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Caution: U-Turn Ahead

August 6, 2018

I met a couple at a convention recently who are preparing to move to the city to help with outreach to Orthodox Jews. They spoke of how they were planning to go Africa to help with mission work there, but within one year God literally remolded their hearts and thoughts towards where He wanted them to be−with the Jewish people. They have a beautiful story. The results of how God worked in their life are powerful. Their journey to this point is chock full of God moments that should inspire one in their own walk with God, and, while it did do that, I also came away with a question that lingered like sugar-free after taste.

Why, when this family was already aiming at something good and God-glorifying, why did God go through the work and trouble of rewriting their story and changing their hearts towards something else?

This question clung like a burr as I left the lunch table. They were smiling and wondering at His goodness, but I’m walking away scratching my head, having been reminded once again that God is still a mystery to me.

But I will see this again the next day. A young lady tells me the tale of a young man among us whose life-long dream was to become a missionary pilot. He aimed everything towards that end. In his last years of high school he took the pilots test with high hopes and ambition…but he failed. And with this particular test, there were no second chances. He would never be a pilot. He was color blind. Though still wondering the “why?” question, he is preparing to go on the mission field in another way as the Lord leads.

These stories, though redemptive, have left me wondering about whether or not God cares about our dreams, desires, or even preferences. I know the pain of hope deferred and have had my share of desires denied. God was always good, but I still don’t have all the answers and perhaps never will. Job, one of the most stricken men in the Bible, never got an answer to his “why?”, though he did experience depths of God in ways he never had before. I wonder what life was like for him after it all. What kind of man was he after losing everything? After having a whirlwind encounter with Almighty God who drilled him with incredible questions about His power and sovereignty and then redemptively restored Job’s loses?

How do we trust when life is can be so uncertain? How can we know what to aim for when it could all be swept away with one closed door? How can we live life with purpose and direction when God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts so much higher than our own? Why is it that some people have one, good, driving purpose for their life and attain unto it, while others also have good and worthy ambitions which are thwarted at every turn? How do we dream about the future within the reality of God’s soverign will possibly recharting our course? Why are some seemingly “blessed” while others are “denied”?

“It is easy to fear when you see loss. It is easy to feel apprehensive when you see hurt, damage, new wounds, and pain. These are precisely the things that love does away with…When we rely on ourselves, we are always fearful. We are always worried about what we might lose. We are afraid of rejection…of abandonment. We live out the vulnerability of the world. A world where some gain while others lose…Fear, confusion, and doubt are intertwined and they all base their power from the absence of love.”*

In this excerpt from A Quiet Heart, Elisabeth Elliot provides pieces of the answer to this probing question of God’s love and sovereignty. She says, “Purity of heart, said Kierkegaard, is to will one thing. The Son willed only one thing: the will of His Father. That’s what He came to earth to do. Nothing else. One whose aim is as pure as that can have a completely quiet heart, knowing what the psalmist knew: ‘Lord, You have assigned my portion and my cup, and have made my lot secure’ (Psalm 16:5, NIV). I know of no greater simplifier for all of life. Whatever happens is assigned. Does the intellect balk at that? Can we say that there are things which happen to us which do not belong to our lovingly assigned ‘portion’…? Are some things, then, out of the control of the Almighty?

Every assignment is measured and controlled for my eternal good. As I accept the given portion other options are cancelled. Decisions become much easier, directions clearer, and hence my heart becomes inexpressibly quieter…A quiet heart is content with what God gives. It is enough. All is grace.”

I have much to learn about my Eternal Father whose depths are unfathomable. If all is grace then I have no rights to dictate what is “good”. He makes our “lot secure”. It all comes back again to childlike trust that simply says, “Yes, Lord.” and doing so with absolute confidence that His sovereign will and perfect love will shepherd us towards His intended purposes−for His glory as well as our good.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear. -1 John 4:18

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*https://www.christianquotes.info/images/john-piper-quote-presence-hope/#axzz5NPZSrhcC

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Jesus, Priceless Treasure

July 20, 2018

Jesus, priceless treasure,
source of purest pleasure,
friend most sure and true:
long my heart was burning,
fainting much and yearning,
thirsting, Lord, for you.
Yours I am, O spotless Lamb,
so will I let nothing hide you,
seek no joy beside you!

 

Let your arms enfold me:
those who try to wound me
cannot reach me here.
Though the earth be shaking,
every heart be quaking,
Jesus calms my fear.
Fires may flash and thunder crash;
yea, though sin and hell assail me,
Jesus will not fail me.

 

Hence, all worldly treasure!
Jesus is my pleasure,
Jesus is my choice.
Hence, all empty glory!
What to me your story
told with tempting voice?
Pain or loss or shame or cross
shall not from my Savior move me,
since he chose to love me.

 

Banish thoughts of sadness,
for the Lord of gladness,
Jesus, enters in;
though the clouds may gather,
those who love the Savior
still have peace within.
Though I bear much sorrow here,
still in you lies purest pleasure,
Jesus, priceless treasure!

 

−Johann Franck, 1653

I Almost Died…is that so bad?

July 18, 2018

I could have died today. It could have been me who hydroplaned and crashed into the barrier walls, totaling both the front and rear of the vehicle. It could have been me who spun out and was almost smashed by on-coming traffic. When I saw the slick roads, I let off the gas and slowed. I was going faster than the car just behind me, yet somehow it was they who lost control and careened across traffic. Glancing into the rear view mirror I saw them smash into the wall when I was too far away to be of any help, and then they spun around and hit the opposite wall−only narrowly escaping being T-boned by the next car in line. The first thought through my mind after I recovered from what I’d just witnessed were the lyrics to a song:

 

It should have been me

It should have been us

That should have been there hanging on a Cross.

Just leaves me saying Thank God for the ‘should have been’.*

 

Only His mercy sustains me in a broken world fraught with hazards and the peril of death. I feel very like a little fly, for whom the world is vast, and treacherous, and full of the imminent perils of death. Anything could take out a little bug like that. I am small and vulnerable. Indeed, I was almost smashed like a bug a few months ago. A small group of us were driving through the labyrinth that is Cincinnati, Ohio, when we suddenly realized that we had to merge in short order. Following the leaders in the car ahead, my friend and I had no idea that we were about to be crushed by the semi next to us. After a brief moment of deliberation, she hit the gas and was able to get in front of traffic. Little did we know that our friends just ahead were looking back in horror. Making it through, we pulled up next to them so they could see us having a good laugh. All we saw in return were wide eyes and worry. They thought we were goners. We were oblivious. We could have died, yet there we were laughing in blissful ignorance. Mercy given.

Sitting down with my Bible Club girls this evening and I tell them about the crash. We talk about life and death. About how the devil comes to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10) this one abundant life we’ve been given to live for the glory of the Lord. We talk about what a life well lived would look like to us. What do we want out of life? What are our dreams and desires? Does God care about them? Does He care about this one life we have to live? How does the devil try to keep us from living our one life for Christ alone?

I don’t always understand the mercies of God−why He chose to keep me grounded while the other person spun out.

But this I know−His is trustworthy. His character is impeccable and of the utmost integrity. His lavish mercies are new every morning. No matter how big He is, or how small I am, He takes time to keep my tires on the ground, to pull me out of a semi sandwich, to make Himself known in the most intimate and tender ways, and to restore hope to the internal bleedings of a wounded heart. This one life we have is swiftly fading and may perhaps be swiftly taken. Let us live our one, graciously given life well. Eternity in the perfected presence of the Lord is our reward.

Life, if properly viewed in any aspect, is great, but mainly great when viewed in its relation to the world to come. −Albert Barnes

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord−or we walk by faith, not by sight−we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.

−2 Corinthians 5:1-9 NASB

 

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*Citizen Way – ‘Should’ve Been Me’ Official Lyric Video.” YouTube, YouTube, 27 July 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xlNwDpPoWs.

When Worlds Collide

May 29, 2018

“It would take 100,000 light years to go from one end of the Milky way to the other; and our solar system is so small within the Milky way galaxy that it barely shows up as a speck. Now consider that God measures the universal expanse with the span of His hand. That’s how big is the God we serve.”

This concept, with Hubble telescope images to solidify, was presented to our missions class several weeks ago, but my mind is still orbiting around question after question. It’s as though I have to learn who God is all over again. He is a mystery to me. This mystery draws me in with trembling awe, but one question hangs like a storm cloud in a southern sky: Why?

Why this infinitesimal speck in a galaxy that is merely one of millions in an unmeasurable universe?

Why me? What am I but a vapor in the traces of history that most likely will not remember my name? Comparatively…I am nothing. Why does God consider me? I ponder, awestruck, with the Psalmist, “What is man that thou art mindful of him?”

I’m rocked by the wonder of it all. God is so big! Why on earth would the King of Heaven care anything about specks living on a cosmic dot in an endless expanse that is still too small to contain the vastness of God?

Why should God care about me personally? Who am I in the telescope of it all? I want to serve a big God, but now He’s become so big, and I so small, that we can no longer see or touch each other. I am Job before his omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God. I wallow in dust and ashes before His awesomeness.

I’ve spent days on these questions, and have brought them with me to the pew on Sunday morning, hoping that someone will tell me, remind me, that God cares about this fleeting vapor that He created.

The reminder came with the naming of Jesus. Jesus, the Servant King who stopped for the outcasts and touched the untouchable with healing power. Jesus, the one who silenced the stone clenching rioters and sent a condemned woman away as pure and whole again. Jesus…a God who sees and deliberately responds. “And,” the Holy Spirit whispers “Jesus sees you too.”

He stops to take notice. He wraps His arms of fatherly love tight around me. He offers me a wild love that makes no sense at all, and there is nothing I can do in the face of it but receive it with awe and wonder and rapture.

God is immeasurable. He is high. He is huge. But He made himself so very low. Jesus came to earth, took on our flesh, hunger, frustrations, and pain. He saw us, touched us, loved us to the point of brutal death. He humbled Himself. And I am again in awe. My God is so big that He made Himself small so we could embrace His magnificence. The God whom the universe cannot contain came down to this infinitesimal speck of a planet, confining Himself to time and space and flesh.

God sees each person who ever was or will be, and each one of us has been created in His own likeness and crowned with undeserved glory. How can we know that God loves us? How can we know that God sees our vapored lives? How can we know that the uncontainable God cares about this little speck of earth and its inhabitants?

One word: Jesus.

 And if the stars of a hundred billion galaxies praise Him…so will I.

Poor Management

April 14, 2018

“Do you play chess?” she asked, as she rocked back and forth on the cardboard spread out on the sidewalk. “Life is like chess. You have to know what move the other person will make so you can be one step ahead.”

________

This is the second of six-weeks being spent in Queens, NY for missions training. This week’s focus has been on poverty, so last night we went out in small groups to reach out to the homeless “living” along 5th Avenue in Manhattan. Across the street from the impressive, black Trump Tower, we met Liz*.

Adding the packed meal we’d brought to her already nice sized stash of offerings given by others, a fellow student sat down and began asking about Liz’s story. Her husband had died, leaving her penniless. She has been living on these same streets for 11 years. I listened as she told the other student bits and pieces of what it has been like on the streets. “I’ve just been in the wrong place at the wrong time sometimes. A man tried to rape me once, but I stabbed him and escaped. After all the shops close, the drugs and prostitutes come out. You don’t want to be out here then. Bad things happen.” As she tells us about the evil, she hugs her legs close and rocks. Pain and abuse are practically written on her forehead.

I look down and read the paper sign displayed to the street in front of her:

Widowed, husband died with no insurance. Lost everything. Can-u-help. God bless.

The verses come to mind about how God helps and cares for the widowed and fatherless. But I’m rocked. Where was God for this widow? What good can God do for her situation now? Will being converted get her off the streets and provide her a home? Where are you God? And what can you do for this widow? The questions linger and I have no words for her, so I say nothing.

Then a man stops, briefly bemoaning her predicament in a tone that obviously has no idea what this woman has truly been through. He pulls out a hand full of money and begins searching. He flips past $10’s and $20’s, finally he offers her a couple of single dollar bills. A whopping $2.00 to ease his conscience. For the second time since coming to New York, I’m angry.

Here we are in the middle of Manhattan on the infamous 5th Avenue, the hub of social class and fads. We see dazzling couples in their suits and gowns that are probably worth thousands; an Armani store is on the corner; rich folks roll by with chauffeurs navigating their Rolls Royce through the traffic; someone walks by with two bags full of Apple products. Wealth runneth over…and there are people living on the streets for 11 years, for whom we can only seem to “spare” $2.00? O God, forgive us. Forgive me.

Leaving Liz, our three-person group keeps moving through the streets and around the blocks. There weren’t many homeless out anymore (hopefully because they had somewhere to go for the night), but we did find one man. We saw him from across the street, rummaging around the cardboard on the steps of the lovely St. Bart’s church, but he didn’t look homeless. He looked pretty decent actually and we would have kept walking, but the young man in our group (who certainly has the spiritual gift of evangelism) holds back. “I’m gonna go talk to him anyways.” As he climbs the steps, myself and the other girl continue to prayer walk along the immediate sidewalk and pass out tracts. It turned out that this man was worth millions, but lost it all and had only been on the street for a few days.

We waited as their conversation kept going and going. I looked up and saw the two of them talking through the “Good News” tract which shares the path and plan of repentance to salvation. I sat on the steps and prayed some more. Lord Jesus, do a good work here! In due time, our teammate came back down the steps with his characteristic “can’t-wipe-the-smile-off-my-face” from having shared the Gospel again.

“It must have gone well!” I said.

All he can do is smile broader. “Wow…” he says dumbfounded, “that is the first time I have ever led someone to Christ. Wow…” You could have powered a city block with his joy.

Do I still have questions? Yes. But I can take those questions to the Lord and I know He will make them clear and show Himself mighty in all things and situations. God did make a difference for the homeless that night. Did the homeless man’s situation change as a result of becoming a Christian? No. But will his life be different as a result now that he has the peace, love, joy, comfort, protection, guidance, and hope of Jesus? Absolutely. Jesus makes all the difference…Jesus is the difference.

***

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

–Luke 4:18-19

 

Tears are a Language God Understands

March 31, 2018

It is Good Friday once again; one of the most memorable events on the calendar. Our people gather, we remember Jesus’ suffering with somber songs, and then we divide the men and women for sharing/testimony time. This is a unique and special part of our bi-annual Communion service, a rare opportunity to hear about the lessons learned and deeper struggles from the past few months of each one present. True to form, one of the ladies goes and grabs a box of Kleenex soon after we’ve begun the sharing time. It’s standard issue for these sorts of occasions.

But I’m afraid I have a deplorable confession to make…I’m ashamed at times of our tears.

Perhaps it’s because I’m not much of a crier; but maybe it is more than that. Maybe I’m ashamed of our femininity in these situations. Ashamed of the weakness it implies. I disdain the stereotype of women always being “overly emotional”. We are expected to not be able to keep our emotions in check like it is something we simply can’t control, though somehow men can (which I expect a man’s unchecked emotion shows up more in terms of anger/aggression). A woman’s emotional state is not a bottle of nitro waiting to blow (into a tissue) at the slightest gesture.

I am not a feminist by any means, but I do believe in strong women. Women who have taken their brokenness and weakness to the Lord and have been made strong in the power of His might. I believe the Bible reveals that God made women to reflect the gentle, nurturing, compassionate, and yes, even emotional aspects of His nature to the world; but that does not mean that He has intended for us to be weak-minded or irrational. Neither does it mean that we should try to prove our “strength” by striving to be equal to or better than men. A woman’s God-ordained strength lies in her ability to stand with her feet firmly anchored in the Word and the Lord Jesus. To be immovable in the face of devilish opposition and encouraging others to do the same, as well as having the strength to admit when we need others to hold us up as well.

The sharing time continues and the Kleenex box goes around the circle. The tears of these sisters are honorable. They reveal lives that desperately want more of God to the exclusion of all else. Thus far I’m doing alright, just soaking in the details and making mental notes of prayer requests; but then the young mother spills her burden of an aching heart as she bounces her contented little one in her arms. Something of her hurt beats a pulse across my heart and I spill over too. She is not ashamed of her tears. She is beautiful in her brokenness; and we have the great privilege of sharing with her in this moment of strength found through weakness. This is when we are strong−both men and women. When we humble ourselves and trust in the Lord in those rocky places that hurt and don’t make sense. We shed salt water right along with her and they bind us that much closer together. We “rejoice with those that do rejoice, and weep with those that weep” in sweet, communal abandon.

Neither a woman’s nor a man’s tears were meant to imply weakness (King David was a man well aquainted with tears and was no less honorable because of it). Indeed, in a redeemed life, they can display the strength that comes from a surrendered and humble heart. As redeemed women, we should begin asking the Lord to temper our emotional responses so that we may honor and glorify Him through them, instead of being known as “emotionally unstable”. May our tears be yet another opportunity to bring glory back to God.

***

Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?

-Psalm 56:8

Enormous Smallness

March 19, 2018

God is immense.

He spread the universe with one wave of His hand; billions of galaxies spanning light years, completely unseen and unreachable by man. This same God created the intricacies of our bodies that are complex to an extent that we can’t even grasp the science of it. If we haven’t figured out the mysteries and complexities of nature (what we can see) then how can we expect to even begin to comprehend the magnitude of Almighty God?

This same spectacular, Holy God who did all these things and veils Himself from our eyes lest we die from exposure to His awesome presence; this same God made His immeasurable self to be contained with the skin of mortal man. Even lower yet, He was formed and grew through the cellular process of the womb and birth. How could it even be possible? And why would He do such a thing for this one little speck in the vast universe, one in which we are individually even more infinitesimal. Like the village of Who’s living on a speck that rested on a flower, we have not a true concept of how fragile and small our existence really is.

But He goes lower still. Jesus was heir to an eternal throne established at the beginning of time. He would reign from a throne of glory with unchallengable power. No one would be higher or more glorious than He; yet His birth was missed almost entirely by the world at large. The world that He had made with a simple exhalation of His breath did not have room for Him in the city He Himself had established. The world hadn’t even seen Him yet and it refused Him a place. The only available space for Him was in a dirty, smelly barn. The only place He had to lay His head was a bed of hay from which farm animals would feed. Was this the means of entrance for a King?

But He goes lower still. The intrigue and mystery surrounding His miraculous conception did not go over well with a world whose eyes were blind to the touches of heaven around them. His whole life He would be condemned by many as an illegitimate child. His brothers and sisters would question Him and His purpose. He would lose the support of community and family.

But He goes lower still. All throughout His ministry His disciples would question Him, His methods, and His teachings. It was coming slowly, but they still didn’t understand. In the end, His three closest friends would sleep while He sweat drops of blood. When He needed them the most, they nodded off. Then came the soldiers. And all those who swore to never leave Him had fled. He was left alone to face the false charges of a biased judge and jury driven by a self-righteous induced rage. They couldn’t stand the sight of Him. Little did they know that this same man was the embodiment of the God whom no one could stand before without being condemned to death themselves. They didn’t realize that they had looked on the face of God and had lived to tell about it. In a cataclysmic shift, God Himself would die instead.

But He goes lower still. The God who uses the world for His footstool, who measures the skies with the length of His hand, who could dip His finger in the ocean and touch the deepest sea vents at the bottom; this same God couldn’t even carry a beam of wood up a hill. He was weak and wounded, bloody, dirty, and sweaty. The roughness of the wood scraped abrasions into His already open wounds. He stumbled. His breath heaved heavy over dry lips. The sun bore down into red, tired eyes. So tired. Eyes full of determination and understanding and forgiveness…and dread.

But He goes lower still. But first He must be raised, and raised high. Not on the regal throne for which He was born, but dangling in the air, held up by nails in hands and feet. He is crowned as King, but not with nobility. Thorns encircle His temples and drive deep into His skin. The crown glitters, not with precious jewels, but with hot drops of blood running red into His tired eyes; His body, bared in shame to the mocking, angry masses who gathered around His aching feet.

But He goes lower still. The burden of sin heaves itself onto His shoulders. Nailed to a beam of wood, He still has the choice of removing Himself from this place of unimaginable pain. All He need do is call on the hosts of Heaven and His liberation would be swift accomplished. He was not a prisoner to the nails. As the weight of sin on a sinless man reaches completion, His perfection can bear no more and He cries with exhausted triumph, “It is finished!” The world so blind to glory is turned black as Satanic forces revel in their victory. Little did they know that Jesus had entered the temple, had grabbed the veil that kept us divided from Him in knuckled strength, and ripped the tapestry top to bottom with one swift jerk.

But He goes lower still. All the way to hell. While Satan celebrates in front of a limp and lifeless body, Jesus brandishes the keys to hell and sets the captives free. Death could not hold Him. Nothing will ever hold Him.

He went low. He made Himself small. He gave it all away to gain all and become everything.

By making Himself low and small, He is highly exalted and glorious. Perfected and eternal.

Jesus is King.

Selah.