Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hidden Treasure

Yesterday morning Daniel braved a chicken pox shot and was excited to get to choose a prize from the treasure chest at the doctor's office. When we came home, we read in The Jesus Storybook Bible about the Hidden Treasure parable in Matthew 13:

“One day Jesus was telling people about God's Kingdom. 'God's kingdom is wherever God is king,' Jesus told them. 'It's wherever God is in charge. It's where he fills up your heart with his Forever Happiness and you stop running away from him and you love him.'

Jesus said, 'Coming home to God is as wonderful as finding a treasure! You might have to dig before you find it. You might have to give up everything you have to get it. But being where God is—being in his kingdom—that's more important than anything else in all the world. It's worth anything you have to give it up!' Jesus told them. 'Because God is the real treasure.'”

I love the way The Jesus Storybook Bible weaves Jesus' thread through the Old and New Testaments...

“God had a treasure, too, of course. A treasure that was lost, long, long ago. What was God's treasure, his most important thing, the thing God loved best in all the world?

God's treasure was his children.

It was why Jesus had come into the world. To find God's treasure. And pay the price to win them back. And Jesus would do it—even if it cost him everything he had.”

Even if it cost Him everything He had. This is the heart of the gospel. The story of our redemption. Our hopeful anticipation in this season of Lent. Jesus willingly paid it all. Because of God's relentless pursuit of us.

The parable of the hidden treasure challenges us to consider where our treasure lies. Do we pursue the Kingdom of God with everything we have or are we sort of lukewarm in our relationship with Him, valuing the things of this world as much as or more than the things of God?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth; where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Where is your treasure and where is your heart?

Where is your search for hidden treasure taking you?

Daniel and David searching for treasure
on an Easter Egg Hunt yesterday

Friday, March 24, 2017

How Will Our Children Adapt?

Our questions breeze right in through the open windows of our minds: fearful reactions can grip us with chilled anxiety, while sun-kissed, hope-filled responses enable us to envision a bright future. When we decide to enter into another culture, we truly don’t know how that choice will affect each of our uniquely-designed children. How will they choose to follow our host culture? Will they learn how to fit in and adapt without losing their sense of identity?

After having grown comfortable living in a large city on the east coast of China for 15 years, our family relocated to central western China in 2011 for my husband to pursue his PhD. Through his field research, the door opened for us to live in a Muslim minority village for weeks at a time, which needless to say was a huge change for us.

Our 13 year old daughter Jordan felt at home right away, and she couldn’t wait to be done with home school so she could spend time with her new friends. One of her writing assignments when we were back in the city was about her life in the village...

Our 15 year old son stepped off the same bus into village life, but with much more hesitation and resistance. Over time, however, as he and his older brother learned how to participate in the Sufi festivals that honored the deaths of their shieks, his perspective began to change. Through joining in with the other young men of the village as they served food at the festivals, Joshua became part of the community. This is what he wrote in a college application essay about what village life taught him about adaptability and diversity...

To read what Jordan and Joshua wrote about their different experiences in the village, click here to go to the post on the theme of "Follow" for Velvet Ashes: 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Whispers of Accusation

You really think you can pray?”

Whispers of accusation chased their way through my mind while I sat at the prayer team table for Pulpit Rock's IF Gathering women's conference.

“What if these true prayer warriors at the table realize you're just a counterfeit who only prays surface prayers and is far from knowing how to actually wrestle with God in prayer, far from knowing what praying in the Spirit really means?”

“What if they see the real you, a kindergarten pray-er pretending to be someone who truly prays?”

The whispers from the accuser that weekend gave voice to my deep-rooted fear of being “found out” that I'm not qualified, not deserving, inadequate. What if the image of who others think I am crumbles down to reveal the real me—who doesn't belong at the table?

It's one of my dominant stories that Jonathan referred to in his sermon on Sunday “Taking Every Thought Captive: Story.” He said that we create these stories based on our interpretations of life events, and they become strongholds in our lives when they don't line up with Jesus story. In our pursuit of renewing our minds we need to ask:

Are we willing to exchange our dominant story for Jesus story?

This renewal is a lifelong process by which our way of thinking comes to resemble more and more the ways of God.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

My fear of not measuring up has popped its head up throughout my life:

When I played basketball in 7th grade and hoped and prayed no one would pass the ball to me, because ball coordination was clearly not my strength. What are you doing on this team?

When I took on a job as a physics tutor for student athletes in college and it became painfully clear that I didn't know as much physics as I thought I did. And some of my students complained about me. How did you get a job you weren't even qualified for?

When we attended the wedding of one of the Chinese teachers at Charly's language school in Tianjin and (even though my children protested) I picked seats up at the front for our family to sit. And we were politely asked to move somewhere else. (I think there is even a Bible verse about this.) Who do you think you are taking a seat of honor?

When (even now) I read Cinderella to David and Daniel and feel like they see me in the story as the wicked stepmother. Because a good mother to them would be a lot more loving and affirming than I am. What if people (who think you're so amazing for adopting) knew what kind of adoptive mother you really are?

What God helped me to realize as I wrestled with these thoughts, before dawn this morning, is that I can have a seat at the table even if I'm not the best. Perfection is not a prerequisite for God. I can set down the measuring stick of comparison--that others are better at whatever it is than me. God simply wants me to come to His table with my sinful, repentant heart. Confession and communion. He doesn't love and accept me because of what I can do or who I try to be. But because of Jesus.

This song that I learned at church has become one of my favorites and I find that the lyrics often repeat themselves in my head. Such good words of Truth for me to soak replace those of the accuser that tell me I don't belong, don't measure up, and might be “found out.”

Elevation Worship

O come to the altar
The Father's arms are open wide
Forgiveness is bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ.

The Truth is that my validation doesn't come from my performance or from how others see me. But from God Himself.

My audience of One.

And His arms are always open wide. Offering me (and you) a place at His table.

What dominant story do you need to exchange for the gospel story?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Don't Listen to Morris

Morris the Moose tried to convince a cow that she was a moose. His argument was simple: the cow had four legs, a tail, and things on her head. “But I say MOO!” said the cow. “I give milk to people.” And Daniel's favorite line, “But my mother is a COW!”

Despite Morris' persistence, the cow held firm to her beliefs about herself, and even consulted a deer for confirmation that she was not a moose. At the end of the story, Morris, the cow, and the deer drank from a stream together and gazed at their reflections in the water. They embraced their differences because their identities were made clear.

After listening to Thomas' message on Sunday, Every Thought Captive: Enemy, my take-away from Daniel's reader last night was: Don't listen to Morris. Know who you are and don't believe lies about yourself. If your identity is in question, consult the Word, and find a true reflection of who God says you are.

Day 8 of Tommy Newberry's 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life is called “Stop Identity Theft”: Your true self-worth is based only on what God says about you, not on how you feel about yourself.

“Do you see yourself as a child of almighty God? Remember whose you really are. You are an original masterpiece...A mediocre self-concept does not come from God but from the blemishes and stains of the world. It comes from seeing ourselves differently than God sees us. It comes from disagreeing with God. It comes from continuing to identify with the things that haven't worked. It comes from continuing to think about ourselves as unworthy, as if we've forgotten about the blood of Jesus that cleanses and purifies us.”

In the storybook, Morris the Moose didn't intend to deceive the cow; he was just confused himself. But in this world, we have an enemy whose mission is completely opposite of everything God intends for us. And we need to be aware of his deceitful schemes.

Our enemy wants us to believe things about God and about ourselves that aren't true. “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and a father of lies.” John 8:44

God wants us to be aware of Satan's deceitful schemes, but He doesn't want us to live in fear of him. We need to recognize the battle going on for our minds and to use the weapons God provides for us, utilizing His unlimited strength.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of the this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:10-13

by Chris Tomlin

You hear me when I call
You are my morning song
Though darkness fills the night
It cannot hide the light
Whom shall I fear

You crush the enemy
Underneath my feet
You are my sword and shield
Though troubles linger still
Whom shall I fear

I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

The one who reigns forever
He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

My strength is in your name
For you alone can save
You will deliver me
Yours is the victory
Whom shall I fear

And nothing formed against me shall stand
You hold the whole world in your hands
I'm holding on to your promises
You are faithful
You are faithful

“When you see yourself as down and defeated, that is what you will surely be. This woeful approach does you no good personally and only serves to minimize your contribution in the world. However, if you choose to see yourself as more than a conqueror through Christ (see Romans 8:37), you will certainly ascend to that level.” (40 Days book)

A cow, not a moose.
A victor, not a loser.
Always remember who you are and whose you are.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Divine Silence

We arrived at our friends’ home, nestled in the majestic mountains of western China, completely unprepared. Grandmother opened the door for us, unable to hold back her tears. We followed her to the table where her daughter-in-law filled our tea cups and whispered their heartbreaking news, “Our son died three months ago.”

She then slipped out of the room to prepare food for us, while Grandmother returned to her bed at the end of the hall. We silently sipped our tea and let this news sink in; our hearts filled with grief.

One of the friends traveling with us encouraged me to comfort Grandmother whose muffled sobs echoed softly in the hallway. I reluctantly stood up, thinking, “I really don’t know what to say.” But as I slowly walked down the hall, I was reminded of Job’s friends who simply sat with him in his grief because “his suffering was too great for words.” (Job 2:13)

God, please help my presence be a comfort to her.

You can read the rest of the post here:

And if you're interested, you can sign up to receive free daily devotionals from incourage:

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What Kind of Reaction?

When I turned around from running cold tap water into the sizzling skillet last night, I discovered Daniel rubbing his oven-mitted hand across the stovetop burner asking himself outloud, “I wonder if this is hot?

“Oh my goodness! What are you doing?” I yelled.

I grabbed his hand away and turned the mitt over to show him the scorched side. I asked him if he could smell it burning, and told him that what he did was really dangerous.

My reaction scared him, and I hope that the result will be that he won't try that again.

His curiosity had led to a chemical reaction: something that can't be undone. There's no such thing as “unburning what's been burned.”

Last month David and Daniel got some play-doh as a post-surgery gift. David wanted to see what would happen if he mixed his two colors of green and purple together. The resulting drab gray color satisfied his curiosity, and now he knows that the vibrant original colors won't come back. After his experiment, he convinced Daniel to mix his orange and yellow together. Daniel didn't play with his play-doh as long, so the two bright colors are both still there. But if he continues to play, they will eventually turn into one color. Another reaction that can't be undone because a new substance will be formed.

Our sermon series during Lent is on Taking Every Thought Captive. Thomas has been teaching on 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 about our minds being a battlefield. About our need to demolish the strongholds we have in our lives. About reaching for the right weapons.

We formed a new small group of four families, meeting every Sunday after church, to discuss the sermons during Lent and the book the church is reading together: 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life by Tommy Newberry. Yesterday our group discussed what our strongholds are, how our jobs/environments can reinforce them, how we find ways to quiet our hearts (with all the bees buzzing around) and what it looks like to choose joy. We talked about how easy it is to get stuck in a rut of negative cycles. And how we desire to be more proactive in coming up with a strategy to help us respond differently when we're tempted to fall back into our old ways.

This morning I've been thinking about reactions.

Child's bad behavior + parent's irritability/impatience, seeing the child through the lens of the bad behavior, and overreacting because strongholds have been triggered = not a positive outcome

Child's bad behavior + parent's peace of mind, ability to see past the behavior to the heart of the child, and awareness/ability to recognize triggers and not be controlled by them = a transformed outcome

The 40 Days book emphasizes that we always have a choice for gratitude: we can choose to look for the good in others/ourselves/our world. It will always be easier to complain, especially if we're in an environment of complaining people. And we can always focus on the bad because its never going away. But the challenge is to be renewed in our minds and to lift our eyes higher than our circumstances.

“Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

We can't unburn what's been burned, and so we must live with the consequences of our (and others') bad decisions in the past. But we have new choices to make each day. We don't have to continue down the well-worn path of negative patterns. We can keep our play-doh colors vibrant by not conforming to the ways of the world. We can make the choice to let God transform our minds.

Thomas said “You cannot change your thinking without God. God will not change your thinking without you.”

God + you working together = transformation

That's the kind of reaction I want. Don't you? 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Neighboring 101

Charly and I have been intentional about trying to put into practice the challenges of Thomas Thompson's sermon series at Pulpit Rock Church on Good Neighboring. We've asked our neighbors their names and engaged in conversations, we invited the man and his son who live next door over for dinner, and I asked a friendly neighbor who walks her son home from school to help me push our boys up the hill in their wheelchairs when Charly had a meeting and we were short a pair of hands.

When we started renting this house last August we realized that some friends from our small group live on the same street. Before they left last month for a three month overseas trip, they told us about a couple who would be staying in their house while they're gone. This couple was returning from a long-term overseas assignment and relocating to Colorado Springs because of a sharp decline in the wife's health from Parkinson's. I stopped by the house a couple of weeks ago with a bowl of apples and a note welcoming them to the neighborhood.

They had been on my mind since the apple delivery, and on Monday I stopped by for another visit. While I chatted with the wife, I was aware of all that her friend was doing to help around the house. And in our conversation, it came up that her friend was free to come again on Thursday, but she needed to find someone to help on Wednesday. “I'm flexible on Wednesday,” I volunteered, thinking it might be for a few hours...

Two weeks ago Thomas invited his friend Dave Runyon to finish his sermon series on Neighboring. Dave and his friend Jay Pathak are co-authors of an inspiring and practical book called The Art of Neighboring. The chapter on setting boundaries was especially helpful to me and came to mind in this situation of my recognizing a neighbor in need and offering to help. I appreciate their fresh look at the story of the Good Samaritan, through the lens of “giving a hand versus a handout.”

“The Samaritan bandaged up the man, loaded him on his donkey, and took him to an inn where he could recover.

It's important to note that the good Samaritan continued his trip at this point. One could argue that the good Samaritan should have done more, should have stayed and helped the man further. The Samaritan should have brought the beaten man back to his home, canceled the plans for his own trip, and drastically rearranged his schedule.

But that's not how the story goes. He did some incredible things but not everything. He picked the guy up off the road, took him to an inn, and paid for him to be cared for there. And that was as far as he went. The good Samaritan was willing to be inconvenienced but didn't allow this event to change his entire life.”

While I was visiting with the wife Monday afternoon, Charly texted that he was preparing enough food if I wanted to invite the couple over for dinner. She gladly accepted the offer, and after her husband got home from work, they drove down the street to our house They didn't seem bothered by Daniel's direct and often embarrassing questions like “Are you old or young?” We shared stories about what it's been like to transition back to America after living overseas for so long. And how the grieving process has been different for each of us.

After we finished Charly's delicious Chinese food and I served the last six pieces of the birthday apple cake he had made for me, the husband said he'd heard that I was free on Wednesdays. With an “s” on the end. My eyes grew big on the inside as he went on to say that on Wednesday he'd need to leave to be at work by 8 and would be home at 5. I did a quick assessment of my day and no appointments came to mind. So I smiled and said that would work for me.

After they left, and we were stacking dishes in the dishwasher, Charly asked me, “Did you realize you were committing to a whole day?

“No, I just said that I had some free time on Wednesday. But I think I can make it work this week. My bigger concern is that I think they think I am free on Wednesdays. And I don't want to make a weekly commitment.”

In The Art of Neighboring, the authors address these questions:

“When you set a boundary with a neighbor, it's easy to second-guess yourself. You ask things like:
Have I done enough?
Could I have done more?
Am I doing too much?
Is there something else I should be doing right now?

If you've ever asked yourself questions like these when it comes to good neighboring, you're not alone. We've asked them too. You have to remember what Jesus says. This is the best way to live. When we love God and love our neighbors, we are living the way Jesus intends for us. Sometimes we may feel overwhelmed. We wonder how we ever got ourselves into the situation we're in and we wonder if we've done the right thing.”

I was wondering if I had done the right thing in volunteering to help when I arrived at their house Wednesday morning. I was planning to do my best to serve that day, as well as to make sure that they knew I wasn't free every Wednesday. Maybe I could offer to make phone calls to try to help them find a full-time aide? I was relieved when the husband said that an aide had already been recommended and was coming on Friday to interview. But I still felt that there was a lingering misunderstanding about expectations. When I got home that day after working as a personal assistant and helping with household chores, I had to lay flat on my back on the couch for awhile to recover. And then I crawled into bed at 8:00! Confirmation that this was not a wise weekly commitment for me to make.

The hardest part about loving others is that you can always do more. You can always give more time, energy, and money to those in need. But you can't be everything to everyone, so stop making yourself feel bad for not doing more.

The challenge is realizing that it's not about what you do, but why you do it and how you do it. At the end of the day, good neighboring must be an exercise in asking God what to do in any given situation. It's about being on our knees in prayer, asking for discernment to help in the situations that we encounter. God doesn't ask us to do everything but he does ask us to do something—which is much better than nothing.”

What lessons have you learned while trying to be a good neighbor?

Friday, March 3, 2017

Welcome to the Table: The Serviette

The Serviette encourages people to share their tables in a way that bridges cultural and religious gaps, shows creativity, and serves others. Julie’s vision both for her blog and for the conversations she initiates with followers from around the world have impacted many. I am one who has been blessed by Julie’s all-encompassing heart and her creative ideas, and was privileged to have this interview with her. Pull up a chair to Julie’s welcoming table and listen in on the conversation.

one of the verses that motivates Julie toward hospitality

First, some background about Julie:

Julie grew up in Brazil, spent most of her twenties in Canada (her parents’ home country) and then ate daal and roti for a few years in India. Now she lives with her American husband in Germany—one of the most culturally diverse places she has ever lived. They’ve been married for just over two years and enjoy having guests from around the world around their table.

Julie started The Serviette a year ago to collect stories and thoughts about engaging people of other cultures, religions or backgrounds within the home environment. From her diverse experience of living with Hindus, hosting Muslims, and befriending people of other worldviews, she’s realized that hospitality plays a vital role in the development of real, meaningful relationships. She hopes you’ll find that hosting people who think differently than you is more possible than you expected, and more important than you realized.

To read the interview on the Velvet Ashes website, click here



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