Monday, July 25, 2016

All the Peoples of the Earth

The grace of God was never meant to keep people out. But to bring people in. How easy it is as “insiders” to see those who are different as “outsiders.” Us and Them. Good and Bad. Right and Wrong. We tend to build walls around ourselves and stay safe inside with those who look and think and believe like us. Without even realizing it, we can live in a bubble in an attempt to protect ourselves, and develop a sense of superiority. Unless we are intentional to live a life of inclusion, we will likely default to excluding others because of a myriad of differences: religious background, skin color, ethnicity, social status...

One day long ago Solomon prayed about Inclusion:
As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel
but has come from a distant land because of your great name
and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—
when he comes and prays toward this temple,
then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you,
so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you,
as do your own people Israel,
and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.”
(2 Chronicles 6:32-33)

In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller explores the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 (which he thinks would be better called The Tale of Two Sons). He writes:

“The targets of this story are not “wayward sinners,” but religious people who do everything the Bible requires. Jesus is pleading not so much with immoral outsiders as with moral insiders. He wants to show them their blindness, narrowness, and self-righteousness, and how these things are destroying both their own souls and the lives of the people around them.

Jesus' purpose is not to warm our hearts but to shatter our categories. Through this parable Jesus challenges what nearly everyone has ever thought about God, sin, and salvation. His story reveals the destructive self-centeredness of the younger brother, but it also condemns the elder brother's moralistic life in the strongest terms. Jesus is saying that both the irreligious and the religious are spiritually lost, both life-paths are dead ends, and that every thought the human race has had about how to connect to God has been wrong.”

Our Grace Group discussed this passage and Keller's book a few weeks ago and reflected on how we can all relate to the older brother in the story. In his pride. Self-righteousness. Sense of entitlement. And his anger when his father threw a party for his disrespectful, wasteful, sinful younger brother. We were all struck that the word Prodigal doesn't actually mean “wayward” but “spending everything one has.” Keller titled his book The Prodigal God to highlight the father in the story who, in unconditional love, spent everything he had. He chose to extend extravagant mercy to his undeserving younger son, while his unmerciful older son stood at a judgmental distance and refused to enter into the joy and celebration.

In Romans 2, we see that judgment doesn't help others or ourselves. “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, so you think you will escape God's judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?” (v. 1-4)

Last month Jonathan Cleveland from Pulpit Rock Church gave a great sermon based on the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard about the generosity of God. His challenge was that one of the best indicators of our spiritual health is how we respond when someone who is undeserving receives the mercy of God. When others don't work as hard as we do. Aren't as good as we believe ourselves to be. 

Who are the undeserving people in your life? What words would you use to describe them?

Do we want them to receive what they deserve or what they need? How do we feel when they receive God's mercy?

Do we see our God as a God of Grace or a God of Works?

Are we willing to identify our older brother tendencies and realize that we need God's mercy just as much as those we label undeserving? 
Are we willing to allow God's kindness to lead us to repentance?
Are we willing to drop our stones and extend the hand of mercy, like Jesus did?

One of our family's favorite songs is Jesus, Friend of Sinners:

"God, let our hearts be led by mercy. Help us reach with open hearts and open doors.
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks yours."

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 Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of Get Ready. Because in preparing to cross cultures to reach and serve "the other," I think it's important to look into our hearts to see if we have hidden superior attitudes to those who are different than us.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Color.ful

So many different skin colors populate the globe.

So much beauty in those colors. If we choose to see.

So much racism. If we choose to label.

Injustice seems to be growing in our world today.

How do we fight it?

And both celebrate the diversity of colors and see past the skin to what is in the heart.

So that we can discover the unity in our humanity.

And realize that we are all people wonderfully and fearfully made, handcrafted by God.

So much alike underneath our different skin colors.

With the same hurts and the same dreams.

But the reality is that people born into a life of white privilege will never experience the kind of fear and anger and discrimination directed toward those born with black or brown skin.

I believe that privileged white people cannot shut the door, turn the other way, and ignore what is happening.

We must fight against injustice. Fight for those around us who face mistreatment every single day of their lives. Mistreatment simply because of the color of their skin. 

Even if it's not our personal battle, it must become our battle. The people suffering are our brothers and sisters.

I highly recommend the book Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, a white journalist who temporarily darkened his skin for six weeks to see what life was really like as a black man in 1961 in the Deep South.

It had a significant impact on me, in a very sobering way.

And scarily, his account is way too much like the discrimination we still find in America, the Land of Freedom, 55 years later.

Griffin's story has helped me to appreciate my incredible parents even more. They lived in the Deep South in the 60's and adopted my biracial brother when we were both babies in 1970. 


Our multi-colored family (including my biological sister and my other brother adopted from Brazil) experienced misunderstanding and discrimination. I distinctly remember the fear I felt as we witnessed a KKK cross burning in a friend's yard in Arkansas in the late 1970's.

I have so much respect for my parents and their bold courage to make unorthodox choices back then.

And I believe that today we must join together with our brothers and sisters of different color with that same kind of courage to fight against the current racial crisis in our world.

Will you fight?

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

Sunday, July 3, 2016

When Faith Needs Refining

In October of 1995, I flew across the world with my husband of just over a year and our cute 3 month old baby CJ. After we landed, we squeezed our bulging suitcases and all of our baby gear into the much-smaller-than-we-imagined-would-pick-us-up car from the (then tiny) Beijing airport. I arrived with a big heart for the world and an excitement about what we would see God do. I knew of course that life would be challenging, but God was my Strength and my Provider. He would help me learn Chinese, make friends, and be the best mom and wife I could be. I had a somewhat naive faith back then to believe that our awesome God would use me to make a difference in the world. Can you relate to a similar kind of faith?

 
I tried hard to fit into the culture. But there were multiple times that I wondered if I was going to have a breakdown. I longed for the gifts that Charly had (it seemed that God had mistakenly given me the wimpy ones). Learning the language was such a steep mountain to climb, and I frequently doubted that I was making any progress at all. It became more and more clear to me that while my husband was made for China, I wasn't.

After three years in two dorm rooms at Tianjin Normal University, we returned to the States for a year for Charly to get his Masters in East Asian Studies. Joshua had joined our family by then, and I was 8 months pregnant with Jordan.

Once we had unpacked our bags in Married Student Housing at the University of Kansas, I had no desire to get on that big plane ever again. To go back to the land where I felt I had nothing to offer.

Charly and I struggled over this issue for several difficult months, until I finally realized that there was no way I could change his mind about returning. He was 100% 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 I attended a women's conference that year, where Jean Fleming was the main speaker. And God transformed my heart through a life-changing verse that she shared.

I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, 'Here am I, here am I.'” (Isaiah 65:1)

As I read and reread that verse, God’s Spirit—like an arrow--pierced 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 way out of my comfort zone. God used this verse to shift my focus, to remove the veil in order to catch a glimpse of 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 was doing! My previously resistant heart was now genuinely excited that we were going back. It wasn't about me, but about Him.

After we had settled in to our new apartment, we explored ways that we could use our very different giftings to compliment each other. Instead of feeling resentful that God had given my husband all the superior gifts, I could now see that two of him in our marriage wouldn’t make a very good team. I began to better appreciate how God had uniquely made me and to believe that He really could use me in ways that fit His design. He rekindled the faith I had when we had first arrived in China (the faith that believed God could use me to make a difference in the world, the faith that was full of unmaterialized dreams, the faith that had died somewhere along the way). But in the process of bringing my dead faith back to life again, He also refined it so that my life wasn't in the center.

Yes, He could use my life to make a difference. Not because He had made me an incredibly gifted person with lots to offer, but because I knew I had nothing of value to offer apart from Him. Any lasting fruit that God would bring through my life would be as a result of my staying connected to the Vine. As a simple branch.

I look back on those first three years in China as the season when all of my self-confidence was stripped away. Days full of doubt, disillusionment, dishes and diapers, when I questioned how I could stay in a land when I didn't “get” the culture and could hardly understand what people were saying. God subsequently used the following years as a time of rebuilding my confidence—not in my own abilities but in a “competence that comes from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5).

Maybe, I realized, it was actually to my advantage that I was an introvert who wasn't naturally gifted in the language, so I could echo these words of Paul:

I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

My ongoing desire is for my love for God and my love for people to grow deeper. And for God to use my surrendered life as an authentic channel of expressing His love to the people around me, the people who are so dear to His heart. So that the people to whom He is revealing Himself might have faith that would rest completely on God's power.

How has God refined your faith in order to use you as His channel to impact the world around you?

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Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of "Go"






Saturday, July 2, 2016

Broken Bones

We were awakened yesterday morning by a crashing sound, followed by Daniel's cries for help. I found him lying on his back at the bottom of the stairs. Apparently he had gone upstairs to use the restroom and on his way back down, in the dark, he missed a step. His arm was hurting and it didn't look right.


His broken arm experience yesterday brought back many memories:

Joshua's second time to break his arm (when he was almost 6) by taking a tumble off his bedroom's windowsill into the balcony.


Jordan breaking her arm when she was 8, by attempting to kick Joshua's Tae Kwon Do pad (while wearing a long straight skirt and socks on our tile floor). It didn't stop her from participating in bowling and archery at Joshua's 10th birthday party. 


CJ breaking his arm by falling down a ravine during his wilderness experience the summer before he started college (which included a memorable Coast Guard rescue). 


These memories help me to be

Grateful for God's provision and protection.

Thankful for how He equips our bodies for physical healing. And can transform our hearts through spiritual healing.

But also, Aware of the limitations that having a broken arm brings.

Reminded, as I've been doing more to help Daniel, of how much help he needed when he joined our family. Brushing his teeth, giving him a bath, helping him get dressed... he was like a 7 year old infant after his brain infection 2 ½ years ago. He has gained so much more independence since then; this going back in time is helpful for me to see how far he's come. From those early days that Didn't Feel Exciting because I was worried if Daniel would ever be able to communicate with us...I'm thankful that he is now able to communicate so well with us, and that he is usually a very happy boy.

As we came downstairs after his bath this morning (and I made sure he was using the handrail with his good left hand), I helped him put his watch on and he let out a deep sigh, saying “We're all good!”

I think that's a pretty good summary of what broken bones can teach us: Even in the midst of pain and brokenness, we can choose to be positive. God has truly given us so much to be thankful for.

Friday, July 1, 2016

When the Pain Lingers

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. (John 5:2-9)

In Joni Eareckson Tada's devotional book Beside Bethesda she writes in the opening chapter, “If you spend anytime at all with me, you will know that I love the old hymns. I love to hear them, and I love to sing them. But for me, it's something more than nostalgia or enjoying a particular style of music.

I don't just sing hymns because I want to. I sing because I have to. I remember darker days when I was first injured in the hospital. I wanted so much to cry—and to just go on crying for the rest of my life. Instead, I would stifle the tears and comfort myself with one of the old hymns of the church:

Savior, Savior
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou are calling,
Do not pass me by.

When I sang those words, or even hummed the melody softly to myself late at night in my hospital room, it always reminded me of the pool of Bethesda in John chapter 5. When friends visited me at the hospital, I often asked them to read that passage to me.

John speaks of one man who had been there, lying beside that pool, for thirty-eight years. The account goes on to say that “when Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time” (verse 6), He approached the disabled man and asked him a question.

I can't tell you how many nights I would picture myself there at the pool of Bethesda, on a blanket, perhaps lying next to the paralyzed man on his straw mat. In my mind's eye we would lie there, waiting. He would be waiting for an angel to stir up the waters. Then, somehow, he would inch himself over to the pool and slip into it for supernatural healing. He was waiting for an angel...but I was waiting for Jesus.

I knew that the Son of God Himself would be coming, stepping out of the bright morning light, slipping under the shade of the colonnades and standing for a moment, looking out at the desperate, nearly hopeless little band of disabled men and women waiting by the water's edge.


In my fantasies, I would see Him pausing by the pool, His disciples puzzled by the delay and eager to keep moving toward the temple. And I would cry out to Him, not wanting Him to miss me, lying on that pavement in the shade of a pillar.

Jesus! Oh, Jesus! Don't pass me by. Here I am! Heal me! Help me! Don't leave me here like this!

And the truth was, though I couldn't see it at the time, He had seen me all along. He had known me. He was aware of my fear, my sorrow, my despair, my longings, and my crushing need. He would not—did not—pass me by. And He never will, not in all eternity."

And then in the last chapter of her book (subtitled 31 Days Toward Deeper Healing), Joni writes about her experience of actually visiting the pool of Bethesda with her husband:

Thank You,” I whispered. “Thank You for the healing You gave me. The deeper healing. Oh, God, You were so wise in not giving me a physical healing. Because that 'no' has meant 'yes' to a stronger faith in You, a deeper prayer life, and a greater understanding of Your Word. It has purged sin from my life, forced me to depend on Your grace, and increased my compassion for others who hurt. It has stretched my hope, given me a lively, buoyant trust in You, stirred an excitement about heaven, and pushed me to give thanks in times of sorrow. It has increased my faith and helped me to love You more. Jesus, I love You more.”

When the pain lingers, like my migraine yesterday, these words from Joni help to rekindle my hope. A deeper healing from God is possible when the physical healing doesn't come in the way we wish it would. His ways are higher than what we are able to comprehend and His love is deeper than we could ever imagine.

When the pain lingers, may you be reminded of the deeper healing He desires and plans for your life.

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