Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Crucified One

I thought this chapter "The Crucified One" from Andrew Murray's Abide in Christ was excellent.

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

“We have been planted together in the likeness of his death.” (Romans 6:5)

 “I am crucified with Christ.” Thus the apostle expresses his assurance of his fellowship with Christ in His sufferings and death, and his full participation in all the power and the blessing of that death. And so really did he mean what he said, and know that he was now indeed dead, that he adds: “It is no longer I that live, but Christ that liveth in me.” How blessed must be the experience of such a union with the Lord Jesus! To be able to look upon His death as mine, just as really as it was His—upon His perfect obedience to God, His victory over sin, and complete deliverance from its power, as mine; and to realize that the power of that death does by faith work daily with a divine energy in mortifying the flesh, and renewing the whole life into the perfect conformity to the resurrection life of Jesus! Abiding in Jesus, the Crucified One, is the secret of the growth of that new life which is ever begotten of the death of nature.

Let us try to understand this. The suggestive expression, “Planted into the likeness of his death,” will teach us what the abiding in the Crucified One means. When a graft is united with the stock on which it is to grow, we know that it must be kept fixed, it must abide in the place where the stock has been cut, been wounded, to make an opening to receive the graft. No graft without wounding—the laying bare and opening up of the inner life of the tree to receive the stranger branch. It is only through such wounding that access can be obtained to the fellowship of the sap and the growth and the life of the stronger stem. 

Even so with Jesus and the sinner. Only when we are planted into the likeness of His death shall we also be in the likeness of His resurrection, partakers of the life and the power there are in Him. In the death of the Cross Christ was wounded, and in His opened wounds a place prepared where we might be grafted in. And just as one might say to a graft, and does practically say as it is fixed in its place, “Abide here in the wound of the stem, that is now to bear you”; so to the believing soul the message comes, “Abide in the wounds of Jesus; there is the place of union, and life, and growth. There you shall see how His heart was opened to receive you; how His flesh was rent that the way might be opened for your being made one with Him, and having access to all the blessings flowing from His divine nature.”

You have also noticed how the graft has to be torn away from the tree where it by nature grew, and to be cut into conformity to the place prepared for it in the wounded stem. Even so the believer has to be made conformable to Christ’s death—to be crucified and to die with Him. The wounded stem and the wounded graft are cut to fit into each other, into each other’s likeness. There is a fellowship between Christ’s sufferings and your sufferings. His experiences must become yours. The disposition He manifested in choosing and bearing the cross must be yours. Like Him, you will have to give full assent to the righteous judgment and curse of a holy God against sin. Like Him, you have to consent to yield your life, as laden with sin and curse, to death, and through it to pass to the new life. Like Him, you shall experience that it is only through the self-sacrifice of Gethsemane and Calvary that the path is to be found to the joy and the fruit-bearing of the resurrection life. The more clear the resemblance between the wounded stem and the wounded graft, the more exactly their wounds fit into each other, the surer and the easier, and the more complete will be the union and the growth.

It is in Jesus, the Crucified One, I must abide. I must learn to look upon the Cross as not only an atonement to God, but also a victory over the devil—not only a deliverance from the guilt, but also from the power of sin. I must gaze on Him on the Cross as wholly mine, offering Himself to receive me into the closest union and fellowship, and to make me partaker of the full power of His death to sin, and the new life of victory to which it is but the gateway. I must yield myself to Him in an undivided surrender, with much prayer and strong desire, imploring to be admitted into the ever closer fellowship and conformity of His death, of the Spirit in which He died that death.

Let me try and understand why the Cross is thus the place of union. On the Cross the Son of God enters into the fullest union with man—enters into the fullest experience of what it says to have become a son of man, a member of a race under the curse. It is in death that the Prince of life conquers the power of death; it is in death alone that He can make me partaker of that victory. The life He imparts is a life from the dead; each new experience of the power of that life depends upon the fellowship of the death. The death and the life are inseparable. All the grace which Jesus the Saving One gives is given only in the path of fellowship with Jesus the Crucified One. Christ came and took my place; I must put myself in His place, and abide there. And there is but one place which is both His and mine—that place is the Cross. His in virtue of His free choice; mine by reason of the curse of sin. He came there to seek me; there alone I can find Him. When He found me there, it was the place of cursing; this He experienced, for “cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” He made it a place of blessing; this I experienced, for Christ has delivered us from the curse, being made a curse for us. 

When Christ comes in my place, He remains what He was, the beloved of the Father; but in the fellowship with me He shares my curse and dies my death. When I stand in His place, which is still always mine, I am still what I was by nature, the accursed one, who deserves to die; but as united to Him, I share His blessing, and receive His life. When He came to be one with me He could not avoid the Cross, for the curse always points to the Cross as its end and fruit. And went I seek to be one with Him, I cannot avoid the Cross either, for nowhere but on the Cross are life and deliverance to be found. As inevitably as my curse pointed Him to the Cross as the only place where He could be fully united to me, His blessing points me to the Cross too as the only place where I can be united to Him. It is as I abide daily, deeply in Jesus the Crucified One, that I shall taste the sweetness of His love, the power of His life, the completeness of his salvation.

Beloved believer! it is a deep mystery, this of the Cross of Christ. I fear there are many Christians who are content to look upon the Cross, with Christ on it dying for their sins, who have little heart for fellowship with the Crucified One. They hardly know that He invites them to it. Or they are content to consider the ordinary afflictions of life, which the children of the world often have as much as they, as their share of Christ’s Cross. They have no conception of what it is to be crucified with Christ, that bearing the cross means likeness to Christ in the principles which animated Him in His path of obedience, The entire surrender of all self-will, the complete denial to the flesh of its every desire and pleasure, the perfect separation from the world in all its ways of thinking and acting, the losing and hating of one’s life, the giving up of self and its interests for the sake of others—this is the disposition which marks him who has taken up Christ’s Cross, who seeks to say, “I am crucified with Christ; I abide in Christ, the Crucified One.”

Would you in very deed please your Lord, and live in as close fellowship with Him as His grace could maintain you in? O pray that His Spirit lead you into this blessed truth: this secret of the Lord for them that fear Him. We know how Peter knew and confessed Christ as the son of the living God while the Cross was still an offence (Matthew 16: 16, 17, 21, 23). The faith that believes in the blood that pardons, and the life that renews, can only reach its perfect growth as it abides beneath the Cross, and in living fellowship with Him seeks for perfect conformity with Jesus the Crucified.

O Jesus, our crucified Redeemer, teach us not only to believe on Thee, but to abide in Thee, to take Thy Cross not only as the ground of our pardon, but also as the law of our life. O teach us to love it not only because on it Thou didst bear our curse, but because on it we enter into the closest fellowship with Thyself, and are crucified with Thee. And teach us, that as we yield ourselves wholly to be possessed of the Spirit in which Thou didst bear the Cross, we shall be made partakers of the power and the blessing to which the Cross alone gives access.

Overwhelmed by Grace

After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and the other disciples took their fishing boat out on the Sea of Tiberias. There they fished through the night but caught nothing. In the early morning, they heard a man from the shore call out to them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. They did and “were unable to haul the net because of the large number of fish.” (John 21:6) John then recognized that the stranger was Jesus, and Peter joyfully jumped into the water. When they reached the shore they counted the overwhelming number of 153 fish in the net, and they ate a meal with Jesus.

I love the way that Peter’s joy comes not from the huge catch of fish, but from realizing that it’s really Jesus. His eyes were on the Giver, not the gift.

 “Overwhelmed by grace,” is what CJ wrote on facebook. “So thankful for the ways God has blessed me beyond imagination, beyond what I deserve.”

For his whole life, CJ has loved to learn.
He has always been serious about his studies and has pushed himself academically.
He’s more self-motivated than anyone I know.
And he dreams big.

But really. Harvard?

As CJ considered what colleges he wanted to visit last summer and where to apply, Harvard seemed to be a definite long shot. Yes, he did well on the SAT. But doesn’t everyone who applies there?

He did his best on his application and left the results to God.

Last month a Harvard alumni in Beijing contacted him to see about setting up an interview. Our family talked realistically about whether it was worth it for him to make a special trip to Beijing. What were the chances he would get in anyway? But the timing worked out perfectly so that on his way back from his expense-paid NYU-Abu Dhabi Candidate Weekend in the U.A.E., the alumni was able to meet him at the Beijing airport, and they found an empty table at Kentucky Fried Chicken for the interview. Amazingly, one of the things they talked about was what it was like to be a Christian at Harvard. A woman from Harvard’s Admissions Office contacted him about an additional skype interview, saying that being homeschooled in China made him an unusual applicant and they wanted to get as much information about him as they could. During the skype interview, CJ learned that she had actually lived in China for five years!

Last week CJ flew back to the United States for a Finalist Weekend at Notre Dame for the Hesburgh Yusko leadership scholarship. Notre Dame generously paid for his round trip ticket, including an additional 5 days to visit our families in Denver and Kansas City before flying home.

Two days ago, while he was in Denver with my parents and my sister’s family, we received the unexpected news that he was accepted to Harvard. And we continued to be amazed as God filled his net with even more fish—acceptances from Yale, Stanford, NYU-Abu Dhabi, the Notre Dame scholarship and Georgetown. He could just as easily have gotten rejection letters (as he did from the University of Chicago and Yale’s program in Singapore). But God chose to open these six doors of opportunity. By His grace. And we feel overwhelmed.

From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” (John 1:16)

Looking back on CJ’s application process last fall, I remember that one of the issues we wrestled with was how much to focus on our faith. We wanted to honor God while being aware of our audience. In the end we decided to just be open and upfront about what was most important to us.

I really like the way Charly described our homeschool education CJ’s School Profile:

Our mode of education has granted us the flexibility as a family to be more mobile and remain together without disrupting our children’s learning. Here in our new location they have also had the privilege of experiencing first-hand how the cultures of China’s ethnic minorities add extra color and flavor to this land they know as ‘home.’

Sonlight Curriculum has been the central component of our home-based education. The “core program” of Sonlight Curriculum “weaves together a year's worth of History and Geography, Bible, Literature, and Language Arts.” Quality materials are also provided for key subject areas such as mathematics and science. Sonlight expresses their goal as helping parents “raise children who love to learn, love God and have the academic preparation to do whatever Christ calls them to do.” This statement resonates deeply with us and succinctly identifies key values that are highly esteemed in our family.

Love to learn: A passion for learning encompasses several key ideas that we seek to combine in our family. We believe ‘good stories’ are powerful and effective so we appreciate the central emphasis on reading great literature and biographies. ‘Learning to think’ and being ‘discontent with easy answers’ are prominent values we hold, thus we embrace the way Sonlight exposes our kids to differing viewpoints. A ‘global outlook’ is at the heart of who we are as a family, therefore Sonlight’s international focus echoes our desire for our children to appreciate the diversity in our world and to engage with people and cultures far different than our own.

  Love God: Our family’s commitment to ‘following Jesus’ means we strive in all that we do to obey him and to imitate how he lived his life. The Gospel of Luke records that in his youth Jesus grew in wisdom, stature and in favor with God and men; so we also desire for our children to grow intellectually, physically, spiritually, and relationally. We aspire to live integrated lives, with God at the center of all we do.

  Academic preparation: We are convinced that a true love for learning and an enthusiasm to please God should naturally contribute to a ‘pursuit of excellence.’ Within the broad context of inspiring our kids to become lifelong learners, we want to help them during this unique time in their lives as full-time students and to encourage them to make the most of every opportunity and to realize their full potential.

  To fulfill a calling: We want our children to approach ‘learning with a purpose.’ There is a far greater vision than the simple accumulation of knowledge. We want our children to make a positive difference in the world so we work together with them to help them become instruments that will bring about transformation in their generation.
And I really like how CJ answered several of his college application essays about his vision:
            Model United Nations has provided an intellectual basis to consider world issues, while my personal experiences paint a vivid picture of their reality and urgency. Social justice, along with international development, drives me for another reason. My faith is not merely my worldview, my compilation of personal beliefs on the universe, rather it is the way I seek to live my life. I want to model my life after Jesus, who was dedicated to the marginalized and outcast, and who condemned the religious hypocrites who ignored them.

            In recent years, as I began assessing my college path, one of the first dilemmas I identified was whether or not I would attend a Christian college. On one hand, Christian schools offer a certain warmth, a sense of stability as I prepare to transition from my home in China to my passport country, the US. However, my purpose in life is not to be comfortable, but rather to be challenged and to grow in my ability to bless others. In light of this, I have set my sights on prestigious academic schools that offer greater opportunities to relate with people from different backgrounds and also to open doors to positions of influence.

            I take to heart the words of Gary Haugen, CEO of International Justice Mission: “Fighting injustice and oppression in the world... will require sacrifice. It will require hard work. It will require downward mobility in which you choose to serve the poor at the expense of becoming rich. It will require our best people serving as multi-disciplinary experts in our world. Consider excelling in your studies to be your primary way of serving and glorifying God as a student.” I want to glorify God not only by making a positive impact on local communities here and now, but by effectively preparing myself to tackle world issues and to engage with people of power. This motivates me to pursue a top-tier academic education with a vision for transforming the world.

            My passion for international relations is driven by an understanding that on my own, I can not achieve transformation. But there is one who can. My love for God and reliance upon His strength empowers me to love my neighbor and pursue global justice and peace.

            I not only want to develop myself to my full potential and grow in the gift of wisdom, but I also want to be filled with a passion and a vision to fulfill my calling.

May these words that CJ wrote be true of his life and his future:

My true citizenship is in Heaven and my eternal passport is not of this world. At the same time, God has placed me in the world right now as His ambassador to be a blessing.

Blessed to be a blessing.
True for all of us.
May we live our lives worthy of our calling.

To God be the glory.
Great things He has done.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Restraint and Rescue

Last week, a new friend asked me what I believed about the cross. I said I believe that Jesus died on the cross, was dead for three days, and then rose again. She said she believes that Allah replaced Jesus on the cross with someone else so that Jesus didn’t actually die, but was taken straight up to heaven.

Since then, I’ve been considering the other view of the cross.

What if God had intervened from heaven and provided a sacrifice in Jesus’ place? Like He did for Abraham on Mt. Moriah. So that Isaac didn’t have to die.

Or what if Jesus had chosen to unleash the divine power at his disposal in order to prove himself? In order to avoid the path of suffering and death marked out for him.

Instead, I believe that the cross reveals both God the Father and God the Son’s incredible restraint. Their unlimited power—so mercifully withheld—provided for all peoples of all generations a way to be rescued from the power of sin and darkness. A way to enter into the glory of God’s Kingdom. A way to receive light and life in this world and salvation for eternity.

Because there was no other way for God to rescue mankind from the deserved consequences of our sin.

It was the way that God determined and Jesus completed. Through Jesus’ obedient and sacrificial death on the cross.

At the River Jordan, as Jesus approached, John the Baptist cried out, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

And Jesus said about himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Yesterday, Joshua, Jordan and I read in The Jesus I Never Knew about Satan’s temptations and Jesus’ ultimate victories of restraint in the desert, Gethsemane, and the cross.

Philip Yancey writes that in the desert, Satan “tempted Jesus toward the good parts of being human without the bad: to savor the taste of bread without being subject to the fixed rules of hunger and of agriculture, to confront risk with no real danger, to enjoy fame and power without the prospect of painful rejection—in short to wear a crown but not a cross. (The temptation that Jesus resisted, many of us, his followers, still long for.)”

Yancey quotes Malcolm Muggeridge, who said: “Jesus had but to give a nod of agreement and he could have constructed Christendom, not on four shaky Gospels and a defeated man nailed on a cross, but on a basis of sound socio-economic planning and principles...Every utopia could have been brought to pass, every hope have been realized and every dream been made to come true. What a benefactor, then, Jesus would have been. Acclaimed, equally, in the London School of Economics and the Harvard Business School; a statue in Parliament Square, and an even bigger one on Capitol Hill and in the Red Square...Instead, he turned down the offer on the ground that only God should be worshipped.”

He writes that “as Muggeridge sees it, the Temptation revolved around the question uppermost in the minds of Jesus’ countrymen: what should the Messiah look like? A People’s Messiah who could turn stones into bread to feed the multitudes? A Torah Messiah, standing tall at the lofty pinnacle of the temple? A King Messiah, ruling over not just Israel but all the kingdoms of earth? In short, Satan was offering Jesus the chance to be the thundering Messiah we think we want. Certainly, I recognize in Muggeridge’s description the Messiah I think I want. We want anything but a Suffering Messiah

Nailed to the cross, Jesus would hear the last temptation repeated as a taunt. A criminal scoffed, ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.’ Spectators took up the cry: ‘Let him come down from the cross and we will believe in him...Let God rescue him now if he wants him.’ But there was no rescue, no miracle, no easy, painless path. For Jesus to save others, quite simply, he could not save himself.”

Yancey goes on to say, “The more I get to know Jesus, the more impressed I am by what Ivan Karamazov called ‘the miracle of restraint.’ The miracles Satan suggested, the signs and wonders the Pharisees demanded, the final proofs I yearn for—these would offer no serious obstacle to an omnipotent God. More amazing is his refusal to perform and to overwhelm. God’s terrible insistence on human freedom is so absolute that he granted us the power to live as though he did not exist, to spit in his face, to crucify him. All this Jesus must have known as he faced down the tempter in the desert, focusing his mighty power on the energy of restraint.

I believe God insists on such restraint because no pyrotechnic displays of omnipotence will achieve the response he desires. Although power can force obedience, only love can summon a response of love, which is the one thing God wants from us and the reason he created us. ‘I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself,’ Jesus said. In case we miss the point John adds, ‘He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.’ God’s nature is self-giving; he bases his appeal on sacrificial love.”

About the struggle at Gethsemane, Yancey writes: “John Howard Yoder speculates on what might have happened if God had intervened to grant the request ‘Take this cup from me.’ Jesus was by no means powerless. If he had insisted on his will and not the Father’s, he could have called down 12 legions of angels (72,000) to fight a Holy War on his behalf. In Gethsemane, Jesus relived Satan’s temptation in the desert. Either time he could have solved the problem of evil by force, with a quick stab of the accuser in the desert or a fierce battle in the garden. There would be no church history—no church, for that matter—as all human history would come to a halt the present age would end. All this lay within Jesus’ power if he merely said the word, skipped the personal sacrifice, and traded away the messy future of redemption. No kingdom would advance like a mustard seed; the kingdom would rather descend like a hailstorm.

Yet, as Yoder reminds us, the cross, the ‘cup’ that now seemed so terrifying, was the very reason that Jesus had come to earth. ‘Here at the cross is the man who loves his enemies, the man whose righteousness is greater than that of the Pharisees, who being rich became poor, who gives his robe to those who took his cloak, who prays for those who despitefully use him. The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to the kingdom, nor is it even the way to the kingdom; it is the kingdom come.’

After several hours of torturous prayer, Jesus came to a resolution. His will and the Father’s converged. ‘Did not the Christ have to suffer these things?’ is how he would later put it. He woke his slumberous friends one last time and marched boldly through the darkness toward the ones intent on killing him.”

Yancey confesses, “I have marveled at, and sometimes openly questioned, the self-restraint God has shown throughout history, allowing the Genghis Khans and the Hitlers and the Stalins to have their way. But nothing—nothing—compares to the self-restraint shown that dark Friday in Jerusalem. With every lash of the whip, every fibrous crunch of fist against flesh, Jesus must have mentally replayed the Temptation in the wilderness and in Gethsemane. Legions of angels awaited his command. One word, and the ordeal would end.”

Yancey comes to this conclusion about the cross: “Thieves crucified on either side of Jesus showed the two possible responses. One mocked Jesus’ powerlessness: A Messiah who can’t even save himself? The other recognized a different kind of power. Taking the risk of faith, he asked Jesus to ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ No one else, except in mockery, had addressed Jesus as king. The dying thief saw more clearly than anyone else the nature of Jesus’ kingdom.

In a sense, the paired thieves present the choice that all history has to decide about the cross. Do we look at Jesus’ powerlessness as an example of God’s impotence or as proof of God’s love?”

What do you believe about Jesus and the cross?

(Excerpts taken from The Jesus I Never Knew, published by Zondervan Press in Grand Rapids, MI, 1995:
p. 72, 73, 78, 195, 196, 200, 203, 204)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

18 Years

Last night I was buying vegetables at the underground market near our house. As I was selecting healthy-looking carrots, cucumbers, and zucchini, the friendly vendor asked me where I was from. I looked up and replied, “America.”

“How long have you been in China?” her husband asked me. “18 years,” I said as she was weighing my cauliflower and broccoli on the digital scale. “18 years?!” they exclaimed, and the husband repeated it to a nearby vendor across the way. “She’s been in China 18 years!”

“No wonder your Chinese is so good,” the woman praised me as she handed me my hefty bag of vegetables. “Oh, it’s not that good,” I returned. “After 18 years, it should be even better.” We smiled at each other as I paid her the equivalent of $4 and we said goodbye.

It wasn’t an unusual encounter for me. Some of the most common questions I get asked are “Where are you from?” “Are you a teacher?” and “How long have you been in China?” But I carried a smile in my heart as I left the vegetable vendors and stopped to buy some eggs at another stall before heading home. I was hoping, from their warm and positive reaction, that 18 years of living in their land communicated a sincere love for the Chinese people. A love that would keep me here that long.

But I didn’t always want to stay. The initial decision of coming to China was settled when I left medical school behind and married Charly. And before that, I had wrestled with God and come to peace about leaving my family behind in order to live overseas. It was clear to me before we came to China that God had opened the door for us and was leading us to this land.

And in God’s provision and perfect timing, He blessed us with our firstborn after just 13 months of marriage and we moved to China as a family of 3 in 1995 when CJ was 4 months old. Joshua was born 13 months later and I was 8 months pregnant with Jordan when we returned to the US in 1998 for Charly to get his Masters at the University of Kansas.

Those three years in Tianjin were more challenging than any other time period of my life, and just about all of my self-confidence was stripped away. My self-evaluation during that time was that I didn’t fit in China and I didn’t have anything to offer. Charly was clearly the gifted one—in the language and the culture, in his teaching skills, and with his extroverted personality that drew his English students to him like a magnet.

After we arrived in Kansas in 1998, Charly was thinking of how we could get back to China as quickly as possible (so he decided to cram all of his Masters classes into one year). And I realized that I didn’t really want to go back. It felt so refreshing to “fit” in America. No one asked me (as all of Charly’s students had) “What is your ideal job?” Being a stay at home mom with three preschoolers was quite “normal” in the very welcoming Christian community we connected with in Lawrence, Kansas. God’s leading us back to China no longer seemed that clear or desirable to me. Why couldn’t we stay?

Charly and I butted heads over this issue for several difficult months, and I finally realized that there was no way I could change his mind about returning. I thought the perfect plan would be to work with international students (because now I could really understand their struggles with culture shock and homesickness!) But Charly was sure that God’s place for us was China, so I resigned myself to going back, but my heavy heart was dreading our return. Until February of that year.

Then I had the opportunity to attend a Women’s retreat with Grace EPC. It was Jordan’s first time to take a bottle and Charly’s first time to take care of all three kids for a weekend by himself. Looking back, we are both incredibly thankful for that time because it turned out to be life-changing for me.

Jean Fleming was the guest speaker and the theme of the retreat was Quiet Times. She referenced Isaiah 65:1 in one of her stories about playing hide and seek with her grandchildren, when one of them liked to jump out from behind the curtain and yell, “Here I am!”

We had some quiet time to reflect after her message and I decided to flip to Isaiah 65:1. As I read and reread that verse, God’s Spirit penetrated straight through my self-absorbed heart and completely changed my attitude about returning to China. My focus had clearly been on me—on my inadequacies, my fears, and my feeling completely out of my comfort zone. God used this verse to shift my focus: to be able to see His heart for China—a nation to whom He was revealing Himself and saying, “Here am I!”

What a privilege that He would allow me to join Him in what He’s doing! My previously resistant heart was now truly excited about upcoming our return to China. I almost couldn’t believe it, the change was so drastic.

After our first three years of cramped living in two dorm rooms on a college campus, it felt like such a gift to move into our own 3 bedroom apartment, with storage space, a kitchen, and an actual living room with couches. And what a blessing it was to live in a Chinese neighborhood with other families—the place where our children would grow up for the next 12 years, our Home.

Another positive change after our return to China was that Charly and I explored ways that we could use our very different giftings to compliment each other, in order to be a better team. Instead of feeling like God had given Charly all the good gifts (that I wish I had), I could now see that 2 Charlys in our marriage wouldn’t make a very good team. I began to appreciate more how God had uniquely made me and to believe that He really could use me here. If our first three years in China were the time of stripping away all my self-confidence, these years were a time of rebuilding my confidence—not in my own abilities but in my “competence that comes from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5).

My Chinese language ability also began to improve so that I was better able to connect with people on a heart level. I am still longing to grow in my ability to communicate, and I’m excited to be studying again with a Chinese tutor—one of my classmates from the Women's Class at the mosque.

My desire is for my love for God and my love for people to continue to grow deeper, and for God to use my life as a channel of expressing His love to the people around me, the people who are so dear to His heart.

It’s not the years. It’s the life in the years. May my life and the years You give be for your glory, Lord.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What Ruffles Your Soul?

We’ve been encountering a conflict almost every morning it seems during homeschool. It’s an issue that seems trivial to me—but yet so easily erupts into bad feelings. And yesterday I addressed both parties yet again with the conditions of their hearts and how they felt about their hearts toward one another. We had just read a commentary on Colossians and I asked, “How could we apply the Truth of what we just read to this situation?”

Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-15)

Could we grow in humility, forgiveness, and love toward one another? Desiring to change our own sinful heart attitudes even more than trying to change the other person?

A couple of weeks ago, Jordan challenged me about my bad attitude, saying, “Mommy, if you’re going to make us change our bad attitudes, you need to change yours too.”

Ouch. I had just been defending myself over why my BA was justified. It wasn’t. I repented and thanked God for rebuking me through my daughter.

For some reason, I’ve had an image in my mind recently of a game I don’t especially like called Whack-a-Mole. Maybe you’ve played it before. The object is to quickly beat the ever-arising pesky moles back down into their holes with a sledge hammer as soon as they pop their heads up. I’ve been picturing these moles as Pride and Selfishness, jumping up and shouting, “I need attention!” “I want my way!” Bop. Bop those ugly heads back down. Putting my Self to death. It’s an ongoing battle, isn’t it?

One of the books CJ gave me for my birthday was The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux (free on kindle). St. Therese had such incredible insight and spiritual maturity (and only lived to be 24!) I love the way she described her heart as being filled with God’s will, so that everything else would glide gently across the surface.

“Our Lord’s will fills my heart to the brim, and hence, if aught else is added, it cannot penetrate to any depth, but, like oil on the surface of limpid waters, glides easily across. If my heart were not already brimming over, and must needs be filled by the feelings of joy and sadness that alternate so rapidly, then indeed it would be flooded by a wave of bitter pain; but these quick-succeeding changes scarcely ruffle the surface of my soul, and in its depths there reigns a peace that nothing can disturb.”

I want my heart to be like that, don’t you? I really don’t want to let little things get under my skin and ruffle my soul. I’d rather let them slide like rain drops off a rain coat. So that I stay dry inside. The underlying issue of whether I ruffle or not is what is filling my heart.

In Extravagant, Bryan Jarrett says, “When we tap into the Source of living water, we experience supernatural empowerment to care about things we didn’t care for before, love people we avoided, and act boldly to do God’s will. As we yield our hearts to God, we open a channel for His Spirit to flow into us to fill us and out of us as an overflow of His grace to those around us. Are you experiencing His flow in your life? What is flowing from you right now? Or maybe a better question is: ‘What would your family and friends say is flowing from you?’”

What ruffles your soul?

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Hearing CJ play this song recently on the guitar has been a real blessing to me. As the time is drawing near for his launch into college and the reality of what that means is sinking in for our family, I love hearing him sing of his heart’s desire to have a lifelong passion for Jesus.

Lifelong Passion

Fire burn heat these coals
Deeper deeper
Spirit yearn call my heart
Deeper deeper

Be my life-long passion Jesus Jesus
Be my life-long passion Jesus Jesus

River flow drench this soul
Deeper deeper
Hunger grow take my love
Deeper deeper

Be my strong intent my heart’s desire
My will’s pursuit my passion’s fire!
My spirit’s zeal my mind’s delight
My one resolve my journey’s light

Ali Berry
2008 Integrity Worship Music/ASCAP and Shining Rose Songs

I have also been personally challenged by the words of this song.

And as I have continued to reflect on Larry’s Crabb’s Finding God, I’ve been wrestling with these questions:

Is my passion to be free from pain
Or to seek God with all of my heart?

Is my desire to be validated in the eyes of others
Or to bless people out of the abundance of His grace in my life?

Am I really hungry for God
Or have I become “full” on the things of this world?

Crabb asks, “What can we do to stir up a drive for knowing Christ that is more powerful than our natural urge to look after ourselves? How can we develop a passion for finding God that will lead to an actual encounter with him, an encounter that will free us to care about others, not to prove our value or to gain their approval, but to bless others?”

I have also been challenged recently by a kindle book that a friend sent to me called Extravagant by Bryan Jarrett. I was especially touched by the story of his 40 day fast, when he reached a point of expressing real disappointment and anger toward God for not answering him in the way he had hoped. He says that after pouring out his heart to God in frustration, “I felt more broken than I’d ever been before, and suddenly in the place of anger and blame, I overflowed with a fresh sense of gratitude. I experienced God’s forgiveness in the depths of my soul and realized He hadn’t abandoned me at all.”

Then Jarrett fell asleep for two hours in the remote cabin he was using as a retreat, and was startled to see a strange man standing over him when he woke up. It turned out that this man was a truck driver who had been praying as he was driving and received a clear message from God, but he wasn’t sure who it was for. So he had pulled off the road and noticed that someone was in the cabin. After confirming that Jarrett was the man God intended to hear the message, “He answered every question I’d asked God over the previous 37 days and shared astounding insights into God’s heart and intentions.”

He then said, “Pastor Bryan, you’re unhappy in the ministry because you’ve taken your attention off Jesus and His promises. While you’ve focused on strategies and effectiveness, your heart is divided and you’re missing the point—and Jesus is the point. If you’ll engage Him with as much passion and effort as you’ve poured into your ministry for Him, all those other things will flow out of your relationship with Him.”

Looking back, Jarrett reflected, “During the forty days, I’d been preaching every Sunday on pursuing the presence of God, but there had been a void in my own heart. Now I suddenly realized I had fasted because I had wanted answers, not because I wanted God...I’d been blind to my own motives and my heart’s desires. It took a dear brother speaking God’s message to me in a dusty cabin in the piney woods of southern Arkansas for me to get the picture. He showed me that I needed to spend less passion and effort on the success of my tasks and more on my primary assignment of knowing, loving, and serving Jesus Christ. I had to make sure the secondary things were truly secondary and the ultimate thing was truly the center of my affections and attention.”

I love Jarrett’s conclusion from this encounter: “God went to great lengths to shatter my presumptions about His character and His will for my life so he could teach me a new level of extravagant devotion. He wants all of us to have this kind of relationship with Him. In fact, every blessing we enjoy invites us to see Him as evermore beautiful and gracious toward us. Every heartache shows us the depth of our need for Him. What will it take for you to long for Him with all your heart?”

I’ve been convicted about a layer of callousness that I can sense over my heart these days: a kind of self-protection, a way of keeping God at arm’s length. I’m asking God to remove this layer in order for Him to be my one true passion. That I would “earnestly seek Him” above all else (Hebrews 11:6).

What are you asking God for these days? What is your passion?


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