Saturday, April 23, 2016

Blessed By Those We Came to Bless

Joshua wrote a paper last fall that was selected for publication in a magazine for Notre Dame Freshmen. I think he did a fantastic job and I asked him if I could share part of it here (with some added photos)...

Our family decided to move in order for my dad to pursue a PhD program in cultural anthropology, specifically related to the study of China's Muslim ethnic groups. Motivated by God's promise to Abraham that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3, NIV), my dad wanted our family to live among the Muslim community in the city so that we could be a blessing to them...


Then our family decided to move again, this time to a remote village several hours away. Even though the initial move to Lanzhou was full of challenges, it was still to a large Chinese city populated mostly by ethnic Chinese with a Muslim population of less than ten percent. On the other hand, the village that we were planning on moving to, in order for my dad to conduct field research, was comprised completely of Sufi Muslims, a charismatic branch of Islam known for its mystical forms of worship. Dreading the inevitable move, I could only imagine how much more pronounced the distinction would be between “us” and “them.” Having only lived in densely populated Chinese cities of several million people, I was not exactly looking forward to living in a rural farming community of a couple thousand people whom I viewed as being inherently different...


Entering our host family's expansive courtyard home, we were warmly welcomed and treated to a simple, home-cooked meal. This initial greeting paled, however, in comparison to the welcome we received from the village's religious leader, whom we later affectionately referred to as “Sufi Super Dude.” Despite the fact that these villagers had never seen any Americans before, I never remember seeing anyone look at us with suspicion, but only with big happy smiles...


Despite that fact there were certain cultural and religious taboos that we were told to avoid, for the most part, we were invited to live however we liked. For example, we were told that we could walk into the carpeted prayer hall with our shoes on if we wanted, something that no one else in the village would dare do. While the religious order strictly regulated the lifestyle of its own members, it took great pride in welcoming with enormous hospitality all of its guests. Never before, or since, have I experienced a similar degree of warmth and welcome, especially as an outsider from the community.


Almost needless to say, I was forced to reconsider my staunch refusal to alter my lifestyle in order to better relate to those around me. After having been greeted by the village in such a meaningful way, how could I not want to somehow give back to the community? Transitioning to life in the village still had its fair share of challenges, but my attitude towards living there was slowly changing. No longer did I view my relationship with the villagers as being completely defined by clear distinction between “us” and “them.” No longer did I view any and all forms of adaptation as a violation of my personal convictions. No longer did I treat with disdain the proposition that we wear the white prayer caps. We had come there in order to be a blessing to them, but it appeared that they were the ones heaping blessing upon blessing on us.


Seeking to give back in some way, my brother and I decided to join the young men of the village in serving food at various memorial festivals hosted by different families in commemoration of the passing of loved ones...


I had found my place in the community. I was still a white, American, Christian city dweller and they were still Chinese Muslim villagers, but in the act of serving together, we shared the common identity of being young men and members of the same community. Having lived there for only a few short months, our family had effectively been adopted as members of the community. 


Whenever we go back to visit on short trips, we are still greeted by the warm smiles of the villagers as they nod with deep appreciation and say, “You've returned? Good.” Even though I've now moved across the ocean to attend college here at Notre Dame, part of my heart still remains among the terraced fields and rolling hills of Gaoli village.


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Two weeks ago Jordan gave a speech in her Public Speaking class and invited our family, my mom and dad, and aunt and uncle to come. I was greatly honored by what she shared: My Mom, My Hero. Blessed by my sweet girl who is actually one of my heroes.

CJ was honored this week by being selected as a Truman scholar. As he is seeking to be a blessing in the Middle East, he has been blessed in many ways by those God has graciously put in his life.

Blessings beyond measure that cannot be counted. Our God is a God of abundance, and His deep ocean of blessing will never run dry.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Desire to Commune

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls...” (Psalm 42:7)

The deepest cry of our hearts to connect in the deepest way to God.

Desire to Commune

Bringing Him our

Despair

Darkness

Disbelief

Disappointment

But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21)

They didn't recognize him.

They didn't know He was walking the dusty road right beside them.

Their Suffering Messiah.

Their Risen Redeemer.

They invited this wise and unusual stranger to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him...” (Luke 24:30-31)


Communion.

When He removes the veil.

When He transforms deep despair into a deeper hope.

When our deep calls to His deep.

And hears the answer.

And sees the One Who Is.

When His deep calls to our deep

And hears our answer

His great delight is to commune with us. 


(Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of Commune)

Friday, April 8, 2016

What Do I Crave?

“When your words came I ate them, they were my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty.” (Jeremiah 15:16)

Do I crave God's Word?

“I am the vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:1-4)


Am I connected to the Vine?

In The Listening Life, Adam S. McHugh writes, “Listening is important enough to Jesus that he devotes his first parable to it (Mark 4:1-20). In Mark's Gospel Jesus frames the parable of the sower with the opening word 'Listen!' and the closing exclamation 'Let anyone with ears to hear listen!' Overtly about a farmer indiscriminately scattering seed on different types of soil, the story is actually about different types of hearers.

There are the path hearers—those who don't really hear at all, deflecting and dismissing Jesus' words. There are the rocky listeners, who let the word penetrate a little but then reject it because of the adverse voices of struggle and persecution.

Third are the thorny listeners, who listen a while longer but slowly allow the subtle power of seductive voices—the accumulation of wealth and the sparkle of material things—to suffocate the word. Finally are the true and fruitful listeners, those who receive the word deep into themselves, where it does its proper work of flowering and bearing fruit.”

Do I receive God's Word deep into myself?

But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” (Galatians 5: 22-23, MSG)

Is God living out His life in me?

What do I crave?

A life free of struggle and pain? The accumulation of wealth and the sparkle of material things? Getting my way in life?

Or true transformation of my heart by the living and active Word of God? Giving my Gardener the freedom to prune any and every branch? In order to bear fruit that will give glory to the only One who deserves it? 


(Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the Theme of Crave)

Monday, April 4, 2016

What If?

What if Jesus' presence was enough, not his calming the storm?
What if the disciples decided to lie down and sleep with Him in the boat?
What if instead of panicking they stayed calm?
What if fear didn't choke out their faith?

Without warning, a furious storm swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We're going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
(Matthew 8:24-26)


What if the storm going on in my life makes me feel like I'm going to drown?
What if Jesus doesn't seem to care or act when He could?
What if Jesus' sleeping presence could meet my deepest need right now?
What if He's asking me to trust, with the little faith I have, that He is enough?

What if?


(Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of What If?)

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Rise Up O God

How long will the enemy mock you, O God?
Will the foe revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!


But you, O God, are my king from of old;
you bring salvation upon the earth.
It was you who split open the sea by your power;
you broke the heads of the monster in the waters.

It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan
and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert.
It was you who opened up springs and streams;
you dried up the everflowing rivers.

The day is yours and also the night;
you established the sun and moon.
It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
you made both summer and winter.

Remember how the enemy has mocked you, O Lord,
how foolish people have reviled your name.
Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts,
do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever.


Have regard for your covenant,
because haunts of violence fill the dark places of the land.
Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace;
may the poor and needy praise your name.

Rise up, O God, and defend your cause;
remember how fools mock you all day long.
Do not ignore the clamor of your adversaries,
the uproar of your enemies, which rises continually.


(Psalm 74:10-23)

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead...
In Christ all will be made alive...
Then the end will come when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father
after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death...


Death has been swallowed up in victory,
Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?
(1 Corinthians 15: 20, 22, 24-26, 54-55)

When the Master Steps In

After growing her hair out for almost three years, Jordan decided to get it cut last week at a hair cutting training salon, that works with Wigs for Kids. She signed a consent form when we walked in, and then told me as we sat down that she basically agreed to have her hair cut by someone who didn't know how to cut hair. We laughed about that, and then she noticed that the music seemed kind of loud. “Maybe that's to cover up the screams of dissatisfied customers,” she said. “And we haven't seen anyone leave,” I observed. “Maybe people have to exit from a back door so that those in the waiting area don't see what their hair looks like.”

The girl assigned to cut Jordan's hair seemed hesitant and lacking in confidence, so I felt relieved when her supervisor stepped on the scene to offer some tips. I felt even better when the supervisor took the scissors herself. This woman knows hair, I could tell. She popped by several times to add her own snips and clips, and Jordan's hair ended up looking great.


I had my blood drawn yesterday at my doctor's appointment. It's one of my least favorite activities in the whole world, and it didn't help when the nurse kept telling me, “Your veins are so tiny. They're so deep. They keep wanting to run and hide.”

Does she know what she's doing? I wondered as I lay on the examining table with my eyes closed.

She told me as she was going in for her third stick that she was going to stop after three if that one didn't work because she would lose her confidence.

“I think I might have you go to an outside lab. I'm sorry,” she told me as she put a cotton ball on the third failed attempt.

“Is there anyone else who could come in and try?” I asked, really not wanting to go somewhere else to endure more torture.

“There is one other person who's pretty good. He's the best after me. I'll call him in.”

I was hoping he would prove to be a true Master at Blood Drawing. And he did find a vein in my hand, willing to share a bit of blood, on his second try. I was thoroughly relieved that he was able to get enough and we were done.

Because my veins are usually not very cooperative, I really want to have confidence in the skill of the person who is sticking me with a needle.


People had confidence in Jesus. When He came down from the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, a large crowd was waiting.

A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”

“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.”

Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.
(Luke 9:38-43)

But not long after, the Master was seized and taken away by men with swords and clubs.

He was mocked and beaten.

He was nailed to a cross.

And his broken body was taken down after he had breathed his last.

It appeared that the Master—whom they believed to be the Son of God—was defeated.

And both the land and the hearts of those living in it were engulfed in darkness.

Their Master—who had healed with a simple touch or a word, who had brought the dead back to life, who had fed the hungry, and who had taught them about a new kingdom...

Their King—who had slipped through every crowd that had tried to kill him, who had brilliantly turned religious leaders' attempts to trap him back on themselves, and who had won the respect and following of his disciples...

Dead.

They waited for the Master they trusted and believed in to step up. And take control.

But He didn't.

And they were all amazed at the apparent weakness of God.


Until the third day.

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