Sunday, February 26, 2012

Grace is Enough

From Max Lucado’s Experiencing the Heart of Jesus Bible study:

“There are times when the one thing you want is the one thing you never get. You’re not being picky or demanding; you’re only obeying his command to “ask God for everything you need” (Phil. 4:6). All you want is an open door or an extra day or an answered prayer, for which you will be thankful.
And so you pray and wait.
No answer.
You pray and wait.
No answer.
You pray and wait.
May I ask you an important question? What if God says no?
What if the request is delayed or even denied? When God says no to you, how will you respond? If God says, ‘I’ve given you my grace, and that is enough,’ will you be content?”

“You see, from heaven’s perspective, grace is enough. If God did nothing more than save us from hell, could anyone complain? If God saved our souls and then left us to spend our lives leprosy-stuck on a deserted island, would he be unjust? Having been given eternal life, dare we grumble at an aching body? Having been given heavenly riches, dare we bemoan earthly poverty?

Don’t get me wrong: God hasn’t left you with “just salvation.” If you have eyes to read these words, hands to hold this book, the means to own this volume, he has already given you grace upon grace. We can often lose ourselves in what we don’t have when we’re surrounded by blessings we’ve received by the minute. The vast majority of us have been saved and then blessed even more!

But there are those times when God, having given us his grace, hears our appeals, and says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Is he being unfair?

My daughter fell into a swimming pool when she was two years old. A friend pulled her to safety. The next morning in my prayer time, I made a special effort to record my gratitude in my journal. I told God how wonderful he was for saving her. As clearly as if God himself were speaking, this question came to mind: Would I be less wonderful if I had let her drown? Would I be any less a good God for calling her home? Would I still be receiving your praise this morning if I had not saved her?

Is God still a good God when he says no? Paul wrestled with the same question. He knew the angst of unanswered prayer. At the top of his prayer list was an unidentified request that dominated his thoughts. He gave the appeal a code name: “a thorn in my flesh” (2 Corn. 12:7) Perhaps the pain was too intimate to put on paper. Maybe the request was made so often he resorted to shorthand, “I’m here to talk about the thorn again, Father.” Or could it be that by leaving the appeal generic, Paul’s prayer could be our prayer? For don’t we all have a thorn in the flesh?”

“For all we know about thorns, we can be sure of this: God would prefer we have an occasional limp than a perpetual strut. And if it takes a thorn for him to make his point, he loves us enough not to pluck it out.

God has every right to say no to us. We have every reason to say thanks to him…

When we are hurting, it doesn’t matter how much we know about doctrine or theology. What we really need to know is Jesus. To walk with him. Talk to him. Crawl into his lap and let him hold us for a while. Perhaps we’ll never say, “Jesus is all I need” until he is all we have. At that moment, he will prove to be all we need and more.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In the Dark

"I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16)

I like to be able to see clearly. When the natural light in our home is dim, I am almost always the first one to turn on the light. Every other family member (in an effort to conserve electricity) will often ask me, “Do you really need this light on?” To which my reply is, “Yes, it helps me to see better.” And so in life as well. When the path ahead looks dim, I find myself asking God to turn on the light, to make the way more clear.

Brennan Manning says in Ruthless Trust: “Craving clarity, we attempt to eliminate the risk of trusting God. Fear of the unknown path stretching ahead of us destroys childlike trust in the Father’s active goodness and unrestricted love.”

“We often presume that trust will dispel the confusion, illuminate the darkness, vanquish the uncertainty, and redeem the times. But the crowd of witnesses in Hebrews 11 testifies this is not the case. Out trust does not bring final clarity on this earth. It does not still the chaos or dull the pain or provide a crutch. When all else is unclear, the heart of trust says, as Jesus did on the cross, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23: 46)

“The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered his presence and his promise.”

Last year about this time a friend sent me this quote on the darkness: “I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’” (Minnie Haskins, 1908) My friend wrote, "I hope this is inspiring to you as you go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God!"

It helped me to realize that one of my desires in our move to Lanzhou was to have someone to welcome me, to take my hand, and to show me how to live here. But because there was not a physical person to do that for me, I could only rely on God to take my hand and to show me the way that He has for me here. It has been an unfamiliar path, and I have often felt blind, but my walk with Him has definitely grown closer this past year. Trusting Him in the dark.

A year ago, we were packing up our apartment of 12 years in Tianjin, and trying to find an apartment to rent in Lanzhou. I was Carried by Grace during that time, and God gave me a certain calmness in the midst of the stress. But, during a family council a few days before the move, my anxiety surfaced. So CJ challenged me, “But, Mom, didn’t you say that you were willing to leave Tianjin without knowing where we were going to live in Lanzhou?” I replied, “You’re right, I did say that. But I didn’t think it was actually going to happen!” It did.

During the 17 hour train ride, Charly was texting with his PhD advisor about housing possibilities.
Arrival in Lanzhou..."homeless"

We went directly from the Lanzhou train station to the real estate office and discovered that the two apartments we had wanted to see were already taken. They took us to look at two other possibilities, but one was a mistake and the other was too small. Our last resort was to look at the apartment on the 9th floor with no elevator that a friend of a friend had seen, and that the landlord had agreed to hold for us until we could see it for ourselves.

As the sun was going down, CJ and Joshua (growing cold and tired of waiting all day, but still relatively cheerful) waited on the street corner with our suitcases.

Jordan, Charly, and I walked a block and climbed the steps to check out this apartment. We liked it (Jordan most of all), and after Charly negotiated the rent down, we got the keys, collected the boys and our bags, and moved in to our new home.

We found a small restaurant for dinner, and as we were eating, Charly got a call from a friend saying that we had possible renters for our Tianjin apartment. We hadn’t even known that our friend had listed our apartment for us! These people had called right away, had seen our apartment, had talked with and were approved by our second floor neighbors, and were willing to pay our asking price. So we agreed to rent to them, and marveled at the way God had provided both a new home and renters for our old home in one day. The day of our arrival in Lanzhou. Don’t worry. Trust me.

Now we are looking ahead at many more unknowns as we plan to move to a village about four hours from Lanzhou at the end of March/first of April for Charly to begin his PhD field research on the Bonan minority people. We are going to one of the “most remote villages in China,” that I included in my wedding Vows to Charly almost 18 years ago. This is a VERY unfamiliar path! And we are unsure how village life is really going to work for our family. But “God has signaled the movement” and is offering “His presence and His promise.” So I am working at not giving in to fear or “craving clarity.” The Lord Himself will be with us each step of the way. Just as He promised Moses, “My Presence will go with you and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)

With childlike trust, we can hold His hand in the dark.

Like my friend who told me about her complete Trust in her father’s choice for a husband for her. Like Abraham who trusted his heavenly Father so much that he laid his beloved son on the altar and lifted a knife over his head. Like Isaac who trusted his earthly father so much that he stretched his body out on that altar. When it didn’t seem to make any sense, God enabled them to obey His command. And God provided.

He continues to provide.

Will you trust Him in the dark?


Friday, February 10, 2012

Acts of Kindness


It was a bathroom cleaning lady in the Beijing airport who brought me to tears by her act of kindness. I was worn out by a migraine on our trip back home and kept getting passed by people while I was standing behind the yellow line at the women’s bathroom. Women in a hurry overlooked the line (and me) and pushed ahead to find their own stall. A cleaning woman silently motioned to me and pointed out a stall that had just been cleaned for me to use. My eyes flooded with tears as I closed the stall door behind me. She had noticed me and she cared.

She was a worker whose identity in the airport was not by her name, but by a large number on the back of her uniform. Wow. Like in a concentration camp, I marveled. How would I feel to be a number? To work a thankless job cleaning bathrooms? To go unnoticed every day by thousands of preoccupied travelers? This woman (I wish I knew her name) showed kindness to me, and I thanked God for her. Help me to be more aware of cleaning ladies and to give them a smile and an encouraging word. Help me to notice and to care.

So many acts of kindness have been extended to me. I am humbled by these acts, and can understand in a deeper way the verse “God’s kindness leads you toward repentance.” (Romans 2:4)

Gifts of western food at Christmastime that “we might be missing” from longtime friends in Beijing
Care packages from dear friends in Tianjin with some of our favorite Christmas cookies
The gift of a two night stay with Charly in a five star hotel
Friends who spoiled our kids (in a good way) while Charly and I were enjoying our extended date
The provision of round trip train tickets by the father and fiancé of a sweet friend so I could attend her wedding shower (and surprise her)
Back and neck massages from various people
Prayers for me and my health
A friend driving us to the Lanzhou airport (a very tight fit in his car with all of our luggage, but it worked!)
The provision of meals from friends while we were traveling
Granola bars in a care package from my Mom
Encouraging cards in the mail
Unexpected financial gifts that really helped on our trip
The use of an office with beds for us to stay while in Tianjin
A friend driving me home (out of her way) from a party so I wouldn’t have to find a taxi late at night
A friend driving us in his van to the airport shuttle bus station early in the morning and bringing us muffins (fresh from the oven) for breakfast
A text message from a friend to see how I was feeling and if we had made it home okay

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” (Leo Buscaglia)




Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Glory of Creation

 

All creation sings praises to and displays the glory of the Creator. 

“The heavens tell the glory of God. The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or a word; their voice is silent in the skies; yet their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to all the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)

Our family was recently blessed to spend a week in Thailand during our Chinese New Year vacation, and the beauty of God’s creation ministered to our souls. On our last morning at the beach, I marveled from our bungalow at the roaring waves crashing on the shore. I found a bench by the water’s edge to enjoy a closer view. And I remembered what God spoke to Job from the whirlwind: “Who defined the boundaries of the sea as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘Thus far and no farther will you come. Here you proud waves must stop!’” (Job 38:8-11)


I thought about the boundaries God has placed on the sea, and how it seemed that these waves were trying to surpass them.

But then it seemed to me that the waves were dancing! And I thought of the Louie Giglio message we watched recently about the stars and the whales praising God. These waves seemed to delight in reaching as high as they could and creating a wonderful splash upon the shore. I had the privilege of having a front row seat to witness this fun display of God’s glory as the waves danced in praise to Him.

After breakfast, Jordan and her friend Sarah ventured down to the water’s edge, and found a seat on the wall, to get an even closer view. It was fun to watch them enjoy the show and experience the delight of the dancing waves. And to hear their squeals of laughter drowned out in the crashing roar as the waves enveloped them!

 











I think God enjoyed the show as much as they did!


"Praise the LORD,
Praise the LORD from the heavens,
Praise him in the heights above.
Praise him, all his angels,
Praise him all his heavenly hosts.
Praise him, sun, and moon,
Praise him all you shining stars.
Praise him, you highest heavens
And you waters above the skies.
Let them praise the name of the LORD,
For he commanded and they were created.
He set them in place for ever and ever;
He gave a decree that will never pass away.
Praise the LORD from the earth,
You great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
Lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
Stormy winds that do his bidding,
You mountains and all hills,
Fruit trees and all cedars,
Wild animals and all cattle,
Small creatures and flying birds,
Kings of the earth and all nations,
You princes and all rulers on earth,
Young men and maidens,
Old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the LORD,
For his name is above the earth and the heavens.
He has raised up for his people a horn,
The praise of all his saints,
Of Israel, the people close to his heart.
Praise the LORD.
(Psalm 148)



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