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


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)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Meeting God in the Mundane

Nothing beats the exhilaration of being used by God in extraordinary ways. The thrill of going to places where that Gospel was unknown and witnessing lives turn from darkness to light has been incomparably faith-boosting to me. While all of us are called to be Christ's witnesses, most of our lives, whether on the mission field or at home, are consumed with mundane chores, meeting every-day needs: washing clothes, wiping snotty noses, preparing food, helping with the homework - and tomorrow we get up and do it all over again.

The recognition from fellow believers that accompanies "doing something special for God" led me to believe that God is more pleased with me if I present a Bible to a nomadic clan in Turkey, or share the Gospel with Muslim girls in Central Asia, than if I live an ordinary life at home. If that were true, Paul would not have called believers to "aspire to live quietly , and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands." (1 Thess. 4:11) Paul underscores this again when he calls older women to "teach younger women to be keepers of the home." (Titus 2:5) He also recommends that the church support widows, whose lives are marked by a steadiness and faithfulness in everyday situations, namely child-rearing, hospitality and every good work (1 Tim. 5:10).

When my husband and I were part of a church-planting team in Berlin, Germany, every team member, at one time or another had what we called a "KLM-day". This meant that that we had come to the point when staying was so hard, we wanted to get on a KLM plane and fly home. What kept us going was not the obligation to a missions organization, but an obedience to God, trusting that He had put us right where He wanted us to be.

Even in my own home I have "KLM-days" sometimes. I get tired of having little time for myself, and feeling like I am constantly working to meet others' needs. What keeps me going is not only an obligation to my family, but an obedience to God who has put me right where He wants me to be.

Believing that God finds pleasure in our quiet lives enables us to see the daily work He has set before us as good, worthwhile and glorifying to Him. It means resting in the fact that God enjoys being with us in our everyday tasks and gives us the strength and joy to do what He has called us to do. Finding significance in our daily lives is all about recognizing this as part of our calling. Meeting God in the mundane can transform any chore into a worship experience.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Encountering the Holy Spirit

"The Holy Spirit must be really chaotic and scary," I decided as a young believer. In my quest to find out who the Holy Spirit was, my youth group leader directed me toward a charismatic church in town. "They will show you," he suggested ominously. That night I found myself in a church, radically different from any I had ever known. People were running, jumping, screaming and chanting in tongues up and down the aisles. A lady standing close by caught my wide-eyed, bewildered look. "This is the Holy Spirit's doing," she explained briefly. Her words was no comfort to me. If I had not been completely surrounded by this mayhem, I would have fled this scene as quickly as possible. Much later I understood that the Holy Spirit does endow Christians with gifts such as teaching, prophesy and tongues, but they are for the building up of the church. What I had experienced was the same chaos which the apostle Paul addressed in the early church when he asked, "If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?"  (1 Cor. 14:23)

Slightly intimidated, I continued my quest for knowing the Holy Spirit. A year later I spent Easter at Camp Obadiah in Australia. After an evening worship meeting I asked the main speaker for prayer, telling him that I desired more of God in my life. "What you want is the Holy Spirit," he clarified. "I will pray for you and then you will fall over immediately. Afterwards you will start speaking in tongues." This seemed like a proven method, when I watched this speaker pray for others. Now he started praying for me - nothing visible happened. Other leaders joined in - still nothing seemed to happen. "Stop resisting the Spirit," they urged. After half and hour, which seemed like an eternity, almost the entire camp had joined in praying. Finally they gave up, deciding I was too resistant to the work of the Holy Spirit. Really?! - If I could have conjured up in myself anything to force the Holy Spirit into action, I would have done so.

From that day on God has regularly given me prophetic visions. This has taught me that the Holy Spirit cannot be put into a box. He has no prescribed method and does what He wants. (John 3:3)
The Holy Spirit is nothing like I thought in those confusing beginnings. Yes, He is unpredictable like the wind, but He is not scary, because He does not act contrary to his own character. This becomes visible in the fruit He brings forth: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22)
It has been so worth overcoming my prejudice and fear for the sake of knowing Him.

"If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" (Luke 11:13)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

You are mine!

My thirteen-year-old son, Daniel, is Southern to the core. He is an accomplished hunter, an award-winning fisherman, and he knows how to hull sunflower seeds in his mouth - something I will probably never master! Recently he decided to give his mom an introduction to some of his favorite country songs. Contrary to my expectations I actually really enjoyed them. One song in particular strongly resonated with me. "He is Mine!" is what country singer Rodney Atkins declares about his teenage son, who comes running to him for safety. Despite the fact that his boy is on trouble with the neighbors for smoking and shooting beer bottles while trespassing on their property, the father embraces and claims him wholeheartedly. "He is mine," he proudly tells them and no action on his son's part could ever change this.

Through his song, this father gives us a perfect example of unconditional love, without condoning a single part of his boy's actions. Atkins clearly reflects the father-heart of God. God is speaking to his children in the same way when He says, "You are mine." (Is. 43:1b) Even when we get into trouble, He still claims us as His own. My propensity is to hide from God in shame when I have sinned against Him. Like Adam and Eve I doubt that He would still want to be with me. Instead, God longs to embrace us as we come running to Him, just as Rodney Atkins displayed in his song.

Nothing that we do can cause God to stop loving us. God claims us completely, not only when we are doing well. Sometimes it takes a Southern boy and his favorite country song for us to really grasp this truth!

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine." (Isaiah 43:1b)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Planned by God

I was unplanned. My accidental conception has become somewhat of a family joke; after all, how many times have you heard of a husband unintentionally bricking up his wife's birth-control pills into the bathroom wall? Without immediate access to a new supply of pills, my mother became pregnant soon after.

I was unwanted. The day I checked myself into an orphanage I felt completely unwanted. I had no person to turn to and could only appeal to the mercy of the social services system, which was obligated to furnish a minor with accommodation and nourishment.

At that point, I have no idea what possessed me to go to a pro-choice meeting. Curiosity perhaps. At any rate, I was late entering the conference room and all eyes turned on me when the door slammed shut behind me. Grasping the opportunity, I decided to address the main spokesperson by posing the question that troubled me: "What makes you so adamant that abortion is a good thing?" I asked rather bluntly. "Just consider the child," he challenged earnestly. "Imagine a child who was conceived by mistake, is unwanted and ends up living in an orphanage. Wouldn't we be doing the child a favor by not exposing it to such a miserable existence?"

"I am that child," I blurted out. "I was unplanned and unwanted and am living in an orphanage, but I am thankful to be alive. God planned my life, he made me and he desires me. That is all I want and need."

This group of abortionists was so dumbfounded by my reply, their meeting had to be postponed until further notice. One by one they silently left the conference room. What a glorious God we serve who "chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise... God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are." (1 Cor. 1:27-28)

Your own life, or the life you carry inside you, might have been neither planned nor desired by human standards, but you have a God who chose you before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), who knit you together in your mother's womb (Ps. 139:13) and who calls you His treasured possession (Dt. 7:6). He loves you so much that he is preparing a place to spend all eternity with you (Jn. 14:2).

Praise be to God who gives value and meaning to each living soul!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Discernment Training

Discernment is highly valued all over the world. From early childhood we are trained to discern by observation what is acceptable in our society. Moving from Europe to the U.S. I experienced a whole new paradigm of cultural expectations. I did not realize that the average American has a much greater wardrobe than people from other counties. It took me a while to discern why people started offering me hand-me-downs after I had worn my "church-dress" on four consecutive Sundays. My lack of cultural awareness made these kind Christians assume that I was too poor to purchase sufficient clothing to wear a different attire each week.

Discerning cultural cues is important for functioning as part of a society, but in this day-in-age our discernment must go beyond the superficial. This time of rapidly shifting values calls for an increased measure of spiritual discernment. This discernment is marked by the maturity of the Christian to know and act upon God's will so that the believer is not tossed to and fro by the waves of human cunning and deceitful schemes (Eph. 4:12)

Almost daily I find myself in the position of seeking to discern God's will: Interpersonally, I wonder how to advise a friend whose marriage is marked by her husband's hostility towards her faith. Politically, I ask myself how to respond to the current gender issues. In child-training I think about the implications of  exposing my kids to stories about friendly dragons, if the Bible is explicit about identifying Satan himself as the dragon.

We need to be able to discern between good and evil in order to know what pleases God and also to expose unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:10), to approve what is excellent (Phil 1:9), and to live according to God's will (Rom. 12:2). But how can we attain discernment?

1. Ask God
It pleased God to endow Solomon with discernment when he asked selflessly (1. Kings 3:9). In the same way we can ask God who transforms us by the renewal of our minds (Rom 12:2). The Holy Spirit will also teach us if we are willing and will guide us to understand that which we already possess, namely Christ in us.

2. Know God
Increasingly grasping this mystery of Christ in us, the hope of glory, is what leads us to maturity according to Col. 1:28. Since Christ lives in us, our hope is set on the glory that awaits us. We will know Him fully (1. Cor. 13:12) and be like Him (1. Cor. 15:51). This transformation begins here and now as we increase our desire to know Him and to follow Him. Christ in us also strengthens us to accomplish this (Phil. 4:13). In Eph. 4:12 Paul emphasizes that our knowledge of Christ is in direct correlation to our maturity of faith. Here maturity is explained as knowing Christ so well that we start looking like Him. Therefore discerning His will results from walking in His footsteps.

3. Know God's Word
The more skilled we are in the word of righteousness, the more easily we will be able to distinguish good from evil (Hebr. 5:14). The word of God discerns the thoughts and actions of the heart (Hebr. 4:12). Knowing, understanding and putting God's word into practice will enable us to discern whether our thoughts and desires match up with God's.

This can seem like an overwhelming task! We need to keep in mind that discernment is not attained overnight but is something we are trained to possess by constant practice in distinguishing good from evil (Hebr. 5:14).

It is my prayer "that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God"(Col. 4:12) and "that your love may abound more and more with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ... to the praise of God." (Phil. 1:9)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Tattletale Siblings

Do you know the seven things God hates? They are listed in Proverbs 6:16-19. According to Proverbs 6, the things God hates are pride, lying, murder, evil thoughts, evil deeds, giving false witness, and sowing discord among brothers.

The last point, sowing discord, really surprised my kids, taking them completely off guard. Did God really detest a person who sows discord among his brothers as much as a murderer? This one hit close to home, because lately the kids have gotten into the habit of "telling" on each other, saying things like, "Look, Paul, Toria is reading your book. She will probably lose the place you marked," or, "Hanna, do you know that Mercy is touching your play-dough?"

Even in families with just two children, one child can sow discord with his sibling by tattling. In going to a parent rather than addressing his brother or sister directly, he is causing a rift in the relationship.

The motivation of the tattler is neither to help the one sibling to do the right thing, nor is it to protect the property of the other, but rather to sow discord, to see the anger flare up in the other's eye. His heart attitude is mercilessness and a desire to look good at someone else's expense.

Reading that God hates a tattler was an eye-opener to my kids. Over the next few days, it was beautiful to watch a real change come over them. Whenever they did fall back into the old habit of tattling, they would often stop themselves in order to please God.

This verse was not just a wake-up-call for my children; it also challenged me to diligently train them. As parents, we play a huge role in what kind of atmosphere pervades the home, by allowing certain behaviors in our children. I had been letting my kids get away with tattling, which created an atmosphere of animosity. Instead, I now encourage them to lovingly correct their sibling rather than tattling on them. I also ask the tattler questions such as, "Was it kind, helpful, or necessary to point this out to others?"

It makes me smile to overhear my son, Daniel, say, "David, Mama says we shouldn't eat anything so close to supper. Let's put the food away before she notices." Daniel's actions have won him a friend, rather than causing a rift in their relationship by tattling. These brothers have grown closer together. I am sure that makes God smile, too.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

All Things

I have a confession to make: I am absolutely horrible at remembering people's faces.  This has gotten me into trouble more than once. A few years ago I spent a week with my friend Susie in North Carolina. On Sunday we attended church together. That same evening a surprise visitor stopped by to see Susie's family. I readily extended my hand to greet him. "You look familiar," I noted, "have we met before?"
"I can tell my sermon from this morning did not leave a great impression on you!" her pastor replied. Talk about embarrassing!

Another time I enthusiastically approached an unfamiliar-looking lady at my home church. Desiring to make her feel welcome, I asked whether this was her first visit. "You have already greeted me two other times in this way," she retorted huskily. I am relieved that she continued to come to our church in spite of my poor recognition skills.

Well, yesterday it happened again. During an end-of-year school program I paid close attention to all the teachers' mannerisms and words in order to ascertain who I would prefer to have as a teacher for my daughter, Toria, during the next school year. One teacher stood out as an extremely sweet lady, whom her pupils hugged often and who mentioned teaching Vacation Bible School. Unfortunately, her name was never mentioned, and, going by my visual memory of her face, I ended up requesting a similar-looking teacher, whom I knew nothing about.

That night I lay awake in bed, upset about this mishap. "What if my daughter gets a terrible teacher and it is all my fault?" I worried. As I was pleading for God to redeem this situation, He spoke to me comfortingly, "Child, this is what I had planned all along. Toria is exactly where I want her to be. Remember, I am sovereign."

There is peace in knowing that in all things, especially in our weaknesses and limitations, God works for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). His counsel shall stand, and He will accomplish all His purpose (Isaiah 46:10). It cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2). For He will complete what he appoints for us (Job 23:14).

Our personal limitations serve as a constant reminder that we are completely dependent upon God. Even as we strive to serve Him to the best of out abilities, we can rest in the fact that His grace is sufficient for us; for God's power is made perfect in weakness (2. Cor 12:9).

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Learning Repentance

None of us like being rebuked, but how we react to rebuke says a lot about what we believe about God and ourselves. Last year my pastor had to confront me for not handling a disagreement in a biblical manner. The rebuke was well deserved and his goal was restoration, not condemnation. Recognizing this and seeing his love for the church made it easier for me to repent and seek reconciliation.

The Bible tells us about two kings who were rightfully rebuked. Comparing their stories helps us to avoid pitfalls and to respond wisely when we need to repent.

The first king I would like to examine is Saul, who unlawfully offered a burnt offering because the people were scattering from him (1 Sam. 13:10). Pleasing his people was more important to him than obeying God's word. The prophet Samuel rebuked Saul by saying, "You have done foolishly ... Your kingdom shall not continue." (1 Sam. 13:13-14) Saul reacted pridefully. Rather than seeking God's glory, he set up a monument for himself (1 Sam. 15:12) and continued in sinful disobedience, so that Samuel had to confront him a second time: "Why did you not obey the voice of the Lord?" (1 Sam. 15:19). Still, Saul remained obstinate, not wanting to own up to his wrongdoing. "I have obeyed", he lied. To Saul, saving face was more important than being repentant: "I feared the people and obeyed their voice (15:24). "I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders," he demanded. (1 Sam. 15:30)

Saul had always been a hider. When the people wanted to make him king, he had "hidden himself among the baggage." (1 Sam 10:22)  Now, just like Adam and Eve had done, he hid himself "from the presence of the Lord God" (Gen. 3:8) when he was called to be accountable for his actions.
Saul remained in a posture of pride, people pleasing and hiding from God for the rest of his life. Therefore "the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him." (1 Sam. 16:14)

Now let's look at King David, a man who knew God intimately and practiced seeking God's glory above his own. In contrast to Saul, who erected a monument to himself, David desired to build a temple for the Lord. When he came under discipline, David responded in a God-fearing, humble manner. "The Lord sent Nathan to David, He came to him and said to him ... 'Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife'" (2 Sam. 12:1, 9). David immediately repented and confessed: "I have sinned against the Lord" (2. Sam. 12:13). His relationship with God was restored: "I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover my iniquity; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord', and you forgave the iniquity of my sin" (Ps. 32:5). Instead of inheriting Saul's harmful spirit, David asked God to "renew a right spirit within" him (Ps. 51:10). He learned that "the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit" (Ps. 51:17), not the self-serving sacrifices of Saul.

The three postures and underlying lies that kept Saul from reacting with humility, as his successor David did, are the same that many times hinder us from running to God. We can learn to identify the lies that keep us captive and replace them with the truth.
1. Fear of man vs. Fear of God
       Lie: It is my job to make everyone happy.
       Truth: If I am still trying to please man, I cannot please God.
       Lie: My value depends on what others think of me.
       Truth: God gives my life value.

2. Pride vs. Humility
       Lie: God is not concerned with my best interest.
       Truth: I can completely trust that God's way is the best for me.

       Lie: My goal in life is to achieve fame and riches.        
       Truth: My goal is to glorify God with my life.

       Lie: God does not have a special plan for my life.        
       Truth: God has a special plan for my life.

3. Hiding vs. Living in God's light
       Lie: God does not really love me.                        
       Truth: God loves me and nothing I do will change that.

       Lie: God likes to make me feel bad about my sins because He does not want me
               to be happy.
       Truth: God wants me to feel bad about my sins so that I will repent and have a                                       restored relationship with Him.
       Lie: God cannot redeem all the bad things in my life.    
       Truth: God can and will redeem everything for my good and His glory.                                    

Because David believed that God is who He says He is, Satan's lies did not stand a chance with him. And like this "man after God's own heart," when we replace Satan's lies with God's truth, we will run to Him who can "create in us a clean heart" and "restore unto us the joy of His salvation" (Ps. 51:12).

Sunday, May 22, 2016

It is not About Being Impressive

"What was to be the value of the long looked forward to ... wisdom of age? Had they deceived us or deceived themselves?" These are questions posed by author T.S. Eliot in "The Four Quartets," as he expresses his disappointment over the realization that old age does not necessarily bring wisdom and is not automatically bestowed upon us with the advent of grey hair.

In fact, the Bible instructs people of any age to actively hunt for wisdom. In the book of Proverbs we are urged to call out for insight (2:3) and to seek it like silver (2:4). God promises to reward those who pursue wisdom and He generously bestows it on those who ask (James 1:5).

But what is wisdom?
While the world looks for impressive words and the display of one's greatness through riches, titles and positions, this kind of "wisdom" is folly with God (1 Cor. 3:19), because it is fading and has no eternal value. Rather than being measured by our mental capacities and verbal capabilities, Biblical wisdom is reflected in our behavior, what we do on a day-to-day basis. This is most clearly stated in Deuteronomy 4:46, which says that keeping God's rules and statutes is our wisdom.

This truth is also expressed throughout the book of Proverbs. Here, wisdom is described as being disciplined; working hard and then honoring God with one's earnings by tithing and giving alms; staying debt-free (3:9); and protecting the weak and less fortunate. It includes learning contentment, rather than being eaten up with envy (3:31), humbly remembering that God made us and everything that we are blessed with (3:21). Humility is a central theme, as the wise willingly accept discipline from the Lord and reproof from man (3:11). Proverbs also echoes the Ten Commandments by revealing the wise person as truthful (4:24), faithful (6:32) and a blessing to his neighbor (3:25).

God's agenda is completely opposite to that of those who are wise in their own eyes. While the worldly wise desire to flaunt their own greatness, followers of Christ who value Godly wisdom are to pray for a spirit of wisdom that we may know the hope, the riches and greatness of God (Eph. 1:17). God is looking for humble hearts and actions that reflect His character through understanding His riches and greatness. It is not about being impressive, but about being impressed by God.

T.S. Eliot came to the same conclusion in his poem, "The Four Quartets": "Do not let me hear of the wisdom of old men... The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless."

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Call to Sacrificial Love

"I feel sorry for everyone who is married." These words of mine as a teenager were not a lopsided endorsement for the gift of celibacy, but born out of disappointment and hurt from having encountered so many broken marriages. I also liked making decisions for myself and 1 Cor. 7:4 seemed like a daunting thought to me: "For the wife does not have authority over her body but her husband does." (ESV)

"My future husband should have authority over my body?!" I questioned. "What if he chooses to be harsh and unkind?"

So how on earth did I ever get married? First, I had to make an active choice to believe that God's plan in marriage is good, instead of giving way to fear. Repeatedly during our engagement, my fiancee patiently reminded me that we were "first generation" -- the first believers on both sides of our family. God had made a difference in our lives and He would make a difference in our marriage, also.

Today, 18 years later, 1 Cor. 7:4 is not scary to me anymore. Rather than reading into this verse a license for selfishness, I have come to realize that Paul means quite the opposite. The New International Version (NIV) translates it this way: "The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband." This is actually a beautiful invitation for the husband to love sacrificially. Beyond the husband's calling in Eph. 5.8 to love his wife as his own body, he is even to consider her body his own. He naturally looks out for his own physical needs for nourishment, rest, covering, shelter, comfort, and protection and would never dream of unnecessarily inflicting pain on his own body. So in giving myself to my husband I can assume that he will love my physical body as his own, looking out for my best interests.

God is concerned about our everyday lives, which makes the Bible wonderfully practical. The context of this verse is focused on our human sexuality with it's God-given drives and desires. By putting 1. Cor 7:4 into practice, we shore up our marriages against abuse on one side and neglect on the other. This verse calls us to love sacrificially and selflessly; a misinterpretation could lead to unbiblical domination or abuse, but any such misunderstanding of Paul's message should be dismissed. This is especially true since the Bible verse goes both ways: "In the same way the husband's body does not belong to him alone, but also to his wife." (1. Cor 7:4 NIV) As a wife, I am also to love my husband by longing to meet his needs, considering his body my own.

When confronted with our own human weakness in fulfilling this call to sacrificial love, we need to look to Christ for strength, just like my husband reminded his fearful fiancee many years ago: "God makes a difference."

"I can do all things through Him who gives me strength." (Phil. 4:13)

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Train up a Child

When my husband and I started dating, we decided to alternate languages, speaking English one day and German the next. "This will be great! J. can help me with my English, while I can serve him in working on his German," ... or so I thought. Little did I know that my boyfriend had studied every minute detail of the German language, making him willing and able to correct me in my native tongue. What a blow to my pride! It took me a while to appreciate his grammatical abilities. Now I see that my husband studies the language usage in the Bible with that same intensity and sees details that others may overlook.

Proverbs 22:6 is a clear example of this: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." This sounds like an amazing formula to success, promising that faithful training automatically produces godly offspring. Oftentimes it does, but experience shows that even children from Christian homes, who have enjoyed the best training, sometimes choose to walk away from faith in Jesus Christ. Their parents feel shattered, having put their hope in the Biblical promise of Proverbs 22:6. They ask in disbelief, "What happened? This is not the way it's supposed to be!" After the initial shock, guilt sets in. Any failure of the child to adhere to Biblical standards is laid at the parents' feet. "Their training must have not been good enough," we assume. This Bible verse becomes a source of heartache and disappointment for many.

This is where my husband's love for grammar is helpful. J. was able to explain to me that because "the way" and "child" both share the masculine gender in the Hebrew language, a different translation  of Proverbs 22:6 is grammatically possible and would read this way: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old it will not depart from him."

Is this rendering of verse plausible? Let's take a look ...
First, the Bible repeatedly emphasizes that it is possible for a child to reject the instruction of his parents. The Bible offers no guarantees that our children will always walk in the prescribed path. This alternate translation of Proverbs 22:6 seems to line up with that reality. If we go with the more popular rendering of the verse, it would seem to be in conflict with other Scriptures.
Second, we can find more examples in Scripture of things departing from people than people departing from things. For example, the Word talks about the scepter not departing from Judah (Gen. 49:6), and strength departing from Samson (Judges 16:19). Our alternate translation is consistent with this pattern, as it says God's truth will not depart from a child trained up in it.

Convinced that this translation is possible and probable, let's now draw encouragement from this verse. The self-condemnation under which some parents have lived for many years has lost its grip. No longer can a poor choice made by a son or daughter of Christian parents be understood as lack of training. This new rendering of the verse promises that "the way" which has been imparted to the children of Christian parents remains as a living voice, continuing to call them for the rest of their lives. This is a message of hope rather than heartache for those whose children seem to have fallen away.

Parents, let's respond to the charge to train up the children who are in our care, and pray for those who have chosen not to live by the Biblical truths they were taught. Take heart in the knowledge that "the way" remains in them, serving as a constant reminder of the truth and calling them to a relationship with God. May they listen and ignore it no longer.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Comfort My People

Death is one of those taboo topics in our culture. It is intimidating to witness the suffering which grief brings about, because we don't know how to respond and we realize that we do not have any answers. This makes us feel helpless and uncomfortable. Understanding grief will aid us in learning how to provide comfort for the grieving. The Old Testament figure, Job, knew grief intimately after loosing his children, property and health overnight. His experience gives a clear picture of what a grief-stricken person is going through:

1. Lack of appetite: "My appetite refuses." (Job 6:7)
2. Lack of sleep: "The night is long and I am full of tossing till the dawn." (Job 7:4)
3. Hopelessness: "My eye will never again see good." (Job 7:7)
4. Desire for one's own death: "I loathe my life." (Job 9:2)
5. Exhaustion: "God has worn me out!" (Job 16:7)
6. Tunnel vision: "...he feels only the pain of his own body, and he mourns only for himself." (Job 14:22)

All these thoughts and emotions were very familiar to me in the years following our daughter Ani's death. Many wonderful friends recognized this and tried to help in any way they could. They made meals, took care of the kids, folded clothes and even cleaned the kitchen for the funeral reception. Their loving-kindness was truly overwhelming and appreciated.

Job also had some amazing friends. We usually don't acknowledge their extraordinary faithfulness and only see their heartless accusations, but these three men sat beside Job for an entire week without uttering a single word. Unlike his companions' initial response, in an attempt to comfort, our most common reaction is to speak too much and give answers which only seem insulting. Later-on, Job was given his share of platitudes and responded to his friends by asking: "How then will you comfort with empty nothings?" (Job 21:34) He sarcastically praises them with the words: "How you have helped him who has no power!" (Job 26:2) There were times when I was tempted to respond in a similar manner to "empty nothings" such as: "God needed another rose in His garden", "God wanted another angel in heaven", or "God has saved you child from growing up in sin." Human attempts to provide explanations ring hollow and therefore never bring relief. There are ways to bring comfort through the words we say, such as: "I am so sorry!", "I am grieving with you.", "I am praying for you." These simple statements bring reassurance that one is not grieving alone.

What a grieving person wants most is the comfort of your presence and a listening ear. Job expressed this well when he made the following requests: "Oh that you would keep silent!" (Job 13:5), "Let me have silence, and I will speak." (Job 13:13), "Keep listening to my words and let this be your comfort. Bear with me and I will speak." (Job 21:2+3)

Ultimately, though we need to be aware that we will only be able to provide relief to a certain degree. Recognizing that "God is the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction" (2. Cor. 1:3), we realize that only He can provide the supernatural peace, lasting encouragement and constant presence needed in this situation. One way we can help direct a grieving person to God is by offering to pray for them. There were times when my grief was so heavy that I would cry for hours. That is when I would pick up the phone and call my friend, Kim, who was always ready to pray for me. In these situations we sometimes need others to believe for us, by speaking out truths about God and ourselves. That is exactly what Kim did for me so that eventually I could echo Job, not only in his laments, but also in his deepened relationship with God, saying: "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;" (Job 42:5)

Let us aim to be a true comfort to the grieving through acts of kindness, reassuring words, a listening ear, and a readiness to pray.

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God." (Isaiah 40:1)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Royal Mothers

Genealogies seem so boring that I often skip them altogether when reading through an Old Testament book. Today I want to provide you with a good reason to pause at the introduction of each King of Israel and Judah. There is an intriguing pattern in the way most OT kings are introduced. After their name and heritage is given, their mother's name is also provided. Immediately after her mention comes the verdict whether this king was good or evil in the sight of the Lord. I believe this is no coincidence but rather the summation of the mother's influence on her son's life.
"Amaziah...began to reign. His mother's name was Jeoaddin of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord." (2.Kings 14:1-3)
For other good kings and their mothers, see Jehosaphat (1.Kings 22:42+43), Azariah (2.Kings 15:1-3) Pekah (2.Kings 15:32-34), Hezekiah (2.Kings 18:1-3), and Josiah (2.Kings 22:1+2).

Jehoiachin... became king. His mother's name was Nehushta. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord." (2.Kings 24:8-9)
For other evil kings and their mothers, see Abijam (1.Kings 15:1-3), Manasseh (2.Kings 21:1-2), Amon (2.Kings 21:19-20), Jehoahaz (2.Kings 23:31-32), Jehoiakim (2.Kings 23:36-37), and Zedekiah (2.Kings 24:18-19).

It seems clear that the way these mothers raised their sons had a direct impact on the kind of king these boys turned out to be. If you are ever in doubt about your role of training your child up in godliness, turn to 1. and 2. Kings. These genealogies serve as an encouragement and exhortation to us mothers. Of course there are exceptions as seen in 1.Kings 15:9-13 where the good king Asa had an idol-worshiping mom. Generally speaking, though, it is obvious that we as mothers have a great impact on the spiritual inclinations of our children.

This is not written to discredit the role of the father, but to encourage mothers and grandmothers to do all they can to raise godly offspring. Ideally this should be a team effort, but even if you find yourself in a situation where the father is not present or shows little spiritual interest, it is your calling, mother, to teach your child God's ways, "talking of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." (Deut. 6:7)

It is easy to become overwhelmed by the responsibility we bear. One simple way to weave spiritual instruction into our days is to have family devotions. Getting started is often the biggest hurdle, so I would like to give you three pointers:

1. Choose a time that suits everyone.
In order to make it a habit, it is good to set a regular time for family devotions. When to get together depends on your preference and practicality. When our kids were younger we used to have family devotions at night before tucking the kids in bed. Today our kids have differing bedtimes according to their ages, which makes it more practical to have devotions right after supper, when everyone is still gathered around the table.

2. Choose a devotional.
Of course you can read straight our of you regular Bible and explain the passage to your children, but there are also some great materials out there for kids. To narrow down the choices to a manageable amount I would like to give you a list of our family favorites.
Preschool Age:
- Pray and Play Bible I & II, Group Publishing Inc. (14 chapters each)
- ABC Bible Verses, by Susan Hunt (26 chapters)
Lower Primary:
- Big Truths for Little Kids, teaching your children to live for God, by Susan and Richie Hunt (36 chapters)
- The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones (44 chapters)
- Discovering Jesus in Genesis, by Susan Hunt and Richie Hunt (36 chapters)
- Discovering Jesus in Exodus, by Susan and Richie Hunt (36 chapters)
- Sammy and His Shepherd, seeing Jesus in Psalm 23, by Susan Hunt (11 chapters)
- Wisdom and the Millers, Proverbs for children, by Mildred Martin (25 chapters)
- School Days with the Millers, by Mildred Martin (24 chapters
- Story-time with the Millers, by Mildred Martin (12 chapters)

3. Keep it simple.
- Read the devotional or Bible passage.
- Give the kids the opportunity to ask questions or comment. The devotionals by Susan Hunt provide the parent with discussion questions.
- Talk about prayer requests.
- Pray, giving each family member the freedom to join in.
- We end our time by praying the Lord's Prayer, together.

May we be like the royal mothers, whose sons did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Like a Nursed Child

Psalm 131
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high.
I do not occupy myself with things 
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul
like a child who has just been nursed, with its mother;
like a nursed child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.

Does my version of this psalm seem surprising? Yes, your translation most likely says, "weaned child" - but did you know that "a child who has just been nursed" is much closer to the original Hebrew?

Having nursed seven babies, I find it easy to visualize this scene. The psalm portrays a picture of a baby that is completely satisfied, relaxed, and at peace. The baby's hunger for milk has been stilled, it has enjoyed the feeling of being held closely, and is now drowsily and contentedly lying in its mother's arms. The baby feels loved and has not a worry in the world.

This is exactly what God desires for us in His presence. So often we call God "our Father," and rightly so, but God also created woman in his image. He wants to be our El Shaddai, our All Sufficient One. Literally translated, El Shaddai means the "Many Breasted One." He wants to nourish us and satisfy our needs just like a mother feeding her baby: "Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river... you shall nurse... As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you;" (Isaiah 66:12+13)
Psalm 131 is a beautiful reminder that God is not a taskmaster but instead longs for us to be completely satisfied in Him. God is willing and able to bless us in this way, but we are required to play an active role. We are to learn to calm and quiet our souls.

When I nursed my children, there were some rare times when they refused to drink. I could have milk in abundance, but if they chose not to drink, they not only missed out on being filled, they also forfeited the comfort and peace nursing affords. In the same way, God does not force Himself upon us.

So, before we can rest in His presence, we must make an active decision to strive for that which is pure, letting go of all else. "So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow into salvation - if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good." (1 Peter 2:11+12) Peter is presenting the believer with a choice: feeding on corruption and self-absorption or hungering for the things of God. In the same way the psalmist reminds us that he has had to choose between the worries and ambitions of this world, or setting his hope in the Lord, who promises to take care of our every need both today and every day to come.

Once we have chosen to lift up the Lord and find comfort in His greatness, let us drink!
Nursing takes a great deal of energy, time and attention for babies. They are rarely content with little sips. My newborns usually spent 30 minutes nursing, eight times a day. (While I learned to multitask!) When I looked down on each of my sweet babies, so intent and eager to fill themselves with wholesome milk, I often prayed, "Lord, make me always long for you and your ways like this baby is longing for milk." Practically speaking, this means taking the time and effort to set our focus on the Lord through prayer and meditation on his Word. We then learn to see ourselves through His eyes, which takes away our sinful desire to look good for others by means of slander and deceit. Longing for "pure milk" also entails deciding to believe God's promises instead of the worries which threaten to overpower us. Sometimes it even means wrestling with a difficult question until we come to the point of saying, "It is all yours, Lord. Your ways are perfect and good."

Then, and only then will we know by experience how the psalmist felt when he wrote this psalm. Then our soul will be like a nursed child.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Out of Season

"You are a fanatic!" Alexandra yelled, towering over me and pointing her index finger right into my face. Five-hundred pairs of eyes were focused on us, wondering how this drama would unfold, as she just turned away angrily and stomped out of the packed university dining hall.

In an attempt to share my faith with fellow students I had made it a habit to sit beside someone else for each meal. My strategy was to involve my peers into conversations in order to find out what their questions in life were. Then I would present Jesus as the answer. This time it definitely did not go over too well. Should I stop?

The Apostle Paul challenges us in 2.Tim 4:2 to preach the word and to be ready in season and out of season. What does it mean to preach the word out of season? My family enjoys eating many kinds of fruit, pomegranates being one of our favorites. When pomegranates are in season, this fruit is readily available in most grocery stores. Since they are out of season right now, you can search the produce aisle as hard as you want, you will have to wait for the next harvest to ripen. This principle is also true in evangelism. when we preach the word out of season no immediate fruit is to be expected. The time for a person to respond might not have come, yet - at least not in a positive manner...

I have countless examples of having shared the gospel "out of season". If God had used my efforts regularly to bring about instant fruit, I probably would have proudly published an instructional manual for you to imitate my method. Instead, let me share with you my most devastating "out of season" experience:

During my junior year I applied to the Gideons to come and distribute Bibles at my high-school. Responding to this invitation they came early one morning and gave each student a green German New Testament. I had eagerly anticipated this day and was greatly encouraged to have these fellow believers join me on my mission field. Unfortunately the other students did not share my enthusiasm. As I walked into my classroom I was taken aback to see a big tower of Bibles stacked on my desk. "We know this was your doing", one classmate mocked, "and we want nothing to do with it!" Two boys decided not to add their Bibles to the pile. Instead they they demonstratively stood in front of me, tearing up their N.T.s, one page at a time. This day, which had started so marvelously, had turned sour rapidly. All day I looked at my Bible stack, knowing that it was not me, but the Lord they were rejecting. At the end of the school-day I began gloomily piling all the New Testaments into my book-bag, when suddenly a hand reached over and grabbed one. "You never know, I might have need of it one day", Friebel decided. I have no idea whether this young man ever opened his Bible and found the treasures inside - I pray that his season will come.

Do you remember the girl in the dining hall? Following her angry criticism, Alexandra's season came surprisingly soon. Two weeks after the explosive episode I had the privilege of praying with Alexandra as she and I knelt down together in my apartment.

When sharing the gospel, we are not responsible for the outcome. Our only charge is to obey God's call to tell people the Good News, even when it proves to be "out of season". The rest is up to the Lord, who does not let his word return void, but lets it accomplish its purpose. (Is. 55:11)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Out of the Mud and Mire

"I feel as if you have thrown me into the mud!" Car rides are often times when I can be "alone with God", even with six kids in tow. On this trip to the library I brought my complaint before Him.

For the past two years I had enjoyed the wonderful fellowship and support of a local congregation called New Covenant (NC). Going to church was my greatest joy. Each Monday I started counting down the days until the next Sunday. Suddenly God removed all this as my husband announced one day, "Next week will be our last service at NC. I have taken on the pastorate of another church in town." I was surprised by the depth of grief this news evoked. In fact I cried every day for seven months straight.

Don't get me wrong - there were some wonderful people at this church, but this congregation was made up of 6 - 15 attendees, most of whom were well past retirement age. With a brand-new baby, a two-year-old and a four-year-old, as well as three older kids, I usually did not last long in the service. Squirms or colic quickly got the best of the little ones and we spent most of our church time in the unheated Smurf-blue nursery. I felt abandoned, even worse, cast out by God from the Christian fellowship I longed for. In my sadness I tried to focus on the Lord, pleading with Jesus to help me through this lonely time. I did not realize how often I just cried out, "Jesus!" until my two-year-old started mimicking me.

So here I was on the way to the library, feeling like I was sinking deeper into the mud. On arriving, Ashley, a friend who had recently moved back from California, greeted me excitedly, "I just found the most wonderful church: when you walk in, you immediately know you are home - it is called New Covenant." My church! "Lord," I prayed between gritted teeth, "You are rubbing that mud in my face, now! Please give me some kind of encouragement."

Little did I know that God was already graciously answering this plea: Four days later a lady from NC delivered a prayer blanket which another church member had made for me. This kind sister had not only crafted this blanket, but had also prayed for me while she was knitting. More meaningful, even, than the blanket was the accompanying card which read, "Sometimes flowers have to work their way through a lot of mud to find the sun." God had heard my grumblings and he had answered! He saw that I was deep in  the mud and gave me hope that I wouldn't be there forever.

So, does God throw us into the mud? Job certainly thought so when he moaned, "God has cast me into the mire!" (Job 30:19) But Job also realized that God is at work, even when we feel abandoned: "on the left hand, when He is working, I do not behold Him; He turns to the right hand, but I do not see Him. " (Job 23:9) Job knew that God would bring good from his suffering, "He knows the way that I take, when He has tried me I shall come out as gold." (Job 23:10)

God definitely used this situation in my life and was hard at work during a season when I assumed that He just did not care. My heavenly father would never send me away like my earthly father did (see my post from Dec. 2015: "God pierced the darkness on Christmas"). God brought me to a place where I felt cast out by Him in order lead me to the truth: "whoever comes to me I will never cast out." (John 6:37b) I realized that my circumstances were not the mud, but rather the lies I believed about God. In learning to trust in His goodness, this flower had found the sun!

"I waited patiently for the Lord, he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire. He set my feet on the rock, gave me a firm place to stand." (Ps. 40:1-4)   

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Loving the Cockroach

Hanna, my four-year-old, attempts to turn any creature into a pet. Today, stooping down protectively over a glass jar containing a ladybug, Hanna taught her two-year-old sister, Mercy, how to take good care of her very own insect: "It needs to sleep now," she explained knowingly, covering the jar with a dish towel and cooing Brahms' lullaby.

The world abounds with pets in the eyes of my kids. Last Sunday my children decided that crawfish make perfect pets. Scooping them skillfully out of a local creek they gathered 23 of those wet, creeping, nipping crustaceans. Kate, our favorite neighbor girl, felt so lucky to get to take them all home. Unlike me, her amazing mom allows a multitude of pets.

Another fine pet is the cockroach, at least according to Hanna who cried bitterly when I squished her potential pet during our last summer vacation. "I just wanted to love it and take care of it," she mourned.

What is it that gives kids such a strong desire to have animals of their own? Genesis 1:26 clues us in to Hanna's desires and feelings: "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion... over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'"
Looking at Hanna helps me understand more of what God is like, because God created her in His image, after His likeness. One major way she reflects His image is by having dominion over every creeping thing. While I always associated dominion with domination, ruling over someone to the advantage of the ruler, Hanna's desire to make a cockroach feel loved and secure makes the true meaning of dominion come to life. This, in turn, reveals God's heart towards us.

In our sin we are as unappealing to God as a cockroach, yet he chooses to stoop down to provide for and protect us. Unlike Hanna and her ladybug He knows exactly what we need, namely to know Him, to walk with Him and to trust Him for our every need. This has only been made possible through His forgiveness of our sins by sacrificing His only son. His level of provision goes beyond my ability to comprehend.

This fresh understanding of dominion through the eyes of a little girl gives me such comfort as it shows that His rule is to our benefit and that His love is completely unconditional. Therefore we can rejoice that "his dominion is an everlasting dominion." (Dan. 4:34)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

God is Greater Than our Emotions

Have you ever heard a sermon on Job? If so, it was probably an exhortation to emulate Job's submissive and worshipful attitude in the midst of loss and suffering. While Job's initial response to his catastrophic experiences is honorable and praiseworthy, if this were all we could glean from this Old Testament book, reading chapter one would completely suffice, rendering the following 41 chapters superfluous. In doing so we would miss the raw emotions Job experiences throughout the rest of the book. He feels angry at God and he unashamedly approaches God with his accusations. Job feels like God has made him His mark (7:20), firing arrows through him (6:4) hitting him with a rod (9:34) and throwing him into the mud (Job 30:14). He accuses God of contending against him (10:2), oppressing and despising him (10:3) and destroying all hope (14:19). Job even has the gall to call God his accuser (9:15), a title usually reserved for Satan. Doesn't it then seem surprising that, in God's eyes, Job never sinned in what he said (42:7-9)?

After Ani's death I felt angry at God for taking my precious daughter. I thought I was wrong for feeling this way and my perceived guilt kept me from approaching God. When I could stand this tension no longer, I confided in a professional grief counselor. Dr. Robert Bell explained to me that only once in his entire career had he encountered a grieving parent who did not have feelings of anger towards God. While it was a comfort to me that I was not alone in this dilemma, I wondered what a spiritual saint this one parent must have been. Dr. Bell totally surprised me as he provided the eye-opening reason behind this exception: This parent was an atheist. She could impossibly accuse a God she did not believe in.

In understanding that anger toward God is a natural response, and in reading the book of Job, I learned once again that God is much bigger than I had thought. God is not weak. He is not fearful that his name would be marred by our negative thoughts or emotions towards Him. We are permitted to come to Him and bring our complaints. He allows us to beat against His chest and scream in rage. He can take it! Moreover He already knows how we feel and what we are thinking. He does not reject us but desires to gather us in His arms, showing us that He is for us and with us, even when we do not understand, even if we are angry at him.

This made me fall in love with the God of Job. If we skip over Job's painfully raw emotions towards God, we miss knowing that it is O.K to be absolutely real with Him. God is greater, even than our emotions.

"Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything." (1 John 3:30)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

O Death Where Is Your Victory?

In June 2006 our beloved firstborn daughter, Anita, suffocated on a baby blanket. She was exactly 100 days old when I found her lifeless form in the crib. Ani's short life had been so full of vibrant health and marked by her joyous curiosity, that her sudden death came as a complete shock. In spite of the indescribable pain of losing this precious girl, I am grateful for the privilege of sharing the brief time we had together.

Dear Ani,
My sweet daughter. I miss you! My arms ached with emptiness when you left. Your short life seemed over all too soon. Gladly would I have taken your place. I grieved what was and is no longer. Your contagious smile would brighten up the day for everyone around. Each time you awoke, you would start grinning from ear to ear, causing your pacifier to plop out of your mouth. On our last day together you even learned to laugh out loud. What a beautiful sound that was! I also loved to hear your happy babbling voice as you watched your brothers play. I savored the calm feeling of holding you close and smelling your sweet baby skin when you fell asleep in my arms after nursing.

All that, has left such a void in my life; but I also grieved what should have been. I wondered about the things you would have learned over the years. I pictured you excitedly bursting into the house to explain a new discovery to me, hoping that I would share your enthusiasm. I envisioned the adventures you would have had with your best friend. I was sure there would be a lot of giggles in our home as you played dress ups or hide-and-seek together. I dreamed about Daddy proudly leading you down the aisle to meet the man who was to become your husband. Even thinking of my own death, I wanted you to be there to hold my hand as I drew my last breath. These things were not to be. It seems unfair, as if you and I were robbed of all this.

And yet, as you behold the face of Jesus right now, you are learning things that are light-years beyond what you could have discovered or comprehended on earth. I can't wait to hear the excitement in your voice as you share what God has made known to you. Rather than missing out, it seems like you got to graduate early. You definitely have the best friend there ever was. Jesus will never disappoint you, He is always there for you, and He is completely trustworthy. It is true that Daddy won't get to walk you down the aisle on your wedding day; you are with Christ, the groom, already. But you will get to take our hands and guide us to Him one day, instead. You will be there as I take my last breath, after all, ready to greet me and show me our forever home. Home! It makes the thought of heaven all the sweeter, knowing that one day we will be reunited in a place where there will be no more tears, death, or mourning.

I will never stop loving you!


"When the perishable puts on the imperishable and the mortal puts on immortality then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory,' 'O death where is your victory?' 'O death where is your sting?'" (1 Cor. 15:54+55) 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Do not be anxious!

Last week my oldest son, Daniel, had an allergic reaction to a prescribed medication. His symptoms worried me and his theatrical tendencies only added fuel to the fire. While he dragged himself to bed, he gave me his most pitiful look and said, "See you in the morning, if I am still alive... ." After that, I let my thoughts run out of control and my anxiety skyrocketed. This came as a complete surprise to me because, even though I have been closely acquainted with fear, it has been a while since I have gone there.

I had my first panic attack at age nine. I was so fearful of death, and my unbelieving friends and family could not provide me with answers. This fear became increasingly crippling. Even when I became a believer at age 14, things did not change. Later on, during my pregnancies, my level of panic became almost unbearable. Ironically, I would wish for death, the thing I feared so greatly. I would plead with God to remove this fear, plaster my wall with Bible verses, and ask others for prayer. Still, nothing changed. When I went into labor with my sixth child, Hanna, I feared for her life and mine so strongly that I needed sedatives in order to endure the delivery. I felt completely defeated.

Three months later, Hanna contracted a respiratory virus. Her breathing suddenly became so labored, I was not sure we would make it to the E.R. in time. At her release from the hospital, four days later, I was admonished by the nurses to keep Hanna close to me and listen to her breathing at all times. Here I was, exhausted but unable to sleep as I was remembering the death of my first daughter, Anita. Ani had been exactly the same age as Hanna when she was not able to breathe at night. I had felt responsible for Ani's death, guilty for having slept when she needed me. Now panic crowded in again because keeping watchful every minute was beyond my ability.

Then and there I decided to put Philippians 4:6 into practice: "Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."
I thanked God for planning Hanna's life and for loving her more than I ever could. I confessed that I could not do anything to prolong her life beyond his plans. I thanked God for his goodness and entrusted Hanna into his hands. After that prayer, I slept.

There was a noticeable change after I had learned to thank God for his promises, rather than being guided by my emotions. During my next pregnancy I was free from anxiety and able to enjoy every moment. (As soon as the morning sickness subsided.) My fear of death was so completely gone that even 18 months ago, when my doctor suspected I might have a cancer with a 95% fatality rate, all I could feel was the joy of getting to see my Savior's face sooner than expected. I thought anxiety was something of the past.

Last week when anxiety reared its ugly head again, I realized that faith needs to be exercised anew each time a difficult situation arises. It is not something we overcome and then possess for the rest of our lives. Each day provides new opportunities to trust God. Speaking out truth and thanking God for it, is a very practical way of taking our thoughts captive, replacing them with God's thoughts, and placing our lives in God's hands, irrespective of our emotions

Last week I chose not to feel defeated because of my anxiety, but to run to Jesus instead. As I thanked him for his compassion, for sharing my humanity, for his complete control, for loving Daniel more than I do, and for holding the future in his hands, I experienced what is promised in Philippians 4:7:

"And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."


Saturday, January 23, 2016

How big is God?

"How big is God?" Hanna just had to know. Being tall compared to other four-year-olds, my daughter wanted to hear how she compared to God's stature. "God is a spirit, he does not have a body like we do," I tried to explain. "Of course - " Hanna exclaimed understandingly, remembering how I had recently praised her for drawing people with full bodies, "he only has a head and feet!" In her mind this was settled and she felt no need to discuss this any further. Three days later she was ready to breach the subject again, revealing that this new concept was becoming established in her mind: "Mama, why does God not have a belly?" Now it seemed even harder for Hanna to grasp the truth.

Aren't we just like that? We find comfort in having our world neatly categorized and continue to entertain thoughts, even when they turn out to be misconceptions. The longer we cling to these false concepts, the harder it is for us to change our way of thinking.

For me, the false belief that God's love was conditional was one of those misconceptions I found hard to let go of. For such a long time I had focused on all the things I thought I had to do to please God, that I had to be reminded of the truth many times for it to finally sink in.

Maybe you have felt overwhelmed at times, thinking of all the things you need to do for God. Perhaps you struggle with the thought that God can't possibly love you just the way you are. Today I would like to remind you of all the things God has already done for you.

You foreknew me. (Rom 8:29)
You predestined me. (Rom 8:29)
You knit me together in my mother's womb. (Ps.139:13)
You know my thoughts. (Ps. 139:2)
You are acquainted with all my ways. (Ps 139:3)
You chose me. (Is.41:6)
You have called me your treasured possession. (Dt. 7:6)
You have engraved my name in the palm of your hand. (Is 39:16)
You desire me. (Songs 7:10)
You draw me with chords of loving-kindness. (Hos. 11:4)
You redeemed me. (Is.43:1)
You raised me from the dead. (Col 2:12)
You gave me new life. (Col 2:13)
You saved me. (Is. 43:1)
You forgave me. (Col. 2:13)
You released me from the law. (Rom 7:6)
You cancelled the record of debt that stood against me. (Col 2:14)
You blot out all my transgressions. (Is. 43:25)
You washed me. (1Cor. 6:11)
You justified me. (1Cor 6:11)
You see no flaw in me. (Songs 4:7)
You call me beautiful. (Songs 4:7)
You adopted me. (Eph. 1:5)
You filled me. (Col. 2:10)
You sealed me as your own. (Eph. 1:13)
You indwell me with your Spirit. (Rom 8:9)
You have made me your heir and co-heir with Christ. (Rom. 8:17)
You have given me an inheritance. (Eph. 1:11)
You have lavished the riches of your grace upon me. (Eph 1:7)
You circumcised my heart. (Col 2:11)
You restore my soul. (Ps. 23:3)
You sanctified me. (1Cor 6:11)
You glorified me. (Rom 8:30)
You change me with ever increasing glory. (2Cor. 3:18)
You rejoice over me with gladness. (Zeph. 3:17)
You quiet me by your love. (Zeph. 3:17)
You exult over me with loud singing. (Zeph. 3:17)
You hem me in, behind and before. (Ps. 139:5)
You lay your hand upon me. (Ps 139:5)
No-one can deliver me from your hand. (Is. 43:13)
Nothing can separate me from your love. (Rom 8:39)
You see me as precious. (Is. 43:4)
You take thought for me. (Ps 40:17)
You hear me when I call. (1 John 5:14)
You long to show me compassion. (Is. 30:18)
You sympathize with my weakness. (Hebr. 4:15)
You catch each tear that falls. (Ps. 56:12)
You removed the veil from my eyes. (2. Cor. 3:17)
You have made known to me the mystery of your will. (Eph. 1:9)
You prepared in advance the work for me to do. (Eph. 2:10)

That is how big our God is!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Show me your Glory!

People can be so aggravating! Last week I spent four whole days being mad at an acquaintance for a selfish remark. I tried to keep my cool, but inside I was definitely stewing. Maybe it's just me, revealing my immaturity, but I'm sure we all have people in our lives we can't avoid but who are very difficult to be with. In fact, many of us are probably that person to someone else. The question is, how do we deal with these people, be it co-workers, fellow students, church members or relatives, in a godly manner?

When Moses was asked to lead the Israelites through the Sinai desert, most of his people would have fallen under the "difficult" category. Both God and Moses called them "stiff-necked" on several occasions. This means they were stubborn, set in their ways, unwilling to change, disobedient, proud and unable to see the folly of their own ways. Sound familiar? How then was Moses able to guide them for forty years without going nuts?

Moses knew he needed to focus on God rather than on the shortcomings of others, so he asked God, "Please show me your glory." (Exodus 33:18) God replied, "I will make my goodness pass before you." (Exodus 33:19) God's glory is seen in his character, and his goodness is defined by the following passage: "Then God passed before him and proclaimed, 'The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,...'" (Exodus 34: 6+7a)

During this time of worship, God did much more for Moses than merely help him redirect his focus. Not only was Moses then able to overlook distressing behavioral patterns in his people, when he came down from the mountain his face shone. He was reflecting God's glory to the stiff-necked people.

When we see God's glory, we will reflect His goodness by becoming merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. We will be able to forgive the stiff-necked people in our lives.

So after spending four days praying for this particular person to change, for my situation to be different, or for God to give me strength to deal with this acquaintance in a loving manner, I started praying instead for God to show me His glory. God is so faithful. That same day it suddenly felt easy to forgive and God's peace once again reigned in my heart.

So, whenever you find it hard to forgive, whenever you are tempted to look at circumstances, whenever you feel like you have nothing left to give, whenever you feel just plain aggravated, don't stay mad for days like I did. Run to God and ask him: "Please, show me your glory."

He who calls you is faithful. (1 Thess. 5:24)

Friday, January 8, 2016

Approved by God

What do you do when you are stuck in the house on a rainy holiday? Last week our family had the crazy idea to experiment with blue hair dye. By the end of the day everybody who was game, including me, had blue streaks or tips. That was when Toria, my eight-year-old, made the priceless request: "Mama, can you come to my class so that everyone can see your blue hair? When the kids see that my hair is like yours, they will think I am so cool!"

While I revel in knowing that my daughter would think of me as so cool that she would be considered cool by association, this statement also underlines her dependence on others' opinions. She is not alone in this. "Focus on the Family" published a survey in which school-aged children were asked what their greatest fear was. The majority feared, above all else, being viewed as uncool because of something they did, said, or wore.

I believe one of the greatest gifts we can give the children God has put into our care, is to teach them how they are viewed by God. 1 Thess. 2:4 states, "Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our heart."
The key here is to show our kids that they are approved by God. From my own experience I know that the more I understand God's approval, the less I struggle with desiring the praise of others, freeing me up to be who God wants me to be. Then I can seek to do God's will, rather than wasting my energy on worrying about how I are viewed by others.

Here are some practical ideas
1) Have fun together!
Knowing that you enjoy spending time with them plays a major role in helping your children understand God's approval. This will make them less prone to seek the acceptance of others. Be creative, with or without blue hair dye.

2) Worship God together!
The closer their relationship with God, the more they will understand his heart.
We love to turn up the worship music and dance around the kitchen together.
Each night after supper, we have a family devotion which includes reading a Bible story or devotional, praying for each other and also for needs outside the family, and ending together with the Lord's Prayer.
Throughout the day pray spontaneously for a need or thank God for his goodness. You will be surprised how even the youngest members of the family will quickly follow suit.

3) Pray over your kids!
Before they go to school, thank Jesus that he has promised to be with them and that these children are his treasured possession.

4) Write a Bible verse on their mirror!
It might help your daughter to understand God's heart, if she read Songs 4:7 while looking at herself in the mirror: "You are altogether beautiful, my love, there is no flaw in you."
How about writing Judges 6:12 for your son: "The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor"?

5) Encourage your child in things that matter to God!
Rather than focusing on looks and intellectual accomplishments, praise your child for their generosity, kindness, patience etc. Toria's note in her lunchbox today read, "Do you know what makes you so beautiful? That you love sharing with others!"

6) Help your child to focus on others!
On your way to a gathering, ask your child to seek out those who might be sitting by themselves. These people are probably in need of a hug or a kind word.