Tag Archives: Jesus

To Polish or Paint

As a newly engaged woman I am constantly obsessing over the sparkly ring on my finger, not because I’m materialistic but because it is a reminder of my fiancé’s love for and commitment to me. While slipping into my flats this morning I noticed how my ring glittered and glistened while my recently polished toenails were already chipped and dull. 

This one observation spurred me to think of and pray for those in my life who are experiencing hardship. We don’t know the reason for specific struggles and suffering, but we can trust that God uses these instances to bring us closer to Him and to polish us. Why does it take struggles and suffering to be polished? Well, like my toenails, if our flaws were simply painted over, we would just be back to our damaged selves right away, but God chooses to scrub off our blemishes and make us shiny and new. We don’t have to return to the dull-in-spirit sinners we were before. 

For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance. – Psalm 66:10-12

When I look back on the valley journey it took to get to this mountaintop joy-filled time of my life, I honestly don’t see how I could have gotten here without the many valleys along the way. In addition, I wouldn’t be the person I am now without those valley, those times of refinement and scrubbing. There were times I felt hopeless, worthless, and ashamed. If God had just painted over my sin instead of washing it away, I couldn’t be the wife and daughter he is making me to be. I might look nice, but I couldn’t love like Christ. 

The biggest lesson learned through suffering is this, His thoughts are higher than my thoughts and His ways are higher than my ways. We will never have all the answers to the “why me?” questions in life, but we aren’t meant to. We are meant to trust God and His process no matter how painful it is because we know He is good all the time…even when we can’t feel it. 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9

Pray for someone who doesn’t have the strength to pray right now and reflect on the good that has come out of the worst in your life. 

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Oddly Jesus’ Best

Learning to accept and even welcome the unexpected as Jesus’ best for me is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do as a Christian. When things don’t turn out the way I planned I want to stomp around and pout like a two-year-old not getting her way. As adults we often throw ourselves pity parties or practice retail therapy or even worse, but when we see kids throwing tantrums we roll our eyes at the thought. 

In John 9 Jesus uses mud and saliva to give a blind man sight. If I were the blind man I’d be thinking, “Look dude, people already think I’m a horrible person just for being born blind and now you’re going to rub mud, wet with your spit on my eyes. Can this get any worse?!?” 

I notice, however, that Jesus didn’t forewarn the man. In fact, the author doesn’t record Jesus addressing the man at all before rubbing his spit in his eyes. 

Often we experience these off-road, unplanned detours God throws our way without warning and without apparent preparation, but as we see in the scripture, God uses the odd and seemingly unplanned as a testament to his goodness. When God is able to use the odd for your good, it shows the good in your life is truly a miracle from God. 

When God used my Great Uncle Jerry’s illness and near death to turn his soul back to God and heal him in order that he could share the Gospel during the last years of his life, it was an undeniable testament of God’s goodness. When God used my prayer for my friend’s back to heal me of half a decade of unexplained stomach pain, there was no question it was God’s doing. God is notorious for making himself known in the lowliest of places and circumstances “…so that the work of God might be displayed…”

God’s Current

As far back as I can remember in the history of cell phones I have always overcharged my phone. I use it so much for taking pictures or Googling random facts, that I don’t like to let it out of my sight long enough to charge until I’m ready to hit the hay. At the end of the day I plug it in, thinking, I won’t fall asleep before I unplug the phone, but inevitably I always doze off before it’s done charging. It’s a bad habit that ruins my phone battery and keeps me running on empty throughout the day, but it always happens.

One evening I was winding down for the day and went to plug in the phone, but the end of the cord that connects to the phone was fried. In my sleep a few nights before I had unplugged the phone and left the cord plugged into the wall. It had been like that for who knows how long, and it had finally gotten too hot and melted the outer shell of the plug. Fortunately this did not cause a fire, but from the appearances of it, it very well could have. 9597bc0b-3382-455e-a663-e83d75bcb989

As I reflected on my foolish mistake, I realized that we neglect our spiritual lives just the same. We power up on Sundays, neglect God all week, and return the next Sunday ready to refuel. And just like I didn’t unplug the cord from the outlet, so God does not unplug from us. His Holy Spirit current is still flowing to us, but we are disengaged. We fail to receive His power because we’ve detached ourselves from the source. It is not that He ever denies us the Holy Spirit, in fact, it is still flowing at the same speed and same strength as it ever did. And like the cord that got so hot it melted, so we can feel the Holy Spirit tongues like fire (Acts 2:3) roaring in us, to the point of it spilling over, erupting from us. God uses that precious overflow to reach those around us that are yet to know His power.

Today and everyday, God invites us to reconnect, refuel, and allow His goodness to spill over in our lives if only we take the time to plug in.

Zealand Worship – Your Love is Wild (Official Video) Published on May 23, 2016

God’s Will and Shoe Shopping

Alas my foot finally rubbed a dime-size hole in the side of my favorite pair of flats. These were the shoes I wore proudly for five-plus years and got compliments every time. These were the shoes in which, though they were pricier than most I owned, I didn’t hesitate to invest. When I noticed holes wore through the inside of them last winter, I turned a blind eye because I loved them. Though they always came untied, I never hesitated to bend down and retie their bows. No shoe matched everything better than these shoes.

Now without my perfect flats, shoe shopping is more difficult than ever. No flat seems worthy of filling its empty slot on my shoe rack. I’ve searched high and low, and not one meets the high expectations I now have because of my perfect flats. And though shoe shopping is difficult, I only wish parts of my life were as easy as shoe shopping. If only I could walk into a husband store. A salesperson would slip my heart into a heart measuring device, pull up some possible matches on her register, and pull some of those candidates from the back room for me to try on. I could take them out of their boxes, turn them around in my hands, examine their quality, and try them on for size. I know, I know. There are things out there like that. For instance, online dating sites. Each of these advertises that they can find you a perfect match, but I’ve tried and they can’t. In fact, they match me with non-matches, saying things like “A what-if match!” I’m sorry, but if I’m looking for Nordstrom quality I’m not going to walk into Payless Shoe Source!

Before I knew God, I mean, really knew God, I would have settled for any Joe Blow off the street. I had never experienced the unconditional love of a perfect heavenly Father, but now that I have experienced it, it’s like my perfect flat. I know what real love feels like and its difference in quality to that of lust or a crush. Since man can never live up to God, of course I’m not searching for perfection. I have taken the time to pray and think through the qualities of God’s love and character that I most love and appreciate. Those qualities are what I hope to find in a husband. I’m looking for the perfect flat of a man. Someone who, just like my perfect flat, complements all my favorite things like faith, family, volunteering, trying new foods, hiking, etc. Now that I’ve experienced God’s love, nothing will ever compare. Fortunately God’s love won’t ever wear out as my perfect flat did, but perhaps there is a husband out there who mirrors some of my favorite God-qualities. And maybe there’s another shoe that can fill my perfect flat’s slot in my shoe rack, if only I wait just a little while longer.

What a Difference a Decade Makes

As my 35th birthday approaches I reflect on the difference the last decade has made. Ask a 15-year-old or even someone in their 20’s like the volunteers I work with, and they will probably tell you that most maturing happens between ages 15 and 25. However I beg to differ. I have found no other decade thus far that has both matured me and made me more youthful than this last decade.

Perhaps it is because my family dynamics are better than ever or because I have mastered my job of 10 years, but my gut tells me it’s more than that. I know this maturity and this youthfulness has come from a deeper relationship with God as a result of many enriching friendships with genuine investment in my life. These individuals and church communities have been intentional about their relationships with me. They not only loved me with their own love but with the love of Christ. They met with me, prayed for me, encouraged me, counseled me. I wouldn’t trade the last absolutely excruciating years of spiritual stretching, molding and refining if it meant going back to where I was in my faith at 25.

As my church prepares to start discipling relationships, I am both fearful of failure and confident in God’s grace. The same grace he has given me in the last decade will be shown to me in the next…and shown to my discipleship partner as well. It is comforting to reflect on how God used many ordinary people in my life to do extraordinary deeds for him. Not once did he use a celebrity, a earthly king/queen, or a genius to disciple me. He used a dietitian, a wealth manager, a housewife, a manager, a college student, a pharmacist, and many others to disciple me. None of them were Bible scholars, sinless, and few were even in places of authority in the church. He can and will use me when I step out in faith.

Lord, I am so grateful for the way you have used the past decade to mold me into who I need to be in the next. I step out in faith to disciple others because I know you are the only tool I need. Thank you for your grace and mercy. Amen.

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Thanksgiving in March

For the last month and a half I have been trying to get healthy. I’ve been eating smaller portions and healthier food, taking vitamins and probiotics, and stretching and doing yoga daily. I’m especially fond of the hilarious Adriene of “Yoga with Adriene.” Her motto is “Find What Feels Good.” Now, as a Christian, I know that saying cannot be applied to everything. Many things that “feel good” in the moment are not good for us in eternity, but it works for yoga and stretching. It basically means, don’t over-extend.

In life, I am learning, however, that it’s important to not only find what feels good, it’s important to find what fills us. Over the weekend I had the pleasure of meeting Costas*, a man from Haiti who lives near a park where I was attending an event. Our conversation started when he mistakenly told me “Happy Thanksgiving” and I corrected him, saying, “I think you mean happy Easter.” This led to a long conversation about assignments from God. Though, on first glance, Costas seemed like a disheveled wanderer, it turned out he was a man literally on a mission from God. All the trials and tribulations of his past had brought him to a place, geographically, financially, and spiritually, where he could serve the very place where it all began. He allowed God to take the pain of yesterday and turn it into the joy of the present.

After escaping his home country, Costas entered a world that was new to him. The language was new. The culture was new. Everything was new. In this place of deep need and emptiness, much like Job of the scripture, he encountered people on assignment for God, people of many different cultures and religions who had made the humble decision to serve refugees. As a recipient of such generosity and kindness, he thrived in his new home. He created a life for himself, even purchased the house he once shared with 11 other refugees.

His story could have ended there with a big fat “Happily Ever After,” but it didn’t. Instead God called him back to where all the pain began, where the running began, where the terror began. It must have been as profound for him as it was for me listening to it because he made a point of saying, “God often sends you back to where it all began.” He gave examples like that of Moses who had to go back to Egypt to set the Israelites free. Costas, in the last 15 years, decades after escaping Haiti, decided to go back to build a school where there was no education and serve thousands of people in rural Haiti.

His story really resonated with me. For the first 25 years of life I lived within 30 miles of where I was born. At 25 years old I decided to move to the Bay Area for 3 years until I finished school. Now 10 years later I am still here, and constantly wondering why. I love Oakland. I love my church, the food, the culture, but I often miss home. Maybe God took me from home to learn something to take back home someday. Perhaps there’s something I will find here that I would have never found at home, and when I return I will bring with me something someone needs.

So maybe there is something I could gain from this conversation with Costas that I could use years from now when I return home, but what I can I take from it today? Later that day, after talking with him, I felt so energized. I’m sure it was partially due to the Holy Spirit’s involvement in our exchange, but it was something more than that. I realized afterward that I am energized by one-on-one conversations with people. I walk away feeling like I have gained insight, learned more about culture, the similarities and differences. I feel as though the words spoken to me are the most precious gift.

Through this conversation with a complete stranger God reminded me that I need to have these individual conversations in order to be filled, energized. I recognize now why I sometimes feel unfulfilled in my workplace where there’s little time for individual exchanges or deep conversation, where the majority of my day is spent conversing with a computer screen.

Perhaps Costas had a point. It may not have been Thanksgiving, but Sunday was truly a day to be thankful.

 

*name changed for privacy

 

What are you Holding Onto?

Recently my pastors have given a message series on “Discovering Your Story”, teaching how to discern where we fit into to God’s story. The series has been both challenging and enlightening to me, and has brought some inspiration to my little dry spell the last few weeks. (Sorry for that.)

The last message in the series follows Moses in the book of Numbers as he struggles with the complaints of thousands of thirsty Israelites. It reminds me of the wife who spends well over an hour preparing a lovely dinner for her family only to receive complaints. Moses must have been thinking, as I sometimes do, “If I’m following God’s will then why am I stuck here with these people I don’t particularly like right now!” And yet, despite his anger and frustration, God still provides him a way out. How gracious!

God tells Moses to take his staff, speak to a rock and it will pour out water. Why did God ask Moses to take his staff, the staff that he used during the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and much more? Earlier in the story of Moses, in the book of Exodus, we even read that God had commanded Moses to strike a rock with his staff to pour out water. At first you might not think anything of him bringing his staff. You might think the staff was like a magic wand, that it needed to be present for miracles to happen. Perhaps Moses needed the staff because he was old and bent over. The Bible doesn’t say why he was told to take the staff if God didn’t want him to strike the rock this time, but my pastor’s message suggested that Moses and the Israelites needed the staff as a reminder of all the past miracles God had done through the staff just as we need to be reminded of all our past answered prayers.

As I pondered on Pastor Ed’s point about the importance of remembering God’s goodness, I realized that if we aren’t holding onto the promise of God’s goodness, we are holding onto something else. Sometimes we complain as the Israelites did. Sometimes we turn to money, substances, or material things to solve our problems. Sometimes we avoid our problems, and there are even times that we blame God. In all of these instances we have let go of our gratitude, our memory of God’s faithfulness, his past victories, and turn to something that can only provide a temporary solution. This is why it is important to hold onto the metaphoric staffs in our lives.

While holding onto these past promises, as Moses did, can help us follow God’s will for our situation, we still stumble from time to time. This is because God made us in His image, an image that very much experiences emotion. We see it in God’s Old Testament interactions with Moses and the Israelites. It seems Moses is constantly begging God to show mercy in his anger. Jesus also demonstrated emotion as he cries at the death of his friend Lazarus. We see it in Jesus’ anger at the vendors in the temple. We even see it in the creation story of Genesis as God thought his creation of man was “very good.” God would not deny us our emotions, just as he would not deny Moses his anger as he approaches the rock in the presence of disappointed Israelites. This is where Moses needed to practice the self-control talked about in the fruit of the spirit passage in Galatians 5. This is where he needed to take a moment and put aside those emotions in order to follow God’s will. Instead Moses lashes out in both words and actions and destroys his chance of ever entering the Promised Land.

Two of the lessons we can learn from Numbers 20:

  1. Take God’s goodness, answered prayers, and promises with you in all you do as a reminder of His faithfulness.
  2. Decisions should not be made by our emotions but God’s will. Practice self-control in all situations no matter how emotional.

How will you practice these lessons today, tomorrow, this week? We all have to make tough decisions in emotional situations. Most big decisions are emotional. Do you find yourself making life decisions based on your emotions?

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I pray your will be done, not mine. I don’t have a way to see the big picture, but you do, so Lord, I give every decision little or big to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.