Monday, September 29, 2014

Rebuilding



A few days ago, I read the book of Nehemiah about the Israelites’ huge task of rebuilding of the wall after their captivity in Babylon, and I thought about all the rebuilding God has done in Daniel’s life since last September when he almost died from encephalitis. 

Here are some of our pictures that parallel the two stories…

Nehemiah received the news with sorrow and grief: “The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates have been burned with fire.” (Nehemiah 1:3)




Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem himself to look over the ruins and said to the people: “Come let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.” (2:17)


Sanballat, a voice of discouragement and opposition challenged: “Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” (4:2)


But in spite of the opposition, the work continued on because the hand of God was with them: “So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.” (4:6)



 
The people still grew weary and said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” (4:10)



Nehemiah encouraged the people not to give in to the opposition: “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” (4:14)


And when the work was finished and the people offered sacrifices to God, Nehemiah said to them: “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (8:10)


In thanksgiving, the Levites said: “Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord. You made the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.” (9:5-6)




Nehemiah prayed: “Now, therefore, O our God, the great, mighty and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love, do not let all this hardship seem trifling in your eyes.” (9:32)


In all that has happened you have been just.” (9:33)



And from the book of Ezra: “He has granted us new life to repair the house of God and its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.” (Ezra 9:9)



Daniel has been climbing up on the bed with me the past couple of weeks when I’ve played the guitar. He likes to lay on his back and listen, and he is very eager to flip the page of the song book for me when he thinks a song is finished. One song he particularly likes and tries to sing along with me is “Lamb of God” by Twila Paris. These lines have struck me in a new way as I have sung along with Daniel and thought about his life—the precious life that God brought back from death a year ago and has been rebuilding this past year…

I was so lost, I should have died
But you have brought me to your side
To be led by your staff and rod
And to be called a lamb of God

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Joshua's Life in the Village



I think Joshua did a great job with this essay for one of his college applications. Describe an encounter that illustrates the importance of diversity to you. He gave me permission to share it. And I added a few pictures from our time in Gaoli Village last year...

One of the first things our host said to our family when we arrived at his home in the village was, “Tonight, I will treat you as guests, but tomorrow, you will be in charge.” For me, as a young man and the youngest son in our family, “being in charge” meant fulfilling my responsibility in serving. It was my job to bring in the food at meal times and also to ensure that everyone’s cups were brimming with tea. This role of serving others was magnified when the village came together as a community during Muslim Sufi festivals to share a feast, as it was the young men who were in charge of serving the meal. Starting early in the morning, we formed an assembly line by meticulously loading platters with small plates of dried fruits and nuts.


            During the actual meal, speed was essential as young men jockeyed for position in order to acquire the necessary food items at different “stations” and then rushed back to their assigned table, so as not to get behind schedule. Attempting to join the young men of the community in serving during these festivals initially caused me no small degree of confusion and stress. However, after successfully fulfilling my role, I found true enjoyment and satisfaction in accomplishing the task, not only for the sake of a job well done, but also because of the common bond I was able to form with the other young men of the village.

           
            This experience was hugely significant in stretching me well beyond my comfort zone and in teaching me the importance of adaptability. While my participation in Model United Nation conferences taught me how to adapt while representing the diverse opinions of different countries, my experience of serving in the village taught me how to adapt, not merely with words, but through fulfilling my role in a diverse context in a very real and practical way. I have found that adaptability is not simply the ability to be a chameleon by always changing myself in order to fit into the surrounding environment, but that rather it is the ability to grow myself through living life in somebody else’s shoes.   

           
            Growing through such adaptability has made me appreciate the importance and power of unity within diversity. Through embracing the diversity of life in the village by serving alongside other young men, I realized that in spite of all our differences, we were still united by a common desire to serve others. I believe that this common desire extends beyond my specific experience of serving in the village and is in fact something that we all share in common. While this desire manifests itself in a variety of ways in different cultural contexts, it nonetheless can serve as a unifying factor to spur collective action. I hope to use my life experiences and exposure to diversity to build bridges across cultures to help others discover the significance of such unity within diversity.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

His Answerless Presence

I love Beth Moore’s insights in Beloved Disciple. She considers how difficult it must have been for John the disciple when his brother James was killed. And then Peter was miraculously released from prison. Hadn’t the disciples prayed just as strongly for both men? God’s answer was quite different, and yet He remained the same.

“Sometimes we don’t realize how real He is until we’ve experienced the awesomeness of His answerless Presence. He knows that what we crave far more than explanations is the unshakable conviction that He is utterly, supremely God.” (Beth Moore)


"‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed.’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you." (Isaiah 54:10)

“We are never more fulfilled than when our longing for God is met by His presence in our lives.” (Billy Graham)

“When you accept the fact sometimes seasons are dry and times are hard and that God is in control of both, you will discover a sense of divine refuge, because the hope then is in God and not in yourself.” (Charles R. Swindoll)

“Always be in a state of expectancy, and see that you leave room for God to come in as He likes.” (Oswald Chambers)

“That is God’s call to us—simply to be people who are content to live close to Him and to renew the kind of life in which the closeness is felt and experienced.” (Thomas Merton)

“A relationship with God does not promise supernatural deliverance from hardship but rather a supernatural use of it.” (Philip Yancey)

“Sometimes the far greater miracle is the victory He brings and the character He reveals when we don’t get what we thought we wanted.” (Beth Moore)

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

His Presence is more than enough. With or without answers. He is utterly, supremely God.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Did Jesus Run?



I have to say this picture definitely surprised me. As I was flipping through one of David and Daniel’s Bible story coloring books, I found I couldn’t move past this page. Jesus running?! Really?


The context must be Matthew 4:12, “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.”

This coloring book interpretation makes it seem like Jesus ran to Galilee to rescue John.

Can you imagine Jesus rushing in to address Herod, with bold words like the ones Moses spoke to Pharoah, “Let John the Baptist go!”

No, it didn’t happen that way.

Jesus returned to Galilee to fulfill the prophesy of Isaiah that those living in the land of Galilee would see a great light. (Matthew 4: 13-16 and Isaiah 9:1,2)

John the Baptist had prepared the way for Jesus’ coming. His job was now over (although he didn’t know it) and Jesus had stepped into the spotlight. John had been confident that Jesus was the Messiah, but he must have wondered why— if Jesus knew he was in prison he didn’t do something about it.

So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one come or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3)

Last week I read a challenging book that some friends passed on to us called The Barbarian Way by Erwin Raphael McManus. I really appreciate his insight into John’s questioning of Jesus.

John was living between prison and platter when he sent the message to Jesus. Shouldn’t he expect Jesus to drop everything and come to his aid? After all, he had always been there for Jesus. Where was He when John needed him? Was he unaware that John needed help? Was He indifferent to John’s dilemma? Or was He simply not the Messiah as John had always believed?

When Jesus received the inquiry from John’s disciples, He got an impressive response: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matthew 11:4-6)

…John already knew all that…The amazing and inspiring work of Jesus didn’t eliminate John’s doubts; it actually fueled them…

Why would Jesus’ doing so much good jeopardize John’s faith? How could the very things that Jesus was doing to help others cause John to lose heart? When we look at Jesus’ response to John, we see one line that just doesn’t fit. After he reinforced all of the evidence that He was the Messiah, retelling His miraculous work among the people, He closed with this seemingly disconnected thought: “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

…Jesus was saying to him, “John, I’m not coming through for you. I’m not getting you out of prison. I’m not sparing your life. Yes, I have done all this and more for others, but the path I choose for you is different from them. You’ll be blessed, John, if this does not cause you to fall away.”

As Jesus listened to God His Father, He knew exactly which miracles to perform and which not to perform. Rescuing John from prison was not a miracle that God had planned. And so, John was killed at the hands of Herod. John’s example and Jesus’ words to him, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” can encourage us when Jesus doesn’t come to our rescue in the way we had hoped. 

When we wish He looked like He does the coloring book page, running in to rescue us, but the answer we receive to our cry for help is,

“The path I have for you is different than anyone else’s. Keep trusting in me.”

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What’s in Store?



The water in our apartment building often gets turned off. Sometimes for just a few hours. Sometimes for a whole day or longer. There are times that we get news in advance that our water will be out for a day or two, and we have time to fill up buckets, pitchers, bowls, and even our fill-from-the-top washing machine – so that we can be ready for the “drought” with a stored-up water supply in the kitchen and bathroom.

Other times we are not prepared and we end up with a growing stack of dirty dishes in the sink and a stinky bathroom until the water comes back on. It has made us appreciate water in a new way. We don’t take it for granted because we often go for stretches without it. 


In the Old Testament, God gave Joseph the ability to interpret Pharaoh’s disturbing dreams so that the Egyptians would be prepared for the coming drought. During the seven years of abundance that would come first, they could store up grain to be prepared for the following seven years of famine.

They were ready—through God’s grace.

During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully. Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it. Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure. (Genesis 41:47-49)

When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt. And all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph because the famine was severe in all the world. (v. 56-57)

Charly relates this story from Genesis with the number of Bible verses he memorized during college (a whole lot!). Those years of great spiritual input were a time of storing up in abundance. And during the more spiritually dry years that followed, he was able to take advantage of all the Truth stored up in his heart and mind. An example of God’s grace in Charly’s life.

What has God stored up for us as believers?

How great is your goodness which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you. (Psalm 31:19)

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

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17b-19)

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)


Monday, September 1, 2014

Thirsty?



The woman came to the well, as she most likely did every day, to get a supply of fresh water—and unexpectedly met the source of living water. Jesus—a man who knew the shady details of her past—and saw through her empty relationships to her real thirst. Jesus—the man who transformed her broken life in that one encounter and made her whole. Yes, give me some of that water so I will never be thirsty again.

 
In the book of Jeremiah, God explains the root problem of His people:

“My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)

Jeremiah later writes: “O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.” (17:13)

But God’s people could choose to repent and return to the Lord, where they would find hope.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (17:7-8)

To have roots tapped in to the spring of living water. To have no worries in a year of drought. To have green leaves and fresh fruit, regardless of the weather. To trust deeply in the Lord—who brings both calamities and good things. To not turn away when what He does doesn’t make sense. Yes, I want my roots to have that never-ending supply of water. I don’t want to see my leaves wither and die.

Last Sunday afternoon Jordan and I took David and Daniel down to the Yellow River to play. We bought a set of plastic shovels and a bucket and pretended we were at the beach. We found a quiet spot by the riverside and set to work, digging a path that led to the river.

As we were uncovering rocks and piling them to the side, we happened to find an underground water source. How fun to see it bubble up and fill the hole we were digging. The water even seemed clean when it first appeared—unlike the polluted Yellow River water. Soon we had a a little “lake” supplied by this underground water source, as we made the hole bigger and bigger.

Our original plan was to take turns pouring buckets of river water into our dug-out path to see if it could reach the river. But that was only temporary, as the water kept running out. Like the water for the woman at the well—she had to keep coming back. Our underground water source kept our hole filled—just like the source of living water. The water that could quench real heart thirst and would not run out. The living water—that would keep trees green and fruit-bearing, even during an extended time of drought.

Yes, I want to drink that water. Keep me from trying in vain to fill up broken cisterns in my life that are unable to hold water.

Those broken cisterns of
trusting in man
depending on flesh for my strength
and turning my heart away from the Lord.

I don’t want to be a bush in the wastelands,
 to not see prosperity when it comes,
to dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives
(Jeremiah 7:5-6)

I want to know the spring of living water and to daily live in His presence.

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice. “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-38)

If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.




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