Monday, April 27, 2015

Thank You

I started blogging five years ago. My friend Mags shared with me that she thought my writing could be an encouragement to others. Not long after that, on a bike ride by Nankai University (the same familiar route that I used to bike to my doctor appointments when I was pregnant with Joshua in 1996), God opened my eyes to see a parallel between Saul trying to put his armor on David and me trying to have my kids “wear my faith.” I was inspired by my friend Jenn's blog, and started my own blog from her page. After I typed up my first post The Armor Doesn't Fit, CJ's positive response encouraged me to keep going. That spring of 2010, the kids and I started our home school days by reading through the Old Testament together. And my writings then were mostly about our discussions from the life of David.

It is always interesting to me to see which posts are the most popular. I just looked back at the 10 most popular posts since I've been blogging:

Now the Pine Seven

Thank you for following my blog. Whether you read every single word I write (like my Mom and Dad!) or keep up occasionally, I appreciate your encouragement. God bless you on your journey with Him.

from Luke 6

This passage from Luke 6 in the Message really challenges me:

“You're blessed when you've lost it all. God's kingdom is there for the finding.
You're blessed when you're ravenously hungry. Then you're ready for the Messianic meal.
You're blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning...

CJ reading from the Gospels at the Church of the Primacy of Peter

But it's trouble ahead if you think you have it made. What you have is all you'll ever get. And it's trouble ahead if you're satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long. And it's trouble ahead if you think life's all fun and games. There's suffering to be met, and you're going to meet it.

There's trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.

To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present out of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!

If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that's charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.

I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You'll never--I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we're at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.

Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don't condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you'll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you'll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.

He quoted a proverb: 'Can a blind man guide a blind man?' Wouldn't they both end up in the ditch? An apprentice doesn't lecture the master. The point is to be careful who you follow as your teacher.

It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, 'Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt? It's this I-know-better-than-you mentality again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your own part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

You don't get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It's who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true beauty brims over into true words and deeds.

Why are you so polite with me, always saying, 'Yes, sir,' and 'That's right, sir,' but never doing a thing I tell you? These words I speak to you are not mere additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on.

Church of the Primacy of Peter in Tabgha, Israel

If you work the words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid the foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a dumb carpenter who built a house but skipped the foundation. When the swollen river came crashing in, it collapsed like a house of cards. It was a total loss.”

(Luke 6: 20-21, 24-49 MSG)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

You're Blessed When

You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.
You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'care-full,' you find yourselves being cared for.
You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight.
That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.
(Matthew 5:3-9, MSG)

In Your God is Too Small, J. B. Phillips paraphrased this passage:

Most people think:

Happy are the pushers: for they get on in the world.
Happy are the hard-boiled: for they never let life hurt them.
Happy are they who complain: for they get their own way in the end.
Happy are the blasé: for they never worry over their sins.
Happy are the slave-drivers: for they get results.
Happy are the knowledgeable men of the world: for people take notice of them.

Jesus Christ said:

Happy are those who realize their spiritual poverty: they have already entered the Kingdom of Reality.
Happy are they who bear their share of the world's pain: in the long run they will know more happiness than those who avoid it.
Happy are those who accept life and their own limitations: they will find more life than anybody.
Happy are those who long to be truly “good”: they will fully realize their ambition.
Happy are those who are ready to make allowances and to forgive: they will know the love of God.
Happy are those who are real in their thoughts and feelings: in the end they will see the ultimate Reality, God.
Happy are those who help others to live together: they will be known to be doing God's work.

CJ took this picture of the fields of Galilee

Monday, April 20, 2015

Faith in a Storm

“The farmer plants the Word. Some people are like the seed that falls on the hardened soil of the road. No sooner do they hear the Word than Satan snatches away what has been planted in them.

And some are like the seed that lands in the gravel. When they first hear the Word, they respond with great enthusiasm. But there is such shallow soil of character that when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.

The seed cast in the weeds represents the ones who hear the kingdom news but are overwhelmed with worries about all the things they have to do and all the things they want to get. The stress strangles what they heard, and nothing comes out of it.

But the seed planted in the good earth represents those who hear the Word, embrace it, and produce a harvest beyond their wildest dreams.” (Mark 4:14-20, MSG)

“With many stories like these, he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.

Late that day he said to them, “Let's go across to the other side.” They took him in the boat as he was. Other boats came along. A huge storm came up. Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it. And Jesus was in the stern, head on a pillow, sleeping! They roused him, saying, “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we're going to drown?”

Awake now, he told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, “Quiet! Settle down!” The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass. Jesus reprimanded the disciples: “Why are you such cowards? Don't you have any faith at all?”

They were in absolute awe, staggered. “Who is this, anyway?” They asked. “Wind and sea at his beck and call!” (Mark 4:33-41, MSG)

CJ calming the Sea of Galilee last week

What is the condition of our hearts?

Hardened? Shallow? Full of rocks or weeds? Fertile?

We want our heart soil to allow the tiny seed of faith to grow where God has planted it, don't we? To “produce a harvest beyond our wildest dreams.”

But how do we respond when a huge storm comes out of the blue and threatening waves crash into our boat, so that we think we're going to drown?

We know Jesus is with us, but he's not doing what we expect. Sleeping?! In our time of need. Doesn't He care?

How did Jesus want His disciples to respond to this situation that would have demonstrated their faith in Him?

And what is He saying to me through this passage today?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

I Am The One Who Has Changed

While Daniel and I were in Shanghai last week, I borrowed a book from our friends' bookshelf: Soul Keeping by Howard Baker. What a treasure of great insights! The following passage has especially encouraged me today:

What is hard for many of us to accept is this: The journey of faith will take us through the many changing conditions of the soul. We may not have expected things to get tougher before they get better. Certainly we did not expect to have our innermost selves exposed—our misgivings about God, our doubt, apathy, disillusionment, depression. Because many of us think like people who are supposed to have arrived, we do not think of these as interior conditions God may lead us through to show us greater glimpses of Himself...

Christians are often told that the end goal of following God is something like this: “to live a good, moral life,” or “to live without worries,” or “to go to heaven.” These are inadequate and less than biblical notions of the soul's highest end. The true goal is captured by the visionary apostle John:

Beloved, now we are children of God,
and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be.
We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him,
because we shall see Him just as He is.”
(1 John 3:2)

To see Christ face-to-face, “just as He is,” means far more than “putting a face to a name.” This is what we say when we meet someone to whom we've spoken on the phone but never met in person. John implies something deeper: to see Him face-to-face means that the true “face” of my soul—all of the attitudes and expressions I may have hidden within me, masked by the face I put on in public—will meet the attitudes of God as shown in Christ. Then my soul will understand fully for the first time all that was in God's heart toward me, all that He meant to accomplish by what He led me through in my life. Then awe, joy, and gratitude will melt away my final resistance, and we will become, at last, spiritually one.

As I progress on the spiritual journey, there is a quiet transformation that occurs in my life—God occurs in my life. God seems to change, but in reality, I am the one who has changed. This is beautifully illustrated in this exchange between Aslan, the lion Christ-figure, and the young girl Lucy from C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia:

“Welcome, child,” he said.
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you're bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

As we grow in our love for Christ, experience of Christ, and obedience in Christ, He looms larger and larger so that we can begin to say with the apostle Paul, “For me to live is Christ.” And we gladly join John the Baptist in proclaiming, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

Until that day, our journey is to experience the character and presence of the living Christ ever deepening in us.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Beautiful Story That God Writes Through Our Disappointments


I had a special opportunity to speak with a group of women in Shanghai this week, thanks to my friend Katie. We were encouraged with the way God brought everything together! I thought that sharing the message here would be a way for you to pull up a chair with us in Linda's living room...

We started our evening of fellowship by singing two songs, 10,000 Reasons and One Thing Remains.

I recently read J.B. Phillips' book Your God is Too Small, and this passage really impacted me:

To some people the mental image of God is a kind of blur of disappointment. “Here,” they say resentfully and usually with more than a trace of self-pity, “is One whom I trusted, but He let me down.” The rest of their lives is consequently shadowed by this letdown...God is a Disappointment...

Such a god is, of course, in the highest degree inadequate. It is impossible for people who have persuaded themselves that God has failed, to worship or serve Him in any but a grudging and perfunctory spirit...

God will inevitably disappoint the man who is attempting to use Him as a convenience, a prop, or a comfort, for his own plans. God has never been known to disappoint the man who is sincerely wanting to co-operate with His own purposes.

This quote really challenges me, because I have wrestled with disappointment in God. Does that mean I have been trying to use God as a convenience, a prop or a comfort for my own plans? What does it mean to sincerely want to cooperate with God and His purposes?

When you look back at this past week, this past year, however long you have been on a faith journey with God—what do you do with your disappointments? With your unmet expectations? With the times that you really believed God would answer your heartfelt prayer in a certain way—and He didn't. Do you have bitterness and resentment in your heart toward God?

I know God could, but He probably won't.”
God just wants my life to be hard.”

Is that what your God is like?

I've struggled with feeling that way toward God.

Two of my biggest areas of disappointments with God have been with my migraine headaches and with our adoption journey.

We started the adoption process in 2007. In 2008 God gave us the desire to adopt two children from Gansu province (the place that God had put on my husband's heart before we got married and where we were praying that God would open a door for us to live, which we later did in 2011). So we changed our request from a healthy baby girl to 2 children of any age or gender from Gansu province.

Around the same time as we changed our request, some friends asked if they could specifically pray for healing from my migraine headaches. That prayer time, in combination with some juice fasting, gave me 3 headache-free weeks. I thought I was healed. 

I remember a friend writing to me, “Isn't the timing great that God healed you of your migraines right before you adopt the 2 children He has for you?

That is the way I would have written my story if God had given me the pencil and the book with the unwritten pages of my life: Healed from Headaches and Adoption Completed in 2008.

But God chose to allow my struggle with migraines to continue—like the thorn in the flesh that Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians. God said, “I have more to teach you about weakness.”

And God chose for us to wait 6 1/2 years for our adoption to be completed and our sons—David and Daniel—from the Lanzhou orphanage to join our family. His plan was to teach us through waiting in the dark.

So while I would prefer to live out of my strength and to receive my requests from God right away, God has different plans for me.

How have the circumstances of your life turned out differently than you had hoped?

Disappointments are like stop signs, aren't they? They give us pause to keep us from going through life on cruise control. One of the most fundamental questions that disappointments bring to the surface is:

Do I believe that God is on my side and wants the best for me? Or do I believe that God is out to get me? That the hardships in my life are evidence that God doesn't care?

God used this passage to speak to my husband at a conference years ago when he was really struggling with why God didn't answer our prayers to take my headaches away. Did God even care?

Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain O Israel, 'My way is hidden from the Lord, my cause is disregarded by my God'? Do you not know? Have you not heard? 
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. 
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” 
 (Isaiah 40:27-28)

A few chapters later, God says:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; 
and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. 
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” 
(Isaiah 43:8)

God promises to be with us. In the water and in the fire. Immanuel. To uphold, to strengthen, to sustain, to give grace, and to give hope.

When we're experiencing circumstances that are crushing and overwhelming and are taking all the life out of us. Even if no one else is there or can understand what we're going through—God is there and He is on our side. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. I believe that's what He wants us to hold on to when we're going through deep waters, when we're in the midst of the fire. Immanuel.

God of Angel Armies”

Questions for Personal Reflection:
  1. How have the circumstances of my life turned out differently than I had hoped?
  2. How have these disappointments affected my relationship with God?
  3. What has God taught me about my weakness and about waiting on Him in the dark?
  4. Do I believe that God is on my side and wants the best for me? Or do I think that God is either out to get me or that He simply doesn't care?

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
(Habakkuk 3: 17-18)

This passage has really challenged me with the question: Where does my joy come from?

Is it only possible to feel joyful when everything is going my way? When my crops are abundant and fruitful? And when my sheep and cattle (or my children) are just the way I want them to be?

We have the choice to rejoice every day. This is one of my ongoing struggles. Maybe it's one of yours too.

In the summer of 2013 when our adoption paperwork was about to expire, we found out about David and Daniel. But the very same day we were told that it was not possible for us to adopt them together. So we decided to fight for them. Actually God was the One who fought for us (like the God of Angel Armies song) and made a way where there seemed to be no way.

But in September, just 2 days after we got the exciting news that we had been matched with both boys and we thought the battle was over, we found out that Daniel was very sick. He had been in a coma for 6 days with high fever and seizures. After 3 weeks in the hospital, the doctors gave him the diagnosis of viral encephalitis.

Why, God?

As a family we decided to move forward with the adoption of both boys—with the future still very unclear of what Daniel's recovery from his brain infection would be like. When we brought him home he was in diapers and he couldn't walk, talk, or use his hands. God has brought healing and enabled Daniel to regain much of what he had lost in these physical areas, but the brain damage remains.

It has been a difficult journey, to say the least. Today is the 18 month anniversary of our bringing our sons home. We have come a long way, and God has been faithful. But I have asked God multiple times over the past 1 1/2 years, “Is this really the life you want for me, God?” We waited so long for our adoption to be completed and we endured great strain on our marriage:

My husband wanted to keep waiting for 2 from Gansu and I doubted. Did we hear God right? Did God really want us to keep waiting for this specific request? Was my husband just being stubborn (which is part of his personality) or had God given him the faith to keep trusting without any evidence that we would ever see out request fulfilled? It's because of my husband's faith and because of God's faithfulness that we have our two sons today. It it had been up to me, I would have chosen to be matched with a single child from anywhere in China because I didn't want to lose our chance to adopt.

So, we got our sons, our big answer to prayer. And then we struggled with the question, “What have we done?

It's a choice to see our two boys as a blessing and not as a burden.
It's a choice not to focus on the bad behavior and the challenges and the questions like—will Daniel ever become an independent adult?

I really want to see David and Daniel with God's eyes and to love them with God's love—because my eyes and my love are both so limited. It's very humbling for me when people say, “Oh you are so loving to adopt these boys,” and I am thinking, “If only you knew how unloving I can be.”

We are preparing to go back to the US for at least a year starting this summer—to help David and Daniel with their English and with their special needs. Daniel and I are here in Shanghai for him to get Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy and a psychologist's evaluation to help us identify the resources he needs in the US public school system.

We will also be seeking God while we are in the US, for His next steps for us.

We've been in China as a family now for 20 years. Our oldest son CJ is a sophomore in college . Our second son Joshua is about to start college. Our only daughter Jordan (in the middle of 4 boys) has one more year of high school. Daniel and David are 9 and 10 years old.

These are the questions that I ask myself and want to challenge you with as well:

How can we choose joy in the midst of disappointments?

Do we believe that God is writing a story for us that even though we don't understand many of the why's—one day He will enable us to understand and we will thank Him for the pain and the brokenness that He used to create something even more beautiful than we could have imagined.

It is my prayer that each of us could look back at every one of our disappointments—not with resentment toward God—but with a heart of gratitude that says “This is what God used to get my attention, to take my life in a new direction, to show me who He really is.”

This is how I would rewrite Habakkuk 3:

Even though my headaches have not gone away 
and our adoption journey turned out much different than I expected. 
Even though we are leaving China and are going back to the US 
for an indefinite amount of time with many unknowns in our future. 
Even though so much is uncertain and unclear right now, 
I will choose to rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God my Savior. 
Because He is writing a beautiful story through the disappointments in my life,
 and I trust Him in my weakness and in my waiting.

How would you personalize this passage?

Blessed Be Your Name”

Personal Reflection Questions:
  1. Do I choose to focus on the disappointments and discouragements or on the blessings God has given me?
  2. What would help me to make the choice to rejoice every day?
  3. What does God want to be for me in the difficulty/disappointment I am currently facing that He couldn't be for me otherwise?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Is This The Way You Pray?

 I can really relate to this prayer. Can you?

O God, I plead with you to enable me to learn patience,
but do not allow me to encounter provoking circumstances!
Enable me to be meek, but do not allow people to arouse my anger!
Enable me to grow humble, but do not allow people to despise me!
Enable me to love my enemies, but do not allow people to become hostile toward me!
Enable me to forgive people, but do not allow people to offend me!
Enable me to be willing to give way, but do not allow people to attack me!
Enable me to be courageous, but do not allow me to encounter difficulties and dangers!
Enable me to be diligent, but do not give me vexatious work!
Enable me to be faithful, but do not trust me with heavy responsibilities!
Purge away the dross, but do not allow me to pass through the fire!
Enable me to be an overcomer, but do not allow me to be attacked by Satan!
Enable me to endure persecution, but do not allow people to revile me or oppose me!
Enable me to be willing to deny myself for others, like the Lord Jesus denied Himself,
but do not allow me to suffer loss!
Enable me not to love the world, but do not take away my reputation or my wealth or my friends!
Enable me to recognize more of my own faults and failings,
but do not allow anyone to point them out or to rebuke me for them!
Enable me to be obedient unto death, like the Lord Jesus,
but do not allow me to experience the cross!

by Wang Mingdao
in Strength for the Storm (an OMF book, translated by Arthur Reynolds 1988)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Meek and Mild?

From J.B. Phillips' Your God is Too Small (1961):

It is a thousand pities that the word “child” has so few words that rhyme with it appropriate for a hymn. But for this paucity of language we might have been spared the couplet that hundreds of thousands must have learned in their childhood:

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child.

But perhaps it was not the stringencies of verse-making that led the writer to apply the word “mild” to Jesus Christ, for here it is in another children's hymn and this time at the beginning of the line:

Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

Why “mild”? Of all the epithets that could be applied to Christ this seems one of the least appropriate. For what does “mild,” as applied to a person, conjure up to our minds? Surely a picture of someone who wouldn't say “boo” to the proverbial goose; someone who would let sleeping dogs lie and avoid trouble wherever possible; someone of a placid temperament who is almost a stranger to the passions of red-blooded humanity; someone who is a bit of a nonentity, both uninspired and uninspiring.

This word “mild” is apparently deliberately used to describe a man who did not hesitate to challenge and expose the hypocrisies of the religious people of His day; a man who had such “personality” that He walked unscathed through a murderous crowd; a man so far from being a nonentity that He was regarded by the authorities as a public danger; a man who could be moved to violent anger by shameless exploitation or by smug complacent orthodoxy; a man of such courage that He deliberately walked to what He knew would mean death, despite the earnest pleas of well-meaning friends! Mild! What a word to use for a personality whose challenge and strange attractiveness nineteen centuries have by no means exhausted. Jesus Christ might well be called “meek,” in the sense of being selfless and humble and utterly devoted to what He considered right, whatever the personal cost; but “mild,” never!

Yet it is this fatal combination of “meek and mild” which has been so often, and is even now applied to Him. We can hardly be surprised if children feel fairly soon that they have outgrown the “tender Shepherd” and find their heroes elsewhere...

It would seem that the “meek-and-mild” conception of the Deity could be readily seen through, yet experience shows that it is operating beneath the conscious level of many Christian minds, particularly in those whose childhood has been coloured by a sentimental attitude toward “the Lord Jesus.” Such people find their actions, and even their thoughts, inhibited by a false consideration of what is “loving.” They can neither use their critical faculties not speak the plain truth nor meet their fellows “naturally” for fear they sin against the meek-and-mild god. To non-Christians they thus appear unreal and even as hypocrites, while the “love” they attempt to exhibit toward others is all too often a pathetic travesty of the real thing. For, like other sentimentalists, the meek-and-mild god is in reality cruel; and those whose lives have been governed by him from early childhood have never been allowed to develop their real selves. Forced to be “loving,” they have never been free to love.

There is a further offshoot of the worship of this false god which must be mentioned. It is the sentimental Christian ideal of “saintliness.” We hear, or read, of someone who was “a real saint: he never saw any harm in anyone and never spoke a word against anyone all his life.” If this really is Christian saintliness then Jesus Christ was no saint. It is true that He taught men not to sit in judgement upon one another, but He never suggested that they should turn a blind eye to evil or pretend that other people were faultless. He Himself indulged no roseate visions of human nature: He “knew what was in man,” as St. John tersely puts it. Nor can we imagine Him either using or advocating the invariable use of “loving” words. To speak the truth was obviously to Him more important than to make His hearers comfortable; though, equally obviously, His genuine love for men gave Him tact, wisdom, and sympathy. He was Love in action, but He was not meek and mild.


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