Sunday, September 21, 2014

blessed

We are all easily offended people. We huff & puff, angry or frustrated at the tiniest of things: the spilt coffee, the unanswered text, the cut-off on the way to work. People fall short of our expectations, and we are disappointed. We doubt if we mean enough to them. 

We do the same thing with God, imposing our standards and expectations on Him as we would anyone else. "He's God," we say, "so surely He will take care of us." Translation: "Surely things will work out just fine, just the way I think they ought." We soon confuse His ways with our ways, and then we end up disappointed again. 

The last 6 or 7 months of my journey has involved a lot of pride, a lot of elevating my own ways above God's, and, this past week, I have sat in the rubble of disappointment as those plans have fallen, and God's way alone has been left like a brick wall in front of me, as my deep desire and expectation of returning to "my city" and "my students" in East Asia for Christmas is walled off with a resounding "No."

To say that I haven't been taking this very well would be a dramatic understatement. I've been ugly-crying at any mention of the trip, overly frustrated when I have seen others interested, and pridefully thinking, "I could lead them. I know that city. I love those kids. Take me back! Take me NOW!"

Frankly, I've been offended by God's answer, by His "No", and by the brick wall before me that definitively gives me that answer. Stiffening my neck, peering over the wall, I've been trying to figure out a way over its height. I'm asking "why" of God and whispering countless times, "I don't understand....I miss it so much." I want this. I desire to go back and once again tell the story of Christmas to those who have never heard it before. This aligns with the will of God, right?! What was such a clear and obvious expectation of mine when I returned last January faced many roadblocks of timing and money through the summer, until I woke up one day a few weeks ago, threw all the roadblocks out the window, picked up my map, and .... WALL. 

And, from behind the wall, there comes a voice, echoing from within and from around me:  "Blessed is he who is not offended by Me." These are Jesus' words to John the Baptist, His forerunning prophet who testified both to His coming and His divine nature. This promised blessing, however, is not in response to John's works, but to his doubts.

John too had been on a journey. He had proclaimed repentance to the masses as a training ground for the coming Messiah. He had seen Jesus and received revelation that this was God's chosen one who would take away the sins of the world. He had even baptized Him. It was a clear path.

But then, John too ran into a brick wall. Literally, one of each side of him. He was thrown in jail for his association with Jesus and His radical ideas. Yet Jesus--unlike John--wasn't acting particularly radically. There were no massive rallies concerning His political agenda, no public, grandiose displays of power. Instead, He was quietly teaching (though they were radical words) in synagogues and on hillsides, sitting with children, and stopping for the broken and the hurting.

These were not John's expectations concerning the coming one. All his life had been spent proclaiming this one's coming, but disappointment in Jesus' methods let to a question laced with doubt:

"Are you really the one we've been waiting for? Are you truly the promised Messiah? Or should we look for another?"

With this question, John raised another wall.

As have I. As we all have, at one time or another.

Jesus' response to John, and to us, promises blessing for the one who does not take offense at Him or His ways. The Greek word for "offense" is literally "to be scandalized" (we get our word for scandal from this Greek verb). What do we say when we confront a scandal?


“Oh, I would never…!”


I cannot believe they did that!”

See the theme? We separate ourselves. We make it all about us. Our needs or desires are not met, and we are offended. Scandalized. 

We do the same thing with God, when His ways do not rise to meet our expectations or standards. We erect another wall--against the blessing promised to us. 

Jesus' answer to John is, in many ways, affirmative. His words include many fulfilled prophecies by His hands. But in the same passages He alludes to are words concerning the Messiah who was coming to set the captives free. Perhaps He leaves it out because, for John, it wasn’t going to happen. He wasn’t going to be released by a politically powerful Messiah. So, in part, he was receiving a “No.”

No, John, I don’t fit all the expectations that you have nurtured over the years. But I am still the one you saw on the road coming toward you, when you said, “Behold! the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world! Don't go looking for another.

No, John, I’m not working things out the way you expected. But I am working them out according to my Father’s plan and it is the fulfillment of prophecy you have been awaiting all these years.”

No, John, it is not how you expected or planned at all. But blessed is he who does not take offense at Me. Blessed will you be if you do not let yourself be scandalized by my ways. Even if they do not align with expectations or plans."

No, John, I am not the one who will rescue you from imprisonment. But I am the one who is coming; I am the one you have waited for. I am the one who will take away the sins of the world. Look at the evidence of my hands, even if it does not involve your own circumstances today. You will be blessed if you do not take offense at my ways.”

This passage in Matthew 11 doesn't reveal what John's response was. History testifies, though, that he did refuse to be offended, and eventually he lost his life because of that refusal. So, I believe, as he refused to be separated from Jesus, his second wall fell. Even if the prison walls around him didn't.

I know, for me, the wall in front of me isn't going to fall. But the one I've been harboring in front of it--the wall that makes it all about me, the wall that exalts my ways and my standards and keeps me separated from the "No"--it can fall. With surrender. With a heart that refuses to be offended by Jesus. With a heart that draws nearer to Him no matter what. 

And as I inch closer to the wall that does still stand, I find that this wall is adjoined to another, and it to another, as the way before me opens into a journey where there are no dead ends. Only guiding-walls to better things, greater lessons, deeper relationships, and stronger joy and peace in believing in the One who has come. It is here that we will find ourselves blessed. 

"Don't go looking for another way around the walls you face. I am the way."

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

small steps & simple knowledge

Two years ago, around this time, I wrote a blog post entitled All I Know.  It had a lot of sentences that began with "I don't know", and then it had three things that I felt like I did know for sure at the time: that I would go back to India, that His word is true, and that He was leading me. 

And OH He was. Little did I know when I wrote that post, that just a few short weeks later, He would affirm His leading for me to go back to MC, through a series of events that takes several cups of coffee to get through telling the story. 

And today, two years later, I find myself rallying around those same truths. I--and many friends around me--find myself echoing those "I don't know..." sentences. 

I don't know what all the semester holds. I don't know what I should be involved in. I don't know what life after graduation will look like. I don't know how I will begin to pay off my student loans. I don't know how I will continue walking this path of obedience toward journeyman. So many unknowns surround this season, this closing of an old (old) season--I've been here at MC for a long time--and the soon-to-be unfolding completely new season, which I am simultaneously welcoming and dreading at the same time. 

And yet, as also alluded to in that old post, there is so much peace. My heart is quiet. My schedule is full of people. I am constantly going through this process of being poured into and pouring out. Which is exactly where I want to be right now. And which is exactly what I do know about this journey right now. And, it turns out, it's all I need to know: that I am somehow, by the grace of God, walking into the midst of small steps of obedience.

Because, really, it's in these smallest of steps that we find Him. 

Just look at Jesus: I read recently that Jesus' journey on this earth looked like a failing presidential candidate, who was always getting sidetracked: by this one person sitting in a tree, by the woman who could only approach Him long enough to touch the hem of his robe, by the man who barely had enough faith to speak to Jesus about his son. 

And yet, for each of these, Jesus stops in his tracks, reaches out to them, and does a marvelous thing. These smallest of gospel stories are what keep me going forward in the small steps of faith I'm called to each day. That, really, we're all called to.

In Ephesians 2, Paul prayed for the church to know some things too. Not what "the plan" was or how it was all going to unfold or what they needed to do right then and there. But for the eyes of their hearts to be enlightened by the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, 

"So that you might know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance for the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power, purposed for us who have believed and put our faith in Him, according to the working of the might of His strength (not our own)."

We need to know the hope of His calling--that He has called us into something greater than ourselves; that we didn't invite ourselves or earn our way into His calling. We need this hope to endure even when we do not know what lies ahead; hope to take is one day, one moment, one step at a time.

We need to know where our truth wealth and abundance lies. Not here and now in what we can ear, but reserved for us in ways we can never imagine. "No eye has seen, no ear has heard what God has prepared for those who love Him." Through this, we learn to look to Him for all the provision we may need. And even in that provision that we see now? It's only the fringes of the inheritance we are promised.

Finally, we need to know just how great His power is and how it is purposed for us. That phrase is so beautiful to me. His power is set aside for us, because these small (or big) steps we are called to each day are not up to us to accomplish. He alone has the power to do what He alone has determined for us! My prayer is that we would kneel in our weakness, seek to abide in Him, and watch His strength and power arise to make us fruitful, even beyond our current small steps and simple knowledge.

Monday, August 18, 2014

an unexpected summer.

I just checked off another "to-do" from the stacks of post-it notes in my planner, stuck to this week's page. I crinkled it up, feeling accomplished. Even with something so very small: uploading the summer's pictures onto Facebook. Sure, not everyone wants to be updated on my not-so-fast-paced life, replete with recipes and selfies ("us-ies", really...I don't take many pictures alone). But it was a step for me, a good day of remembering how the Lord has worked this summer. It's been beautiful. peaceful. restful. blissful. Am I oversimplifying? sure. There were complications thrown into those "-ful" moments. But complications cannot displace Christ. And Christ is what has kept this summer so "-ful." 

I loved uploading all of those pictures because they tell a story. I even precariously worked the comments in such a way that told the story. "a summer of..." was the refrain. You can go to the album here to see the story. 

Here's what I didn't mention though. Only because I didn't capture the other moments of the summer. 

the moments of laughter. I'm not kidding when I say I have laughed/smiled more this summer than ever before. I cannot really explain it except by the word joy. the enemy wants to steal, kill, and destroy that joy. In the past two years I have felt that battle more than ever. But this summer has been a time of reprieve. Not that the battle has calmed. But the armor has been strengthened by the strength of His might, because I've been learning so much of how to let go of my own. Surrender: hands up, face lifted, heart enlightened with joy.

the moments of learning. I've been truly blessed to be a part of a church here, learning about the behind the scenes work that I have quickly become passionate about. As much as I love going, helping others to go has been so fulfilling, and I cannot wait to get back to it come January. I've also been able to have a lot of quiet, alone time in the Word. A few buzzwords of the summer? fellowship. returning. prayer. conviction. redemption. endurance. gospel. (more on a few of those topics reserved for a later post)

the moments of love. The best part of summer for me? easy. Leah & Matt's wedding. First of all, I have not cried so much in a very, very, very long time. But it was such a renewal of spirit to cry so much. And I don't just think that's a girl thing or a time of the month thing. I think it is a necessary thing. The gospel became a beautiful tangibility in their ceremony. And it was obvious. I learned so much about love that day, and it will impact me for the rest of my life. I pray I can experience the same thing soon. (again, perhaps a blog post will come from the wedding on my other blog)

I came into this summer with rapidly emptied hands. All my plans lay on the ground, seemingly ruined. Yet out of the ashes of sacrifice came such, such beauty. provision. joy. He is good. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

on leaving well

Arriving and leaving are two extremely essential points to a journey full of different seasons, places, and communities that we find ourselves called to. College was a vital season for me, and I ended up at a school I had never heard of a year earlier. I had to get there, and it was through one path crossed with another that the destination came into focus. It took obedience to follow through, and it took hard work to remain. But I’m approaching the end. As are many of my friends. Seasons come and seasons go, and a shift has to take place between them. Leaving always looks different than arriving, with so much change occurring in between. The problem is that we don’t know how to make that shift. We don’t know how to leave well.

What does leaving look like? What does a good transition from one season to another consist of?

As I wrote a letter to a friend about to leave her summer missions assignment, with these very questions in the back of her mind, as I had when I was in her very shoes several summers ago, my mind went back to a passage of scripture that meant a lot to me when I was there. It details Paul’s own transition from one season to another. Whether it’s transitioning home from a season of missions, going back to school after a life-changing summer, graduating, or moving out into "the real world,” the words Paul spoke in Acts 20.17-38 to church leaders who he had raised up during the years he spent with them apply to any transition we face.

1. He examined how he had lived and worked among the people he was ministering to and serving.

Paul looked back for a moment, even asking the leaders to also look with him, upon how he had lived among them. He was honest and vulnerable about what he faced and how he faced it among them.  Here are his words, in the voice paraphrase:

"We will have many memories of our time together in Ephesus; but of all the memories, most of all I want you to remember my way of life. From the first day I arrived in Asia, I served the Lord with humility and tears, patiently enduring the many trials that came my way through the plots of my Jewish opponents. I did everything I could to help you; I held nothing back."

I know right now I need to confess the things that I have held back this summer. But we must also remember that the victory was won two-thousand years ago, and that God has made a way of victory through this season, no matter the outcome, statistics, or mislaid plans. What's on paper does not reflect what's in the heart. Of God. Of you. Of the people you've worked among. Lay down the defeats at His feet--the feet that rest upon the earth in victory. Take His victory upon you, and learn from Him. For He is gentle and lowly of heart. (matthew 11). Remember who He is. Mighty Victor & Gentle Shepherd: leading you through each season in victory, teaching you along the way in gentleness. Not condemnation! praise be.

2. He reflected on how God had changed and used him in this season.

Paul saw a journey before and behind him, and he knew he wasn't the same person going into this new season that he was when he first arrived in Ephesus. These leaders had been a part of that change, which was why he called them together to see him off in this moment. He had been working, proclaiming the gospel, remaining true to a lifestyle worthy of the gospel, and building up these men. It had prepared him for the next season, and it had simultaneously prepared these leaders for their next season, which would be without him.

How has gone been at work around you this summer? What about within you?

3. He looked forward to the next season that he was being called to.

Paul was hopeful and expectant, even in the midst of the trouble, affliction, even pain that he would face, which was affirmed to him by the Spirit of God. He said (the voice, vv. 22-24): "My future is uncertain, but I know--the Holy Spirit has told me--that everywhere I go from now on, I will find imprisonment and persecution waiting for me. But that's OK. That's no tragedy for me because I don't cling to my life for my own sake." He clings to his life for the sake of others alone. Elsewhere he reminds us that that kind of life, "the life that echoes everyday the words of Jesus Christ our King" (v. 35 the voice), is a life "lived by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (galatians 2.20). 

And it is this faith, this self-emptying faith, that enables him & us to look ahead. To see the next step of God's purposes. To hear the Holy Spirit's guidance in our hearts. And to trust His voice, even if it means imprisonment, persecution, trials. He is the sovereign king who never lets us out of His sight. Even if we are to be put in the fire, He will be there. And He will use even the fire for His purposes. Paul knew he was called to Rome, to preach the gospel, and to Rome he was taken via persecution and imprisonment, shipwrecks and chains. God will fulfill His purpose for us. Look forward always in hope.

4. He resolved his life to one purpose and plan: God’s.

"My life is nothing." This is what Paul committed himself to as He committed himself to God and his plan. This life, this mortal flesh, is a mere vessel for the ultimate plan of God. It doesn't matter what happens with it. It only matters what happens through it. And as long as there is breath in this body, it will be for finishing the task of His great fame: "to testify to the gospel of the grace of God." 

The fact that seasons change does not (should not) affect the call of God on our life. The trajectory of God's plan never wavers. Locations, circumstances, and specifics merely carry us along His way, as much as we submit to Him--and not to them. If we root ourselves in Him, in His love, first, and then into the soils of the lands and peoples his plants us--"we will not be greatly shaken" (psalm 62). Moved? Tossed? Hurt? Confused? YES. Shaken? Even so. But greatly shaken--uprooted from Him? separated from His love? cut off from His plan? Never. 

5. He charged those he had nurtured in the faith with what they were to continue to do even in his absence.

Paul recognized that the work did not begin and end with him but was constant with God’s ever-present Spirit. 

When I was in Oklahoma, my pride took a turn for the worst, as I worried about what would happen when I left. Who would continue to love these girls? Who would speak truth? How would relationships continue? How would they grow? My teammate and I quickly rallied around this truth, that His plan is utterly independent of us. Yes, He graciously chooses to use us, fragile jars of clay that we are. Yet His will stands steadfast; His purposes prevail. We cannot hinder Him, limit Him, or cut off His work in any way, shape or form. Not by going. Not by leaving. Not by taking a day off. But we must be Spirit-sensitive as we do all these things. He has very specific things for us to do as we go, as we leave, as we rest. 

For Paul, in his moments of leaving, it meant giving a charge to these elders. It meant telling them what they should do, what they should continue to do, as he left them to their churches and their people. Is there someone we can speak life into in the last moments we have with them? One more chance to share the gospel? One more letter to write? One more hug to give? 

6. He let them go, entrusting them into the hands of God and to the word of His grace.

Paul knew and affirmed that it was only God’s Word that could keep them and build them up on their own journey of sanctification. And it was that truth that enabled him to let them go

This is the most important thing we can do in leaving well. There are people that will stay with us, of course. Teammates. People we can stay in touch with. But inevitably, there are some who are kept in seasons away from us. Paul knew that he would never see these leaders again. Yet, whether we are leaving them behind or not, we still must let them go. We must put them in God's hands. We cannot control their destiny (vv. 26-27). Again, this is where my own worrying must be stifled. And it is this truth, this stronghold of hope (which I find myself repeating over friends and family constantly), that enables me to do just that:

"I entrust you to the message of God's grace, a message that has the power to build you up and to give you rich heritage among all who are set apart for God's holy purposes." (v. 32).

Paul recognized that it wasn't his power, words, or conduct among them that could build them up or uphold them in the truth. And it was this word that enabled him to leave well--knowing that it was God and the Word of God they had been taught that would keep them growing in maturity of faith. So he left them with that. 

7. And He didn’t neglect saying goodbye, with prayer, weeping, and worship.


Paul was unafraid and unashamed of the sorrow leaving caused, but he was also willing to keep moving forward despite it. Leaving hurts, and I think this example of leaving well probably hurts more. I'm not good at leaving well. I want to just GO already! I neglect goodbyes easily and make them quick and seamless, shoving down all the   tears & hard thoughts that accompany them. For my own next-season-departure, I have been given more time. 6-7 months, to be exact, post-December graduation. More time to say goodbye; less time to neglect the thoughts behind it. So, I'm taking a cue from Paul. I'm going to take every opportunity I can to leave this season, when it ends, well. We need help in this and we need people in this. We need to come alongside each other, as these men did here, kneel on some beaches, worship our God, trust His ways and timing, allow ourselves to weep and to mourn over an ending. But we must also allow ourselves to rejoice, because a new beginning has come. Full of life, hope, promise--even if the promises seem for harm. God has an amazing way of turning what is meant for evil into so much good. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

hope vs. suffering

This morning, Romans 8 continues to work its way into my bones, a chapter full of hope, but only because of the chapters that surround it. Especially the previous chapter, with its vulnerability and honesty (see previous post). The words of chapter 8 keep freedom front and center, with hope surrounding it as we realize what we've been set free from & what we have been set free for. Today's word is hope. 

"For I claim that the present season's sufferings are not worthy to be compared to the coming glory, about to be revealed to us. (8.18)
"Also, we ourselves, having the first fruits of the spirit, even we are groaning within ourselves, eagerly awaiting adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we stand saved. But hope which is seen in not hope; for who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly await it with steadfastness." (8.23-25)

The basis of our hope, even creation's hope (vs. 19 following), is an unseen reality that has not been seen or known since the entrance of Sin into the world. In fact, all that we do know or have seen is flawed by sin's effects. Creation knows this better than us, but we are a part of creation and therefore know it as well. Yet, Paul asserts, in order to fully be found in the hope that is coming--glory, and in order to remain hopeful and expectant for its coming, we must be found in these present sufferings (8.17). 

Yet they are not worth dwelling on or comparing to that which is coming. That doesn't mean we aren't suffering, or that we should stop groaning (note: the word in the passage is not synonymous with "complaining") along with creation; even the spirit groans with us (vs. 26). But even suffering can be full of hope if we search it out. Subject, even to suffering and decay, is only a precursor to freedom. That is why even God's curse on the earth in genesis 3 was made full of hope, because God knew that freedom--true freedom--would come. We are still living in the midst of the "would come." But we've been given a downpayment of redemption--the self-sacrifice of Christ and the forgiveness of sins, the removal of the old self in favor of the new self, and the Holy Spirit of God who has been loosed within us to bring victory in the here and now of the "would come."

So, we wait with hope for something yet to be revealed. But because it is such a great and unseen hope, steadfastness fills our bones, steadies our hearts, and firms our feet, and we eagerly and patiently await. Eager with expectation but patient with the sufferings that must come first. For even this is how Christ lived, and the Spirit comes to help us follow after Him, living the same path He walked for us. Let us do the same for others who are seeking Him. Let our lives, even our sufferings, be catalysts of change and hope. Let it be. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

digging into the trenches

Powering (drudging) through a hefty work of translation in Romans 7 today, I was reminded of this great battle we are all in. It is such an encouraging, open confession that Paul pours out over this church in Rome, most of whom he has never met face to face. But he is so convinced of their faith, so willing to entrust such powerful words concerning the work of God in Christ, that he knows that they understand the war that exists between what we want to do and what we do not want to do, between our flesh and our spirit, and that, just maybe, they need to be reminded of the victory that exists even within the trenches of that battle.

In the same breath (vs. 25), Paul confesses that God is worthy of all the praise through Jesus Christ who is our Lord, and that he finds himself in the midst of serving two masters--the law of God and the law of Sin. He can do this, because the praise exalts the finished work of Christ--already spelled out over and over again before this chapter. And because the confession following it acknowledges that the work is not yet finished, and we must never forget that the fight is real, the war is strong, and the problem is sin. not the law (which is good and holy and just--vs 12). not us (vs 17, 20). the problem is sin: this power that has taken up the sword against us and has taken us captive (vs 23). 

Sin is trying to overtake us completely. But so is grace, which overwhelms even the abundance of sin that comes against us (5.20-21). The victory on our behalf has already been won by grace. Though we face this war, it is not without faith that came to us in Christ and not without hope that brings endurance. The bookends of this very chapter highlight this--Paul is not confessing just to confess the difficulty of life in Christ, but the reality of a battle that he has already brought up and the assurance of previous & current victories in the fight. In Abraham's faith that came against outward circumstances (ch. 4). In the need to rest in the peace justification brings (ch. 5). In the need to consider ourselves as dead to sin, but alive to God (ch. 6). And in the fight to live in step with the spirit as we groan in expectation for something that is greater (ch. 8).

We are called to fight. It takes grit to do this. Grit to praise the One who has rescued us, while crying out, "Who will rescue me?" Grit to confess the struggle. Grit to be vulnerable. Grit to join others in the trenches. Grit to dig deeper into them, knowing and trusting that these trenches are the very places where He meets us.

Friday, July 11, 2014

snippets of study

I've been studying through Romans for the past few weeks, revisiting the ebb and flow of Paul's great words of the gospel that has changed everything. Today was chapter 6. The movement of God's work was the imagery I couldn't let go of, so I wanted to let others in to see it. So here are a few words on verses 15-23, first my translation of a few of them, then some of my own raw words, lifted from the lined pages of my journal:

"Do you not know that the one to whom who yield yourselves to as servants poised for obediences, you are slaves to that one who you obey--either sin resulting in death or obedience resulting in righteousness? But praise be to God! you were slaves of sin...but, having been set free, you have been made slaves to righteousness. 
For just as you yielded your members as slaves to unrighteousness and to lawlessness resulting in more lawlessness, thus now yield your members as slaves to righteousness with a view toward sanctification.
For when you were [yet] slaves of sin...what fruit did you have then?"

Oh this free gift that has changed everything! May that always be a truth that grows harder and harder to forget or neglect. I'm just caught up this morning in the imagery of movement seen in verse 19. There was none before. One more of the same thing, more of the same slavery ("lawlessness unto lawlessness," literally).

But God reached down into the very midst of the old chains and pulled us out by grace--something we never could have done on our own, try as we might. And He brought us to a different bondage--bondage to Himself, to grace that moves us forward--closer to Him. "Slaves now of righteousness that looks toward sanctification." Righteousness that looks not to what we can do, but to what He will do. This is what we have been set free for!

So why, then, do we still so often act like slaves that are not set free? Like only the first half of verse 23 is gospel truth for us today? No! We have a new master--"Jesus Christ our Lord"--a personal, intimate, relationship of freedom has been freely gifted to us and we get so caught up in the defeats of the day that we miss it. We miss Him. We miss what He can do by focusing instead on what we cannot. 

Our position has been changed--from sin to righteousness.
But now we need a change of perspective--from sin to righteousness "with a view towards sanctification."

Father, change our perspectives. Our focus gets fuzzy by the defeats of the day instead of sharpened by your great victory over the worst defeat--death itself. So also we have been raised! So may we also raise our hands today, yielding no longer to sin or self, but to the victory of your son & our Lord, Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever by our words and by our deeds. Amen.