Monday, October 31, 2011

Eyes That Can See

“We see things not as they are but as we are.” (Anais Nin)

When surrounded by King Aram’s mighty army, Elisha prayed that God would open the eyes of his fearful servant. And “the LORD opened his servant’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.” (2 Kings 6:17) God’s army was there all along, but the servant’s eyes were opened so he could see what had been invisible to him and take courage. He then believed what Elisha had said, that “there are more on our side than on theirs.” (v. 16)

When Hagar was forced to take Ishmael into the wilderness, they wandered aimlessly until their water supply was depleted. Hagar was convinced that they would die, but the angel of God spoke to her by name, and promised her that her son’s descendents would become a great nation. “Then God opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well. She immediately filled her container and gave the boy a drink.” (Genesis 21:19)

Our God is a personal God, who is our protector and provider. Everything works according to His perfect plan, and we have the promise of ultimate victory!

Part of our home school curriculum this year is called Starting Points, and we have been blessed over the last nine weeks to learn about and develop a Biblical worldview. One of the foundations of this worldview is that we live in a world that has both visible and invisible components. There is so much more to life than what we see with our physical eyes!

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)

The author of the book of Hebrews wrote:“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

One of our heroes in this inspiring faith chapter is Moses, who “chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of the Messiah than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the great reward that God would give him. It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt. He was not afraid of the king. Moses kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.” (Hebrews 11:25-27)

All of the heroes of the faith encourage us to focus our lives and endure hardships, by keeping our eyes on Jesus. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in heaven.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

And when Jesus returns, He will take us to the home He has prepared for us in heaven, where we will join with all the saints in giving Him praise, honor, and glory, and we will share in His joy forever!

Lord, open our eyes to see all that You want us to see right now, as we look forward to that day when we will see Your face (Revelation 22:4), and be made like You when we see You as You really are (1 John 3:2).

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Empty Hands

Last night our family ate dinner at the night market, a popular spot in Lanzhou for all kinds of local street food. We ate bowls of spinach noodles (Charly’s and my favorite) at one stall, and drank hot milk/egg drinks with nuts (Jordan’s favorite) along with spicy mutton sticks (CJ’s and Joshua’s favorite) at another stall.

At the first stall, a man sitting at our table stood up and left with a bowl of half-eaten noodles at his place. Immediately, a beggar appeared and our eyes met. I’ve never seen eyes so hungry and desperate for food. He took the man’s place and quickly consumed those noodles before moving on silently into the night.

At the second stall, we observed the man sitting across from us, wearing a slick leather jacket and talking into his IPad. He was enveloped in an air of self-sufficiency. A different beggar appeared at his side and would not leave. The man felt annoyed and called out to the owner of the stall, as he waved his chopsticks in the air, “Do something about this beggar here!” He clearly did not want to be bothered with the lowest of the low. So, the beggar slipped away to find another table, with hopefully someone more compassionate to his needs.

The man at our table had his hands full. The beggar who ate another’s leftovers had hands that were empty. One seemed to have no needs; the other was keenly aware of them. And Jesus loves them both.

The wealthy man reminded me of the rich young ruler who asked Jesus what he had to do to get eternal life (Mark 10:17). Jesus told him to sell what he had, give the money to the poor, and then follow Him. “At this, the man’s face fell, and he went away sadly because he had many possessions.” (v. 22) As I reflected on this passage and the man across from us who seemed to have everything, God impressed this verse upon my heart: “Jesus felt genuine love for this man as he looked at him.” (v. 21)

I think when Jesus said, “How hard it is for rich people to get into the Kingdom of God!” (v. 23) and compared that difficulty with a camel trying to fit through the eye of a needle, he meant that the rich naturally have hands that are full. And, our hands must be empty (like that of a beggar’s) before we can receive the gift of eternal life.

We need to be able to hold all of our possessions and treasures on this earth with open hands before God, and to be willing for Him to take them and use them as He sees best. Job responded to incredible loss in his life by worshipping God and declaring, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be stripped of everything when I die. The Lord gave me everything I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!” (Job )

We have to recognize our desperate, sinful state (we are actually the lowest of the low), our thirstiness, and our need for Jesus before He can give us a new life, quench our thirst, and fill us with Himself. He delights to do this because He loves us! He came to save us from the wrath of God, that we deserve as the consequence of our sin, because we are unable to save ourselves.

The rebuke for the church at Laodecia applies to many of us today: “You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17)

But God’s promise remains: “To all who are thirsty I will give the springs of the water of life without charge! All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.” (Revelation 21:6b-7)

Lord, may You receive our open, empty hands and satisfy us with what You know that we need, and with “infinitely more than we would dare to ask or hope” (Ephesians 2:20b). Help us not to be full of things on this earth, but may our treasure be in heaven. You are all that we need.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's About God

“Even in this free fall of pain, I’ve landed on a solid foundation and my faith has held…on most days. I have learned that God is good…always. Hope is real. I have found—even in the awful pain of tears and grief so intense you think it will kill you—that my family and I can do hard. We’ll never get over our loss, but we’re getting through it. And so I have prayed that our journey through the shadows of loss might be of some help to those who have experienced similar pain…that our stewardship of this story would comfort many.

But I need to be clear. This book isn’t just about the spring day when Steven and I lost our precious Maria Sue in a terrible accident. It’s about a story…a story God is writing. All along the way, He has changed my story in ways I didn’t like. I’ve had whole chapters added and deleted and strange plot twists that I never saw coming.

The truth is I was born with a plan. I wanted life to be safe and predictable. My plan was to marry someone with a nice nine-to-five schedule and have a tidy, organized life—everything under control.

Absolutely none of that came true!

And if it had—if I had lived the life I thought that I had wanted—I know I wouldn’t have experienced the grace or the miracles of God in the ways that I have. What I’ve found is that it’s in the most unlikely times and places of hurt and chaos that God gives us a profound sense of His presence and the real light of His hope in the dark places.

So this book isn’t so much about me and Steven, as broken and crazy as we are. It’s about God…and how He can comfort, carry, and change us on our journey, no matter how hard it is.” (p.24-25)

“I’ve walked through the valley of death’s shadow
So deep and dark that I could barely breathe
I’ve had to let go of more than I could bear
And questioned everything that I believe
But still even here in this great darkness
A comfort and hope come breaking through
As I can say in life or death, God we belong to you.”
("Yours" verse added after Maria’s death. Words and music by Steven Curtis Chapman and Jonas Myrin)

“Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.” (William Barclay)

“Shattered dreams are never random. They are always a piece in a larger puzzle, a chapter in a larger story. The Holy Spirit uses the pain of shattered dreams to help us discover our desire for God, to help us begin dreaming the highest dream. They are ordained opportunities for the Spirit to awaken, then to satisfy our highest dream.” (Larry Crabb)

“Love of God is pure when joy and suffering inspire an equal degree of gratitude.” (Simone Weil)

“A person who lives in faith must proceed on incomplete evidence, trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” (Philip Yancey)

“Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.” (Fredrick Buechner)

“Hope waits but does not sit. It strains with eager anticipation to see what may be coming on the horizon. Hope does not pacify; it does not make us docile and mediocre. Instead it draws us to greater risk and perseverance.” (Dan Allender)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Not My Story

Last Friday Joshua faced an incredibly challenging battle. His 2nd degree black belt test in Tae Kwon Do included breaking marble! Many thoughts and prayers filled my mind and heart as I watched him demonstrate probably more perseverance than I’ve ever witnessed in my life.

“God, please help him not to break his hand.”
“Please give him the strength that he needs.”
“God, use this experience in his life to show him more of yourself and what you want him to know of who he is and who you are. Use this as a milestone in his relationship with you.”

God enabled me to see that this test was part of Joshua’s story. I could not break the marble for him (even if I had wanted to!) And I could not make it any easier for him.

All that I could do was cheer for him and pray for him. That was my part. Just like the lesson that God taught me last year on our kayaking/swimming adventure in Malaysia (All That I Can Do), I once again understood that God has my children in His hands. They are not in my hands, and so many situations are out of my control. But, whatever happens to them, He has allowed. Whatever the outcome, He remains in complete control. He is able to work all things for good. His good. Their good. My good.

The marble was also a reminder of the lesson He showed me last year of Saul’s armor being too big and cumbersome for young David to wear in his fight against the giant. (The Armor Doesn't Fit) My kids are (thankfully!) not little versions of me. I want to support them in their journey with their God and to see them grow in their faith, not because I am pushing them but because God is wooing them to Himself.

My greatest desire as a Mom is to see my kids overwhelmed by the solution that God has provided for their sin through the death of His son. I long to see them grow both in their love for Him and in their knowledge of Him, as well as to grow in their understanding God’s unique purpose for them in this world because of how He has created them. While they are in our home, I want to help them grow deep roots in their faith and to encourage them to develop wings that will enable them to fly when it is time for them to move on. Alongside this great longing in my heart, God is teaching me to rest in Him and to trust Him for the unique way He is working in their individual lives according to His plan and His timing. I want to support what He is doing in their lives at this moment, and not try to rush the process of maturity according to my timetable.

While we have been in Tianjin these past three weeks, I have felt refreshed by reconnecting with special friends. I have also been blessed to borrow some great books that have ministered to me in times of quiet. One book especially, Choosing to See by Mary Beth Chapman, was difficult to put down. She shared her story of the tragic accident where their 17 year old son Will hit their 5 year old adopted Chinese daughter Maria with a car. I greatly appreciated Mary Beth’s honesty and openness in telling her painful story, and her victorious message that through it all, God is still good and still in control even in the deepest valleys of life.

I was also greatly impacted by the incredible support both their family and their community poured out on Will. Mary Beth dedicated the book to each member of her family, and this is what she wrote to Will:
“You have been entrusted with an incredible pain! I’m so sorry. I wish as your mom I could take it away, but I know God has a plan for you to steward this story well and to minister to others through your suffering. You are my hero, as well as Maria’s…she loved you so much, as do I!”

As Joshua struggled to break the block of marble, God helped me to see that this was his story. Not mine. Mary Beth wished her son did not have to carry such an incredible pain for the rest of his life. But she trusted that God had a plan to work it out for good in his life and to use it as a blessing in the lives of others who face great trials. It was a pain God had entrusted to him as part of his story. A pain for him to steward.

God, help us to see and to support Your story being lived out in the lives of those we love.


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