Thursday, March 24, 2011

What Would He Have Seen?

The swelling of his chest could have filled the room. His self-confident prayer was a careful recounting of all that he had done right (and not done wrong). Clearly, this proud Pharisee felt “right with God,” and in a special class of his own. His prayer was really a boast:“I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there!” (Luke 18:11)

The tax collector, meanwhile, stood at a distance. He dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed.” (v. 13) because he realized the consequences of his sin: that he was not right with God, and that he desperately needed God’s mercy. So, he beat his chest in sorrow, and in Jesus’ words, he“returned home justified before God. For the proud will be humbled and the humble will be honored.” (v. 14)

But what would he have seen if he had dared to look up to heaven?

Like the immoral woman who anointed Jesus’ feet (see post “To See His Face”), I believe he would have been amazed to see complete acceptance, love, and forgiveness for him in the face of God.

The proud Pharisee could not see God’s face because his pride was the veil that blinded him to his own sin. The apostle Paul later wrote to the Corinthians: “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, then the veil is taken away…And all of us have had that veil removed so that we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more.” (2 Corinthians 3:16, 18)

“For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made us understand that this light is the brightness of the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

As we recognize and confess our sin, we turn in true repentance to the Lord. Then, the veil of our pride can no longer blind us from seeing our need for a Savior.

As the veil is taken away, we can see the beautiful face of our Savior and be made right with God because we are no longer relying on ourselves, but on the perfect sacrifice of Jesus.

As we focus our gaze, not on our sin and unworthiness, but on Christ and His worthiness, the light and glory of His face will shine brightly into our hearts. We will joyfully embrace the gift of His mercy and unconditional love because we know how undeserving and needy we are.

As we gaze upon His face in increasing measure, and as the Holy Spirit works within us, we will reflect His glory more and more. What an amazing truth!

Recently, our family has been reading a book that I would highly recommend, Can You Hear Me? Tuning in to the God Who Speaks, by Brad Jersak. He gives great examples and practical ways to grow in communication and intimacy with God, and says, “To behold the face of our Savior opens a channel of grace into our hearts.”

“One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek Him in His temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

O Lord, you’re beautiful,
Your face is all I seek.
For when your eyes are on this child,
Your grace abounds to me.

(“O Lord, You’re Beautiful” by Keith Green, 1980 Birdwing Music)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

To See His Face

Kneeling behind his feet, she unashamedly wept tears of repentance. Pouring a jar of expensive perfume onto his dusty feet, she continually covered them with her kisses and wiped her tears away with her loose, unbound hair.

Disgraceful. What was she doing here? Surely if Jesus knew what a sinner she was, he would send her away. Wouldn’t he?

However, Jesus rebuked not the woman, but Simon, for his lack of hospitality as Jesus had entered his home. He told a story of two debtors, unable to pay their debts, and asked Simon whose love would be greater after having been forgiven. Simon answered correctly: the one who had been forgiven a greater debt.

Jesus then made the story more personal, explaining to Simon (as he turned toward the woman), “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven….Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:40-50)

She must have looked up into the face of Jesus as he spoke to her. Love she had never known before would have radiated from his eyes, and she would have seen herself reflected there. A pure, spotless bride. Washed clean of her shameful past. Her heart rejoicing, as she embraced his forgiveness and unconditional acceptance, she might have sung a song like this:

When I look into your holiness,
When I gaze into your loveliness,
When all things that surround
Become shadows in the light of you.

When I’ve found the joy of reaching your heart,
When my will becomes enthroned in your love,
When all things that surround
Become shadows in the light of you.

I worship you, I worship you.
The reason I live is to worship you.

(When I Look into Your Holiness by Wayne and Cathy Perrin, 1980 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music)

Maybe the condemnation of self-righteous men didn’t stop this immoral woman from courageously following Jesus into a Pharisee’s house (of all places!) because they were mere shadows to her in the light of Jesus. Her extravagant act of worship was her natural response of giving all that she had to this man Jesus, the Messiah, who was holy, lovely, and worthy. She had found the joy of reaching His heart, her unashamed worship had blessed Him, and her will had become enthroned in His love. The reason she now lived was to worship Him.

She had seen His face. And her life was changed.

Changed to a life of worship.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Growing Through Stress

I’ve been reading my old journals and recently came across some notes I took in 2003 from a book called Growing Through Stress by Kath Donovan. I could remember how these notes encouraged me with the difficult time I was going through eight years ago, and they were fresh reminders of what God has been teaching me over the past few months (see post “Carried By Grace”) I hope they will encourage you too!

"Pain and difficulties can bring out our best.”

"Growth happens through right responses to the hard things in life.”

"All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. You can be sure that the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. So when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your benefit and salvation! For when God comforts us, it is so that we, in turn, can be an encouragement to you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in suffering, you will also share God’s comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-9)

"Paul, through his pain, discovered God to be the source of all compassion and the God of all comfort in an ever-deepening way. His sufferings had so overwhelmed him that they were like a river breaking out of its banks and flowing all over the countryside. Paul is saying that just as floodwaters overwhelm every part of the land, so pain can fill very nook and cranny of our lives. However, God’s comfort can more than match that pain.”

"I think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and completely overwhelmed, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we learned not to rely on ourselves, but on God who can raise the dead. And he did deliver us from mortal danger. And we are confident that he will continue to deliver us. He will rescue us because you are helping us by praying for us. As a result, many will give thanks to God because so many people’s prayers for our safety have been answered.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

"Deliverance does not mean removal from the painful situation, but deliverance in it, being equipped with all the resources to endure the ordeal of suffering. Paul and his friends (in the above passage) also learned that God is trustworthy.”

"Trust removes the need for explanations because we know and love the one we trust.”

"Overflow ministry does not take away the pain, but gives meaning to it. It is meaningless pain that can’t be endured. Trust believes that there is a meaning even though it is impossible to see what that is. All we know for sure is that now is our “time of grief.” (John 16:22)

"Most coping strategies are directed at removing, getting around, or going over the “mountains” that represent the hard things in our lives. Creative coping, however, is directed toward engaging them.”

"There is a time for simply hiding under God’s wings, as David did, until the worst of the pain has eased. (Psalm 57:1)”

"Creative coping is for a time when I have strength enough to look back and gather up what has been given.”

"Creative coping is hard, slow, and painful because it does not come naturally to us. It requires a work of grace in us.”

"If all I have to give is my pain, and the result is something enriching and glorifying to God, that is a miracle.”

"The key to an ever-enlarging coping capacity is an ever-deepening devotion to God.”

"God longs to change me. He will change me. But I have to put myself—and keep on putting myself—in the way of being changed.”

"My growth as a result of pain depends not on my refusing, but receiving what God has in it for me.”

"Since what we share is molded out of what we ourselves are and have, it is authentic and powerful. This sharing is the making available of our wounds to others.” (Henry Nouwen)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Carried By Grace

"Three different times I begged the LORD to take it away. Each time he said, “My gracious favor is all that you need. My power works best in your weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10 NLT)

"He has showered down upon us the richness of His grace—for how well He understands us and knows what is best for us at all times.” (Ephesians 1:8 LB)

My last post seems quite long ago! As I last recorded in Isaiah 64:9, I experienced God meeting me in the midst of my many struggles of those “Early Days” and His carrying me through all the years that we spent in Tianjin.  So I have also felt rescued and carried by God’s grace these past few months…

In the fall I went through a dark time of deep physical and relational pain. My migraines were much worse than normal, and I could not seem to break free of them. I felt opposed by the enemy in ways that I had not experienced before, and I was living in survival mode.

Usually I am not able to think coherent thoughts in the midst of a migraine. But one day in November, as I was confined to bed, God graciously gave me a picture of myself.

I was a bird with clipped wings that had fallen out of her nest and carried the daunting task of trying to build a new nest in another tree. I didn’t know where that tree was or how to find it, and the responsibility felt so heavy. If only I was a strong and capable bird… But, I felt completely weak and totally inadequate to complete this assignment. A strong wind was blowing against me, and I couldn’t see clearly. How could I find the tree for our new nest, much less transport everything there that we needed from our old nest?

God spoke gently to this frail, broken bird and reminded me that He knew exactly where I was, and that He did not expect me to carry this huge responsibility on my own. He would give me His rest and protection while I waited for Him to provide His way in His timing.

This picture gave me an inner peace to replace the guilt I had been feeling over not being able to do more in preparation for our move. And over the next few weeks, God revealed the Way He had provided for me.

In Psalm 31:7, God assured me that He had seen my troubles and He cared about the anguish of my soul. Even if no one else did, God knew and cared, and that was enough (see post “God Knows”)

He also enabled my three children to cheerfully carry the bulk of the weight of sorting/giving away/and packing our stuff. I am continuing to thank God for the way He has used them in such huge and practical ways in our move, both in Tianjin and now in our new home in Lanzhou.

And lastly, in answer to the prayers of friends, He specifically used several dear sisters to enter into my pain and pray over me. I was freed from what was holding me in bondage and brought out of the darkness and into the light. Charly then helped me to learn some important lessons about how the Body works and the need to have a thankful heart.

This past week (when Charly hasn’t had doctoral classes in the evenings), we have watched the Lord of the Rings movies. I have been encouraged through the relationships of the Fellowship, to see how different characters supported and rescued each other multiple times on their overlapping journeys. My favorite example is still Sam’s lifelong commitment to Frodo (see “Faithful Friends”). I loved the way that all the main characters shone as heroes in the last episode, “Return of the King,” as Good did at last triumph over Evil.

Throughout the movie series, I found myself relating to Frodo and the times when he wanted to give up and wished that he had never been given the assignment of destroying the ring. I was inspired each time when he chose to press on in his journey, and accepted his part to play in the Battle of Good vs. Evil. I felt his pain and the incredible heaviness of his burden as he forced himself, on hands and knees, up the final mountain. I loved the part when Frodo had no more strength, and Sam picked him up to carry him on his back saying, “I can’t carry your burden, but I can carry you!”

After finally making it up the mountain, Frodo fought with himself over giving up the ring and then fought with Gollum at the edge of the fiery cliff. In the end, both Gollum and the ring were consumed in the fire, and Frodo emerged as a new person, exulting, “It’s done!” “It’s gone!” He and Sam raced away from the crumbling mountaintop and found a safe place to rest. There seemed to be no way for their return journey as everything around them lay in destruction and ruin, because Sauron’s evil kingdom was destroyed along with the ring. Then Gandalf flew in with large eagles that swooped down and lifted Frodo and Sam up. Rescued. Carried home. When there was no other way.

My own experience last fall feels similar to Frodo as he struggled up the mountain with a heavy burden, surrounded by darkness. As Frodo was physically carried by Sam, so I felt carried by the help of my family and my friends. Being listened to and prayed for by sisters in the faith allowed me to emerge as a new person, like Frodo, released from the heavy burden and brought back into the light. I also felt personally rescued by God Himself, like Sam and Frodo, and carried by His grace. We have now made it to our new "nest" in Lanzhou and have experienced God’s goodness and His provision on this journey in fresh ways.

“In all their suffering he also suffered and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through all the years.” (Isaiah 64:9)
“I will cause my people and their homes around my holy hill to be a blessing. And I will send showers, showers of blessings, which will come just when they are needed.” (Ezekiel 34:26)

Jordan helped carry our 74 boxes up 9 flights of stairs!
God will make a way
When there seems to be no way.
He works in ways we cannot see.
He will make a way for me.

He will be my guide.
Hold me closely to His side.
With love and strength for each new day.
He will make a way.
He will make a way.

By a roadway in the wilderness He leads me.
Rivers in the desert will I see.
Heaven and earth will fade,
But His word will still remain.
He will do something new today!

God will make a way
When there seems to be no way.
He works in ways we cannot see.
He will make a way for me.

He will be my guide.
Hold me closely to His side.
With love and strength for each new day.
He will make a way.
He will make a way.


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