Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Extravagance

What do you think of when you hear the word Extravagance? Do you hear it in a negative or a positive way?


I think of the Hershey’s chocolate syrup and Jif peanut butter that we topped our waffles with this morning. Two luxury food items that came in an early Christmas package from sweet friends. I remember the way the peanut butter slid easily out of the jar on the knife and the way the chocolate syrup drizzled out of the bottle. Many eyes watching around the table. Like hawks. “Stop!” “That’s too much!” Use sparingly. Don’t waste it.

I wondered outloud, “What would it be like if instead of trying to stop each other from using too much, we said, ‘I don’t think you got enough chocolate syrup on your waffles. You ought to put some more peanut butter on too.’ What if we encouraged extravagance?”

My family laughed at me. Knowing it would never happen.

If our family had been in the home of Simon the Leper when the woman poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ head, I’m sure we would have contributed to the complaints against her. Why this waste? Think of all that the money could have been used for instead.

But Jesus praised her for her extravagant worship. Though she didn’t know the significance of what she had done, Jesus said she had done a beautiful thing by preparing him for his burial. Her story would be told as the gospel spread throughout the world. (Matthew 26:6-12)

When Jesus said He came so that we could have life to the full (John 10:10), I believe the idea of extravagance is in there. He wants us to experience all that He has for us. Not to be content with a mere spoonful of water at the ocean’s edge. “Jump in,” He invites us. There’s so much more to life in Me.

By life to the full, Jesus didn’t mean “living it up” in a wasteful lifestyle like the Prodigal Son who “squandered his wealth in wild living.” (Luke 15:13)

He meant that we could welcome home extravagantly like his father, who ran out to meet this wayward son and said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feel. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.” (Luke 15: 22-23)

Because the father was able to forgive extravagantly, like the master who mercifully forgave his servant a huge debt that he couldn’t pay (Matthew 18:23-27) And like Jesus who prayed for those who had nailed him to the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

We can also give extravagantly like the poor widow who put two small coins in the temple treasury. It was all she had. (Luke 21:3) And like the Macedonians of whom Paul said, “out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity...they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their own ability.” (2 Corinthians 8:2-3)

Jesus wants us to bless extravagantly, as He once told his Pharisee host: “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” (Luke 14:12-14)

And to thank God extravagantly, like the one leper out of ten, who “when he saw that he was healed, came back praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” (Luke 17:15-16)

We can repent extravagantly, like Zacchaeus who was transformed from a dishonest tax collector to a generous follower of Jesus who said, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8)

And love extravagantly, like the Good Samaritan who stopped to care for a wounded stranger: bandaging his wounds, taking him to safety on his donkey and paying an innkeeper to look after him. (Luke 10: 30-35)

Jesus enables us to live life to the full, in His extravagance because “from the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” (John 1:16)

From the fullness of God’s grace, we can extravagantly worship Him, welcome home those who have wronged us, forgive them, give beyond our ability, bless the needy, thank God, repent of our past and love our neighbors as ourselves. From the overflow of His immeasurable love within us.

May Jesus live extravagantly through us this Christmas season.



Saturday, December 15, 2012

Safe

Safe. What does that mean? Reading about the Connecticut elementary school shooting this morning, my heart grieves. How could someone do something that horrible? Murdering innocent and unprotected children.


Thinking about Herod’s order for all boys two and under to be slaughtered after Jesus’ birth. (Matthew 2)

Thinking about Pharaoh’s order for all male infants to be killed around the time that Moses was born. (Exodus 1)

Thinking about having read “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift yesterday for CJ’s literature assignment—a satire in the 1700s about how killing babies in order to eat them could deal with the problem of poverty in Ireland. I had trouble seeing the humor in it. It just felt wrong.

Killing children is wrong.

Is the world safe?

Evil is real.

Last Saturday I had a conversation with one of the women who came to paint fingernails at the birthday party of one of Jordan’s friends. She had never met a foreigner before and said she was afraid of overseas. I asked her what she meant and she talked about all the killings she reads about in the news. I agreed with her that we generally feel safer in China than in America.

We were 30 miles away from the Batman movie theater shooting in Denver in July. It felt so real and up close. So heartbreaking and scary to watch the live broadcasts the morning after.

It would be easy to live in fear.

The world isn’t a safe place. No matter which part of the globe we inhabit.

I was impacted recently by reading The Shaping of a Christian Family by Elisabeth Elliot. I was especially touched by the letter Elisabeth’s mother wrote to her after she heard the report (that was not yet confirmed) about Jim Elliot and four other men’s murder by the Aucas in Ecuador in 1956.

“How I long to take you in my arms and comfort you. As yet we have no official word as to the outcome. Rumors fly about. Well-intentioned people phone with the latest things from the radio or TV. The next one may completely contradict the one before. Hope rises and falls. But through it all God is giving unbelievable peace, not to ask that the boys be spared, but only that HIS perfect will may be accomplished and that you dear girls will be so wonderfully conscious of HIS strength and grace that you may be surprised at the peace of heart that He can give...

The following quote from Amy Carmichael seems to fit: ‘Jonathan...does not so comfort David that he becomes necessary to him. He strengthened his hand in God. He leaves his friend strong in God, resting in God, safe in God. He detaches dear David from himself and attached him to his Very Present Help. Then Jonathan went to his house, and David abode in the wood—WITH GOD.’”

Being “safe in God” meant preserved life for baby Moses. In a papyrus basket by the Nile River. For young Jesus. As a refugee with his parents in Egypt. For King David. As he was pursued by countless enemies.

But “safe in God” meant death for Jim Elliot and his four friends. At the hands of the men with whom they wanted to share the Good News. God could have but did not protect them from murder. Just as He did not protect His own Son.

God is weaving, through preserved life and allowed death, His Perfect Plan. In ways that we can’t see now and may not understand at all until we see Him face to face. All of our days are numbered. But we don’t know how many we (or our loved ones) have. Let us live our days with courage. With His peace. In His strength. Not in fear. Even though the world isn’t safe.

Attached to our Very Present Help, we can be “strong in God, resting in God, safe in God.”

I love the words that Abigail spoke to David: “Even when you are chased by those who seek your life, you are safe in the care of the Lord your God, secure in his treasure pouch.” (1 Samuel 25:29, NLT)

We can be safe in God’s treasure pouch. In our unsafe world.

God, please bring comfort and strength through Your abiding presence to all the families affected by this Conn. school shooting. The horror of what they have experienced is unimaginable. May they know You to be their safe place as they process this great pain and try to move forward with their lives. You can redeem even this.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

God of Truth

“Could I speak with you a minute? I have something very important to say to you.”

We were just finishing our lunch on Saturday at the noodle shop near our apartment when a college-age looking woman approached our table. We nodded and she continued.

Have you come to China to find God?”

Now this was a question we had never been asked before.

“We are followers of God,” Charly answered.

“Did you know that God has come to China?” the woman asked with heartfelt tears in her eyes.

She said she would wait outside for us so we could continue the conversation.

We wondered where she was really coming from as we gathered our things and made our way outside. I apologized to her that Jordan and I needed to catch a bus to get to a birthday party, but that my husband had some time. CJ and Joshua decided to return home while Charly talked with her and her five friends. It seemed like they believed in the Bible, but also believed that a man they referred to as “God” was in China now and had prophetic words recorded in a book. Charly said he felt sad talking with them because of the false teaching they believed and were spreading. Deception mixed with some truth.

How important is an accurate and complete understanding of the truth anyway?

We are studying Church History with Sonlight this year and have been learning about the Ecumenical Councils that attempted to define true orthodox views and false heretical ones. So many controversial and divisive questions. Jesus’ nature: how to reconcile His humanity with His divinity? The Trinity. The Creeds. Icons. Veneration of the saints. Baptism. Liturgy. The Eucharist.

Who is right and who is wrong (and who decides)? What can be tolerated? And what is worth fighting over? Dying for?

On Sunday we had a lengthy family discussion about the term “Son of God” and what a person needs to believe about Jesus in order to be saved. What is essential and what areas of belief have room for differing views? We came up with some different approaches to this question, and would love to hear your thoughts if you’d like to join in our family conversation!

I love having these kinds of discussions with our kids. They are such challenging, relevant and fundamental issues. They are also directly related to Charly’s graduate studies. Tough topics like truth and tolerance. Acceptance of others’ beliefs without compromise of one’s one. Learning from others. Influencing others. Unity. Diversity. Interfaith dialogue.


Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him,”If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32) and John wrote to believers, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth.” (1 John 2:20-21)

When I came to faith my freshman year of college, it was partially through the Church of Christ. A friend invited me to church, and I was amazed by the eagerness I saw there to learn and grow and apply God’s Word. People actually took notes on the sermon! I joined a Church of Christ Bible Study that met in my dorm and was individually discipled by a sophomore named Rachel. 

I felt like a sponge, soaking up all that I was learning. But I didn’t know what was truth and what was “off” in the church’s teaching. My Mom expressed real concern when I told her my church friends wanted me to stay during the summer break so I could continue meeting with them. They said their church was The Church and unless I was baptized there I wasn’t going to heaven. In the end, I decided to go home for the summer, and I came to realize there were some things wrong with that kind of teaching. So when I returned in the fall I told Rachel that I wouldn’t continue attending the Bible studies or pursue baptism there. I had decided to go to church somewhere else. She cried because she knew I would be going to hell.

While not all Churches of Christ are the same, I am so thankful that God protected me from continuing on in this one, which I believe was a cult.  But I didn’t know that in the beginning. How many people are in similar situations? Like the woman who spoke with us at the noodle shop “because God told her to.” She was very sincere and committed to what she believed was the truth.

When she first told us she had an important message, the words “Good news of great joy” immediately came to mind. The incredible announcement from the angel of the Lord to the shepherds right after the miracle of Jesus’ birth. I admired her boldness in sharing with us, but did her message bring good news of great joy? Was it Truth?

God is a God of Grace and He is a God of Truth. And Jesus came to earth full of both. (John 1:14) Fully God and fully man. Fully entering our humanity and fully bearing the weight of God’s wrath to fully save us from the eternal punishment we deserve. This is good news of great joy. Jesus. Nothing more. Nothing less. The full Truth and nothing but theTruth.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Image

Image is everything. Or is it?

What others think about me defines who I am. Or does it?


What does God think about me? I love what Ruth Myers says about our One True Mirror. “This mirror always reflects genuine acceptance and a totally accurate picture of who we are.”

But often those lies of the enemy about the importance of image cause me to lose focus on My Audience of One. Cause me to forget who I really am.

“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)

The truth is that while I will have to wait until heaven to “fully know,” at this very moment I am fully known. And fully loved. Unconditionally. Eternally. “God wants us to see ourselves this way—loved, accepted, and secure—because in truth this is what we are in Christ.” (Myers)

My identity is not based on others' impressions of me (whether those are good or bad).

My identity is not based on what I can or can’t do. The size of my capacity. The impact of my life.

My identity is not based on my self-evaluation of whether I am doing enough or whether I am good enough.

The truth is that “nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)

This is a promise. Not based on my performance. Not based on how spiritual I feel today. Not based on my circumstances. But based on Jesus’ finished work on the cross and His ongoing resurrected power at work within me.

In reality, what I accomplish or what others think of me does not define who I am.

In Here and Now Henri Nouwen says, “As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations…To the degree that we embrace the truth that our identity is not rooted in our success, power, or popularity, but in God’s infinite love, to that degree can we let go of our need to judge.”

We are able to let go of the way we naturally judge ourselves and other people, when we let go of the grip that image has on our lives. Image is not everything. God’s infinite love is. This truth can bring real freedom if we believe it not just with our heads but with our hearts.

Nouwen also encourages us to model our lives after Jesus, to embrace our belovedness as He did, and to commit our lives to helping others experience a relationship of communion with our Heavenly Father.

“Jesus’ whole life was a life of obedience, of attentive listening to the One who called him the Beloved. Everything that Jesus said or did came forth from that most intimate spiritual communion. Jesus revealed to us that we sinful, broken human beings are invited to that same communion that Jesus lived, that we are the beloved sons and daughters of God just as he is the Beloved Son, that we are sent into the world to proclaim the belovedness of all people as he was and that we will finally escape the destructive powers of death as he did. (ibid)

In this life, who are we? Really.

“One of the tragedies of our life is that we keep forgetting who we are and waste a lot of time and energy to prove what doesn’t need to be proved. We are God’s beloved daughters and sons, not because we have proven ourselves worthy of God’s love, but because God freely chose us.” (ibid)

Nouwen expounds upon this idea of our belovedness in Life of the Beloved “Becoming the Beloved means letting the truth of our Belovedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say, or do.”

“Becoming the Beloved is pulling the truth revealed to me from above down into the ordinariness of what I am…” (ibid)

“Every time you feel hurt, offended, or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: ‘These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even through I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting embrace.’” (ibid)

“When we are thrown up and down by the little waves on the surface of our existence, we become easy victims of our manipulative world, but when we continue to hear the deep gentle voice that blesses us, we can walk through life with a stable sense of well-being and true belonging.” (ibid)

Am I living with this stable sense of well-being and true belonging?

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

God, help us to know who we really are. Your beloved sons and daughters. We were made in Your image. Help us not to focus on our own. May we be like David, of whom you said, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) David, while far from being perfect, viewed his relationship with You as the most important part of his life (Psalm 51). May we not follow the example of Saul, who looked good on the outside (1 Samuel 9:2), but sought the approval and honor of people above all else (1 Samuel 15:30).

Help us to live our lives for Your glory. Not to make a name for ourselves.

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 115:1)

For You alone are worthy of glory. And through Christ, Your Beloved Son, you have made us worthy of your infinite love. Break our distorted image of ourselves, that we might more truly reflect Yours.




My Message Is About Him

In his book It’s Not About Me, Max Lucado illustrates how easily we can get in the way of God’s message. He tells a simple yet powerful story of a young guide in an art museum, who “took great pride in his work.”


Too much pride one might say. For in a short time, he forgot his role. He began thinking the people had come to see him. Rather than step away from the work of art, he lingered near it. As they oohed and aahed, he smiled. “Glad you like it,” he replied, chest lifting, face blushing. He even responded with an occasional “thank you,” taking credit for work he didn’t do.

Visitors disregarded his comments. But they couldn’t dismiss his movements. Lingering near a painting was no longer sufficient for the guide. Little by little he inched toward it. Initially extending his arm over the frame, then his torso over part of the canvas. Finally his body blocked the entire piece. People could see him but not the art. The very work he was sent to reveal he began to conceal.

That’s when his Superior intervened. “This job isn’t about you, Max. Don’t obscure my masterpieces.”

We applause-aholics have done it all: dropped names, sung loudly, dressed up to look classy, dressed down to look cool, quoted authors we’ve never read, spouted Greek we’ve never studied. For the life of me, I believe Satan trains battalions of demons to whisper one question in our ears, “What are people thinking of you?”

A deadly query. What they think of us matters not. What they think of God matters all. God will not share his glory with another (Isaiah 42:8) Next time you need a nudge away from the spotlight, remember: You are simply one link in a chain, an unimportant link at that.

Don’t agree? Take it up with the apostle. “So the one who plants is not important, and the one who waters is not important. Only God, who makes things grow is important” (1 Corinthians 3:7 NCV, emphasis mine).

Remember the other messengers God has used?
A donkey to speak to Balaam (Numbers 22:28).
A staff-turned-snake to stir Pharaoh (Exodus 7:10).
He used a stubborn oxen to make a point about reverence and a big fish to make a point about reluctant preachers (1 Samuel 6:1-12; Jonah 1:1-17).

God doesn’t need you and me to do his work. We are expedient messengers, ambassadors by his kindness, not by our cleverness.

It’s not about us, and it angers him when we think it is. Jesus has a stern warning for gallery guides who eclipse his work.

When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—“playactors” I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. (Matthew 6:2 MSG)

Gallery guides don’t deserve applause for great art.
And we entrusted with the gospel dare not seek applause but best deflect applause. For our message is about Someone else.

A European village priest in medieval times once gathered his church for a special service. “Come tonight,” he told them, “for a special sermon on Jesus.” And they did. They came. To their surprise, however, no candles illuminated the sanctuary. They groped their way to the pews and took their seats. The priest was nowhere to be seen. But soon he was heard walking through the church toward the front. When he reached the crucifix that hung on the wall, he lit a candle. Saying nothing, he illuminated the pierced feet of Christ, then the side, then one hand, and then the other. Lifting the candle, he shed light on the blood-masked face and the crown of thorns. With a puff, he blew out the candle and dismissed the church.

May we do nothing more.
May we do nothing less.

(It’s Not About Me, p. 90-95)



The One True Mirror

This passage is from the chapter “In His Perfect Love, I Am Secure” in Ruth Myers’ The Perfect Love.

We feel secure when we’re convinced that someone important to us views us with love and approval—especially if we’re convinced that this someone is sincere, has good judgment, and won’t make an about-face tomorrow. This gives us a stable identity, a stable sense that we are acceptable persons. Just as we use a mirror to see that we look all right physically, so we also use mirrors to find out if we’re all right as persons. Emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically we need a mirror in which to see what we’re like.
 The mirror people most often depend on is the mirror of other people’s responses. When they receive smiles and compliments and encouragement from others, they feel great. But often they don’t receive those things. Instead they encounter negative responses ranging anywhere from frowns to tragic abuse. Then they wonder, or subconsciously feel, “What’s wrong with me?”

Some try to ignore what others think about them. They turn inward, seeking to find some mirror within themselves—some abilities they’ve developed, some ways they are as good as (or better than) other people. They don’t realize that if they want a true understanding of themselves, one that is accurate and stable, they must build it only on what God tells them about who they are.

Each of us who believes in Jesus has come into real, living contact with the one true mirror, the mirror of God’s love. This mirror always reflects genuine acceptance and a totally accurate picture of who we are. It shows us wonderful, uplifting truths about how acceptable we are in Christ and how much God values the unique person He has created each of us to be. It also shows us humbling truths about our limitations, needs, and flaws as human beings. It doesn’t gloss over our sins and failures, yet it never condemns us for them. The more personally we embrace this picture, the more it gives us a profound sense of being accepted and secure in spite of being far from perfect.

God wants us to see ourselves this way—loved, accepted, and secure—because in truth this is what we are in Christ. These are facts, and God wants us to know they’re true of us because of Jesus.

It’s so good to go back often to Romans 8:38-39 and reflect on our strong, stable, permanent acceptance and security in Christ:

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from His love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NLT)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Desires of My Heart

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

Twenty years ago I was in my first year of medical school. It would turn out to be my only year, but I didn’t know that at the time. After I had surrendered to God my desire to be a doctor, with a willingness to go anywhere and do anything for Him, God had clearly opened this door for me to attend medical school. So I thought that my becoming a doctor must be part of His plan.

God had transformed my jealous heart and planted within me a desire to give my whole life to Him during my freshman year in college. I roomed with my sister the next year when she joined me at the University of NC. Then we both decided to transfer to the University of MO the following year because of my parents’ move to the Midwest.

In Missouri, through a campus fellowship group, I met Charly and my first impression was this guy seems kind of obnoxious because he was always full of energy and bouncing off the walls at our weekly meetings. But God showed me another side of him during a three hour conversation in my dorm lobby one evening, and I was deeply impressed by his heart for God and for people. We enjoyed spending time together that spring, and after Charly’s summer exploration trip to China, God confirmed that He had given us like hearts and seemed to be leading us in the same direction.

We treasured the one year that we had together in a dating relationship before Charly headed East, immediately after graduating from college in 1992. We didn't really know what the future held, but our thinking then was that after he completed two years of language study, he would return to the US for us to get married. Then he would wait for me to finish medical school, residency, paying off my debt...and we would go back to China together.

But God was going to change those plans by asking us to lay down our greatest desires. Each other. Serving Him in China. Being a doctor.

Back in the days before Internet (hard to imagine now), most of our communication across the ocean was through handwritten letters with occasional expensive phone calls. The most memorable one was at the end of my first semester when Charly called to wish me a Merry Christmas. He then shocked me with a question I was totally unprepared for. “Have you ever considered not finishing medical school?” A long silence followed as I processed his words and their meaning. “No,” I finally replied. Then another long silence before Charly asked me to think and pray about it. He shared that God had been confirming in his heart that China was where He wanted him to be. Our original idea about his coming back to the US to wait 8-10 years for me didn’t seem to be His plan.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

I identified the two greatest desires of my heart as marrying Charly and being a doctor. Now I would have to choose. I couldn’t have both.

Looking back, twenty years later, I remember how trying to discern God’s will at that time was one of the most stretching experiences of my life. But it was a time that ultimately brought me closer to His heart. And gave me confidence in hearing and following His voice. He enabled me to see that surrender and sacrifice, while difficult at the time, can actually become a joy.

During the heart-wrenching months that followed the Christmas phone call, I sought the Lord in prayer, in His Word, and through godly counsel. I knew that God had created me with a compassion for people. When they had physical needs I wanted to help them get better. But God had also given me an even deeper concern for their spiritual needs. While I had envisioned being involved in ministering to people’s physical and spiritual needs through the open doors of medicine, I came to see that God was giving me a desire instead to partner with Charly in a discipleship ministry.

Also, I questioned that if I invested 8-10 more years in medical training and paying off my debt, where would having a family fit in? I realized that when I had children I wanted to be able to be home with them. They would be more of a priority to me than practicing medicine. So why invest all the time, energy, and money required to become a doctor, if I really desired to be at home to raise and disciple my children? As I sought God’s will for my life, He took my desire to become a doctor and gave me even greater desires related to marriage, ministry and motherhood.


So while God had led me into medical school, He also seemed to be leading me out. His ways are higher than our ways, and oftentimes mysterious. Not everyone understood or supported my decision. But it was clear to me that God wanted to me to make this tough decision to please Him and not people.

I am still thankful for all that He taught me during that year of medical school, including a deeper dependence on Him and a greater understanding of the complexity and awesomeness of the human body through dissecting cadavers in Anatomy class. We really are fearfully and wonderfully made! Miraculously, after Charly and I were married in 1994, God provided, through our 4th of July fireworks sales, wedding gifts and extra gifts from friends and family, so that we were able to completely pay off my $9,000 medical school debt. When we left on the plane for China in October of 1995, with 4 month old CJ, we were debt-free.

I have never regretted my decision to give up medical school. And I am especially thankful this year--CJ’s last year of high school--that God has given me the gift of 17 plus years of being home with my children. Living in China and home schooling have been great blessings to our family. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

He delights to fulfill the desires of our hearts as we delight in Him.



Thursday, November 22, 2012

Blessed Controller of All Things

Today is Thanksgiving, and I am thankful for our Blessed Controller of All Things. He is sovereign and He is good. I wanted to share this passage from The Perfect Love by Ruth Myers, a book I highly recommend.


"We have someone to champion our cause. That Someone is our God of love—perfect love that is inseparably linked with His perfect power and greatness. He is the King of all the earth, the God who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him; His eyes search the whole earth in order to strongly support those whose hearts are fully committed to Him (Isaiah 64:4, 2 Chronicles 16:9). This God of mighty love is eager to champion our cause...

The choice is ours. We can try to guard and protect ourselves, relying on our own puny defenses. Or we can give up our “rights” and instead have this wonderful King looking out for us, the Mighty One who always has our best interests at heart.

The fact is, He Himself has promised to look out for our rights. If it’s something truly right, He has promised to take care of it. Psalm 37 teaches us to trust in the Lord without getting upset and to commit out way to the Lord, knowing that He will indeed act on our behalf. “He will bring forth your vindication as the light,” we read in verse 6, “and your right as the noonday.”

Whether on this earth (today, tomorrow, or years from now) or in eternity, God is His time will right every wrong—if we let Him, and give up looking after our own rights. As we willingly open our hands and let go of those rights, we drop them into the hands of our Mighty One, the Champion who rides forth victoriously for the cause of truth and to defend the right.

“God is the Blessed Controller of all things.” (1 Timothy 6:15, Phillips)

“Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand and I will do all that I please.” (Isaiah 46:9-10, NIV)

“But I have complete confidence in You, Lord; I have said, ‘You are my God.’ My destiny is under your control.” (Psalm 31:14-15, Psalms for Today version)

One of the most beautiful stories in Scripture about the sovereignty of God is the story of Joseph...God took the blackest fragment, the blackest piece in the lives of Joseph’s brothers—selling their brother into slavery—and made it central in a beautiful picture of salvation for them and countless others. That’s also what God did at Calvary...God took the worst, most hateful, most despicable thing man had ever done—killing the Son of God—and made it central in a beautiful picture of salvation for all mankind. Because of Calvary, we can claim that God will somehow work even our failures into desirable end results...

As we yield to His loving sovereignty, He works even our failures and mistakes, our weaknesses and our inadequacies—as well as the mistakes or malice of other people—into something beautiful, for His glory and our good.

“Frankly, I stand amazed at the unfathomable complexity of God’s wisdom and God’s knowledge. How could man ever understand His reasons for action, or explain His methods of working?” (Romans 11:33, Phillips)

The most important truth in my life is that God wants me to know Him in intimate, personal experience. Yes, He wants me to know the true concepts about Him in His Word. But He wants me to take each of those true concepts and allow Him to be that to me in personal experience...

God wants us to see ourselves linked with Him in the whole picture of our life. And He wants to reveal Himself so personally to us through the Bible that we can with our whole heart respond back to Him and say, “My Father, my Refuge, my Satisfaction.”

To really know God means that we see what He is in relationship to us, and then more and more, in the experiences of daily life, we let Him be that to us— we count on Him to be that."
                                                                                               

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Where Justice and Mercy Meet

 After posing outside the White House for a few photos and then stopping in at my cousin’s restaurant for a quick visit, we didn’t have much time to spare. So our fast walk turned into a run. But we lost several precious minutes as we tried to remember where we had parked.

Charly and Jordan were in the lead and reached our van in despair to find a $100 parking ticket on the windshield.

“Are you serious?” The boys and I asked as we arrived moments later. We looked at our watches. We were exactly 6 minutes late.

It was true. Our meter expired at 4:00 and the ticket was issued at 4:01. We imagined a cold-hearted ticket police waiting beside our van for the minute hand to pass and then slapping down the hefty ticket with an evil grin. Got them.

It was justice. We were late.

But we wrote a letter to the address on the back of the ticket to plead for mercy.

We returned to China in September without having received a response. Then last week, my Mom told us that a letter came for us from the District of Columbia’s Department of Motor Vehicles: “We determined that your correspondence was not answered within the normal processing time frames. A Hearing Examiner administratively dismissed the ticket.”

Mercy.

Hoping for the gentle hand of mercy, but prepared for the cold enforcement of justice. Reminded me of the time when I stood before an intimidating judge in a courtroom 20 years ago. I had photocopies of all my canceled checks to prove that I had paid my third of the rent. But when the judge asked me the question, “Does your landlord deserve the rent money that he has not received?” All I could manage was a quiet “Yes.” And I was dismissed. Left to wonder if the judge would rule that I needed to pay the landlord the debt that actually could be called mine. Hoping he would determine that I didn’t need to pay it.

Ten months earlier I had signed a lease for a 3 bedroom apartment with a friend from the dorms at the University of Missouri and one of her friends who I didn’t know. That friend ended up changing her plans to come to Columbia and got a job in St. Louis instead. She faithfully paid her third of the rent— for her room that remained empty— for a few months. But after unsuccessfully trying to find someone to sublease from her, she lost interest in the Columbia apartment, and stopped paying. So our landlord took all three of us to court. Technically, we learned that each of the three of us was legally responsible for all of the rent.

Thankfully the day after the court case I heard that the St. Louis friend had worked out an agreement with the landlord to pay the back rent over time. I was free of the debt.

Mercy.

On a side note, that year was definitely not my best landlord experience for another reason. One morning I was in the kitchen fixing breakfast when I saw a man climbing a ladder outside my window. Our eyes locked and he didn’t smile. There was no friendly wave on his part or any recognition on my part that he was the landlord. No thought entered my mind that maybe he was climbing up the ladder in order to do repairs on the roof. Suffice it to say, I freaked out that a man I didn’t know looked like he was about to break in. So I called 911.

If my landlord remembers me at all, his memories are probably not fond ones. But I am grateful to him for that humbling experience of standing in a courtroom and feeling like I truly had nothing to say to defend myself. It made me appreciate in a new way what Jesus has done on my behalf. He mercifully stands between me and the Judge and declares me “not guilty.” He has clothed me a His spotless robe of righteousness, and has taken on Himself the punishment that I deserved. Willingly.

“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18)

Justice and mercy meet in Jesus our Savior.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Peaceful Beauty

I traveled with our kids to Hangzhou earlier this month for their Model United Nations conference. What a treat to visit West Lake, a picturesque place that always envelops me with its peaceful beauty. My soul was truly blessed as I took a solitary walk with my camera and experienced the nearness of God in His beautiful creation.



















Unexpected Gift

While not the direct recipient of the gift, I felt just as blessed to observe this unexpected act of kindness and the resulting delight on the face of the receiver.

Jordan’s best friend from Tianjin was visiting last week, and we took her to the night market to experience some of Lanzhou’s unique culture and Jordan’s favorite hot milk and egg drink there. As the six of us were squeezed onto one side of a long narrow table, sipping our bowls of milk drink and enjoying mutton kebabs, a beggar stepped into the stall.

Our table was arranged such that our backs were toward him, but we could hear him approaching other customers. A woman’s voice called out, “Lao ban!” and again slightly louder to get the boss’ attention, “Lao ban!” I was sure of what was coming next. We had experienced this before with a modern day “rich young ruler.” So I waited for the scene to play out the same way: the beggar sent away and the customers left to eat in peace.

But instead, we heard the woman tell the lao ban to get the beggar something to eat—a bowl of noodles like she and her friends were eating—and to put it on her bill. We could hear the beggar shuffling behind us, with his bags full of plastic bottles, and we watched as he found a seat at the table across from us.

Then we saw his smile—a big grin that spread across his entire face and brought a sparkle to his eyes. He had a place at the table (like Mephibosheth). He had food coming just for him. He wasn’t going to be humiliated and waved away like a pesky insect. He belonged here.

Someone had extended grace to him. Someone he would never pay back. Someone who didn’t expect anything in return. A stranger who after paying the bill was swept into the night market’s sea of people. Never to be seen again.

But the gift remained.


He quickly consumed his steaming bowl of noodles and collected his bags to move on, swallowed up by the crowds. But he still carried his smile. His hunger was satisfied and his heart was blessed.

CJ, sitting beside me, said, “He seemed really happy, didn’t he?”

“I was thinking the same thing," I replied. "You don’t often see a beggar smile.”

I think God was smiling too at this unexpected gift.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Capturing Beauty

Charly assigned our kids a photo competition last week. We thought it was too hard to choose the best one.
Do you want to help us choose your favorite flower picture?


A


B

C

D


E


F


G
 

H
 

I
 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Hero in Holiness

In Streams of Living Water, Richard Foster examines six great traditions of the Christian Faith: Contemplative, Holiness, Charismatic, Social Justice, Evangelical, and Incarnational. Within each tradition, he highlights a biblical, historical, and contemporary example as models we can follow as we seek to grow in these areas. For the Holiness tradition he chose Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874) for the historical paradigm. Deeply moved by her story, I have added her to my list of heroes in the faith.

Foster writes that Phoebe’s “third child Eliza, died under especially tragic circumstances: a maid accidentally dropped a lit oil lamp on the gauze curtain covering the baby’s crib, causing a terrible flash fire. Rushing upstairs, Phoebe ‘grasped my darling from the flames. She darted one inexpressible look of amazement and pity, on her agonized mother, and closed her eyes forever on the scenes of the earth.’” (from Phoebe Palmer: Selected Writings)

“The loss was a critical turning point. In what she called her ‘inexpressible bewilderment of grief,’ Phoebe turned to her Bible—and to her God—for consolation. Her own words best describe the agony of that time:
           
While pacing the room, crying to God, amid the tumult of grief, my mind was arrested by a gentle whisper, saying, “Your Heavenly Father loves you. He would not permit such a great trial, without  intending that some great good proportionate in magnitude and weight should result.”...In the agony of my soul I had exclaimed, “O, what shall I do!” And the answer now came, —“Be still and know   that I am God.” I took up the precious WORD, and cried, “O teach me the lesson of this trial,” and the first lines to catch my eye on opening the Bible were these, “O, the depth of the riches, both of  the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out!”...The tumult of feeling was hushed...”What thou knowest not now, thou shalt know hereafter,” was assuringly whispered. Wholly subdued before the Lord, my chastened spirit nestled in quietness under the wing of the Holy Comforter...And now I have resolved, that...the time I would have devoted to her, shall be spent in work for Jesus. And if diligent and self-sacrificing in carrying   out my resolve, the death of this child may result in the spiritual life of many.” (ibid)

“Long hours of prayerful searching and biblical study led her to what she would later call her “day of days.” It was almost exactly one year after the terrible death of Eliza that Phoebe had a decisive experience of total consecration and sanctifying grace—one that would energize the remainder of her life. Again her descriptive powers are so great that they cannot be improved upon:

Between the hours of eight and nine (in the evening)—while pleading at the throne of grace for a present fulfillment of the exceeding great and precious promises; pleading also the fullness and  freeness of the atonement, its unbounded efficacy, and making an entire surrender of body, soul, and spirit; time, talents, and influence; and also of the dearest ties of nature, my beloved husband and child, in a word, my earthly all—I received the assurance that God the Father, through the atoning Lamb, accepted the sacrifice; my heart was emptied of self, and cleansed of all idols, from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and I realized that I dwelt in God, and felt that he had become the portion of my soul, my ALL IN ALL. (ibid)

This profound “Valley of Decision,” as she called it, led to the development of her “altar theology.” That teaching, in brief, says that Christ himself is the altar upon which we rest our all in sacrifice, and since everything that touches the altar is holy, we are holy when we place everything we are upon the altar. We, therefore, live in a state of holiness and sanctification as we continually give ourselves as a living sacrifice to Christ, our altar.”

God, thank you for the example of Phoebe Palmer, who turned to you in her inexpressible bewilderment of grief. Thank you for the answer you gave her: that because of your deep love, you would not permit such a great trial without a great good proportionate in magnitude and weight. Thank you for your assurance to her: that what she knew not then, she would know later. Then her spirit could nestle in quietness under your wing of comfort. Thank you for her example in emptying herself of everything, that she could be fully yours. May we also live our lives at the altar of Christ, offering ourselves as living sacrifices, as we follow her example of holiness.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Practicing Holiness

Richard Foster goes on to share about holiness in action in Streams of Living Water:

“Holiness never involves works, as we have seen, but it most assuredly involves effort. Hence we cannot ignore the question of practice. How do we go about moving forward in holiness?

First, we train. And in our training we remember the principle of indirection. Rather than tackle the issues of virtue and vice head-on, we undertake activities of body, mind, and spirit that in time will build spiritual resources within us to act appropriately when the situation demands it. As athletes of God we plan a regimen of spiritual Disciplines that will stimulate our growth in grace. If we are struggling with pride, we learn service, which leads us into the many little deaths of going beyond ourselves. If we are needing hope, we learn prayer and meditation, which usher us ever deeper into the heart of the Holy. If compulsions of one kind or another obsess us, we learn fasting, which teaches us to control all the senses by the grace of God. If we want faith, we learn worship, which shows us the Lord high and lifted up. And on it goes. Throughout we are training for holiness, planning for perfection.

Second, we invite others to travel the journey with us. Such persons become both companions and mentors. They provide us with discernment, counsel, and encouragement. Often we are too close to our own training plan to see that we are overachieving and setting ourselves up for failure. Or to see that sloth is setting in and we need encouragement to venture out into the depths. Furthermore, others often can detect our growth and development better than we, and their reassuring words help us see the footprints of God in our lives.


Such spiritual companionship also provides a loving accountability. A trust relationship is built in which it is the most natural thing in the world to answer honestly and fully the query, “How is it with your soul?” In the best of worlds we can identify persons who are giving us spiritual direction and persons to whom we give spiritual direction. But even where the best is not possible—and often it is not—we can still find loving relationships that nurture our spiritual growth.

Third, when we stumble and fall, we get up and start again. Appropriate confession and restitution are always in order, but we never spend too much time lamenting out failures and shortcomings. Where we are not yet perfect, we know that we have a perfect Friend who will never leave us, never forsake us. Besides, we are in this for the long term. We are looking ahead to the perfection that is coming and is to come. We keep pressing on.

I wish that this simple counsel did not sound so trivial, for it is a profound truth for our growth: stumbling is part of our growing. Our mistakes and failures teach us the right way to live—and that right way is the good way. And after stumbling it is no small thing for us to start at the beginning once again. We are learning that by starting again and again and again something firm and lasting is being built in us. The old writers called this something “fortitude,” and fortitude builds habits, and habits build character, and character builds destiny.

Every one of us is called to holiness of heart and life. Anthony Bloom reminds us that, “All holiness is God’s holiness in us: it is a holiness that is participation and, in a certain way, more than participation, because as we participate in what we can receive from God, we become a revelation of that which transcends us. Being a limited light, we reveal the Light.” How wonderful to think that as we become partners with God, participating in this ongoing work of Christian perfection, our little light (which is not the source of light but only a reflection of the Light—and often a distorted and faint reflection at that) might lead others all the more fully to see Jesus, the Light of the world.”

God, thank you for the friend last week who helped me see Your footprints in my life, where I was only seeing shortcomings and failure. Thank you that stumbling is not just inevitable, but an essential part of our growth, which builds our character and shapes our destiny. Thank you for the way that you miraculously use our distorted and limited light to help people more fully see the Light of Jesus. Use us, Lord, as Your instruments in the world as we seek Your ongoing work of holiness in our lives. As we become the people you created us to be.

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