Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I Had a Secret (Or, Things We Don't Share In Certain Circles)

I have a secret. Or, more accurately, I had a secret. It's the kind that, well, certain people wouldn't understand.

See, in Christian circles, there are certain things--some sins, some just struggles--that we don't talk about . These run the gambit--depression, pornography, managing sensual desires, trusting God, etc.
It's not that all sins that are taboo. We have our favorite sins and we feel very free to talk about these, often in very flippant ways: worry, lack of discipline, disrespecting our leaders, gossip.

But there are still some things that, well, are just awkward to bring up. Things that, if shared, would make people wonder about you, about where you stand with God. That's where my secret comes in.

For years, I didn't love Jesus.

Well there it is. I've gone and made it public to the whole world. I didn't feel what most of Christendom feels. No warm fuzzies. Really, very little emotion in that direction at all. I was usually grateful. But that's not the same thing.

Let me back up. I grew up in a very loving home, where I believed in Christ at a young age. All of my growing up years, and even into adulthood, I had a very clear picture of God the Father. See, if he was anything like my father, I could relate. My father wasn't perfect--as the Father is--but he was a good and loving parent. When I prayed to the father (in Jesus' name, of course), I could picture coming before Him and could see His intent and loving eyes on me. When I needed comfort, I could picture crawling up in His lap or leaning my head against His shoulder. Even when I was in trouble, I knew that He was seeking to bring me to my best for His glory, not to whap on me. The Father I 'got,' and the Father I loved.

The way I saw it was that Jesus had come to reveal the Father (John 17:25-26, "Righteous Father...I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known..."). He pointed us toward the Father, and then made a way to the Father (John 14:6, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one come to the Father except through me."). I didn't get why I should love Jesus. It seemed to me that His role was to introduce the Father.

But it didn't sit quite right with me. Firstly, many, many people did love Jesus, and seemed to think that this was normal and right. A little Christian peer pressure, so to speak. This made me think that I was missing something, and that thought brought me to...

Secondly, the Father exalted the Son, and made Him His focus (John 8:54, "My Father... is the one who glorifies Me."). Surely, Jesus was more important than the role to which I was relegating Him, that of a spiritual matchmaker. As I began to investigate this, I realized that...

Thirdly, the Father loves the Son (John 17:24, "Father...You loved Me before the creation of the world."). Whoa... The Father loves the Son? Love is important, then. Loving Jesus is important. Shouldn't I love what--and who--the Father loves? Clearly, I was missing something here.

Finally, Jesus said that our love for Him is connected with our obedience. Well, sometimes it's really hard to be obedient, and I needed every advantage I could get. Jesus said in John 14:15, "If you love Me, you will obey what I command." Surely the reverse is true also: If I don't love Him, I won't be keeping His commands. This was very sticky.

Once I realized I needed to love Jesus, I wasn't sure how to go about loving Him. To love the Father was natural. How did one go about falling in love with the Son?

On occasion, I have slipped away to the mountains to pray. On one such occasion not quite two years ago, I sat down to a lengthy conversation with my Savior. His presence was so real to me that all the worldly and insignificant concerns that I had seemed to melt away. But this one was left. "Jesus, I don't know you." Ouch, my secret was out, and it seemed awful. But quickly, His quiet answer came. "I and the Father are one." (John 10:30)

It was as if the sun had just suddenly burst into the sky, as if spring had routed winter in one single breath. Suddenly, I understood. I couldn't love the Father without also loving the Son, for He is in the Father and the Father is in Him (John 14:10-11). All along, I had been loving the Son, I just didn't know it!

One tiny phrase, six little words, but the ache, the pillars of shame and fear in my heart were suddenly banished. I could love Him; I did love Him. His love was already mine.

It's amazing how revolutionary this simple--basic, even--truth has been in my life. Sometimes these days, I will sit in enthralled worship, reveling in the fact the not only does He love me, but I can and do love Him too. What a gift this truth is.

And now, when others say they love Jesus, I understand. For my heart is bursting with love--and gratefulness--for the one who came to introduce me to the Father and to give me life now and forever.

I really do love Him. I really do.


(c) 2007

Monday, April 23, 2007

Funny, But True

Random Memories--all true--and more as I think of them.
I once...
· Got locked in a zoo after hours
· Held a live bee in my mouth without getting stung
· Was asked out by an ambassador
· Ate silk worm larvae
· Told a SS teacher she was wrong, 'cause my daddy was in seminary and he told me differently (I was four, and I was wrong)
· Tripped on a plane, fell completely, flat-out down, taking a flight attendant and two glasses of wine down with me (It was a long flight.)
· Was nearly deported (not from the U.S. )
· Lived through a 5.0 earthquake and didn't even know it had happened
· Ran toward riots in two different countries (my poor mother)
· Lived through a locust plague--seriously
· Fell asleep mid-meal, mid-bite
· Listened while a waiter sang Happy Birthday to my friend on my birthday
· Forgot I was wearing neon green undies when I did a quick change into cream pants for a night out in Chicago (ahhhhhhhhh!!!!)
· Set myself on fire (no serious damage, but some hair loss)
· Stayed awake for 42 hours straight
· Sang karoke with my friend Rachel in a Vietnamese bar (in KS). The lyrics were translated from English to Vietnamese and back again, so it was unintelligable.
· Went for a walk in an absolute downpour with my mom. We were both sick for a week.
· Floated past my house in my car when our street flooded
· Led others to dance 'Stayin'-Alive' style in a Korean dance club (in S. Korea)
· Got picked up by American-hating Bengalis in Hong Kong (didn't last long)
· Was offered camels in exchange for marriage (may yet regret turning that down...)
I'm sure I'll think of others, so keep listening...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Eternity, Just In Case

Earlier this week, 33 people entered eternity. Actually, tens of thousands did, but here in the U.S. we are focused on those that died at the hands of a madman. I want to focus on eternity.

What does it mean to move from time to timeless? What happens when you do? One of our neighbor's children, a nine-and-a-half year-old girl, was over at my house yesterday. We began to talk on all kinds of things, and ended up talking about death. I can't even remember how we got on that subject, but suddenly she was confessing to me that she was afraid of 'that.' As I talked with her, I realized that she was right to be afraid. I have been a believer in Jesus so long, that I have forgotten that fear--that life after death can bring eternal life or eternal death. And eternal death is worth being afraid of.

And just in case someone reading this blog is afraid, I want to tell you that you don't have to be. Not at all, not in any way. See, we have earned death (Romans 3:23a -- "For the wages of sin is death...") Eternal death. Our filth is unacceptable in the presence of a perfect God. No one who has done one wrong thing can be in his presence--in the place of eternal life--for even one moment.

So what will we do, we who are tainted by our sin, having earned eternal death? We cannot clean ourselves up, cannot roll back time to cancel out our evil deeds. We can only look forward to death and suffering forever, right? No, because "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son..." (John 3:16) Jesus--God become man also--who never sinned, took on eternal death for us. He took our punishment and paid the price with His very own blood. And to verify the validity of this sacrifice, God raised Him from the dead.

Jesus, alive and in heaven, offers to you the payment for your debt. He doesn't require you to do anything to earn it or repay it. It is freely given, but you must take it. You must "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 16:31)--not a vague sense of a good God or a, "Sure, whatever," belief. But a full, I'm-trusting-my-whole-eternity-on-this-being-true belief. If you do, Acts 16:31 continues, "...you will be saved." Saved from eternal death. Given a new life starting now. It is the most--I am not exaggerating--the most wonderful, amazing thing in the universe.

You don't have to be afraid any longer. There is life after death, and it can be yours.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

On Grace

In my inbox each morning is a Scripture text from "Daily Manna from the Net." It is a nice way to focus my mind as I start work each day. Here was today's text:
"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it." Ephesians 4:2-7 NIV

The last part of this passage struck me. In our world, in our families even, we fight so hard to be 'fair' by giving equally. But God, who is perfectly 'fair,' gave us, as believers in Jesus,
--One Body
--One Spirit
--One Hope
--One Lord
--One Faith
--One Baptism
--One God & Father
--Apportioned Grace

Maybe we are only partially right in our efforts to be 'fair,' for while God gave Himself equally, He gives of His grace on an as needed basis. No grace ever goes to waste, 'cause we get just exactly what we need for that day, that trial. This reminds me of the Matthew 6 passage, which states:
"So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (v.31-34) NIV

At one point in my life, when I was engrossed in an excess of worrying, God brought me to this passage and taught me that we only get the grace we need for today (think OT manna). We don't get tomorrow's grace early, but we always have enough for this day. There is no grace-borrowing. While we might (mistakenly) "borrow from Peter to pay Paul" in our finances, we cannot do that with grace. We can withdraw only what is apportioned for that day, but we can withdraw all that is apportioned to that day. (Which is why worrying is a waste; you don't yet have the grace to sustain you through tomorrow's difficulties.) To state the flip side of the last part of this passage, "Each day has enough grace of its own."

May we live this very day grace-fully.

(c) 2007

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Itchy Eyes

Just one little cool thing God did today:
I realized Sunday that the presciption I got in December for my new glasses was off. I know you are wondering why it took me four months to figure that out, and I don't have a good answer for that. Maybe I'm just a slow learner!

Anyway, Sunday in church I was straining to see the speaker, though I was only half way back in the sanctuary. In an effort to clear my eyes, I closed my left eye. Bing! Everything was clear! Surprised, I tried closing just my right eye. Instant bluriness. Of course now I was completely lost to the sermon as I closed first one eye then the other over and over again. It finally dawned on my why my eyes had been straining so much over the past few months!

However, since I got my glasses, my eye doctor has ceased to accept my eye insurance plan. He does, however, accept my medical insurance plan. So this morning, when I awoke with a very red and itchy left eye, I realized that God was working a plan. So I'm on my way to the eye doctor to have my potentially infected eye examined, and while I'm there, on my medical insurance's dime, I'll also have my prescription checked.

Itchy eyes never felt so good.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Easter Shoes

When I woke up that Saturday morning before Easter, I knew that I had to get a new outfit for the next day. For the past several years, in an effort to save some money, I hadn't followed my childhood tradition of getting a new Easter outfit, but on this day I just needed to. I dreaded the crowds. Only Christmas crowds are worse. But I gathered myself and made for the mall.

I wandered the stores that usually yielded good finds, but to no avail. All things were ugly or too small or too old fashioned or not the right color. I couldn't find a dress, nor new slacks, nor a blouse, nor shoes. I couldn't find one thing that would make me feel ready to celebrate my Savior's resurrection. And I so wanted to go to Easter service ready in body as well as in spirit.

Nearly 8 years ago, I had been stricken with an undiagnosable joint problem. The pain in my joints prevented me from wearing heeled dress shoes, and so my wardrobe gradually moved away from dresses or skirts, away from dressing up in general. It had been years since I donned a dress, but I wanted this Easter to be special. And it could be, for three years before, God had healed me from my pain. I had just never gravitated back to anything close to dressing up.

Discouraged by the showing at the mall, I left and made for a discount shoe store down the street. At least I could find a good pair of shoes. But no luck. I shuffled up and down the aisles, looking at all sorts of comfortable shoes but not finding anything appropriate. Feeling very down, I turned to leave. As I approached the door, a woman was there trying on a pair of red, patent leather, sling-back, baby-doll-toed heels. And they were gorgeous.

A tiny idea was birthed in the back of my mind: Why not try them on? But I don't wear heels. Why not try them on? But I've never worn sling-backs (I have issues with shoes that reveal my self-described ugly feet). Just try them on. But red? It's so impractical. I'd have to buy a whole new wardrobe. Okay, try on the black ones.

They had had almost no shoes in my size in any of the styles I had looked at that day. But, bold as you please, there was a 10 in the middle of the stack of black shoes. I looked around self-consciously--as if I would be 'caught' by someone there! I grabbed some footies, slipped them on, and slid my feet into the shiny slippers.
And they fit. Perfectly. I did nearly tumble when I tried to stand in them, but that voice said, Look at how cute they are! I tried to walk. That was embarrassing. Anyone who has ever worn heels knows that it is a learned art, and apparently one that can be forgotten. But they did look good. I looked good in them. I felt absolutely frivolous as I reached for my wallet.

At home, I tried them on with a pair of dressy pants and a blouse I really liked. I like the shoes, I liked the shirt, but the pants made everything seem wrong. Reaching to the back of my closet, I unearthed the last of a forgotten breed--a straight black skirt. It had been years, I recollected as I held the skirt in my hands, since I had worn one of these. Was I up to it?

And then that voice in the back of my head piped up again: Why not? All the reasons I had told myself over the years tumbled back into the forefront of my mind: I have ugly legs, I look better in slacks, I'm too tall to wear heels, etc. But suddenly I realized that the true hindrance was gone. I could wear heels again because when God took away my pain, He had also given me a gift--a little one, one overlooked for years. I could walk in heels without suffering inordinate pain. I could dress up again, for the pain that kept me from doing so was gone.

On Sunday morning, I left early so that I would have time to learn heel-walking again on my way into church. And by the time I arrived at the doors of the building, I was walking tall. I was also ready to worship, for I was celebrating not just my Savior's life, but the one He had given to me, and the one He had given back again.

(c) 2007
A True Story

I Choose Joy!

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to share in a farewell luncheon for a friend of mine. Her family was moving away. She made the comment that she was "choosing joy." She clearly wanted to remain where she was, but she believed that God was moving her on to another place, so she chose joy. She repeated the phrase over several times throughout the course of our luncheon, and it continued to echo in my mind for days afterward.

Of course, it is based on the passage in Philippians 4, which states:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (vv. 4-7) NIV

I have heard that the first part of this passage could be literally translated "Choose joy!" This idea echoed around in my head so long that I put words to paper concerning it. (There actually is a simple tune in my head too, but I don't have the skills to put that down anywhere.) (Since I have no training in this, I have instituted a strict no-money-back policy in this blog, so if you don't like my poor attempt at poetry, you're out of luck! ) Here's what I wrote:

When hope eludes
When sin intrudes
You give joy

I see God’s grace
I seek His face
I choose joy

I choose ‘not me’
I know I’m free
I sing joy

You who give joy in the trials
You who offer hope for the miles
I thank You, I praise You, I cannot believe
That You chose my heart, that You came to me

When life is sad
Or makes me mad
I choose joy

My day is hard
When I am scarred
I have joy

I want all You
You chose me too
You give joy!

You who give strength for this journey
You who alone are praise-worthy
I love You, I worship, I offer my all
And in adoration fall...and choose joy!

I am captured by the thought of choosing joy. I am trying to wrap my brain around the idea of choosing what is often the antithesis of where I am. But I suppose that makes perfect sense in a way: It goes back to the idea of a God/relationship of contradiction. (If you haven't read that blog from a couple of days ago, you really don't know what I mean. This is meant in all the best ways. Please go back and read that piece.) Isn't that part of the beauty of His strength? I can be, do, behave, think in ways that are completely opposite my 'natural' responses! How beautiful His way is, isn't it? How truly free we are in Christ!

(c) 2007

On Longing

Thoughts from February 24, 2007.
I've been thinking a lot about what it means to have longings that are unfulfilled. Why would God put us in positions--almost require us--to long for what He hasn't given? If you didn't know the character of God as good, it would seem almost cruel. But we know He is good, so what's up with the longing, and the pain that it brings?

Frankly, I've spent much of my life trying not to long because I knew that longing led to pain. I've believed that I was content and satisfied, that I didn't need or want what I didn't have. However, I was lying to myself. I just was refusing to open my heart to what my heart truly felt. In some ways, I feel I've been reintroduced to myself over the past few years, as God has been peeling layers off my heart, requiring that I not only be honest with myself, but to be honest before Him as to the desires of my heart. And, frankly, I'd rather not. I'd rather spend the rest of my life pretending that I never wanted what I don't have. But somehow, that doesn't bring Him glory. I know that because He is making me walk this journey, not only acknowledging but even verbalizing what I really long for.

I don't have tons of answers yet. Maybe I never will. But here is what I've learned from this journey so far.

1.) When you seek Him, God plants longings in your heart. All kinds of longings. Longing for Him, longing to read His Word, to know His people. Longings to pursue certain kinds of work or hobbies. Longings for certain knowledge or training. Some longings are things we can do something about, whether now or later--get the degree, join that club, read His Word, find His people. And some--for whatever reason--that we have no control over whatsoever. Some we can't move to fulfill at all. Which leads us to point...

2.) God is the fulfiller of longings. As Job said, it is God who gives. From His hand comes all good things. He thrills in meeting needs and wants in our lives. Scripture is replete with teachings and examples the prove this. Adam needed a helper, Hannah needed a child, Israel needed redemption, creation needed relief. On tiny and infinite scales, God both plants and meets longings. This brings Him glory in ways only eternity will reveal, but since glorification is His goal, longings fulfill His 'need'/goal. (Please understand that in the context of that sentence. I'm fully aware that God doesn't need anything or anyone, that He is fully self-sufficient.)

3.) Longings put us in a position to appreciate God's fulfillment. If I never longed for what I do not have, I would never recognize God's goodness in meeting that need. And He wouldn't receive the praise of my mouth and that praise wouldn't echo through eternity. If I never felt hungry, I wouldn't appreciate a meal. Without thirst, the gift of water would go completely unnoticed. Without longing, His good gifts would be unidentified and unacknowledged.

4.) Longing makes me humble before God. When I long for what I cannot fulfill, then I am forced to turn to the only one who can change the scenario. Longing brings me to my knees in a unique way, a way different from joy or hope or pain or sin. It makes me more prepared than ever to tune my heart to hear His frequency. When you dig deep into my soul, this is something I want and on the most fundamental levels--to know and hear God in ways that completely revolutionize my life. When I see longings in the context of that, longings themselves fulfill my longing for God.

5.) I can never truly be content without having first faced what I want but don't have. I'm not even sure I fully understand this, but somehow contentment isn't the lack of desire, it's willingness to rest in a lack of fulfillment of that desire. If I am ignorant of my own desire, I can't rest in God for the fulfillment or lack thereof. If I never acknowledge my longings I'll never truly rest in God.

6.) Longing prepares us for heaven. Ultimately, this life is all about unfulfilled longings, for God plants in our lives a need for all of Him and to be where He is. Heaven is the place where we leave behind the constraints of this world and are fulfilled to our core. Our hope is what keeps our longings from becoming despair. Instead, we are being prepared and transformed in preparation for the cessation of such longing, in preparation for being totally fulfilled.

I still hate this process. I hate hurting, and I'm not completely happy with God that this is a road I have to walk. But even so far, the lessons I've learned are valuable. And when I remember longings in the context of the points above, I can see that at least this pain has purpose.

This is long, but it really is my heart. It really is our pain. Yet I sit in anxious longing for our paths to be clarified, for our hearts to be healed, and for our longings to be fulfilled. May He be glorified in the pain, the process, and the perfection of His perfect will in our lives.

(c) 2007

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Contradictory God

Poem: A Contradictory God
I wrote this poem during a communion service I attended.

A Contradictory God
Boundless joy birthed through deepest suffering.
Life unlimited brought forth from infinite death.
Love all-encompassing bestowed on full rejection.
--What kind of love is this?

The unjustifiable fully justified.
The Perfect, bearing all sin.
My death traded for His life.
--What kind of love is this?

Sacrifice given for the completely selfish.
Faithfulness displayed to the adulterous.
Wisdom bestowed on fools.
--What kind of love is this?

Indescribable beauty placed in scarlet hearts.
Inestimable power working on behalf of the powerless.
Divinity encompassed in humanity.
--What kind of love is this?

Composed on 4/5/2007 - Maundy Thursday
In preparation for Resurrection Sunday

Just Gettin' Started

April 16, 2007 - Just Gettin' Started
(These first two entries are transferred blogs. I started blogging on another site, but wasn't satisfied there. I've simply moved these over.)
You know, I've wanted to start a blog for awhile now. Just a place to post what I'm learning and where God is leading me. A blog makes it more public, and in that sense more accountable. It also makes me consider where I am and then share that with others. I suspect this will be embarassing and painful at times, in addition to fun and ponderous, but I think God would have us live our lives 'out loud' a bit more so that we might learn from one another, and be encouraged.
So this is my start. We'll see where this journey leads.