Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Year of God's Faithfulness: 2007 in Review


With the exception of last year when I rang in the New Year with 22,000 of my "closest friends" at Urbana, :) I have upheld the same New Year's tradition for the past few years.

Every day, I keep a journal of at least five things I am thankful for in that day. At the end of the year, I review the list and ring in the New Year by praying (praising) through the many evidences of God's faithfulness in my life. I have come to absolutely cherish this time with God.

I think there is something to be said for publicly praising God too, so I thought I would share with you some of my praises of 2007:

Come Thirsty



This year, God has done some amazing things in the young adult group that I am a part of. I have witnessed such growth in the lives of those within the group. We have bonded through sharing the stories of our spiritual journeys, devoting ourselves to corporate service in our church and community, spending time in prayer for one another in the midst of some very deep hurts, and just having some fun game nights with Catch Phrase!

Turkey



Turkey: the most difficult time of my entire life, and yet the time when I encountered the love and power and presence of my Almighty God like never before. This was the greatest, most significant test of my faith to date. I praise God that He preserved me even though this time. If you haven't heard or read my testimony that came out of this experience, I encourage you take the time to do so even if you read no other post on this blog. Really, it is a testimony of our good God--the God who is good continually, in the midst of great joy and in the midst of great suffering. You can read my testimony here in a former post.


Witnessing

As Christians, we have the great joy and responsibility to share the gospel message with those we encounter. God brought various people into my path this year who needed Him, and gave me the opportunity to share glimpses of truth with them. Never did I walk away feeling like I had shared "too much" or "shoved the gospel down their throats." In fact in most cases, I felt like I shared too little. But I still praise God for the opportunities to talk about the greatest joy in my life and to pray for these individuals. The story of one of these encounters (and the strange events that led me there) can be read here in a former post.


Wheaton and Comprehensive Exams



By the grace of God, I finished all of my graduate school courses and passed comprehensive exams! All I have left is my internship, and God willing, I will graduate in four months--this May! During my time at Wheaton, I have made some incredible friends who have been godly role models in my life. My friends are serving God all over the world. Some I will not see again until heaven, but I praise God for the impact they have had on my life for eternity and their dedication in serving God wholeheartedly.


Ipod



Yes, that's right. An ipod. Let me explain. This year, I decided that I would not buy myself an ipod. I figured that this would be one way that I could try to plug my ears to the message of consumerism ("You HAVE to have one!") that surrounds me. I'm NOT saying that buying an ipod is bad, but I figured it was one luxury item I could do without. (Of course, half the things I own are not really things that I "need!")
This summer, out of the blue, and for absolutely no occasion, one of my friends gave me an ipod as a gift! I knew this was really a gift from God, so when I talked with a teenager that I'm close to who is from a wealthy family and struggles with materialism, I was able to tell her that God gave me an ipod (through the generosity of a friend.)


Protection



My journal was filled with examples of God's protection in my life and the lives of my loved ones this year. I remember the night my brother Brian called us to tell us that he was okay. It was a few weeks after we returned home from our trials in Turkey. We weren't sure what he was talking about; we hadn't seen the news reports yet. The I-35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis had collapsed. My brother often drove on that interstate, but he wasn't there when it collapsed. When we were in Minnesota for Thanksgiving, we drove over the standing portion of the interstate and I took the above picture of where the bridge once stood.


God Pursuing Me



This year, I relished God's love for me. It struck me that He knows the depths of my heart--even the little, silly things. I think He delights in pursuing us in the big ways and in the small ways. Indirectly, I focus on the big ways through the blog--God teaching me various lessons through His Word, God carrying our family through great suffering in Turkey, God's blessing of a godly family and friends, etc. But I want to focus on two small ways here. I do not mean for the following to sound irreverent. For those who know me well, you know I delight in the really small things in life. Here are some examples. :)

Ever since I was little, I have loved toads and frogs. I had pet aquatic frogs (yep, there actually is such a thing) from junior high through college, until I finally became an "adult" and let them go in our creek. This summer, when I was tempted to become apathetic in my walk with God, He filled our entire backyard with thousands (literally) of baby toads. It sounds silly, but it reminded me of how much God loved me.

Also, my favorite "non-religious" holiday is Fourth of July. I absolutely love it! I was in Turkey during the Fourth of July this year, so I missed out on any celebration. But soon after, I was given free tickets to the party deck of the Kane County Cougars stadium, and there was an unbelievable, long, musical fireworks show after the game. Again, that seems so small and insignificant, but it reveals that God knows my heart and loves me deeply.

Dinner with the Lost Boys of Sudan



I would be remiss to end this post focusing my attention on my own personal world and neglecting to call our attention to the nations that God is calling to Himself. This fall, I had an amazing opportunity. I was invited to a dinner party with the Lost Boys of Sudan. Have you heard of their story?

Northern Sudan (predominantly Muslim) was at war with Southern Sudan (predominantly Christian). Those Christians who refused to convert to Islam were severely persecuted. The reason why there is no "lost girls" of Sudan is because they were either raped, killed, or taken as slaves to the North. The boys, who were away tending herds, ran. Over 17,000 boys ran for years. Along the journey, some died of dehydration. Some were taken by wild animals. Others succumbed to insect bites or disease. But as they banded together, many survived, and over 4,000 have now come to the United States to begin a new life.

As I heard their story from their own mouths over dinner this fall, I sat speechless. This happened in my lifetime. These boys, now men, are not much older than myself. Their story is well known; it has been all over the news. What is often downplayed by the media is their Christian testimony. Familiarize yourself with the Lost Boys. Watch one of the documentaries that will leave you held captive, such as the CBS 60-Minutes special featuring their story or the film God Grew Tired of Us. When you hear them praise God that their relatives chose to die in the face of persecution, which they rightfully consider far better than recanting their faith in God, gratitude will take on a whole new meaning for you.

Conclusion

Happy New Year, my friends! May you find yourself absolutely in awe of the God whom you serve as you consider His faithfulness--through triumphs and trials--this past year of 2007. May you eagerly anticipate all that God will do in you and through you for HIS glory in 2008. You are His child. Rejoice!

Faith, Not Sight


A brief thought for today:

II Corinthians 5:7, "We live by faith, not by sight."

Walking by faith is certainly difficult, but it is also very rewarding. I find that it is the only way that I can have the fullness of joy that God offers me so generously. Too often, however, I trade walking by faith for walking by sight, and I settle for the tangible things that I can see and understand. It's so paradoxical, because the things I think will bring me happiness are the things that end up disappointing me, and the ways of God that are mysterious and imperceptible through an earthly lens bring me sheer joy and peace and contentment. So why do I often pursue the former instead of the latter?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Divine Worm-eater


My mom loves to feed the birds. Every year for Christmas or Mother's Day or her birthday, she asks for bird seed. Her kids laugh, but humor her and pick up a bird-related product.

When I passed the bird seed aisle at the store, I threw two bird seed bells into my cart to add to my mom's Christmas presents. I noticed moths swarming all around the bird seed in the store. Something was obviously very wrong with this picture, but since I was tired of shopping, I never stopped to ponder the source of the moths, and I proceeded with my purchase. First mistake.

Tucking the bird seed bells away behind the books on my bookshelf to keep them hidden until Christmas, I left them sitting there for two months, unattended to. Second mistake.

Throughout the month of December, I noticed moths appearing in our home. I thought that was odd since all flying critters should have died with the first frost, but since our home is tucked away in the woods, again I didn't think too much about it. Third mistake.

Finally, I took the bird bells out of my closet to wrap for my mom the day before Christmas Eve. Crawling all over the bag, the bird seed, my bookshelf, and my books was moth larvae (a.k.a.: worms). My mom, having raised four boys and being given presents much more slimy and slithery than my moth larvae, graciously and joyously accepted my present and put the bird seed bells outside. For the birds, the worms were an added delicacy.

I wanted to tell that story because I find it entertaining, :) but also because it reminds me of sin. :( Many times, the negative effect of our sin surrounds us. There are signs, just like the moths appearing wherever the bird bells were sitting. But we ignore them or dismiss them or tell ourselves we will come back and root it out of our lives later. "Later" either never comes, or when it does, it has snowballed into a much larger problem that is more difficult to eradicate.
But just like my story has a happy ending (the worms in my room were destroyed and the birds had a tasty treat), so the story of our lives can have a happy ending. Christ took the curse of sin upon Himself--a divine Worm-eater--so that we might find life in Him. We do not need to wallow in the putrid nature of our depravity. The price has been paid; the debt has been canceled. Christ creates beauty out of ashes and brings life out of death.

As we head into a new year, let's allow our greatest celebration and source for our rejoicing be the new life that we have in Christ, who destorys the worms in our lives!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Incarnation


I remember the day when my first niece was born. I was a nine year old, third grade student. My mom tucked me in bed on April 24, 1991, whispering in my ear that my sister-in-law Carol was in labor. That meant only one thing. When I woke up the next morning, I would be an aunt.

Early the next morning, I bolted into my parents' room, waking them up from their peaceful slumber. I blurted out, "Am I an aunt yet?" "Yes! You have a little niece, and her name is Kirsten! She was born last night around 8:30."

We rushed to the maternity ward viewing room at the same hospital at which I was born. I looked through the plated glass window at all of the babies laying in the hospital cribs, searching for Kirsten Elizabeth. Grandparents and siblings and parents were surrounding me, gawking at their bundles of joy. When I saw her, my eyes were fixed on just one baby--my brand new niece. She was beautiful. And so tiny. Ten little fingers. Ten little toes. Two eyes and one nose. She looked so fragile, and yet so perfect.

This Christmas season, I find myself wondering what Mary must have felt when she held her Son in her arms. Did she count His ten little fingers and ten little toes? Did she stare into His tiny eyes, not yet able to remain open for any extended period of time, and wonder how this fragile Infant would serve as her Messiah? Did she allow herself to become completely overwhelmed with the joy of the moment, or did she feel a quick, sharp pain in her chest as prophecies from old flashed through her mind--prophecies that predicted her Son's death to preserve her life?

I seem to have a fear of looking too long at the manger, thinking that I might neglect to look beyond it. Our society has perpetuated the image of the content baby Jesus, "no crying He makes." While I think we should fight against this stereotype, I do not think it is right to rush Christmas either. Maybe I should peer into the ancient "maternity ward viewing room" once more and ponder again that Jesus humbled Himself, took on flesh, and came as a helpless little baby just to show Himself to you and me--just to write Himself into the story. That, my friends, is the greatest of love!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Deflection


He had a rather strange diet. His meat was locusts. His sweet tooth was satisfied with wild honey. He wore a roughly woven robe made of camel hair with a leather belt bound around his waist. He was the voice of one calling in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Lord. He worshipped his Cousin, but not with an inappropriate hero worship. No, his exaltation went much deeper. He worshipped his Cousin as his Lord.

As I've been reading through the book of John, I have grown to respect John the Baptizer. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite biblical characters, though if I could have a conversation with him, he would undoubtedly shun any praise, deflecting all glory to Jesus Christ. This is precisely why I admire him.

I was eavesdropping on the discussion between John and his disciples in the latter half of John 3. John's baptizing like usual, but now someone else is sharing the waters near him. Everyone is leaving John in order to be baptized by this other man's disciples, and John's disciples are a little perplexed. "Hey John! Look whose disciples are baptizing! And look who everyone is choosing to go to instead of you!" He looks. It's his younger cousin. It's Jesus.

I think it's about to get tense and I should stop eavesdropping; it's quite rude really. But I can't help myself. I have to keep reading. What's John going to do? Will the green-eye of jealousy stare back at his disciples? Will his tone of voice change ever so slightly, vibrating with chords of envy and resentment?

John speaks such beautiful words, it leaves me speechless. He refuses to feel envy. He refuses to see himself as important in the light of the glory of God. He looks his disciples in the eye, but his irises are not green. He replies, "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven" (Jn. 3:27). Then he reminds his disciples (and perhaps himself?) that they too bore witness that he said, "I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him" (v. 28). I wonder if he glances over at Christ, whose disciples are baptizing the crowds that were once John's own, and because he has once more made the choice to deflect the glory off of himself and onto the only One who is worthy, God blesses him with true joy and contentment and peace and love for his Savior. John continues, "The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete" (v. 29).

Scripture doesn't describe John's facial expressions, but I imagine that his face is glowing. His joy is complete! He understands that it is not about him; it's about God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ! He risked it all. He gave up fame and glory and mortified (as in killed) his pride. Then he utters some of the most challenging words in Scripture (or at least challenging to me personally and the sin issues with which I daily struggle). He proclaims, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (v. 30). This verse was chosen as our class verse my senior year of high school, and ever since then it has become my motto in life.

On my way to work yesterday, I prayed that God would show me throughout the day how I can make decisions that would reflect the truth in this verse. I asked, "How can I decrease more and more throughout the day?" "How can I point to God in everything that I do and make sure HE receives the glory?" I was humbled in my job. I couldn't get a volunteer team together last minute to do the "menial tasks" that I have been trained to pass off to others, so I spent my day re-stocking connection cards and pens in the back pockets of over 650 chairs at our West Campus facility. I was grumbling and complaining, and then God reminded me of the lesson he had taught me that morning. In this task, how could God be glorified and His greatness be manifested through me?

This morning, my alarm went off to the sound of the radio, which was playing, "To God Be the Glory!" Amen! And may Jesus Christ be exalted!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wonder or Wonder AND Worship?


Lessons in the School of His Presence

I love it when God teaches me something, especially when He gets my attention in a lot of little ways that could go unnoticed, but through them he is screaming (or perhaps whispering?) one gigantic message to me. That is exactly what has been happening the last couple of days.

As I have been flipping through the pages of Scripture, reading passages in John to prepare for teaching my Sunday school class, or stories of Jesus' birth in the gospels surrounding the advent season, or Psalms to guide my prayer time, the same concept has stuck me again and again. When people encountered Jesus Christ (or speak of God, in the case of the Old Testament), they walk away with a sense of awe and wonder, marveling in amazement and astonishment. I did a little research of how many times those four words are used in the gospels alone (using the ESV, my preferred version for study). Astonished is used fourteen times, wondered is used three times, amazed is used eleven times, and marveled is used fifteen times. No wonder why I have run across this concept so much in my reading! That is forty-three times in the gospels alone!

I've spent the past couple of days reading through all of those verses and trying to determine their context. The crowds were astonished when Jesus (1) healed and performed other miracles and (2) taught as one who had authority.

For a while, I've banked that lesson--that I should be in awe and wonder when I encounter Jesus Christ. But in the past two days, I realized I missed the greater lesson. Using the treasure hunt analogy I like to use in a lot of my blog topics (for Scripture IS a treasure!), I had found the treasure chest and was satisfied with that. I didn't open it and find the gold contained inside!

What's the gold? We have to go back to our Scripture investigation to find out. In all but a handful of these verses, the people doing the marveling and wondering are NOT believers! And the Scriptures never tell us that they become followers of Jesus Christ, only that they stood in amazement at His works. These individuals stop short. Before going further, let's give an example:


Modern-Day:

Yesterday, there were some amusing stories on the news that grabbed my attention. One story was about a skateboarder who entered the X-Games after skating for only four days. He miscalculated his jump and fell 45-feet. He survived, and four months later, is back competing in the X-Games. I was amazed hearing his story.

Another story followed the McCaughey septuplets, who just turned ten years old. All seven survived the risky pregnancy and birth, and five of the seven children do not suffer from any physical disabilities. Two of the children, however, have cerebral palsy. The McCaugheys are Christians, and when the news anchors asked them if they wished they had "used selective reduction" (the politically correct, "intellectual" phrase for "killed your babies"), tears filled their eyes and they boldly declared that their children are an ordained gift from God. I marveled at their testimony, watching in wonder as God's name was proclaimed.


Connecting Points:

In hearing these stories, I experienced wonder and amazement. Those are very natural, human reactions. In fact, to some degree or another, we experience them daily. My emotional reaction did not spur me on to any action. I did not become inspired to sign up to compete in the X-Games and defy gravity. I did not make it one of my life goals to have septuplets. Nor did I choose to worship those who did produce these results. They were just new stories.


Back to Scripture:

I think that is what it must have been like in the minds of the first century crowds who observed Jesus working miracles and heard Jesus teaching. I decided to dig a little more and find out how many times the word "worshipped" is used in the Gospels. Certainly, there were moments when worship resulted from awe, but there were many times when it didn't. I find it interesting that when Satan was tempting Jesus, he didn't want Jesus to be in awe of him. He wanted Jesus to worship him (Jn. 4:9-10).


Revelation:

The word worship is used more in Revelation than in any of the Gospels. I would encourage you to look up and read those verses. They are absolutely beautiful and your heart will resonate with them. You will long for that day to come!

But there are also horrible verses about worship in Revelation. Yes, horrible. In Revelation 13:3-4, it talks about the beast. Scripture says, "the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast." Listen to the very next words: "And they worshipped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, 'Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?'" Here is a natural progression. Marveling turns into worship, but it is ascribed to the enemy of God!


Application:

As I studied these passages, I felt utterly convicted. Tears filled my eyes as I pleaded with God to turn my awe into worship and preserve my heart for Him as His remnant. I realized that there are so many times that I stop short of worship. I love the Bible! I love studying God! I am amazed and intrigued and astonished and I marvel! But is that all? Does my expression of wonder stop with an intellectual fascination with God? Woe to me if it does! God wants my worship.
God began answering my prayer right away, teaching me what it means to worship. On my way to work, the hymn "How Great Thou Art" began to play on the radio. That song nails it. It begins with awe and wonder. Read the words again through that lens:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,/Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;/I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,/Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

But it doesn't stop there. Now read the chorus:

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,/How great Thou art, How great Thou art./Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,/How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

Pastor Carl Gustaf Boberg, who first penned these words, begins the chorus with the word "then." BECAUSE God created this amazing universe that I see (that's the awe part), THEN my soul sings of how great He is (that's the worship part)!

I walked in my office, and guess what song was streaming through the speakers in my co-worker's cubical? "How Great Thou Art!"

Oh Lord, our great God who is worthy to be praised, teach me what it means to move from awe and wonder into worship! Do not let my intellect rob my affections, and let my affections arise from the Truth revealed in Your Word. Tune my heart to Your glory and greatness, so that I might gaze upon the beauty of my Lord and Savior and fall to my knees in reverent worship once more.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Distraction


Andrew, this blog is inspired by our conversation regarding distraction.

This morning I found my missing journal from last year. I leafed through the pages and re-read some of my scribbled, extemporaneous thoughts. Those things that distract us from experiencing the Presence of God was the topic of most of my entries. I thought I would share snippets of those with you.

October 26, 2006

....I know what it feels like to share in Your joy--to find fulfillment and contentment in You. The world harbors so many distractions that my sinful, lustful eyes absorb; they catch my attention. But they leave me feeling empty.

When I turn to You, I feel overwhelming joy and I wish to never return to my worldly distractions. But inevitably I do return. The curiosity beckons me back. I open Pandora's Box, and out comes a world of beautiful, enticing, exotic gifts, all of which bear a hidden evil. Once I see past their beauty and stare head on at the evil, I run to You once again.

This is the cycle of my life. If only I would sit long enough in Your Presence to understand that I never really wish to leave.

November 14, 2006

Parker Palmer wrote, "The poles of a paradox are like the poles of a battery: hold them together and they generate the energy of life; pull them apart, and the current stops flowing."

I experienced the sensation of deep, inner longing today, and the only way I can categorize my feelings is as a paradox. I couldn't quite pinpoint the object for which my heart was longing. Somewhere I hoped I was feeling an insatiable longing for God; that my heart was so eager within me to experience His Presence and that my pulsating soul would not quiet itself until I found rest and solitude in Him. This felt much like hope--an eager, intense hope--that is yet unfulfilled, but very certain.

But something else deep within me feared that the object of my intense longing was not God Himself, but some other lesser object that my soul craved. I feared that my lustful gaze and petty heart was whoring after some other god that I believed could fill and satisfy and please this ever-growing craving. And this felt much like emptiness, which led my soul to shed tears to the point of deep sorrow, even though my eyes remained dry and I continued to smile.

So I live in this paradox of feeling like I want nothing less than to pursue the very heart of God, yet fearing that my heart would be content with nothing more than another false god.

But in these moments, I need to turn to You; yea, in these moments, I want nothing less than to spend time in Your Presence communicating with You, sharing this feeling that is much like hope, yet the closest to sorrow I have known. I long for You to create life out of this paradox. Invade my world with a unique calling from You, and give me the strength to passionately pursue You.

And so I wait.

In the balances.

For You.

Just You.

Come.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Abiding in the Vine


Most of the time others can articulate their thoughts much more clearly than I can, so today, I rely on my friend J.P. (John Piper) to minister to us. My co-worker (and fellow WA grad) led our prayer time this morning, sharing these thoughts that I found quite apropos to our ongoing discussion of setting aside distraction in favor of focusing on the glory of God.

John 15:4-5
"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing."


Excerpt from Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper, pg. 55-56

"Oh, how we need to wake up to how much 'nothing' we spend our time doing. Apart from prayer, all our scurrying about, all our talking, all our study amounts to 'nothing.' For most of us the voice of self-reliance is ten times louder than the bell that tolls for the hours of prayer. The voice cries out: 'You must open the mail, you must make that call, you must write this sermon, you must prepare for the board meeting, you must go to the hospital.' But the bell tolls softly: 'Without Me you can do nothing.'

"Both our flesh and our culture scream against spending an hour on our knees beside a desk piled with papers. It is un-American to be so impractical as to devote oneself to prayer and meditation two hours a day. And sometimes I fear that our seminaries conform to this deadly pragmatism which stresses management and maneuvering as ways to get things done with a token mention of prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit"


And from A.C. Dixon (qtd. pg. 56 of Piper)

"When we depend upon organizations, we get what organizations can do; when we depend upon education, we get what education can do; when we depend upon man, we get what man can do; but when we depend upon prayer, we get what God can do."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Back to the Basics: From the Eastern First-Century Church to the American Mega-Church


I have been an infrequent blogger this week because I have been immersed in staff meetings, all of which have only served to make me more passionate about devoting my life to ministry in the church in America. I have had so many different thoughts swirling around my head these days, and when I do not know where to begin, I turn to Scripture.

There are many questions that have arisen in the meetings I have been sitting in, two of which include the necessity of corporate worship (rather than having multiple, smaller, homogenous groupings) and benchmarks to determine the health of a church (specifically the process of making disciples). I will keep you in suspense as to what was decided in these meetings; that is really the topic for conversation rather than a blog. But as promised, I want to turn to Scripture.

Turn your attention to the second chapter of the book of Acts, starting at verse forty-two. As always, hop on the time machine of your mind so we can travel back in time. This time we’re not just spectators; we’re going to interact as modern-day church ministry leaders living in the world of the American mega-church. Pentecost has just occurred—the promised Spirit of God has just arrived—and salvation is spreading like wildfire. In fact, you just heard the news that in one day alone, three thousand people were saved (Acts 2:41)! You take out your pen and paper to jot down these notes. That sounds like a mega-church number, and you have to find out what method is being used!

You decide to slip into a Bible study that is taking place because you overheard something about the establishment of the first-century church. You speak with the disciples; they share their methods with you as Luke serves as secretary—recording it in his book for all future Christians to read. You look over Luke’s shoulder as he pens these words: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Four methods, plain and clear: teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer.

Intrigued by this “new” model of doing church, you want to test the results just to make sure it isn’t just the latest fad. You continue to read Luke’s words, “And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common” (v. 43-44). Wow. You pause a minute and clear your throat. You cannot remember the last time you saw an entire body of American believers leave a church service with a sense of sheer awe. Or the last time you had such unity in the church. That also baffles your mind.

You can’t peel your eyes away. You keep reading, “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people” (vv. 45-47a). You scribble frantically on your pad of paper. Generosity. Unity in corporate worship. Thanksgiving and adoration. Having favor with all. Here are the benchmarks for discipleship that you’re discussing at your church, only these answers look a bit different! It doesn’t seem to be about numbers…

Before you can finish your thoughts, you see Luke writing the word numbers. He breaks your train of thought, and you read again. “And the Lord added to their numbers day by day…” (v. 47b). Luke re-dips his quill pen in the ink well. You look up, pleased. Aha! So it is about the numbers, you decide. Luke taps you on the elbow with a smile. You look down and keep reading the end of the sentence, “…those who were being saved” (v. 47c). Feeling humbled, you carefully write that part down. It wasn’t about the numbers in and of itself. It was about people encountering God with awe and finding salvation in Him.

End of Story.

Concluding Thoughts: So I might not have been able to hop aboard my imaginary time machine while I’ve been sitting in my board meetings lately, but I keep coming back to these verses with just as much enthusiasm as if I was there. We’ve been asking all the wrong questions, and as a result, coming to most of the wrong conclusions. Scripture makes it so simple. Four methods. Four benchmarks. One amazing result.*

*As a caveat: I do not mean to oversimplify Scripture. Of course the purpose and practice of the Church is much more complex than this and cannot really be broken down to only four methods or benchmarks. My point is that in today’s church, our ministries and programs and philosophies and structures tend to run off on tangents and go down trails that are neither inspired by Scripture nor honoring to God. In the mega-church, sometimes we get so tangled in a complex web of ministry that we need to untangle ourselves by scraping our plans and objectives completely and “getting back to the basics.” That is my cry here.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Welcome Dissonance...For Now


"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith" (Philippians 3:7-9)

My sophomore year at Wheaton Academy, I chose these as my life verses. Throughout my life, I have heard God singing them over me. "This is Truth," He says. "Walk in it!"

Last night, I had dinner with a group of Christians. Sitting around the table was a pastor and his wife, a ministry leader and her husband, a wife who led a large mom's group in a church, her husband who served on the equivalent of an elder board, and a woman who will be leading a mission trip this year. This was a group of people that should challenge each other in their faith and encourage each other to live out the principles represented in Philippians 3:7-9.

Midway through the evening, I started to grow uncomfortable. The conversation turned to movies. The pastor's wife commented on how much she loved violence in movies, and encouraged the leader of the church mom's group to watch a movie that had a few "questionable scenes" in addition to its violent content. She warned, "It isn't a movie I would watch with your mom or your husband's mom for that matter, but you should see it!"
I squirmed in my chair, noticeably uncomfortable. At what age do we become old enough to watch "adult situations" in movies? At what age do we become too old to watch the same scenes? Is there an age bracket when we become immune to the power of sin? Is there an age when no longer have to judge the things of this world as "rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ our Lord?" My friends seem to think so.
I felt all alone in that moment, even though I was surrounded by fellow believers. I didn't agree with them or their opinions. We were singing different melodies, and in so doing, the resulting sound was dissonant and discordant. When we hear clashing notes, how our ears long to hear some sort of resolution! When we realize our friends are not going to change their tunes, we are tempted to change our own, just so we can hear something--anything--harmonious. But we know that would be wrong. We can't change our tune. We must live in the midst of dissonance and discordance, no matter how uncomfortable it is. That is what it means to lose all things for the sake of Christ. In singing a different melody, the one written by the Songwriter, I am in tune; the songs around me are out of tune.

But lest I become prideful and think that I have got it right and "those other people" are all wrong, let's re-examine Paul's words in Philippians 3:9: "...not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." Righteousness does not come from me; I am sinful and depraved. Righteousness comes from God.

Taking it back to the song metaphor, the only One who can make dissonant melodies turn into beautiful harmonies is Jesus Christ. Only when He comes again--when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess--will we be able to take our fingers out of our ears and hear a beautiful song arising from every vocal chord. Only in that moment, will I, too, stop singing discordant tunes and harmonize with the Love Song for the Savior. I can't wait to hear that song!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Coexist?


For the past year or so, I've seen these bumper stickers pop up everywhere. White letters on a black background peacefully "suggest" that we simply "coexist."

Here's the key for decoding the message:
C- the symbol for Islam (those who call themselves Muslims)
O- the Wicca pentagram
E- the relativity formula for science
X- the symbol of Judaism (the star of David)
I- representing Buddhism (the "i" is dotted by the Karma Wheel)
S- the symbol for Taoism
T- the symbol for Christianity

What are people saying about this slogan? Check out some actual responses below:

Comment 1: "I bought it because I honestly believe that it's possible for many belief systems to coexist if they try and I think that more people need to see that."
Comment 2: "I put the sign on the rear bumper of my car.... The message is one I can subscribe to entirely, and I'm not worried that someone will take offense and ding my car over it."

Comment 3: "It makes me happy inside every time I look at this on the back of our car. Even my husband appreciates it!"

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let's go there ourselves. Put on your worldview lenses and strap on your seat belt. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

So, let's ask the same question. Why not just "coexist?" Is it possible for many belief systems to coexist if they try, as our first commentator suggests. Jesus says, "I am THE way and THE truth and THE life. No one comes to the Father EXCEPT through me" (John 14:6, emphasis mine). Now, I am not a Greek scholar, but I am quite certain that THE and EXCEPT are very exclusive terms. No, commentator one, we cannot "coexist if we try." The claims of Jesus do not allow for that.

What about the second comment? Does coexisting keep one religion from offending another? If the answer is yes, then we have to take the "t," representing the Christian cross, out of the formula. After all, "we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (I Corinthians 1:23). This is the "offense" of the gospel. The gospel illuminates our sinfulness and declares that Jesus Christ is Lord! Not Buddha. Not Mohamed. Not man's rational powers or intellectual superiority.

That leaves us with the third commentator. The message makes her happy; how can that be bad? It makes her happy because she does not have to deal with the hard truth that there is a (as in one) God. If there is a God, we are accountable to Him. If we are accountable to God, we can't live like we are God. And to many, that's a tragedy.

I have been very cynical and sarcastic and argumentative in this post. That only comes after great sorrow that my God (THE God) is being reduced to a "t" in a formula created by those whom He created. But I will not end cynical, because I think the third commentator has a point; it's simply misguided. I think it is about our joy. I think worshipping God as the Supreme Being brings us exceeding joy. Psalm 16:11 reads, "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." Unless we know God, we cannot even begin to know joy.
I'm very dissatisfied with this post because the question of the supremacy and exclusivity of Jesus Christ deserves a much deeper reflection than I can give it in a brief post. Check out the books of authors who have devoted their lives to this study, and who can articulate themselves much better than I can. Check out Jesus Among Other gods by Ravi Zacharias or Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper. And whenever you see the "coexist" slogan, pray that the person bearing it will have his or her eyes opened to the supremacy and exclusivity of Jesus Christ and experience everlasting joy!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sons of Korah: Oh, to be a Gatekeeper!


Psalm 84, quoted in part on yesterday's post, has inspired me. I felt compelled to mediate on it this morning during my time in God's Presence, and I was in awe over God's lesson for me!

Think back to those moments when you have such an intense longing to commune with God, to worship Him, and to taste His goodness that it creates a physiological response within you. In those moments, I feel like my words are so inadequate to express my love for my Savior. The echoes of my heart have to suffice. I tend to think that is how the Sons of Korah felt when penning Psalm 84. Their thoughts to God are deeply intimate and personal, but we get the privilege of "over-hearing" them.

I would like to re-quote verses 1-2 and 10 here: "How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness."

It's time for a biblical history adventure to unravel a mystery! The Sons of Korah. Who are they, and what inspired the deep emotions of this Psalm (and at least 25 others by them)? The clue lies in I Chronicles 9 (I feel like I am in the movie National Treasure--or should I say Kingdom Treasure--Bible style!). :) The Sons of Korah "were in charge of the work of the service, keepers of the thresholds of the tent, as their fathers had been in charge of the camp of the Lord, keepers of the entrance" (I Chron. 9:19). They also were "over the chambers and the treasures of the house of God. And they lodged around the house of God, for on them lay the duty of watching, and they had charge of opening it every morning" (I Chron. 9:26-27).

Let's interpret the answer to our clue. The Sons of Korah stood outside of the tent; they were gatekeepers. Day after day they showed up to work, opened the house of God, and then stood there...watching. Travel back in time. What do you think this job would have been like? I'll return to that in a minute.

Hop on our time machine again. This time were going back another generation to their fathers. As far as I can figure it in my research, Korah descended from the Kohath. What was the Kohathites' job? The answer is revealed in Numbers 4, our second clue. They were in charge of the holy vessels of the tabernacle, including the ark, and carried these items (though forbidden to touch them or even look upon them). In other words, they were in contact with the items where God chose to make His dwelling. Can you imagine that? I'm sure they were saying, "This is AWESOME! God was just here! And now we're in charge of the vessels that represent His Presence!"

Well at least you would think that would be their reaction. Hop aboard the time machine again. We're going forward to Numbers 16. The green eye of jealousy creeps onto the scene, and it is ugly! The Kohathites take their gaze off of the glory of God and look at Moses and Aaron. They start thinking, "What makes Moses and Aaron so special? Why do they act holier than thou?" "All in the congregation are holy," they cry (Num. 16:3). Moses tries to bring their gaze back to God, saying, "In the morning the Lord will show who is His, and who is holy, and will bring him near to Him" (v. 5). But they refused to show up. They had an opportunity to be in the Presence of God, and they said no! (And wasn't that the issue in the first place?)

This is an amazing story. Immerse yourself in it. Can you feel Moses' heart break as he sees where the Kohathites are headed? The great tragedy is reflected in Moses' plea (I can almost visualize the expression of sorrow and earnestness on his face), "Is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that He has brought you near Him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also?" (vv. 9-10). Let's turn our eyes away from the scene unfolding before us as the ground opens its mouth and swallows them alive (vv. 27-35). The song of mourning begins.

But the mourning ceases, for Numbers 26:11, as short as it is, sweetly sings the song of redemption. "The sons of Korah did not die." Do you hear THAT?!? That is a song of second chances and the redeeming of the next generation--a remnant for God's glory!

Hop back in the time machine one last time. We're ready to discover one of the gold nuggets of Scripture! Back to my question a few paragraphs back, "What would it have been like to be a gatekeeper for the House of the Lord?" The Sons of Korah refused to repeat history! They worshipped. And I mean WORSHIPPED! Now would be a good time to re-read Psalm 84! A gatekeeper? Yes, a gatekeeper!!! They're working for GOD!!

Friends, and I write this with deep emotion, we don't have to see veiled tabernacle objects, look at the stars, and dream about what it would be like to be holy enough to be chosen to enter the Presence of God. We don't have to stand as gatekeepers, looking at the High Priest enter and exit, and find our joy in that as an end in itself. WE GET TO ENTER GOD'S PRESENCE--THE MOST HOLY OF HOLIES--EVERY MOMENT OF EVERY DAY! (Yes, that required all caps.) Why am I, and I am speaking to myself here, not writing sentiments that are overflowing with even more love and devotion and passion for God than a gatekeeper?!? Why do I find more entertainment in "fill in the blank" than knowing and loving and treasuring Jesus Christ for now and all of eternity? He chose me. He chose ME! And in this moment, I want to publicly celebrate. I have found the gold! Mystery solved!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

In the Mundane, I Saw God


It was in the mundane yesterday that I saw God. And it came through my interaction with a 13-year-old cat.

Every time my family and I go out of town for a period of time, it is quite traumatic for my old cat. He mopes around the house when we are gone, eating little, sleeping often, and hiding from the person who comes to interact with him. To Mittens, being with a stranger is not the same as being with us. He enters complete feline depression.

When we arrive home, it is quite the opposite story. He meows incessantly until we pick him up. Once he is in our arms, he purrs non-stop. If we put him down, he starts meowing again. We try to ignore him when we're busy, but he is persistent. He craves our attention.

This was the case when we arrived home from Minnesota this weekend. As I held the purring mass in my arms, God spoke to me. I realized how despicable it is that a four-legged feline expresses a deeper longing to be in my presence than I express to be in the Presence of God. Do I hunger so intensely to be with God that I am completely dissatisfied if I miss out on that time? And when I spend thirty minutes or even an hour in His presence, do I walk away satisfied that I got my "God fix" for the morning, or does it make me thirst all the more to continuously commune with Him, and keep me in an attitude of prayer and thanksgiving and listening throughout the day?

As I was holding my cat in my lap, I looked up on my bedroom wall, and God spoke to me through His Word. Years ago, I placed a dry erase board on my wall on which I wrote a Scripture passage. I am so accustomed to seeing it hang there, I don't even notice it anymore. But yesterday I saw it afresh once again. On it is printed Psalm 84:1-2: "How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God."

Oh Lord Almighty, let me not be content until I can sing in one accord with the Psalmist that "my soul yearns, even faints" for your courts. Teach me what it means to have "my heart and my flesh," crying out to You. In the mundane, speak to me. I have everything to learn from You; You have everything to teach to me. Thank you that in the mundane, we can see God. Our vision of You is truly one of beauty.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Genuine Nature


Matthew 23:27
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness."

My sophomore year of college, I was given the writing assignment to describe a person only by describing his/her environment. I came across the product of that assignment the other day, and I decided to re-post it here. The symbolism is clear. As Christians, may we never attempt to hide from God, but allow Him to refine us, transforming our fickle hearts and feeble minds until they purely reflect His infinite beauty!


The Great White Mansion on Royal Circle

The exquisite beauty of the majestic, antique mansion on Royal Circle was breathtaking. It rested upon a lush green field, blanketed with tiny purple and white flowers. The architecture of the solid white residence resembled Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, with rows of stately columns lining the front porch. Even the dog’s house in the back yard was a miniature replica of her master’s mansion, and a sign hung on the front door which read, “Fofo’s Abode.” The entire estate was a surreal portraiture of extravagance and luxury.


The inside of the mansion was even more immaculate than the outside. The same white pillars that supported the front porch lined the hallway inside the house. Crystal chandeliers graced the ceiling of the parlor. Pure etched gold candelabras stood in each corner of the room. The princely furniture, extensive silken draperies, and china tea sets intricately displayed throughout the room were marigold and robin’s egg blue. The library held the sculpted busts of John Paul Jones, Robert Fulton, and the mythological goddess, Diana. There were also historic portraits of past presidents that proudly hung on the walls. The marble floors were clean enough for a person to eat off of, yet no one would dare to even walk on them. From one room to the next, it was a sterile environment devoid of any of the monstrosities of life. It was perfection.

The most intriguing room was padlocked shut. It offered a more intimate view; a peephole into the soul. The steps behind the door led down to the basement. The basement was a studio of sorts. Paint was generously and randomly splattered on canvasses. The artist mixed blue, green, yellow, orange, red, purple, and brown to create a black, bubbled, murky mess. The room was cluttered with broken furniture duct taped together and paint smocks lined the floors. A simple cot was stuffed in the corner of the basement with the sheets and blanket sloppily strewn on top. A great white poster hung on the wall that simply read “genuine nature” in bold black letters. The scene was a stark contrast to the sheer elegance of the upstairs. What had happened to the impeccable tastes of the master craftsman that adorned the rest of the mansion? The outside was garnished with glories untold and the inside was exquisitely detailed, but the basement? The basement revealed the dark corners of the house, the “genuine nature” hidden away by the owner of the great white mansion on Royal Circle.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Sacrifice of Praise


"For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name" (Hebrews 13:14-15).


Last year, I accepted the job as Short-Term Mission Coordinator at my church. One of the "perks" of my job is that I get to go on one of our eight short-term trips every year. This summer, God called me to Turkey (the least evangelized nation in the world) and He paved the way for my parents to join me. This would be our first family mission trip, and I was thrilled!


A week into our trip, the thrill was replaced with terror, confusion, heartache, and loneliness. My mom became deathly ill from a disease that was undiagnosed at the time. Overnight, she went from dynamically ministering in a country that is closed to the gospel; to slipping into a terrifying, delirious state that was the antithesis of her personality; to falling into a coma. I had never felt more alone in my entire life.


At the very early phase of my mom's illness, before she was admitted to the hospital, my dad stayed with her at the hotel since she was showing signs of dehydration and delirium. But God told me to continue on with the ministry that I was doing in Turkey. Everything within me wanted to stay back with my mom, but I had to obey God's voice. I left the hotel in Europe and traveled to Asia where I taught English courses at a church. The entire time my mind was on my mom, my silent prayers were focused on her health, and the few hours of teaching felt like days.


Once the time was over, I was anxious to return to the hotel in Europe. Instead, one of my students invited me to have lunch with her. Though I was filled with anxiety, I decided to go, and God turned my anxiety into prayer. After lunch, my student invited me to a prayer meeting in the little Turkish church at which I taught. Once again, everything within me wanted to take the ferry back to Europe to check on my mom, but God told me to go. I continued in intercessory prayer.


At that prayer meeting, a man who was more charismatic in his expression of worship said, "This is the word of the Lord." I thought it was rather odd since no Scripture passage was being read at the time. Then he said, "This song is the word of the Lord." Immediately after, we began singing, "Come, Now is the Time to Worship." I have theological issues with some of the lyrics, but God so clearly and remarkably spoke to me through the first few measures of the song. He said, "Come, now is the time to worship. It is not time worry. It is not even time to intercede on your mom's behalf. I want nothing at this moment except worship."


I thought, "God, are you kidding me?!? I thought that I had made a giant leap of faith in moving from worry to intercessory prayer. And now you want me to give up interceding on behalf of my mom to worship you?!?" But such peace filled my soul that I had to worship. No other response would have been appropriate.


I am not against intercessory prayer. In fact, we are commanded to intercede on behalf of each other. But God wanted more from me in that moment. Little did I know my mom would fall into a coma that evening. Little did I know that I would be stuck in Turkey for nearly a month. Little did I know that we would often be forbidden to see my mom, and not know whether or not she was dead or alive when we arrived at the hospital in the morning. And little did I know how God was working. When God told me to stop interceding and start worshipping, He was raising up 2,000 pastors at a conference in Minnesota to intercede on my mom's behalf. When the news traveled from Turkey to this conference, they called off their agenda and prayed unceasingly for my mom.


This is the sacrifice of praise written about in Hebrews. It's the fruit of lips that acknowledge the name of God, even when our world is unraveling. I believe that it is a gift that you and I are not capable of in our own power. I know that my true character is frail, weak, anxious, and more lazy in prayer than faithful. "But by the grace of God." May all praise, glory, and honor go to the only One who is worthy!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Giving Thanks


As I woke up this morning, before getting out of bed, I began to pray. In a few hours, my brother and I would be picking up his friend Jamal to spend Thanksgiving with our family. Jamal is a Somalian Muslim man whom my brother met at the Global Market in Minneapolis. Soon after we learned that we would be spending Thanksgiving in Minnesota, and that Jamal would be joining our family, we've been praying that he would encounter Jesus Christ, the one and true God, through our interaction with him. I also prayed for Pam, my administrative assistant. Her family invited two of her unsaved neighbors to spend Thanksgiving with them. Then I thought of Sue Ann, a colleague of mine who lost her husband a few months ago to a very rare disease. This would be her first Thanksgiving without him, and she expressed to me how difficult it would be. Names flooded my mind, and I prayed.


All of these were "good" requests to bring before the Lord, from the salvation of souls to peace and comfort for those who are hurting. But one thing was devoid from my early morning prayers, and that was giving thanks--praising God for both His gifts and His character. You would think that this would be the first thought on my mind as I woke up this morning especially, but it took a while before I heard God gently reminding me to praise Him from whom all blessings flow.


Psalm 95:1-3 reads, "Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods." The Psalmist's thanksgiving to God always poured forth from an understanding of the character of God. If I am lacking in gratitude, I am lacking in a vision of who God is. In these verses, the Psalmist says that God is a "great God...a great King." Do I truly see God as great? Or have I become rather comfortable with Him, taking advantage of our "friendship" and not standing in awe of His holiness? Do I understand the implications that He is THE King above ALL gods? The extent of His sovereignty is both mind-boggling and comforting. This is the God whom we serve, who called us out of our life (or should I say death) of sinfulness, and into the inexpressible glory of His presence. So tonight I am going back to the basics. I am going to thank God once again that He is holy and sovereign, that He is the King of the nations, and that He has given me the gift of eternal salvation. Praise be to God!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

For Our Joy


My friend Jackie and I shared a meal together at Bennigans tonight. Throughout the evening, our waiter seemed particularly attentive. There was something on his mind that he wasn't voicing. Finally, he looked at me and burst out, "I think I've seen you here before. And every time you come in, you're always smiling! Whatever you're taking, I want it!"

In John 15:9-11, Jesus states, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." Jesus is the source of our joy. Without Christ, our joy is incomplete. We may be happy. Anything material blessing can bring happiness, but only Christ can bring complete joy. If we are Christians and if the Holy Spirit is reigning in us, then we must be characterized by our joy.

Do you realize that our joy is the result of glorifying God? That boggles my mind. All that we have is from God and for God. He gives us the ability to give Himself praise. We are simply vessels; not the source. And while we are not the source, WE receive the blessing--joy! In his devotional booklet For Your Joy, John Piper writes, "...we were made to experience full and lasting happiness from seeing and savoring the glory of God. If our best joy comes from something less, we are idolaters and God is dishonored. He created us in such a way that his glory is displayed through our joy in it. The gospel of Christ is the good news that at the cost of his Son's life, God has done everything necessary to enthrall us with what will make us eternally and ever-increasingly happy, namely, himself."

Tonight, I resolved to never let a moment pass to share about my faith when God opens up the door. And for the past few months, God has opened many doors! Too often, I am afraid that I will offend the name of Christ when I speak out--that I will say the wrong thing and make Christ look ridiculous because of my feeble answer. I am afraid that I will not articulate the gospel message with the clarity and beauty it deserves. I am afraid that I will look foolish for believing in a God that I cannot see or hear or touch, and that I will not be able to explain the reason for my faith. I so quickly forget that the only reason I exist is to declare the gospel!

Be quick to tell those around you about your joy. Point them to the Source. Seek out moments when Christ can enter your conversations. And "may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 15:13).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Identity


A friend of mine polled a group of people, asking, "What is the most difficult issue facing teens today?" How would you answer this question? Do drugs come to mind? What about alcohol? Sex? Cutting? Suicide? Body image?


What if these issues were only the surface and at the heart lied something deeper? What if the deeper issue was a search for identity? And what if it wasn't an issue that only teens were facing?


I believe that we spend our entire lives searching for our identity, whether or not we are aware of it. We look for it in popularity, achievement, wealth, status, beauty, image, and intelligence. Psychologists say teenagers struggle with identity, because it is most pronounced in them in destructive means. But what if our adult lust for achievement or status is just as detrimental, only culturally acceptable?


As Christians, we know that our identity is already defined, but we still search. Our culture tells us to search. Our sin nature tells us to search. And somehow we buy the lie that all of this...stuff...is more pleasurable than God.


I am fascinated by all of the places in Scripture where God changes someone's name. It happened when Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel, and Simon became Peter. When God changes someone's name, it is more than an issue of semantics. It is an issue of identity. God sees who He wants a person to become for His glory, and He changes their identity. It's as if He is telling them to stop searching, or perhaps to change the direction of their search. Their identity has been found!


Where does that leave you and me? In Revelation 2:17, Jesus says, "To the one who conquers, I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it." I imagine Jesus handing me a stone with my name--my identity--written on it. And when I see it, I will have an "Aha!" moment. At that moment, everything in my life will make sense. My questions will be answered. My search will be over. I will discover that my identity has been there all along, held securely in the palm of Christ's hand. I will remember the times that God gave me the strength to reject the name that the world offered me on the stones of success and prosperity and external value. And as I look back up from my stone--my identity--into the eyes of Jesus Christ, I will exclaim, "It was all worth it!"

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Feelings or Reality?


Tonight I am thinking about feelings. I feel joy. I feel peace. I feel contentment. I feel like there is more than this existence--that there is a Being who transcends us in a world that is really real--a world beyond us and above us that calls out to us to live and make our dwelling there.


And then I think these are not feelings at all. What is a "feeling," really? I feel cold, but I am not cold. Cold is not my essence; it is simply a present, passing state until I find an outside source to bring warmth. I feel love, but even this is conditional. Change the conditions and anger or resentment can too soon replace that love. I feel joy, but take away its source, and I'm left feeling empty. And alone.


So maybe what I'm feeling tonight isn't "feeling" at all. Maybe I'm simply in tune with Reality. Whether or not I feel it, I have joy. Whether or not I can perceive it, peace is there. Regardless of my circumstances, contentment is.


Maybe we spend a lifetime searching for a feeling and chasing the wind, when an unshakable reality surrounds us, penetrates the very fiber of our beings, and simply....is. Maybe we are too afraid to relinquish control and allow ourselves to just be--to just dwell in Reality and realize that there is so much more to this life. Just maybe.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Intense Longing

As I woke up this morning, I had an intense longing for God. Have you ever experienced those moments, when everything within you wants nothing less than to be in the presence of God? Have you ever felt that if you were given the entire world, your hunger would not be satisfied--that only God is sufficient?

It's very seldom that my longings for God reach that intensity, but this morning, in the quietness of my room, my soul was crying out for Him. In that moment, God filled my heart with a prayer, and I wrote it out. It expresses the deep ache within me for Him alone.

I wrote and prayed this prayer today, and if you're in Come Thirsty, I prayed this over you, too, this morning. I prayed for each of you by name. Here's what was offered up on your behalf this morning:

O Lord,
This day, as I awaken from my peaceful slumber and rise from my bed, I will be bombarded with messages and images that compete for my attention and affection.
And the subtle and sweet lullabies they sing, though infused with dissonance and ringing out in disharmony, will begin to sound sweet in my ear.
And I will be tempted to listen, accept, and eventually treasure their message.


Let my ears not fail to hear the sound of Your still, small voice, crying above the chaotic noise below, "Come seek Me. Come find Me. Come treasure Me."
When I am beckoned to find my deepest joy and my highest hope in You, let me run towards that beautiful melody and join in its chorus until my voice is united with Yours in glorious harmony.
Keep my heart exceedingly discontent dwelling in the garbage dump, when paradise is just around the bend, beckoning me to enter, and to sing of my sweet salvation for all of eternity.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Uncensored Thoughts: Pondering Life, Death, Suffering, and the Glory of God

She passed away today. Her name was Mrs. Riebock, and she was my high school Bible teacher. But she was not just our teacher; she was our Wheaton Academy Class of 2000 sponsor. She walked with us through our awkward freshman year in which we were all terrified to be at a new school, and proudly applauded for us at our graduation as we left as confident seniors, ready to take on college life. She fearlessly led us through homecomings, service projects, and fundraisers each year with great and unparalleled enthusiasm. She brought life to our Bible classes and made it exciting to study the things of the Lord. She was the most eclectic woman I had ever met. Look at the murals painted on her classroom wall in every imaginable bold color under heaven, and you will be given a glimpse into her personality. And who can forget her circumcision screams "heard 'round the campus" or her "whooping stick" to keep us students in line?

My sweetest memory of Mrs. Riebock did not come when I was her student, but when I was her colleague. While working on my Masters degree last fall, I substitute taught at Wheaton Academy. One day I received a call asking me to sub for Mrs. Riebock. I was thrilled and immediately accepted! When I entered her classroom, I was a bit surprised to find her sitting at her desk--not at all absent--and she was equally surprised to see me.
"What are you doing here?" she would ask.
I responded, "Substitute teaching for you, I thought!"

Apparently the office had made a mistake, and I didn't need to be there. I walked to the door to exit the classroom, but she stopped me, saying, "No! You came all the way out here to teach, and you want your money. Stay here, and I'll go out so you can get paid." Mrs. Riebock went out of the way to accommodate her "substitute," even though she didn't need me. That day, Mrs. Riebock cared more about blessing her former student than sticking with her own agenda. She reflected the love and servant's heart of Jesus Christ, and through that action, I was blessed.

I have an "uncensored confession," as I like to call it in our Come Thirsty Sunday school class. I don't begin to understand the ways of an incomprehensible God. I don't know why God chose to spare my mom's life when thousands of people got on their knees to pray for her healing after she was in a coma in Turkey, but take the life of Mrs. Riebock when thousand of people were on their knees praying for her healing when she was going through a liver transplant in America. I don't understand why my classmate Quinn, Mrs. Riebock's youngest daughter, lost her dad in June, and three months later lost her mom. I just don't have all of the answers.
But there are some things I do know. I know that God is good. And I don't just mean that He is somewhat nice and typically kind. I mean that His very essence is good; there is no good apart from Him. I know that God is love. His love is unconditional. I know that God is for us. If we are His children, God is not 9% or 99% for us; He is 100% for us at all times. And I know that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. There is no life apart from the Christian life, because there is no God apart from Jesus Christ. His ways are incomprehensible, but they are trustworthy. Yes, God is trustworthy and faithful and true. I live and breathe these truths.
I went to hear John Piper speak at Wheaton today. He talked all about suffering. My friend left depressed; I left invigorated. He spoke difficult words. Words that I want to silence with all my being. But words that my soul so longs to hear that I can almost physically feel the echo of its longing deep within me. He said that our suffering is an essential part of our Christian existence. Our suffering should make Christ look great. We might be "sorrowful," but we are to be "always rejoicing" (II Cor. 6:10). Our lives should testify that Christ is more precious to us than everything in the universe, including father or mother, brother or sister, career or unemployment, ambitions or failures, singleness or marriage, children or no children. Christ is more precious. Period.
Furthermore, nothing will happen to us apart from God's will. Do you really think that these events surprise God? God knows, and God is good. We must embrace suffering, hardship, risk, and danger while on earth for the relief of suffering in eternity. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). In Romans, Paul states, "Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory" (Rom. 8:17).

So the ultimate question is not whether we will suffer. We must suffer. The question is, "Will Christ be enough when we endure suffering?"

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What's Your Calling?

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30, NIV

From dew on wool fleeces to geometric shapes in the clouds, too often Christians look in all of the wrong places for a revelatory sign of God’s calling upon their lives. But in Scripture, calling is much more paradoxical. It is more clear and precise and definitive, revealed in and through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And yet, the ancient biblical stories inform us that calling is more supernatural and mysterious as God speaks not through the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but through a whisper (I Kgs. 19:11-12). It is to this magnificent God with a magnanimous call that Christians must respond in a manner that is “worthy of the calling [they] have received” (Eph. 4:1).

In The Call, Os Guinness writes, “…calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.”[1] Guinness differentiates between the primary and secondary calls. “Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him.”[2] Calling begins with God. Romans 8:28-30 (quoted above) lays out the order of calling: God predestines His chosen, calls them to Himself, then justifies and glorifies His loved ones. God chooses; the Christian responds. It is just as impossible for Christians to call themselves as it is for Christians to predestine, justify, or glorify themselves. Guinness writes, “We cannot find God without God. We cannot reach God without God. We cannot satisfy God without God….”[3] Calling always starts with God.
Christians have the responsibility of responding to God’s call. This response to primary calling comes through loving Christ with one’s “heart, soul, strength, and mind,” out of which must flow “love [for one’s] neighbor as [oneself]” (Lk. 10:27). It is precisely because of the need to respond to God that Paul writes, “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him…” (I Thess. 1:11-12a). It is through the grace of God that the Christian can embody his or her calling. Apart from the active work of the Holy Spirit, the Christian’s work would be ineffectual and unworthy of the high calling which he or she has received. Only through the power of Christ will the Christian’s calling become a reality. And when this calling is lived out in a worthy manner, the Lord will be glorified.

In addition to a general call, the believer is also given a personal, specific call, or “secondary call,” to borrow the language of Guinness. “Our secondary calling, considering who God is as sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for him.”[4] Our primary calling is shared with all believers—each person is called to glorify God and love Him completely. Our secondary calling is specific to each individual’s life, based on his or her spiritual gifts, talents, and interests. In The Purpose-Driven Life, author Rick Warren encourages Christians to identify their calling by considering their S.H.A.P.E., an acrostic for “spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experiences.”[5] By identifying the areas in which God has gifted one, the passions which He has instilled in one, and the experiences which have served to shape one, calling may be further clarified.


So what is your calling? What are the gifts and talents that God has interwoven into the fabric of your life? Where does your greatest passion meet a need in the world?


Live a life worthy of your calling!


[1] Guinness, Oz. The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life. Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2003. p. 4.
[2] Ibid. p. 31.
[3] Ibid. p. 13.
[4] Ibid. p. 31
[5] Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002. p. 236.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Spiritual Garment

Here is a sample entry from the Turkey Prayer Guide:

Spiritual Garment

by Jenny Schulenburg


They come in satin, silk, and cotton. Some drape over the body; others cover only the face. Women express their personal style by choosing various colors and patterns. They are sold outside of mosques, and worn as an expression of honor and respect. They are veils.

It was not long before arriving in Istanbul that I noticed veiled women strolling down the streets. When our mission team hosted an American Folk Song Sing-Along in a park near our hotel, I had the opportunity to interact with two young, veiled Muslim women. At first, we all felt awkward. What could we possibly have in common to converse about? So we sang together, and I discovered that they had beautiful voices. I shared with them my involvement in music, and any awkward feelings between us quickly dissipated. Through our conversation, I discovered that one of my new friends was studying to be a teacher—my same profession. Both of them were within a few years of my age. Gradually, I no longer saw them first and foremost as “veiled Muslim women,” but image bearers of their Creator.

All of sudden, my new friends and I seemed a lot more similar than dissimilar. I, too, once walked this earth wearing a veil. My veil may not have been a fabric head covering, but it was woven together by own sinfulness and it covered the eyes of my soul from seeing the truth of God. Thankfully, God is omniscient, and He peered deep into my soul, seeing past the veil that I tried to hide under. He removed my shroud of darkness and clothed me with His garment of salvation. The prophet Isaiah writes, “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.”

After that evening, as I walked through the streets of Istanbul and encountered veiled women, I began praying that God would remove the veil behind which they hide themselves and cover them with His righteousness, just as He had covered me.

PRAY

Pray for Muslim women to trade their man-made veils for “robes of righteousness.”

Pray that God will continue to build bridges between Muslim and Christian women so that spiritual conversations can take place.