Sunday, February 10, 2013

The deeper love

I teach the Bible portion of a small English class on Sundays for international students at a local church here in FW, and it's been an interesting semester for me as a new teacher. For about two years, I was a helper in the level 4 class, with many students from all over the world who had a great grasp on the English language and could hold a full conversation with next to no trouble at all. This year, I began teaching in a level 1 class (we have since become a level 2, but that's another conversation entirely...as I said, it's been an interesting semester!), where our students can barely put together a sentence. Being the deep thinker that I am, this has been a challenging switch for me to make, from explaining things in detail to breaking it down into the most basic form, especially when it comes to the Bible lesson! I have heard many pastors and Bible teachers say that if you cannot explain Scriptural concepts to a child, then you cannot really understand them yourself, and I am finding that to be very true, in a slightly different sort of way.

Our Bible curriculum does a good job of portraying a story, so my struggle is in conveying the purpose of the story. The story we focused on for the last two weeks was the woman who bled for twelve years. The basics of the story are fairly simple. As one of my Haitian students explained,

"Dees woman, she bleed for long long time. Dere many pee-pull, she push dem a-way so she touch Jesus. She wan to be hilled. She touch him, the bleed stops. Jesus tell her she is hilled, and she is very happy!"

Seems basic enough, right? Let's 'unpack' this a little bit. Mark 5:25 says the woman was 'subject to bleeding for 12 years.' We know from Lev. 12 and 15 that this would mean she was unable to: touch anyone or anything without making them/it unclean, participate in normal community life, or to worship in the Temple. Basically, she was isolated from God and her family; she was all alone. For twelve long years. No physical contact, constantly worrying about where to sit, what surfaces to touch, what buildings to enter. And with such a strange illness in such a shame/honor society, there was bound to be gossip galore!
As if the emotional strain of this condition was not enough, there is also the physical suffering of the bleeding, with all the pain that entailed. The doctors tried to help her, she spent all her money on them, but 'instead of getting better she grew worse.' (Vs. 26) And these doctors didn't have the high-tech, sterilized and specialized medicines we have today. I can't imagine the procedures and remedies they would have tried, nor do I want to! They accelerated her illness and depleted her finances, and she was emotionally isolated. There is one word I associate this woman very strongly with, and it is desperation

"When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, 'If I can just touch his clothes, then I will be healed.'" (27-28)

Their culture forbade her to touch anyone in her condition, the doctors had drained her of all hope of ever finding a cure. Yet she pushed through the crowd and touched Jesus' cloak, no doubt making 'unclean' more people in a few minutes than she had over the entire twelve year period. Instantly, her bleeding stopped, and she knew it. (29)

Jesus knew it, too. I've heard a lot of people teach his response to her (30-32) as though this was his way of testing her, to make her vocal about her faith in him. I don't think that this is wrong, but I think his response goes so much deeper than that! He calls her out, not so that he can bring attention to her faith or his healing of her, but so he can have relationship with her. 

"This woman would have been satisfied with physical healing, but her Savior would not. He forced her to come to him and be in relationship with him, to fall down before him, to come out of the shadows and into the full light of day. Our Savior loves to give us gifts but the best gift of all is himself, and he won't let us slink off, back into darkness and isolation. No, his love will pull us out of our shame, defilement, and fears, and then he'll speak gently and lovingly to us. 'Daughter, be at peace.'" ~Elyse Fitzpatrick in Comforts from the Cross

He calls her 'daughter', confirms to her that she is healed, and sends her in peace. He could have just kept on walking, been happy that she was relieved of her suffering. But he wanted her to know him, to know his love, to be completely healed. And my Savior wants the same for me: he cleans me, yes, but his desire isn't for clean people, but clean family. We are His bride, and marriage is an intimate relationship. This side of Heaven may be our engagement period, but everyone know that a good engagement means getting to know all about your fiancee! We will not know him fully until the Wedding, but we should take the time now to build the foundation of that relationship. Come to him as you are, get to know him and love him as he loves you. It is truly the greatest love story ever told!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hope

This week was one of those weeks that was just so full that your heart bursts at the end of it with a mixture of joy and exhaustion and relief and wonder, all at the same time. By yesterday morning, my heart was just weary and trying to express my thoughts in words was just impossible. To put it bluntly, I was a mess. I knew what I needed: some serious time with the Guide to Life Book. But my pride, and that old familiar Super Woman complex, kept bringing to mind that neverending List of Very Important and Necessary THINGS TO DO.

How is it, again, that our minds so easily forget just how amazing God's Word is? How good it is to just soak it up and be filled with the Bread of Life? Why do we allow such silly things as Facebook or email or dishes or cleaning the house to fill up our time until theres none left for the refreshing of our souls? My 'Martha' has been showing a lot lately.

So anyways...back to my purpose in this post. So I finally sat down with my Bible yesterday, and ended up reading 1 Peter, twice. The theme I kept noticing throughout the whole letter was that of hope.
Our hope is a 'living hope'. What does that mean? I mean, I would never even think of there being a dead hope. I'm no theologian, but since the very next verse (4) talks about the inheritance we can hope for as being something that will never fade, perish, or spoil, I think it means that this hope will never die. OUR hope can fail, we're human and we're all emotional. But THE hope of eternity, of salvation through Jesus Christ, will not. It's a hope that, as we go through life, encourages us to live as Jesus did, because when he comes again his grace will be made visible and unquestionably clear to us. (13-14) Its a direct hope, because God himself is the one who brought us a reason to hope! There isn't a messy chain of command to go through, nor was there any sort of material exchange done on our behalf. The process of our ransom went to the deepest possible extreme.(18-21)

It's good to be with friends who understand hope!

I could cover the whole book, but that would be a very long post...it's a good book to sit and marvel over. The complexities and yet also the simplicity of the Gospel. The hope of a home beyond all of this world. So praise to the God who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light, and fills us with himself so that we are now priceless children in the greatest Kingdom of all!

'But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.' ~1 Peter 2:9-10

Monday, July 23, 2012

Just a penny

I'm curious to see if I'm alone in this. How many times have you done this:
You're walking somewhere when you see a penny on the ground. You feel compelled to bend down and pick it up, you can even picture the process. But then you chide yourself, 'Come on: it's just a penny!' And you keep walking.
How many pennies have you passed by this week? I can think of 5 this past week alone, and I'm sure there were many others that I didn't even notice. Sometimes I'm so caught up with what I'm doing that I don't even pay attention to where I'm going, don't even notice the ground my feet are touching.

What about other 'pennies' in your life? I've been thinking about the story of the lost coin in the Gospel of Luke lately, how the woman searched so diligently for the one coin that was lost and then rejoiced so greatly when it was found.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’  In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:8-10

Since Connie and I moved across town into Central Fort Wayne, where our neighborhood is close knit and hard to be a hermit in, I think we've been getting a better idea of what it really means to be in ministry. I've gotten to know people I wouldn't normally choose to associate with. It's quite an interesting experience to be shaken up and shown just how unopen your heart is to to lost. I'm so grateful for this time of learning and growing, and some pretty awesome friends to share it with!

Some of our team

She holds out a hand to receive seeds,
Such tiny seeds, like cookie crumbs or grains of sand.
Before she pours them in the soil,
She pauses and stares, and can't help but wonder...
Can something so small become something great?
It's so easy to pass the pennies right on by, to think of them as
'just drug dealers,'
'just alcoholics,'
'just self-absorbed business people,'
'just angry teenagers,'
'just loose women,'
'just .....'

But people aren't 'just' anything. They have names, faces, stories. They matter. No matter what they appear to be at first glance, they are made in the image of God and each and every soul is precious to Him. They are worth our time. All of heaven rejoices when each penny is found, and so should we! I want to dedicate my life to finding the pennies. This week, it's been eating brownies and ice cream with some neighbors as we got to know each other, training the new and quiet employee at Panera, and delivering cheesecake to the neighbor who is on house arrest and couldn't join us for a party. What will it look like for you?
'See, even just a penny is a treasure'

Monday, June 18, 2012

healing

'So give yourselves completely to God. Stand against the devil, and the devil will run from you. Come near to God, and God will come near to you. You sinners, clean sin out of your lives. You who are trying to follow God and the world at the same time, make your thinking pure. Be sad, cry, and weep! Change your laughter into crying and your joy into sadness. Humble yourself in the Lord's presence, and He will honor you.' ~James 4:7-10

I'm studying James right now. It's interesting how God can make scripture that is 2,000 years old just stand up and dance right through life with you! His Word is definitely living and active, cutting through straight to the heart.

A couple weeks ago, I went over to the house of one of my Somalian friends to pick her up for a shopping trip. My friend still needed a few minutes to get ready, so her mom asked me to come in and sit with her. My friend's nieces and nephews were all there, and the grandmother kept order from where she sat on a mattress on the floor. Their home is one of my favorites to visit: the walls are covered with beautiful African hangings and scarves, and the floor is decorated with many colorful rugs and mats, yet their home has an airyness to it, and lots of light that I haven't seen in most of our African friends' homes. My friend's mother doesn't speak much English, so we smile our communication instead.

When her daughter came back in the room, she started rattling off in Maay Maay ('My-My': the language of the Somali Bantu, her people) at the speed of lightning and in a tone of concern while gesturing towards me repeatedly. I figured she probably wanted to tell me something, and sure enough, my friend explained to me that her youngest niece had an injury on her leg and her mother wanted me to look at it. Her niece is about a year old, and after many questions and translating from English to Maay-Maay and back, we came to the conclusion that it was a burst blister on her ankle. The grandmother told me that the little girl kept picking at the skin around the blister, and asked if there was anything she could do to help it heal. I took my friend to WalGreens and after confirming with the phamicist on the best way to treat it, we gathered up supplies and I explained to her how to use them. I haven't been back to visit since that day, but I hope to soon be able to go and check on her!

I've been thinking about that experience a lot the past two weeks, as I've wrestled with some things in my heart. Each of us have wounds in our hearts now and then, both self-inflicted and at the hands of others. They may be sins we've committed, or hurts that we've allowed to grow into bitterness and anger. When we constantly think about them, and remember all the gruesome and painful details its like we're picking at a scab and re-opening an injury. We know from our physical wounds that picking at them only makes the healing process longer, and its the same for heart-aches, too. The best way to heal a heart is to give it to Jesus, and let Him pour His cleansing blood over it, and cover it in the balm of His Word. Let Him pick out the dirt and rocks. It hurts, and it's not a pretty process, but in the end the healing is complete.

This is a hard lesson, and one that I've been learning the past month or so. To give myself completely to God, to clean the sin out of my life (all sin, not just the sin I want to clean out), to draw near to Him, to be humble before Him. It's very tempting to not allow Him to have complete reign in our hearts, to shield ourselves from the hydrogen peroxide of His Spirit. I want to share with you some encouraging words that have helped me and reminded me to be strong and finish the race. Jesus died to make our hearts clean and pure before the Father, and I want to continue to accept His washing of my feet to make my walk match up with His work. (John 13:1-17)

'Remember that I commanded you to be strong and brave. Don't be afraid, because the Lord your God will be with you everywhere you go.' Joshua 1:9

'Remember, God is the One who makes you and us strong in Christ. God made us His chosen people. He put His mark on us to show that we are His, and He put His Spirit in our hearts to be a guarantee for all He has promised.' 2 Corinthians 1:21-22

'Our fight is not against people on earth but against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world's darkness, against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly world. That is why you need to put on God's full armor. Then on the day of evil you will be able to stand strong. And when you have finished the whole fight, you will still be standing.' Ephesians 6:12-13

'My dear brothers and sisters, always be willing to listen and slow to speak. Do not become angry easily, because anger will not help you life the right kind of life God wants. So put out of your life every evil thing and every kind of wrong. Then in gentleness accept God's teaching that is planted in your hearts, which can save you. Do what God's teaching says; when you only listen and do nothing you are fooling yourselves.' James 1:19-22

'When people are tempted and still continue strong, they should be happy. After they have proved their faith, God will reward them with life forever. God promised this to all those who love Him.' James 1:12

'Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so God can heal you. When a believing person prays, great things happen.' James 5:16

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Just give me Jesus

I've had the song, 'Turn your eyes upon Jesus,' stuck in my head pretty much all week. One time while I was singing it, I tried to remember the first time I'd ever heard it and I couldn't. So I lost on a rabbit trail of thoughts about songs I learned from when I was a little girl, from when I was a toddler, and it hit me just how truly blessed I am. Even since before I was born, I've been surrounded by God's grace through my parents, family, my adopted grandparents and their family, Sunday school teachers, pastors, Bible quiz coaches, homeschooling moms-you name it! After thinking about it for awhile, I realize that there have been a LOT of Christians that have poured into this 20 years of life He's gifted me with! I've had so many people that intentionally taught me to turn my eyes to Jesus, whether by teaching me Scripture, songs, or just through sharing their heart. I don't often thank God for filling my life so full of Him, but I am right now. And realizing how many people He used to soften my heart to want to follow Him just makes me want to do the same for others.

The other day I was texting a friend, and had told her that I was just having a hard time and was really downcast. Her reply was, 'I just hope you remember that God delights in you!' It was like a jolt to my soul: there I was, wallowing in misery. Bogged down by stupid stuff. She pointed my eyes to Jesus, and reminded me of a simple truth that I had literally just been singing to my baby brother, Sammy. My housemate, Ciin, had just come home from a 5 hour shopping trip, and she'd had Sammy strapped to her back the entire time. She was exhausted, but Sammy wasn't so she handed him over to me, his 'sist-ah.' Ciin told me that Sammy calls Connie and I (his sist-ahs), 'ooh-ooh!' So I tried to get him to say it for me, and of course he just grinned and then let out a wail for his bottle. This baby is the fattest 8 month old I've ever come across, and I had to use both my arms to hold him. I told him I really understood why his uncle wants Connie to eat the same food he does, and I don't think he appreciated that comment. ;) So I decided to make it up to him and sang, "Jesus Loves Me," to him while he finished his bottle. He knows the tune, so he waved his arm to the music. I wonder, why do we consider it to be a 'children's song?' Why are songs that are really just simple, faith-filled praises seen as something 'the kids sing?' Children's songs are usually the first ones that pop into my mind when the hard times come. It's easy to get caught up in the messy, complex details of life, and feel as though we're able somehow to figure things out. But we're not. We can do nothing on our own, and if we fix our eyes on Jesus, we'll remember the things that truly matter, and all else will just fade away.



Jesus loves me! He will stay,
Close beside me all the way;
He's prepared a home for me,
And some day His face I'll see.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hope

There once was a magical golden flower that took up residence here in Little Burma. It was magical because, unlike common flowers, it didn't wilt and die within a few days of being plucked. Oh, no, this amazing little thing bloomed strong and radiant for 3 whole weeks; bringing cheer, love, joy, and most of all serving as a reminder of hope.



Ironically enough, the hand that plucked it (mine) was also the hand that ended its life. She was a thriving, happy little daisy until the day I decided to change her water. Within hours my little flower, who had nearly become an actual member of my home (we're still convinced she was a fairy of some sort), was shriveled up and gone, beyond all healing.

With the demise of Little Burma's visible little light of hope, a strange kind of darkness was settling over my heart as well. Surrounded by overwhelming circumstances on every side, like my poor little flower the hope that is in my heart was being choked by the death grip of doubts and fears. The sight of hope was almost completely gone with my daisy, but faith stepped in when hope was not clearly evident.

A week ago I found myself wandering around Little Burma. My heart felt like it just couldn't take one more blow. I searched and searched for another little blossom to help, but I searched in vain. The daisies were all gone, and the doubts and fears aimed to shoot what they hoped was the death blow. But, thanks to Jesus, my HOPE, those arrows bounced back and landed on the ground, worthless. During another walk with my Mama Chandler, we found some pretty purple wildflowers: "A blessing from Jesus!" They reminded me that, with Jesus, hope is always there, just not necessarily the same shape you think it should be. Circumstances still seem in some cases to be hopeless, but faith is the belief that hope is evident in the things unseen! Faith sees defeat as simply the prelude to a wonderful fairytale of love, peace, and joy. Faith chooses to see hope where hope has taken on a kind of invisibility cloak.

Once again I strolled the grounds, pondering peace and praise and faith...and all the while, searching. Sure enough, I found it: in my heart with my Jesus, and in my yard.

Hope


May these words from God's heart encourage you and remind you of the hope we can have in Jesus. Whatever hard things you are facing, remember to bring Him thanks and praise. 'Give thanks in all things' includes the trials, and we are also commanded to be joyful in them. I think this is the challenge for me, because thanks and joy come from resting in hope!

'We have this treasure from God, but we are like clay jars that hold the treaure. This shows that the great power is from God, not from us. We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We do not know what to do, but we do not give up the hope of living. We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed. We carry the death of Jesus in our own bodies so that the life of Jesus can also be seen in our bodies. We are alive, but for Jesus we are always in danger of death so that the life of Jesus can be seen in our bodies that die. So death is working in us, but life is working in you. It is written in the Scriptures, 'I believed, so I spoke.' Our faith is like this, too. We believe, and so we speak. God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, and we know that God will also raise us with Jesus. God will bring us together with you, and we will stand before him. All these things are for you. And so the grace of God that is being given to more and more people will bring increasing thanks to God for His glory.' ~2 Corinthians 4:7-15

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fearless

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7

I talked with our youth group girls last night about this verse. We first spent some time in thought, then we each wrote down one (or several) of our biggest fears.



Death.
Being alone.
Pain.
Losing a loved one.
Being rejected.
Trying new things.
People dying without knowing salvation.

We spent some time reflecting on our fears. "So why do we fear these things?" I asked them.
"Because we don't trust God," one girl quickly responded. She hit the nail on the head! For if we say we believe God is all powerful, and since we know that He is in control and has a plan, to fear something He has allowed to be set in motion is to doubt His love for us.

5 But if any of you needs wisdom, you should ask God for it. He is generous to everyone and will give you wisdom without criticizing you. 6 But when you ask God, you must believe and not doubt. Anyone who doubts is like a wave in the sea, blown up and down by the wind.7-8 Such doubters are thinking two different things at the same time, and they cannot decide about anything they do. They should not think they will receive anything from the Lord. James 1:5-8

Fear has no place in the life of one who has entrusted their very soul to God's capable hands. To fear is to doubt, to doubt is to lack faith, to lack faith is the absence of trust, and where there is no trust you cannot love. And withholding our love from the one who created us is a terrifying thing indeed.

So instead of fearing things we have no control over, we continued to the rest of the verse. The part where we see that God gives us the real deal: power, love, and a sound mind.

Power. A spirit of power is courage, steadfastness, and a warrior-like strength that rises up and challenges the validity of the fears that bombard us. It seeks truth rather than settling for the convenient emotions of worry and self-pity. To be filled with God's spirit of power is to remember that, even when on the surface it looks like evil is winning, Love conquers all.

My dear children, you belong to God and have defeated them; because God's Spirit, who is in you, is greater than the devil, who is in the world. 1 John 4:4

Love. When you love someone, you trust them. You don't doubt their ability to do anything. If its an unconditional love, you love them even when things are chaotic and they seem to not really be there. To love leaves no room for fear in our hearts-it is a peace of mind that is unwavering in its faith that God's promises are true.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. Mark 12:30
Sound Mind. This takes a lot of work! One of the girls and I discussed the act of guarding our hearts and minds from things that would will fear into them. It doesn't just mean NOT fearing-it means not allowing doubt to enter so it won't grow into fear. It means filling our minds with God's promises and truth, and recalling them every time doubt tries to enter. To have a sound mind, you have to rely on God's spirit of power to fight fear, and His love to cover all wrongs. It is peace through all the trials of life, even when the 'worst' does happen to us.

And God's peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7


I was up late, well after the youth had all been taken home and the other leaders and I had gathered for prayer last night, thinking about it. To leave fear behind is such a change of mindset, it really takes a lot of work to switch from that easy life to the life of complete peace and trust in the Lord. But really, fear is just the cheap, dollar store plastic ring that most of the world buys thinking it is the real deal, when God's way is the true diamond, worth more than anything. Yes, it requires a price: sacrificing our own desires to live as He wants, and sometimes sacrificing even more. But 'the sufferings that we have now are nothing compared to the great glory that will be shown to us.' (Romans 8:18)

Fear is full of nothing but pain, death, loss, hurt, loneliness, rejection, and separation from God. Fearless is all of God's wonderful promises blooming in our hearts; full, rich, and fragrant as a rose.