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


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


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 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!"