plan and purpose to use these young men of integrity, who refused to defile themselves with the king’s rich food, who surrendered themselves fully to serve the God of their ancestors while living in the foreign land of Babylon.

After these four young men from the royal tribe of Judah were appointed to the king’s regular staff of advisors (1:19), the LORD gave the king a dream. It was a dream that greatly disturbed him, and he was determined to discover its meaning. To be sure that his wise men would not lie about the meaning of his dream, he commanded that he first be told what his dream was and then be told the meaning. This was impossible, his wise men assured him. But the king would not be swayed and ordered all of his wise men put to death if his request was not fulfilled.

Daniel heard of the critical situation and asked the king for time to interpret his dream. He asked his friends to pray with him that the LORD would show mercy and reveal the dream to Daniel. The LORD was merciful, and “Daniel praised the God of heaven, saying, Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he alone has all wisdom and power. He determines the courses of world events; he removes kings and sets others on the throne. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars. He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though he himself is surrounded by light. I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors, for you have given me wisdom and strength. You have told me what we asked of you and revealed to us what the king demanded.” (2:20-23)

So Daniel explained to the king both the dream and its meaning. “While your Majesty was sleeping, you dreamed of coming events. The revealer of mysteries has shown you what is going to happen. And it is not because I am wiser than any living person that I know the secret of your dream, but because God wanted you to understand what you were thinking about.” (2:29-30)

Daniel went on to describe the statue that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, made of different materials, that was finally crushed by a rock. He explained, “Your Majesty, you are a king over many kings. The God of heaven has given you sovereignty, power, strength, and honor. He has made you the ruler over all the inhabited world and has put even the animals and birds under your control. You are the head of gold.” (2:37-38)

Daniel interpreted the meaning of the chest and arms, the belly and thighs, and the legs and feet as subsequent kingdoms that would rise after Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. Then a rock would come to shatter all of these kingdoms, when the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed; no one will ever conquer it. It will shatter these kingdoms into nothingness, but it will stand forever.” (2:44)

The king believed and worshipped Daniel. He proclaimed, “Truly, your God is the God of Gods, the LORD over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.” (2:47)

As was displayed through Nebuchadnezzar's dream,“God decided beforehand which (nations) should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose in all of this was that the nations should seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from anyone of us.” (Acts 17)

God was working out the events of King Nebuchadnezzar’s life so that he, who was once far from God, could be brought near. For that is His purpose for all of the nations. That those from every nation, and tribe, and people and language would seek and find Him. We will all be gathered around the throne, before the Lamb. (Revelation 7:9)

His purpose will be fulfilled.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

No One Can Stop Him

Here was a king whose threats to his subjects included tearing them limb from limb and reducing their houses to piles of rubble (Daniel 2:5, 3:29). Much like the mighty King Sennacherib of Assyria ("What Are you Trusting In?"), no one it seemed could stop King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. His word was law.

If he demanded that his magicians first tell him his dream and then interpret it for him, all of his wise men would be executed if his wish was not fulfilled (2:12).

If anyone did not bow down to the huge golden statue Nebuchadnezzar had made, he would meet his life’s end in the king’s blazing furnace. And, Nebuchadnezzar bellowed at the three seemingly foolish Jews who dared to defy him, “What god will be able to rescue you from my power then?” (3:15)

Nebuchadnezzar had already besieged Jerusalem, defeated King Jehoiakim of Judah, and brought back sacred objects from the Temple of God, placing them in the treasure-house of his god (1:1-2) He had also brought back from Jerusalem some young men from noble families to be trained for the king’s service. (1:3-4)

Little did Nebuchadnezzar know then of the plans that God had to use the convictions, the faith, and the understanding of these young men to reveal Himself, the incomparable King of the universe, to this seemingly powerful king of Bablyon.

God would so humble Nebuchadnezzar that he would decide to send "a message to the people of every race and nation and language throughout the world" (4:1), concluding with:

“I praised and worshipped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever. His rule is everlasting, and his kingdom is eternal. All the people of the earth are nothing compared to him. He has the power to do as he pleases among the angels of heaven and with those who live on earth. No one can stop him or challenge him, saying, “What do you mean by doing these things?” (4:34-35)

“Now, I , Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true and He is able to humble those who are proud.” (4:37)

Truly, no one can stop Him.
Let us humble ourselves before the Most High, whose rule is everlasting.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How He Meets Needs, part 3

On the receiving end.

As we celebrated Joshua's 14th birthday last week, I have been reflecting on his life through the pages of his photo album. And I realized, with gratefulness, that the second 7 years of his life did not bring nearly as many trips to the hospital as his first 7 years did! He is no longer a lao pengyou (old friend) of the staff at the Tianjin Children's Hospital.

The second time that Joshua broke his arm (just before he turned 6) turned out to be a huge blessing for us to be on the receiving end of the Body of Christ at work. All it took was a phone call.

I heard the horrible thump from the balcony where Joshua had fallen from his bedroom windowsill and knew that his arm was badly broken by how disfigured it looked moments later...

I quickly called a friend, who I knew was out to dinner with a group of friends, and three of them jumped in a taxi and were here within 15 minutes (not waiting for their dinner to arrive). One of them stayed with CJ and Jordan, and the other two took Joshua and me to the Orthopedic Hospital and helped us with all of the paperwork.

The X rays showed that Joshua's arm was broken in two places, and my friends advised me to take him to the Beijing United Hospital where he would be given anesthesia before setting his arm and putting it in a cast. From past experience, I knew that Joshua would not do well without anesthesia, so it was not a difficult decision to make! These friends helped me to find a driver to take us to Beijing (about two hours away), and one friend rode with us, while two stayed overnight with CJ and Jordan.

Meanwhile, Charly was camping with friends (husbands of these women who were helping me) on the Great Wall, about three hours away. I was able to reach him through their cell phones, and they helped to make arrangements for a driver to take him directly to Beijing United Hospital. Amazingly, he arrived just minutes after we did at the Emergency Room.

What would we have done without these friends helping us?

God is good, and He provides exactly the kind of help that we need.
Thankful for the way that He designed the Body to work.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

How He Meets Needs, part 2

Some of the ways that God meets needs are big and dramatic, like the ways God used Joseph, Esther, and Nehemiah in His plan for His people. And some of the ways that He mulitplies what little we have to offer, like the widow and the feeding of the 5000, are truly miraculous. And when God meets certain needs through His divine hand and through Jesus our Messiah, we know that these provisions cannot be equaled by anything else.

And then there are the more ordinary kinds of needs met in the more ordinary kinds of ways.

What seems small to us here on earth though may cause angels to rejoice in heaven. (Like the story of widow who gave two small coins to the temple treasury in Luke 21.)

We may not feel like a puzzle piece fitting perfectly into a specially designed place for us within God's big picture. We may feel that we are plugging away at what seems to be relatively insignificant. But I believe that God is pleased when He sees His people being faithful and generous in small ways, and sees them seeking glory not for themselves, but for Him alone.

God is not impressed with the size of the gift we bring, but He is interested in the heart of the giver.

This morning I was reading the passage in Exodus 35-36 about the building of the Tent of Meeting under Moses. Some people were gifted with skill, ability, and knowledge of all kinds of crafts; some were gifted in knowing how to carry out the work; and others were gifted in teaching artistic skills to others. All of these people came together to do the work that God had commanded, and the rest of the people brought in the supplies that were needed.

This is one time when the Israelites got it right!

"Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: 'No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.' And so the people were restrained from bringing more because what they had already brought was more than enough to do all the work." (Exodus 36: 6-7)

The Body was working in the way God intended. The needs for building the Tent of Meeting were met, not by a miraculous way, but by everyone giving what they had...in special abilities and in needed resources. And what they had to offer was more than enough!

What is God asking us to give to Him, from our abilities and from our resources?
What needs has He impressed upon our hearts and has He prepared specifically for us?

"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: 'He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.' Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God." (2 Corinthians 9:6-11)

May we be willing to be used in the more "ordinary" kinds of ways that God meets needs, as we look to Him as our supplier and the giver of all grace. May His generosity flow through us, and result in thanksgiving to God!

Friday, November 26, 2010

How He Meets Needs

God's creativity knows no bounds. For as many needs as there are in the world, He has as many ways to meet them. Sometimes He raises up people to be in the right place at the right time who respond to His call, sometimes He multiplies people's limited resources that are offered to Him with an open hand, and sometimes He bypasses humans altogether to do something only He can do.

I am inspired by stories of Bible characters who fit perfectly with a specific calling. We can see that their lives up to certain point had all been a time of preparation for this specific moment or situation. Like a puzzle piece being placed in the exact spot to complete the puzzle.

Joseph, with plenty of reasons to have a resentful and bitter heart, instead extended mercy and forgiveness to his brothers during the time of severe drought when he was in a position of power in Egypt. Even though his brothers had intended to harm him, God had intended all of Joseph's mistreatment for good, for the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20 is one of my favorites.) There was clearly a higher purpose in what Joseph had suffered. And God was able to use him to meet the need of His people because Joseph's life had remained open to Him.

Esther, selected to become the Queen of Persia because of her outward beauty, stepped out bravely because of her inner courage and faith to speak to the king and uncover Hamaan's evil plot, in order to save the Jewish people from annihilation. She was willing to sacrifice her very life to do what she believed God was asking of her and had specifically created her for.

Nehemiah, a cupbearer to the king in Babylon during the time of the Israelites' exile there, received news of the dismal situation in Jerusalem and wept. Then God placed on his heart His plan for rebuilding the city wall, and gave Nehemiah the vision and leadership skills to accomplish the task in an amazingly short period of time, in the midst of great opposition.

And so, the Israelites were saved from the drought during Joseph's time and moved to a safe place in Egypt, where their numbers increased greatly over the next 400 years. They were protected again years later through Esther's act of courage, who was "born for such a time as this." And the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt so the Israelites could be protected from their enemies after their return from captivity in Babylon. These needs were met by people God raised up for specific purposes. They each recognized the need and God's specific call on their lives, and they responded in obedience.

I also love stories in the Bible that demonstrate how God used what people had and multiplied it. The story of the widow and Elijah is one of my favorites. She only had enough flour and oil to make on last loaf before she and her son would die. The prophet Elijah appeared at her door and asked her to first make a loaf for him. She obeyed, and as a result, her supply of flour and oil did not run out until the famine was over. (1 Kings 17)

Many years later, when Jesus' disciples realized that the time was late and the multitudes who had come to hear Jesus had no food, they wanted to send them all away. But Jesus asked them to take stock of what they had. Only five loaves and two fish. But it was enough. Enough to feed 5000 men (plus women and children) with 12 basketfuls leftover. The miracle of multiplication. (Luke 9)

Maybe even more than how I love the way God uses people and what they have to offer, I love the way He sometimes shows people a need and then meets the need Himself because there is no other way.

In the very beginning, God created Adam and gave him the task of naming all the animals. No helper was found that was suitable for Adam. So, Adam must have recognized his need for a companion. God then caused him to fall into a deep sleep, and He made a woman. From one of Adam's ribs she was formed. The perfect match for man.

And in the end, Revelation 5 tells of a scroll with seven seals. "But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or look inside. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals." (v. 3-5)

The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb and sang:
"You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on the earth." (v. 9-10)

Then thousands upon thousands of angels sang:
"Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and praise!" (v. 12)

Then every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth sang:
"To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever." (v. 13)

Jesus, the Lamb who was slain, is the only one who is worthy. The only one who is able.
And Jesus is the only answer to our greatest need for salvation.
Because of His obedience and how He responded to the specific call on His life, He will receive all praise and honor and glory and power forever. Amen.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Do We Care?

"Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it." (Ezekiel 9:4)

God had plans to destroy those in the city who did not have the mark.

Reading this passage yesterday sparked a debate between CJ and Joshua of whether this vision actually happened or whether it had more of a symbolic meaning. An hour later, the friendly but heated debate ended with both sides agreeing that either way, the more important question was: what does God want to say to us through these words?

Would we receive the mark?

Do we really care?

Do our hearts break when we see or hear God's name dishonored? When we become aware of acts of injustice? Do we grieve and lament or have our hearts become calloused? Have we "conformed to the standards of the nations around us" as God accused the Israelites in Ezekiel 11:12?

How prone we are to harden our hearts. How wonderful the promise later in that same chapter:

"I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God." (Ezekiel 11:19-20)

How we need the Spirit to change our hearts from stone to flesh. How we need His ongoing work in our lives so that our hearts continue to care, to grieve, and to lament as God's does.

I love the scene in The Chronicles of Narnia when Aslan breathes on those whom the witch has turned into statues, and with His breath they miraculously return to life.

May we experience His breath of life daily. May we be marked as ones who truly care, the way that God cares.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It is Measured

Last week as my migraine pain got worse and worse, I wondered if it would ever stop.

It did. There was a limit.

My pain is carefully measured by God. It will not be too much.

"Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3: 22-23)

"We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don't give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. Through suffering, these bodies of ours constantly share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies." (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

"In His kindness God called you to His eternal glory by means of Jesus Christ. After you have suffered a little while, He will restore, support, and strengthen you, and He will place you on a firm foundation. All power is His forever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 5:10-11)

Our family has been struck recently through reading the book of Jeremiah, that God's judgment of the nations was carefully measured out. His justice was perfect in every case. Some evil nations were completely destroyed, but Israel would always have a surviving remnant, because of God's faithfulness to His covenant. God is just, and He is merciful.

This week I was also impacted through a study in the book of Revelation, that God allows Satan a measured amount of authority on the earth for a set time. Even while Satan seems to reign, God is ultimately still in control. And He is able to use even the worst of all evils for an even greater good.

The cross is the ultimate and complete demonstration of God's justice and His mercy. It was the full wrath of God poured out on Jesus, the Sinless One, so that we could receive His measureless mercy.

"It is easy to look at the cross and conclude that this was the worst miscarriage of human justice in the history of the world. And it was. It was an evil act, perpetrated by the hands of wicked men. But that is not the full story. The crucifixion of Christ was also the greatest act of divine justice ever carried out. It was done in full accord with "the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God." (Acts 2:23)--and for the highest of purposes: the death of Christ secured the salvation of untold numbers and opened the way for God to forgive sin without compromising His own perfectly holy standard." (The Murder of Jesus by John MacArthur)

God carefully measures out each person's pain and is able to use it for His ultimate good. God measures out judgment rightly in every individual case. And God has measured out the exact amount of Satan's authority on this earth. We are assured that God will be victorious in the end. And so will we, as we are on His side and He has counted us among the conquerors.

All power is His forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Jesus Knows

God knows our hearts. He understands us better than we understand ourselves because He formed us and knew us before we were even born. He continues to know us intimately because He is omniscient, and He knows all things. What a great comfort to know that He really knows us. And He cares.

I have also been considering the unique way that Jesus knows us. He knows us because He actually came to earth in a human body like ours, and He felt pain in His body and in His soul. As I was just reading about Jesus being flogged and beaten before His crucifixion, I noticed a verse for the first time: “And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and beat him on the head with it.” (Matthew 27:30)

Jesus was beaten over the head, and felt incredible pain in the same place where I struggle with pain. He was forced to wear a crown of long, sharp thorns on his head.

He could have stopped them with a single word, easily calling down fire from heaven to punish them for treating the Son of God so wrongly. But He humbled and submitted Himself to suffer degrading and undeserved pain.

His pain was very great and very real, and it also had a purpose: to set us free from our sins.

Jesus took the punishment we deserved upon Himself, because there was no other way for us to be made right with God. “He was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed!” (Isaiah 53:5)

Corrie Ten Boom, recorded in The Hiding Place, how she came to realize that Jesus had been humiliated in the same way that she and Betsie were stripped of all dignity in the concentration camp. The sisters had to walk naked past a row of mocking guards for their weekly medical inspection. "It was on one of these mornings while we were waiting, shivering in the corridor, that yet another page in the Bible leapt into life for me...He hung naked on the cross. I had not known--I had not thought...the paintings, the carved cucifixes showed at least a scrap of cloth. But this, I suddenly knew, was the respect and reverence of the artist. But oh--at the time itself, on that other Friday morning--there had been no reverence. No more than I saw in the faces around us now. I leaned toward Betsie, ahead of me in line...“Betsie, they took His clothes too!” Ahead of me I heard a little gasp, "Oh, Corrie. And I never thanked Him..." (p. 178)

A deeper understanding of how Jesus identifies with our pain. He knows.

How does Jesus identify with your pain?

Jesus knows our physical suffering because He was flogged and He hung for hours on a cross. He knows our feelings of being misunderstood, betrayed, and deserted because He was falsely accused, mocked, and left all alone. He knows our struggles of deep grief because He had those feelings Himself. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He was “filled with anguish and deep distress.” He told James and John, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:37-38)

But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and fill him with grief.” (Isaiah 53:10) All that Jesus experienced and suffered was part of our Father’s good and perfect plan for him.

The LORD’s good and perfect plan included Jesus’suffering and sacrifice because of their great love for us. We will never fully understand this sacrifice, but isn’t it amazing to catch just a glimpse of what this love for us meant for Jesus?

“It was necessary for Jesus to be in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and temptation, he is able to help us when we are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:17-18)

“All praise to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us.” (Revelation 1:5)

Jesus knows us.

Jesus loves us.

Jesus set us free.

Friday, October 22, 2010

God Knows

We celebrated our 15 year anniversary as a family in Tianjin this week! The date is an easy one for me to remember because we flew out of the LA airport on my Dad's birthday (October 19) and in all the rush to get to the airport on time, I realized as we were in the air over the ocean that I had forgotten to wish him a happy birthday! Reflecting back on October 20, 1995, when Charly and I arrived to live in two adjoining dorm rooms on the campus of Tianjin Normal University for Charly to teach English, I remember being 25 years old, married just 1 ½ years, with a 4 month old baby. And one of my strongest feelings in those early days of adjustment was, “Nobody knows me here.”

Since then, God has blessed me with friends who know me, the first of whom was Karla (who showed me SO much about being a friend as she befriended me). And, last night I shared with Charly on our date, how special it was for me this past week to meet with two dear Chinese friends, to really feel “at home” with both of them, as we shared our lives and our hearts, ups and downs and what God is teaching us, building on our friendships of the past 10 years of knowing and understanding each other. And yet, even with special friends, a great family, and a wonderful husband, no one else can completely understand my desires, my longings, my dreams, my disappointments, my pain, my burdens…(just as I cannot completely understand anyone else's).

But God knows.

That thought has brought great comfort to me.

I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.” Jeremiah 1:5

He knew me before He created me. My existence is part of His plan. He formed me to be the way I am.

“O LORD, you have examined my heart
and you know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my every thought when far away.
You chart the path ahead of me and tell me when to stop and rest.
Every moment you know where I am.

You know what I am going to say even before I say it, LORD.
You both precede and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is to wonderful for me, too great for me to know!
I can never escape from your spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the place of the dead, you are there.
If I ride on the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are both alike to you.
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God!
They are innumerable!
I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up in the morning you are still with me!

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
(Psalms 139: 1-18, 23-24, NLT)

Even before my own mother was aware that I was in her womb, God knew me. My life came with a plan and a purpose (as did yours). And God’s thoughts about us are precious, even more than we can count! Isn’t that amazing?

As David in this psalm, found comfort and strength in understanding that God knew him, he was motivated to invite God to search his heart so that He could show him whatever was there that might be offensive to Him. I want this to be my prayer as well. You know me God; I welcome you into my heart to search me and to show me your ways.

God knows me intimately and He loves me for who I am—I am who He made me to be.

God knows my true heart like no one else, and He cares deeply.
That is enough.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Man of Sorrows

This passage has deeply resonated with my heart this week. I wanted to share it, without any of my own words, and to invite you hear the LORD speak to your heart as you read it.

My servant grew up in the LORD’s presence like a root in a dry and sterile ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic in his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down, And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed! All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the guilt and sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people realized that he was dying for their sins—that he was suffering their punishment? He had done no wrong, and he never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave.

But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of what he has experienced, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. I will give him the honors of one who is mighty and great, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among those who were sinners. He bore the sins of many and interceded for sinners.

Isaiah 53: 2-12 (New Living Translation)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What Are You Trusting In?


The challenge came to the people of Jerusalem from the mighty King of Assyria, who was conquering cities left and right. The Israelites were to surrender to Sennacherib and his powerful army, or the city of Jerusalem would be put under siege. Shouting his threats in Hebrew, the king’s messenger believed that he could convince the people to give up hope that their God would rescue them, so that they would submit to Assyria, as all those before them had done. But would they?

What are you trusting in that makes you so confident?” (Isaiah 36:4)

With your tiny army, how can you think of challenging even the weakest contingent of my master’s troops, even with the help of Egypt’s chariots and horsemen?” (v. 9)

“What god of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? Name just one! So what makes you think that the LORD can rescue Jerusalem? (v. 20)

Using further tactics of doubt, confusion, deception, temptation, and fear, the messenger certainly had a persuasive argument for turning the Israelites’ loyalty away from their king Hezekiah and their God. A simple statement is the only record we have of the people’s response. They “were silent and did not answer because Hezekiah had told them not to speak.” (v. 21) So much is there though, isn’t it? True loyalty and obedience. Of course, the people must have been wrestling with fear and dread and panic. But they waited to see what their godly leader would do.

Hezekiah received this bad news in an admirable way. He “tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the Temple of the LORD to pray.” (37:1) And he sent the news on to the prophet Isaiah, seeking his prayers for their desperate situation. The prophet sent him back a reply from the LORD:

Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech…
I will make sure the king will receive a report…
I will make him want to return home…
I will have him killed with a sword…” (v. 5-7)

A longer response would come later. But this initial reminder to Hezekiah that God was aware and that He was in control was enough to sustain his confidence.

Another message from Sennacherib, full of boasting and threats, came to Hezekiah:
Don’t let this God you trust deceive you with promises that Jerusalem will not be captured by the king of Assyria. You know perfectly well what the kings of Assyria have done wherever they have gone. They have crushed everyone who stood in their way. Why should you be any different? Have the gods of other nations rescued them…” (v. 10-12)

My heart sings with the way Hezekiah responds to this letter! He spread the letter out before the LORD in His Temple and prayed:

O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. Listen to me, O LORD, and hear! Open your eyes, O LORD, and see! Listen to Sennacherib’s words of defiance against the living God!

It is true, LORD, that the kings of Assyria have destroyed all these nations, just as the message says. And they have thrown the gods of these nations into the fire and burned them. But of course the Assyrians could destroy them! They were not gods at all—only idols of wood and stone shaped by human hands. Now, O LORD, our God, rescue us from his power. Then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone, O LORD, are God. (v. 16-20)

Don’t you love it? Hezekiah first and foremost affirms God’s sovereignty and authority over all the nations. He acknowledges what Sennacherib said that was true, but understands that Assyria could burn the gods of other nations only because they were idols shaped by human hands and were not gods at all. He pleads for God to listen and to see, to rescue His people from the Assyrians so that not only the Israelites, but all the nations of the earth would recognize that God alone is God!

Then a message came for Sennacherib, through Isaiah, from the LORD:
(I can imagine the thunder!)
Whom do you think you have been insulting and ridiculing? Against whom did you raise your voice? At whom did you look on in such proud condescension? It was the Holy One of Israel! (v. 23)

God continued to humble this mighty king by explaining that He had planned all of this long ago. The only reason that Assyria was so powerful was because God had allowed them to conquer the land, at that point in history, to accomplish the purposes of God. He also told Sennacherib that God would make him return home in defeat.

Isaiah then told Hezekiah what proof the LORD would give that He would protect the city and told him God’s answer to their prayers:

“And this is what the LORD says about the king of Assyria: His armies will not enter Jerusalem to shoot their arrow. They will not march outside its gates with their shields and build banks of earth against its walls. The king will return to his own country by the road on which he came. He will not enter this city, says the LORD. For my honor and for the sake of my servant David, I will defend it.” (v. 33-35)

God thwarted mighty Assyria’s plans to conquer Jerusalem for He had a bigger plan that would not fail, no matter how tiny the army of Jerusalem was.

“That night the angel of the LORD went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 troops.” (v. 36)

“Then King Sennacherib broke camp and returned to his own land.” (v. 37)

And one day his sons killed him, while he was worshipping in the temple of his god. (v. 38)

What are you trusting in?

This simple but huge question reveals our true hearts when we are attacked with doubt, fear, confusion, deception, or temptation from the enemy. Will we give up hope that God can rescue us and listen instead to the boasts and threats that the advancing army is sure to defeat us? Or will we trust in God alone and cry out to Him to save us, as Hezekiah did and proclaim:

“O LORD Almighty, you alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth!
Rescue us so that all the nations will know that you alone, O LORD, are God.

Hezekiah lived out the faith of his forefather, King David, who years earlier had written: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” (Psalm 20:7)

Our temptations today to put our trust elsewhere are probably not chariots and horses, but could include wealth, our ability, our wisdom, other people, possessions, position, popularity, modern medicine....

What are you trusting in?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Inspiration

The Hiding Place has definitely challenged and inspired me these past two weeks! On the morning when my selfishness was so evident, and in such stark contrast to the selflessness of Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom (see post "Mirrored Reflection"), what convicted me the most is that humility will not simply "rub off" on me because of observing it in others. It is one thing for me to read about someone else's humility, and to tape up Philippians 2:3-8 beside our dining room table to remind me to be humble every time we eat. It is clearly another thing for humility to be "lived out" in my life. How does that inner change take place after I recognize what a selfish person I am?

One of my favorite verses is Romans 12:2. "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." I love the word transform! Its what only God can do. We can choose to let ourselves be conformed to the pattern of the world, or we can make choices that put us in the position of receiving God's transformation. Those disciplines like Bible study, meditation, memorization, prayer, reflection... help us to abide in His presence and give Him the invitation to renew our minds and transform us into His image.

Our bearing fruit (like the fruit of humility) is dependent upon our abiding in Him and staying connected to the Vine (John 15). Apart from him we can do nothing (of any value). And His pruning is for our own good, so that we can become even more fruitful. I feel like I have been going through a pruning process recently! My selfishness has been exposed, and I have become more and more aware of how dependent I am on God alone to change me. I can't just say, "I'm going to put others' needs above my own today" and undergo an instant heart change!

Following Charly's example of using the dictionary to help gain insight into words, I just looked up the word "inspire." I found that I can be inspired by a book, in the sense of being motivated or influenced by it. But it is God alone who can truly inspire, by breathing His life into me through His Spirit (which provides the ability to change).

It is good for me to read through books twice, because I tend to read quickly, and I am driven by the feeling of completion. So I sometimes miss important ideas the first time around. If I find a book to be worthwhile, I usually read it again, and take notes on it. The first time I read The Hiding Place, I missed the significance of the lesson from 2 Corinthinans 12. Corrie learned that her real sin wasn't that she was trying to get to the middle of the roll call formation to stay warmer, it was the sin of thinking that she had anything to offer the women she was ministering to, apart from Christ. (see "A Deeper Love").

This makes me think of a quote from Mother Teresa (that is also taped beside our dining room table).
"We all have our shortcomings, but the marvelous thing is that God uses us for His work, even with our weaknesses. God writes through us, and however imperfect pencils we may be, He writes beautifully."

I am thankful for the reminder that my weaknesses are not a reason for me to be discouraged that I'm not a "better person." My weaknesses drive me to our Perfect God, the Only One Who Can Transform, and enable me to recognize that I come to Him with empty hands, lifted high, asking Him to do what needs to be done in me, so that I can know Him and love Him more and allow Him to love others through me.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasureably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."  Ephesians 3:20-21

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Trust Me to Carry it For You

Corrie Ten Boom had a very wise father. When she was 10 or 11, and she asked him a difficult question, he answered her with a question. Could she carry his heavy traveling case off the train? She told him that she couldn’t because it was too heavy for her.

“Yes,” he said, “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”
And I was satisfied. More than satisfied—wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and to all my hard questions—for now I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping. (p. 31)

Many years later, Corrie was questioned by a Nazi officer who challenged how she could hold onto her faith after she had learned that her father died after being abandoned and left unidentified in a hospital corridor only ten days after arriving at the prison camp.

The officer asked her, “What kind of God would have let that old man die here at Sveneningen?”

I did not understand a great deal. And suddenly I was thinking of Father’s own answer to hard questions: “Some knowledge is too heavy for you…you cannot bear it …your Father will carry it until you are able.” (p. 150)

After being transferred to Ravensbruk concentration camp, Corrie and her sister Betsie had to live right next to the punishment barracks, where they had to endure the sounds of every torture and suffering cry of their fellow prisoners.

It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls, there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy.

Will you carry this too, Lord Jesus?” (p. 177)


My desire is to be satisfied and at peace in what I can’t understand or make sense of, like Corrie Ten Boom describes in The Hiding Place. I want to entrust those things that are too heavy for me to my Father who knows all the answers, and is more than willing and able to carry the burden for me.

The quotes here and from my last two posts: "More Than Conquerors" and "A Deeper Love" come from the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom (with John and Elizabeth Sherrill), published by Chosen Books, 1996.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More Than Conquerors

“…in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:37
I have continued to be inspired by The Hiding Place. (see posts “Mirrored Reflection” and “A Deeper Love”)

Corrie Ten Boom records how God’s Word came alive to her while she was in prison, in ways that she had never experienced before. Suffering from an illness at the time of her arrest for helping Jews during WWII, she was assigned to a solitary cell in the Sveneningen prison. Corrie’s extended days of silence and sickness were brightened by the small Bible that was smuggled in for her. As God spoke to her through His Word, she identified with Jesus’ suffering and came to a greater understanding of God’s higher purposes as He brought victory out of seeming defeat. This is what she wrote about her solitary confinement:

“Was it possible that this—all of this that seemed so wasteful and so needless—this war, Sveneningen prison, this very cell, none of it was unforeseen or accidental? Could it be part of the pattern first revealed in the Gospels? Hadn’t Jesus—and here my reading became intent indeed—hadn’t Jesus been defeated as utterly and unarguably as our little group and small plans had been? But…if the Gospels were truly the pattern of God’s activity, then defeat was only the beginning. I would look around at the bare little cell and wonder what conceivable victory could come from a place like this. (p. 139)
Later, Corrie became convinced that God’s purposes for her and her sister Betsie included the dreaded Ravensbruk concentration camp. At first, she could not even bear to look as they approached the horrible place that would become their home for an undetermined amount of time.

“Ravensbruk!” Like a whispered curse the word passed back through the lines. This was the notorious women’s extermination camp whose name we had heard even in Harlaam. That squat concrete building, that smoke disappearing in the bright sunlight—no! I would not look at it! As Betsie and I stumbled down the hill, I felt the Bible bumping between my shoulder blades. God’s good news. Was it to this world that He had spoken it? (p. 173)
In obedience to 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in all circumstances,” Corrie and Betsie determined to thank God for the circumstances He had provided for them at Ravensbruk. They thanked Him that they could share the same bed, that the overcrowded conditions meant that more women could hear the Good News, and that God had allowed their smuggled Bible to pass though the guards’ rough inspection and body search. Betsie even thanked Him for the fleas in their beds, even though Corrie thought her sister was going a bit to far on that one!

“Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
“Give thanks in all circumstances,” she quoted. “It doesn’t say in pleasant circumstances. Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.” (p. 180)

Later they discovered that because of the fleas in their barracks, the guards refused to step foot inside, which gave them the freedom to minister the Word of God without any restrictions. Corrie and Betsie grew more and more certain of God’s purpose for them in the dark place He had prepared for them, and they shone His light for all to see.

But as the rest of the world grew stranger, one thing became increasingly clear. And that was the reason the two of us were here. Why others should suffer we were never shown. As for us, from morning until lights out, whenever we were not in ranks for roll call, our Bible was the center of an ever-widening circle of help and hope. Like waifs clustered around a blazing fire, we gathered about it, holding out our hearts to its warmth and light. The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the Word of God. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? ..Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” (p. 177-178)
When Corrie, as one of the healthy prisoners, was later selected to be sent away for munitions work, she faked poor eyesight during the vision exam so she wouldn’t have to be separated from Betsie. The joyful result was that she could join Betsie’s knitting group.

And this began the closest, most joyous weeks of all the time at Ravensbruk. Side by side, in the sanctuary of God’s fleas, Betsie and I ministered the Word of God to all in the room. We sat by deathbeds that became doorways to heaven. We watched women who had lost everything grow rich in hope. The knitters of Barracks 28 became the praying heart of the vast diseased body that was Ravensbruk, interceding for all in the camp—guards, under Betsie’s prodding, as well as prisoners. We prayed beyond the concrete walls for the healing of Germany, of Europe, of the world—as Mama had once done from the prison of a crippled body.

And as we prayed, God spoke to us about the world after the war…We were to have a large house—to which people who had been damaged by concentration-camp life would come until they felt ready to live again in the normal world. (p. 192)

Through prayer, God gave Betsie a very clear picture of the house they were to offer for rehabilitation to the sufferers of the war. Because she died just before they were released from prison, Betsie never saw this house on earth. Corrie, however, returned home to Holland after her release and had opportunities to speak about God’s deeper love from their experiences in the concentration camps. A woman who heard Corrie speak decided to donate her house for the war rehabilitation project that Corrie spoke of (and the house was the exact description of the house in Betsie’s vision!)

Do I know God’s purpose for my life in this time and place?

Just as Esther believed that God had placed her in the position of Persian Queen “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14) to save her people from destruction, so Corrie and Betsie knew that God had carefully placed them to reach those in desperate need of God’s deeper love and life-giving hope, in the midst of the evil and hate that infected the concentration camps and the world surrouding them. They refused to lose hope in the face of darkness and apparent defeat, because just as Jesus went to the grave, He went on to rise again in unconquerable victory.

And in Him, we are more than conquerors!

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Deeper Love

“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:18-19
“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

Over the weekend, I read The Hiding Place for the second time and our family watched the movie together; and so, the incredible challenge and inspiration of the Ten Boom family has continued to fill my thoughts. I have found myself drawn into their story, marveling along with Corrie at her sister Betsie’s loving heart toward their persecutors during WWII, and learning along with Corrie about real forgiveness and sacrificial love from Betsie’s amazing example.

The Ten Booms were Christians who were imprisoned for hiding and helping Jews during Germany’s occupation of Holland. Corrie and Betsie, unmarried sisters in their 50’s, lived with their father and worked with him in his watch repair shop on the first floor. Together they had successfully hidden six Jews in a special hiding place in the top floor of their old house. They praised God from prison when they received news that these Jews had remained hidden and safe when the Ten Booms were arrested and the house was searched. Corrie and Betsie were grieved to learn that their father only survived ten days in the men’s concentration camp before he died, but they were also thankful that he was spared any further suffering.

Corrie and Betsie also came to thank God for the ministry that He opened for them among their fellow prisoners, as they read aloud words of hope from smuggled Bibles and boldly proclaimed the message that God’s love is deeper than any pit and stronger than the evil all around them. Corrie and Betsie endured three different concentration camps during that horror-filled year of 1944, and Betsie died just before their release. Corrie went on to live until she was 91, traveling the world and sharing the beautiful message of Christ’s deep love and forgiveness from their personal experiences.

Corrie, as a child and young woman, was greatly impacted by her parents’ faith and love. Her heart was broken in her early 20’s when her one and only boyfriend, Karel, who had led Corrie to believe that they would get married, then destroyed this dream one day by bringing his fiancée to meet Corrie and her family. (Corrie later discovered that Karel’s mother had not approved of his plan to marry Corrie, but he didn’t have the courage to tell her directly.) I love the way Corrie’s wise father counseled her after this terrible heartbreak.

He said, “Corrie, do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies too. Or, Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel. God loves Karel—even more than you do—and if you ask Him, He will give you His love for this man, a love nothing can prevent, nothing destroy. Whatever we cannot love in the old, human way, Corrie, God can give us the perfect way.”

I did not know, as I listened to Father’s footsteps winding back down the stairs, that he had given me more than the key to this hard moment. I did not know that he had put into my hands the secret that would open far darker rooms than this—places where there was not, on a human level, anything to love at all.(p. 47)

Corrie’s mother had always suffered from poor health, and after a cerebral hemorrhage, she was paralyzed for the last three years of her life. She did not live to see the devastation of the Second World War, but Corrie carried into the war the lessons that she learned about love from her mother.

She wrote: “Mama’s love had always been the kind that acted itself out with a soup pot and a sewing basket. But now that these things were taken away, the love seemed as whole as before. She sat in her chair in the window and loved us. She loved the people she saw in the street—and beyond: her love took in the city, the land of Holland, the world. And so I learned that love is larger than the walls which shut it in.” (p. 50)

Betsie, like their mother, also suffered from poor health, and because of her illness, was told that she could never have children; so she decided not to marry. Also like their mother, Betsie was full of compassion for people in need, and was constantly serving and giving to others. She had an amazing ability to see their lives from God’s perspective and to completely trust God’s hand of sovereignty over all of their circumstances.

When Corrie and Betsie were transferred from the Scheveningen prison to the Vught prison, whispers of hope reached them, that maybe they were being released. But when it became clear that freedom was not in their immediate future, Corrie was devastated and cried out to her sister.

“Betsie!” I wailed, “how long will it take?”
“Perhaps a long, long time. Perhaps many years. But what better way could there be to spend our lives?”
I turned to stare at her.
“Whatever are you talking about?”
“These young women. That girl back at the bunkers. Corrie, if people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love! We must find a way, you and I, no matter how long it takes…”
She went on, almost forgetting in her excitement to keep her voice to a whisper, while I slowly took in the fact that she was talking about our guards. I glanced at the matron seated at the desk ahead of us. I saw a gray uniform and a visored hat; Betsie saw a wounded human being.
And I wondered, not for the first time, what sort of person she was, this sister of mine…what kind of road she followed while I trudged beside her on an all-too-solid earth.” (p. 161)

After arriving at the Vught prison, Corrie and Betsie learned the name of the man who had betrayed their family. Jan Vogel had pretended to be a Jew who needed money, and when the Ten Booms generously gave him what he asked for, the police had sufficient evidence to arrest their family for being involved in the underground movement. Once she learned his name, Corrie was instantly filled with hatred for this man, and was sick in her body and spirit for a week.

What puzzled me all this time was Betsie. She had suffered everything I had and yet seemed to carry no burden of rage.
“Betsie, don’t you feel anything for Jan Vogel? Doesn’t it bother you?”
“Oh yes, Corrie! Terribly! I’ve felt for him ever since I knew—and pray for him whenever his name comes to mind. How dreadfully he must be suffering!”

Once again I had this feeling that this sister with whom I had spent all my life belonged somehow to another order of beings. Wasn’t she telling me in her gentle way that I was as guilty as Jan Vogel? Didn’t he and I stand together before an all-seeing God convicted of the same sin of murder? For I had murdered him in my heart and with my tongue.”

“Lord Jesus,” I whispered. “I forgive Jan Vogel as I pray that you will forgive me. I have done him great damage. Bless him now and his family…” (p. 165)

And then, at the third and worst prison of all, Ravensbruk, Corrie was greatly tempted to think just of herself and of Betsie. She maneuvered the two of them into the middle of the roll call formation to seek some protection from the bitter cold. She tried to hoard the precious vitamins for only Betsie, as her health was getting worse. And, she discovered, there were many ways that she could justify her actions. The Ten Boom sisters had an amazing ministry to the women in the camp, and wouldn’t God want them to be able to continue it?

The camp was built for only 400 people, but 1400 women were squeezed into Ravensbruk, with more continuing to come in from other camps that had been shut down. One night, a new prisoner was assigned to their barracks who had no blanket.

Betsie insisted we give her one of ours. So that evening I “lent” her a blanket. But I didn’t “give” it to her. In my heart I held onto the right to that blanket.

Was it coincidence that joy and power imperceptibly drained from my ministry?

Then in the early morning, Corrie read in 2 Corinthians 12 about Paul’s weakness, and she understood.

The truth blazed like sunlight in the shadows of Barracks 28. The real sin I had been committing was not that of inching toward the center of a platoon because I was cold.
The real sin lay in thinking that any power to help and transform came from me. Of course, it was not my wholeness, but Christ’s that made the difference.
…to that group of women clustering close I told the truth about myself—my self-centeredness, my stinginess, my lack of love. That night real joy returned to my worship. (p. 193)

Corrie’s final challenge to love, before she was released from prison life, came in the hospital, as she was diagnosed with edema a few days after her beloved Betsie’s death.

The suffering was unimaginable. Around me were survivors of a prison train which had been bombed on its way here. The women were horribly mutilated and in terrible pain, but at each moan two of the nurses jeered and mimicked the sounds. Even in the other patients I saw that stony indifference to others that was the most fatal disease of the concentration camp. I felt it spread to myself: how could one survive if one kept on feeling! The paralyzed and the unconscious kept falling out of the crowded narrow cots; that first night four women fell from upper bunks and died on the floor. It was better to narrow the mind to one’s own need, not to see, not to think. (p. 202)
But Corrie did allow herself to see, to feel and to love those suffering women, even when they did not respond with love back to her. She chose not to narrow her mind to her own need in order to survive. Through all that she had experienced, God had shown her how to keep her heart open for His deep love to travel through her to others. It was not her own human love, which she knew was greatly limited, but the richness of Christ’s love in her that knew no end. God had built into her life the lesson her father had taught her when her heart was first broken:

Whatever we cannot love in the old, human way, Corrie, God can give us the perfect way.

How I too long to love others like the Ten Booms: with God’s deep and measureless love, in His perfect way, with His unlimited power, working through my imperfection and my weakness.

“My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ may work through me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

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