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

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