Saturday, March 4, 2017

Choosing Brokenness


"And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him" Matt. 21:44

 Do you realize we are only given two choices? Be broken or be crushed. Neither one sounds too appealing! But choosing to fall on Jesus, our Rock, is to trust that our brokenness will result in wholeness. Like a skilled surgeon, Jesus knows exactly where He needs to inflict pain in order to bring healing. Nothing is in vain. In His compassion He guides us to our places of struggle and hurt, opening our eyes to the truth that sets us free.

 When we fall on Jesus we are broken bit by bit over
our own sinfulness,
our human frailty,
our lack of wisdom,
our past losses and hurts,
our present hardships, and
our worries about the future
until we realize that He is all we've got and all we need.

 There is no easy way to know Jesus. God is so good to us. He loves us too much to put our desire for immediate comfort and joy before the ultimate goal of being made whole in Him. Choosing brokenness by falling on Jesus is the only path that leads to wholeness. Trust Him - it is His specialty to make broken things whole!

 "And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Phil 1:6

Friday, February 17, 2017

When Things do not Make Sense

Why God, why? I just don't get it! - I distinctly remember crying out to God after visiting a leper colony in Shimlar, a mountain village in Northern India. The degree of suffering was so great The hovels, in which these people dragged out their existence, were so dreary. The sense of hopeless resignation was so pervasive. I tried in vain to understand its purpose.

This was the first time that I felt completely stumped - unable to comprehend. I used to think that increased faith meant fewer unanswered questions. If that were the case, I would be in real trouble! This season of my life seems riddled with question-marks. Even in reading the Bible I have "this-does-not-make-sense" struggles, like when Jesus responds to a needy Canaanite woman by saying, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." (Matt. 15:26)

Dogs? Really?! To my ear this sounds derogatory and insulting. I must be careful not to misjudge God because of my lack of understanding. Perhaps Jesus is asking the Canaanite, "Do you choose to reject your own heritage, accepting the role I have assigned for your people in history. Are you willing to leave behind your old values? Will you accept my ways, even if it goes against all you were ever taught, even if it includes things that are hard to understand?"

The Canaanite woman responds by humbly accepting and desiring God's ways. May we all surrender our "whys" to God, knowing that His thoughts are higher than ours (Is. 55:9) and whose purpose is to prosper and not to harm (Jer. 29:11). Our faith is not measured by a diminishing number of unanswered questions - it becomes manifest by what we do with our questions.

Thank you Lord, that you are merciful and gracious (Ex. 34:6).  Even when things do not make sense, I choose to trust that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted (Job 42:2). Amen

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Better than Chocolate

When life gets the best of me, my first response is to find solace in a chocolate bar. And oh, the desolation, when supplies run low! I sometimes rummage through the entire house in hope of finding a forgotten morsel. How silly and senseless of me to seek comfort in food, rather than in Christ! During the last month I have chosen to forgo chocolate in hope of learning to run to Jesus when times get tough. It has not been easy to change old habits, but it has helped me to realize that I am only skimming the surface of what Jesus is really desiring me to surrender.

In Matthew 13:44-47 Jesus uses two parables to explain the necessity of giving up everything for the sake of receiving God's kingdom:
"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it." (ESV)

One thing must be clear: when God wants us to give up everything, he is neither greedy for our possessions, nor does He desire us to suffer want. On the contrary! He wants what is best for us and he is able to fulfill His promises. Therefore Jesus is asking:

Will you abandon your striving to earn God's favor
so that I can shower you with loving-kindness and compassion?

Will you stop wrapping yourself in unforgiveness, bitterness and vengeful thoughts,
so that I can enable you to love Me and others through experiencing My forgiveness and love?

Will you give up your desire to make a name for yourself,
so that you may experience the beauty of following the plans and talents I have prepared for you?

Will your choose not to concern yourself with pleasing others,
so that you may know the comfort of belonging to the One who desires you?

Will you cease to be anxious about your daily needs,
so that you may know the peace which comes from trusting in My provision?

Will you submit to My will in your marriage,
so that I may show you the riches of My counsel?

Will you surrender your control over your children,
so that you may rest in the assurance that I love them even more than you do, and am able to do far more than you could ask or imagine?

Jesus knows that the things we hold so dear are just emptiness and filth - and yet we grasp them so tightly. He wants us to loosen our grip on our false wealth so that we may embrace Him instead. The only true treasures come from Him. It is up to us to surrender our ashes for the beauty which Christ has in store for us.
That is so much better than chocolate!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Don't you Remember?

Living as a believer in Christ, I get frustrated so easily with myself. Loving God births a desire in me to become more like Him. An honest appraisal shows me how little I resemble His graciousness and compassion. This self-recognition often leads to self-condemnation and discouragement, when I buy into the lie that Christ is displeased with me.

The Gospel of Mark describes an instance when Jesus' disciples found themselves in a similar situation. (Mark 8:14-19) Jesus' followers were realizing their own shortcoming: They had forgotten to buy bread. Misinterpreting Jesus' teaching about leaven, the disciples thought He was upset with them. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, gently guided their focus away from themselves and their condemnation. Instead He asked them to remember what He had already done. "Don't you remember?" He asked them, reminding them of the times when He used what little bread they had and multiplied it.

This principle can readily be applied to our own lives. Sometimes it is helpful to look back and remember how much the Lord has already done, rather than lamenting our imperfections. We can draw encouragement from the fact that God is at work in our lives. He is using what little we have to offer and is multiplying it.

Unfortunately I so easily forget. Recently a friend encouraged me to remember God's work in my life by keeping a journal, recording honest, heartfelt prayers, and the answers which God provides. I wanted to record how God had changed me and drawn me closer to Himself in the process.

In my search for a suitable notebook, a journal, which I had kept 20 years ago, plopped into my lap. Reading it was so encouraging! Do you know what struck me the most? The issues I had struggled with back then are not my issues today. Oftentimes daily change comes in such miniscule degrees that we don't realize how we have changed, learned and grown closer to Christ. Realizing God's work in me made me so thankful.

Going back and reading an old journal entry is like an Ebenezer - a stone erected in Old Testament times for the purpose of remembering. Like this stone it speaks into our present situation saying, "till now the Lord has helped me." (1Sam. 7:12)

Whenever you start feeling impatient with yourself, think of Jesus gently asking, "Don't you remember?" God is at work in your life, if you are submitted to him, and "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1:6)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

True Happines

It is so easy for me to get wrapped up in my quest to keep everyone around me happy. Trying to be superwoman is exhausting and unrealistic. God never meant to make anyone's happiness dependent upon people or performance. Instead, Jesus taught us the source of true "blessedness," also translated as "happiness," in the Beatitudes:

1. Happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:3)
Jesus is offering to be at work in our lives:
Have you ever reached the end of your rope? That is exactly where God's kingdom can begin in our lives. Realizing that we have nothing to offer God positions us to receive what God is willing to do in us.

2. Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matt. 5:4)
Jesus is offering to save us from God's wrath:
Feeling bad about our sin is actually a good thing. The Holy Spirit evokes this in our lives, not to make us despondent and depressed, but to bring restoration. He wants us to realize that all we deserve is God's wrath. The Gospel truly becomes "good news" when we understand that Jesus allowed all of God's wrath to be poured out on Himself in our stead.

3. Happy are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matt. 5:5)
Jesus is offering to be our refuge in times of trouble:
Did you know that Jesus is quoting Psalm 37:11 here? In doing this, Jesus is echoing the psalmist's encouragement to trust that God will act on behalf of those who choose to delight in Him rather than fret. He promises to deliver, vindicate, establish and even exalt those who wait on Him.

4. Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matth. 5:6)
Jesus is offering to make us righteous:
Loving God for what He has done for us should make us desire to become more like Him. He satisfies this hunger in two ways: He clothes us with Christ's righteousness, and also changes us to become more like Him.

5. Happy are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (Matt. 5:7)
Jesus is offering forgiveness:
Our relationship with God is real if it has a direct influence on how we treat others. When we are willing to let go of grudges and resentment, forgiving those who have wronged us, God, in turn, extends His forgiveness, freeing us from guilt and protecting us from bitterness.

6. Happy are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matt. 5:8)
Jesus is offering us a relationship:
God is holy, absolutely pure, righteous and good. God's desire is to purify us so that we can intimately know Him who is infinitely holy.

7. Happy are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matt. 5:9)
Jesus is offering to use us in His kingdom:
Once we start relating to God as our Heavenly Father, our natural desire is for others to experience this peace with God.

8. Happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:10)
Jesus is offering for us to identify with Him in His sufferings:
Confessing our faith in Jesus will cause us to encounter pushback, but will also allow us to experience Jesus acknowledging us before the Father in heaven.

The Beatitudes could easily be misinterpreted as a ladder with eight rungs . Ironically, making it our goal to reach the top of this ladder would give us the illusion that this is something we can accomplish in our own strength, placing us back below the first rung. Jesus does not seek perfect performance, but desires for us to realize how much we really need Him. True happiness does not stem from our accomplishments, but from accepting what God is offering to do in us.

Monday, November 7, 2016

God Wants to Bless Your Socks Off!

This Sunday was the hungriest I have felt in a long time during a church service. You can probably guess what the sermon was on - FASTING - The abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. The harder I tried not to think about eating, the greater my desire for food became. Sounds familiar? Fasting is neither fun nor easy, but it is so worth it when we consider Jesus' awesome promise in Matthew 9:16+17: When questioned why his disciples didn't fast, Jesus explained that this was not the right time for them, yet. It would be like "new wine [being] put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved."

This implies that the disciples, before Christ's resurrection, were like old wineskins. They could not have handled the glory which God wanted to reveal to his children through fasting. They had to wait until they were made new creations in Christ in order to be ready for this 'new wine'. Unlike the disciples, we do not have to wait, because we were made new when we turned to Christ. Jesus' promise is for us! God wants to bless our socks off through fasting by revealing more and more of Himself to us. That is reason enough for me!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Stripped

Have you ever felt stripped of the things that define you? Most of us have experienced that sudden change of roles: we're laid off from work, move to another city, or become empty nesters. Change is painful!

This has been my experience over the past year. A lot of things in which I found my identity, were stripped away. A change of circumstances made homeschooling no longer feasible; almost simultaneously, my husband lost his job as a pastor, and to top things off, I experienced first-hand how destructive rumors can be. I had arrogantly thought that being a homeschooling pastor's wife defined who I am. It took God stripping me of these things, like a piece of clothing, to realize that these things don't really define us in the first place..

I believe this is also what happened to Joseph when he was stripped of his coat of many colors (Gen. 37:23). This robe was more than a piece of clothing to him. It defined Joseph as the favorite son, which in turn caused this son of Jacob to wrap himself in pride, arrogance, and self-reliance. In taking this coat, Joseph's brothers stripped him of everything he prided himself in: his role, his wealth, and his relationships. Later, he underwent more stripping, when he fled from Potiphar's wife, leaving his garment in her hands and his good reputation in ruins (Gen. 39:12).

God, in His mercy, brought Joseph to a place of complete abandonment from people and without any earthly resources to rely upon. "But God was with Joseph" (Gen 39:21). In the dungeon, Joseph was able to learn invaluable lessons from God. When he emerged, Joseph put on a new garment to stand before Pharaoh. First and foremost he clothed himself with humility, approaching Pharaoh with an "it is not in me" kind of attitude (Gen. 41:16). Joseph no longer defined himself by who he was and what he could do, but by who God is and what He can do.

In the same way, God taught me that my identity does not come from how well I perform as a wife or homeschool-mom, nor does it hinge on my reputation. What really defines and simultaneously frees me is the recognition that I am absolutely helpless without God. Apart from Him I can do nothing (John 15:5).

When we go through seasons of feeling completely stripped of the things that we thought defined us, God wants us to learn to find our value in Him.

"Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (1 Peter 5:5)