Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Better Than Self-Esteem

“To make [people] feel good about themselves when they were made to feel good about seeing God is like taking someone to the Alps and locking them in a room full of mirrors.” –John Piper, don’t waste your life

            As of this week, I have a middle schooler.  She was so excited about having a locker that she spent the weekend timing herself unlocking the lock until she could twirl that three-digit code in four seconds flat. I’m glad she loves it so far, despite the fact that adults have universally responded with groans, complaints, warnings, and eye rolling every time the word middle school has been mentioned her presence.  Granted, even for those who had a relatively mild experience, few of us look back on sixth through eighth grade as the golden years of our lives.  Still, I don’t think it’s doomed to be the worst.  The other night at open house, when I saw groups of preteens gathered in their various stages of development and orthodontia, comparing schedules and worrying about their hair, I wanted to gather them in my arms and tell them all it would all be okay. 
            This past summer, our family started going through a devotional book on God’s Names.  As we learned about El Shaddai (God Almighty), Adonai (Strong Creator), Jehovah Saboath (Lord of Hosts), and the many names in the Bible to describe a God as great as ours, I pondered one of the greatest lies of the dominant culture of my generation.  Through movies, music, and education we were taught the greatest love of all is learning to love ourselves and there is a hero inside of us, that the greatest purpose in life is to fulfill our dreams and that the only thing that stands in the way of being beautiful, smart, and talented is our inability to see ourselves that way. 
I’m not saying that confidence is a bad thing nor prescribing low self-esteem.  Instead, I’m saying that my prayer is that my children and I would learn to put our confidence in the one who is far more reliable, trustworthy, and glorious than self.  I pray that when life and relationships and choices are challenging, they won’t have to depend on their ever changing emotions or a sense of identity that is still developing, but they would be able to turn to the unchanging, merciful, and capable arms of their God who is their strong tower, savior, and friend.
The funny thing about the awkwardness of middle school is that it never quite leaves us completely.  It gets pushed down under the surface of degrees and accomplishments and accolades and all the ways we try to make a name for ourselves, but it still sometimes rears it’s ugly head.  I sometimes feel my inner sixth grader rising up when I go into a new situation and I’ve discovered that all the pep talks in the world do nothing assuage my old fears.  However, there is hope when I look to God; there really can be freedom from the tyranny of self-justification and self-promotion.  
My prayer for my family and for myself is that we would learn to lift up our eyes and see a God who is mighty, omniscient, worthy of fear, and full of sacrificial love for his children.  Then, we will find our worth in Him and be able to proclaim along with David the amazing paradox of God’s greatness and our worth because of Him, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them glory and honor.” (Psalm 8: 3-5)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


“One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”- C.S. Lewis (God in the Dock)

            Last week we had the joy of being reunited with an old friend. During our four years as a family in Asia, she had prayed and served with us, babysat our children (she was there the terrible day Isaac was lost after the earthquake), helped us with translation and various culture struggles, and shared the joys and trials of daily life with us.  It was fun to meet her husband and encouraging to hear some of what God has done in her life over the past six years. 
            In the midst of all of our catching up, I asked her what has surprised her most about life in America.  I frequently ask this question and I normally hear about the large size of our houses, the lack of public transportation, the abundance of space, trees, and squirrels, and the questionable quality of what we call Chinese food, but she astounded me when she said, “I finally know what a lukewarm Christian is.” 
            On surface level, the analogy seems strange in a culture where they prefer to drink water at a lukewarm temperature and it seems even stranger when the deeper meaning is explained within a culture where there is little earthly advantage to becoming a believer.  When the costs to following Christ might include persecution, rejection from friends and family, or job termination, and almost certainly will include worshipping in cramped spaces, with limited resources, and inconvenient circumstances, you tend to be all in or all out.
            My kids have been reading missionary biographies lately.  We ordered some chapter books and some shorter texts geared more for younger elementary children.  Even simplified (some even told in rhyme), their lives are astounding and divisive.  After reading about Jim Eliot who famously wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose,” and later was murdered by the people he came to serve, and his wife, Elisabeth, who went back to share with those same people, Maggie asked me, “Would you forgive someone who killed Dad and want them to know Jesus?”  Wow. Although I first wondered whether or not this whole missionary biography thing was a good idea, I was thankful for the conversation that followed about the power of the gospel and eternity.
            Either it’s true or it’s not.  Either I was an enemy of God, lost in sin, doomed for destruction, and I was rescued, cleansed, and made an heir with Christ, given a glorious inheritance that will never fade, or I was not.  Either I have the transforming power of the Holy Spirit living and working in me or I don’t.  Either eternity is real or it’s not.  Either everyone around me has an eternal destination or they don’t.  Either God is worthy of all my praise and my life or he isn’t.  Contrary to American conventional wisdom, I don’t think it’s helpful to me if it’s all a farce.  It certainly didn’t bring earthly success to Jim Elliot or Paul (1 Corinthian 15:19) or the millions of believers through out history persecuted for their faith.  Yet, if it is real (and my conviction grows daily that it is), then the final word in all of these stories is not tragedy, but ultimate victory.
            It can be difficult to stay “hot” for God, to keep him as the first in my soul (Revelation 2:4), and to remember I am in a “struggle is not against flesh and blood.”  (Ephesians 6:12).  I am thankful for mercy in the battle, gracious reminders, and dear friends. 

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”-Revelation 3:15-16


Friday, February 7, 2014

A Light for Each Step

“Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did.  The tremendous things he did afterward were as nothing compared to it.  He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.”  -J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit)

        A few weeks ago we went with the youth group on a retreat at a camp not too far from home.  The dining hall was a short walk from our cabin, but in the absence of streetlamps above us and in the presence of all sorts of stumps and twigs and rocks below us, it was necessary to have a small light to roam around at night.  I relied on the flashlight app on my phone and as it poured out it’s pale white light, illuminating just a few steps ahead, I was reminded of the promise in the book of psalms that God’s word would be a lamp for my feet, a light for my path (119:105).
         A couple of months ago I found out that I have lupus nephritis, which basically means that my body is now attacking not only my joints, but my kidneys as well.  I am taking medication and I go to my doctor every few weeks to receive additional medicine through IV.  My doctor is optimistic that twelve to eighteen months of this treatment should be effective in ridding my kidneys of inflammation.  So, now, I pray and wait and learn to rein in my thoughts that sometimes like to wander into places full of darkness and despair: what if the treatment doesn’t work and I have to go on dialysis?  Or get a kidney transplant? Or what if my kidneys fail altogether?
         I’m so glad that contentment is something that can be learned (Philippians 4:12) and I’m so grateful that tomorrow belongs to God.  Courage and contentment don’t come naturally to me, but by God’s generous grace, I sense something supernatural is happening inside me.  There are days when I have been able to dwell fully on the beauty of the now and not worry about bridges I might not ever have to cross.  In those times I know peace and joy are not just taunting illusions, but more tangible than my body itself. 
         Sometimes I wish the sphere of the light spread out before me was wider and higher, not just with my health, but I long to know what God has for my children and our church and our family’s future in general.  However, I’m not sure if that knowledge would change anything and I am pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to handle it responsibly.  In His book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis says, “ Future is, of all things, the least like eternity.  It is the most completely temporal part of time- for the Past is frozen and no longer flows and the Present is all lit up with eternity…Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.” 
         So, today I feel healthy, hopeful, and thankful.  I have no idea what the future holds, but I know the end of the big story in which my little story is only a part.  I know the light that shines in the darkness and He is enough for each step.  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Faithfulness is What I Long For

“The writers of most of the biblical books concentrate on those people and events that are central to redemptive history.  This focus on great events easily obscures the fact that often whole generations are born, grow old, and die without them…For every biblical hero there are thousands of Israelites who know God only through what is taught by priest and prophets, and seek to be obedient to the law in personal devotion, in home and family life, and in worship of God.”  -Graeme Goldsworthy (According to Plan) 

      Last weekend our family went to Danny’s grandfather’s 90th birthday party.  Surprisingly, his grandfather wasn’t the oldest person in the room.  At 91, his grandmother is the baby of her family and I was pleased to finally meet her 100-year-old big sister.  It was a great time for Danny to interview his great-aunts and uncles and piece his family history together, going back to when his great-grandparents took the journey from Italy to Ellis Island and their experiences during the World Wars and the Great Depression and all the years that followed.  It was a time for feasting.  It was a time for old pictures.  It was a time for the youngest branches from the family tree to play together on the grassy hill beside the church where we were gathered. 
Most of all, it was a time for stories.  Some were humorous and many were told through tears, but my favorite was a simple memory from my sister-in-law, Lauren.  She told of when their family lived with their grandparents for a few months when she was a girl and how every single morning she saw her grandparents with their toast and coffee, reading the word of God together at the table. 
       At 37 and 36, Danny and I are among the oldest members of our current (and previous) church and we miss having the opportunity to learn from some of the wisdom that can only come from time and experience.  Christianity today is often described as an exciting and dangerous adventure. Our generation tends to eschew comfort and conformity and focus a lot of energy trying to figure out how to be radical and relevant.  I don’t think this is bad.  I hope this generation can lead the way in ending human trafficking and that we will take seriously our call to care for widows, orphans, and all who are marginalized.  I am glad there are voices calling us to move from excess to generosity and from judgment to grace. 
      At the same time, I hope that we don’t forget that obedience isn’t always exhilarating.  Sometimes it’s much easier to make a great and shocking sacrifice than it is to be faithful in the mundane, when you think no one else is looking. 
      I pray, by God’s grace, that I would always be listening and ready to respond to any crazy call God might have for me and I pray I would be equally content if He wants me to “make my ambition to live a quiet life” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).  Either way, I want to number my days, to drink His word with my coffee, to learn to love God and my neighbor, and to “press on toward the goal.” I’m thankful for those who have gone before me. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Comforting Paradox

“I want neither a terrorist spirituality that keeps me in a perpetual state of fright about being in right relationship with my heavenly Father nor a sappy spirituality that portrays God as such a benign teddy bear that there is no aberrant behavior or desire of mine that he will not condone. I want a relationship with the Abba of Jesus, who is infinitely compassionate with my brokenness and at the same time an awesome, incomprehensible, and unwieldy Mystery. ”

     My first image of God, from a very young age, was a loving father.  I believed He loved me, always forgave me, and always cared about all of my hopes and fears.  For years I took for granted that everyone who knew God, knew Him in the same way.  It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized many believers grow up seeing God as distant, angry, and unconcerned.   After hearing some of their stories, I realized my foundational view of God was a special gift.
            In college, my understanding of God’s character grew.  First, through reading about Lewis’s Aslan in the Narnia series (as well as other Christian authors), and then from reading the Bible afresh, I realized that God is not only grace and mercy, but also power, strength, and majesty.  He was no longer just a father to me, but also creator, judge, and king.  He was not only worthy of my love, but my holy fear.  I found this to be incredibly good news.  God is strong and His might is enough to change me and redeem a fallen world. 
            This new (to me) doctrine of the fear of the Lord was so exciting that I began to share it every chance I could, though it was met with mixed reviews.  Many, whose backgrounds were similar to mine, found God’s awe-inspiring, sovereign rule inspiring for worship and obedience.  However, others found this message confusing.  In time, I realized that both messages were imbalanced; that only in the tension of seeing God as both gentle shepherd and mighty warrior can we get a clearer view.
            Of course, God is more multifaceted than the human mind can comprehend, but in continually coming before him as a dearly loved daughter before a gracious father and as a humble servant before my righteous master, I am able to experience a deeper understanding of the Lord of my life.   When I see evil and injustice around me, I am comforted that God’s wrath is real and that He will not sit idly by.  And when I contemplate the God who has every right to smite me, I am more overwhelmed by his mercy. 
            If God really spoke the world into being, if he really is the potter and I am the clay, if every breath I take is a gift from him, than how can I not draw back in wonder?  Yet, he drew near and Jesus, when teaching his disciples to pray, said to begin with “Abba,” an intimate, personal word for father. 
In the Bible we see God create and destroy, judge and show mercy, lifted up and, yet, coming close.  It is in these seemingly opposing views that I work out my salvation, make decisions, pray, and seek wisdom.  I am thankful for the paradox. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Does God Want to Fix Us?

 “But Jesus Christ did not come for us to have the same old, nasty, funky, trifling, hard heart…He gives you a new heart, He gives you receptivity—that means a new value system, new affections, and your will being taken out of bondage to be able to serve Him.”—Dr. Eric Mason

            I recently read an article in which the author, a Christian, repeatedly told her readers not to worry or fear because “God not only welcomes you as you are, but he does not want to fix you.”  Over the past few years I have heard this message in various places, in slightly different forms, but each time it is presented as wonderful news.  I’m not so sure about that, though.  What is the gospel without transformation?
            Before I go any farther, let me get one thing straight: I am a mess.  I have a myriad of fears, sinful patterns, deep-rooted lies, and selfish desires daily battling within me.  However, because of God’s grace, I’m not anywhere close to being the mess I was ten years ago, and I can have hope, because of that same grace, that I won’t be quite as messed up ten years from now.  The promise of sanctification, that God has begun and will continue the work of making me holy and clean, has become music to my ears.
            Sometimes when I go back to my college town, a simmering sadness works it’s way through my heart.  Though my college days were almost completely void of the prodigal wildness displayed in movies and shared in testimonies, I remember my more pharisaical rebellion, the instances when my pride, vanity, and relentless comparison hurt those close to me, stole my joy, and made me miss opportunities for good.  I’m thankful-yes, by grace, again-that it is possible to “flee the desires of youth” (2 Timothy 2:22).   I once heard a speaker say that one of the most inspiring words in the Bible is “were”. We were enemies of God, but we have been brought near.  We don’t have to serve ourselves; we don’t have to destroy our relationships with God and others.
            I’m so glad that we are accepted just as we are.  I’m glad that the father ran to meet his son even when he was a long way off.  I’m glad Jesus gave honor to the woman caught in adultery and convicted her accusers.  I’m glad he spoke to the woman at the well.  I’m glad he went to Zacchaeus' house for dinner.   Yet, I’m equally glad that he didn’t stop there.  He told the woman to “go and sin no more.”  Dinner with Jesus led Zacchaeus to give back four times what he stole.
            As Easter approaches, I have been thinking about life eternal and present. I’m convinced the former will be far better than our best dreams and I have hope that we can experience shadows and dim reflections of what is to come even now.   I’m not na├»ve about the nature of sin and our flesh.  I know that very few lives fit neatly in the categories ‘before’ and ‘after’.  “Fighting the good fight” and “running the race” (2 Timothy 4:7) will take a lifetime and will often be a jagged line full of peaks and valleys, but I thank God that He promises that transformation can take place now (Romans 12:1-2).  God alone knows the weight of the personal battles each of us fight and one day when we finally hear, “well done good and faithful servant,” those will certainly not be empty words.  Redemption will be complete and we will finally be fixed.  Now, that is incredibly good news.

“Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed every day.”  -2 Corinthians 4:16

Monday, February 25, 2013

Praying for the Oppressed

“Of all things, guard against neglecting God in the secret place of prayer.” 
-William Wilberforce

“Christianity is the story of how the rightful King has landed, you might say in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in his great campaign of sabotage.”  -C.S. Lewis

            Last Friday, I went to a viewing of the documentary, Nefarious:Merchant of Souls.  The film gives voices and faces to the millions of women and children enslaved by the global sex trade.  Although it was extremely difficult to watch, I recommend it for adults and older teenagers.  I have read and seen a lot on this subject, but Nefarious was unique in at least three ways. One, the film included interviews with men who are no longer abusers, highlighting their former enslavement and the hope for redemption. Two, it effectively broadened the definition of trafficking.  Three, most importantly, it portrayed prostitution as not only a cultural, political, and socio-economic problem, but a spiritual problem as well.
            I remember all of the sadness, anger, and fear I felt the first time I learned about the details of the Holocaust in eleventh grade U.S. History.  I wondered how a conscience could grow numb enough to inflict such pain on others.  I wondered how people on the outside could watch and do nothing.  I felt similar feelings when I really began to understand the transatlantic slave trade and the injustices that lead to the civil rights movement.  As an adult, I’ve read sorrowful accounts from various places and cultures, throughout many different periods of history, and sometimes it feels impossible to have hope in this dark, broken world.  It’s hard to have hope that the light of the gospel can break though in places like Cambodia where parents willingly sell their children to be repeatedly raped for money (a practice that reminds me of the parents in the Old Testament who sacrificed their children to other gods).  It’s hard to believe the gospel can bring light to Amsterdam, Bangkok, and Las Vegas.  It’s hard to believe the gospel can be trusted by women who have experienced abuse from those who were supposed to protect them, who have only heard lies and never experienced grace or love.  Yet, some of them have amazing stories of healing and faith.
            I’m glad I saw this documentary during lent, a time when I’m supposed to be preparing my heart for Easter.  I believe, by sins of commission and omission, we are all part of the brokenness in the world and any hope we have stems from Christ alone.  I agree with Paul when he says, “if Christ is not raised than our faith is useless” (1 Corinthians 15:17).  However, if what we sing and say is true, God does care and He did come and He was raised.  He established a kingdom, that is still gaining numbers and power even while the darkness seems to reign, and one day he will come back and all that is hidden will come to light and all that is nefarious will be crushed, forever defeated, and the curse will be lifted, all things will be made new. 
            We, who live in between the two comings, have choices to make.  It can be such a helpless feeling to have ones eyes open to unthinkable evil.  There was a palpable heaviness in the dark room as we watched, muffled sounds of crying or a slight gasp of disbelief occasionally cutting through the silence.  Yet, the makers of the film ended with action points inspired by the great abolitionist William Wilberforce: raise awareness, give money to ministries that work to end trafficking, and pray. 
            I confess it is hard to believe prayer can make a difference, but I agree that this battle is not only physical, but spiritual, and spiritual power is needed to break these chains.  I believe God is close to the broken-hearted and hears their cry.  I believe he calls his church to proclaim “freedom for the captives” (Isaiah 61:1) and he uses us for his purposes.  I believe it is Friday, but Sunday is coming.  “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:2)
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