Obedience

Good Things, God Things, and GO Things

You’ve probably heard that there is a difference between “good things” and “God things.” That is, we may find ourselves very busy with sports, clubs, volunteer activities, civic duties, Bible studies, church services, and so on and so forth. But not all of these activities turn out to be God-honoring or God-glorifying, at least not for all of us. On the other hand, there are activities and commitments that do honor and glorify God, when situated within the context of our lives and our responsibilities.

But it seems to me that there is another distinction that bears mentioning—namely, there are some things that I would call GO things. For each of us, there are likely some hopes, dreams, and inclinations that we have considered. There may be some that we are deeply drawn to and feel called toward. That list looks different for each of us, and may include everything from becoming a mentor to becoming a missionary. My list has changed a bit over time, but has included things like adoption, foster to adopt, and living kidney donation.

I think that we tend to have one of two reactions to these leanings: 1) We put them on a bucket list and figure that maybe someday, we’ll have the opportunity to pursue them; or 2) We rush off to pursue them now, figuring that “if God didn’t want this for me, he wouldn’t have placed the desire in my heart.” But God may be telling us something different. You may be making someday plans when God wants you to act today. Maybe he’s trying to tell you that you’ve thought about it long enough, prayed about it long enough, put it off long enough. And he’s telling you to GO and to GO now. On the flipside, you may be anxious to get on with what you’ve determined to be God’s call on your life, and God is actually telling you something else. He may be saying, “Not now, not you, or not at all.” He may say that through Scripture, trusted sources of wise counsel, or the closed and open doors of opportunity that you come to.

Our job is to truly listen to what God is saying to us. When he says to go, GO. When he says to wait, WAIT. And when he says, “No,” accept that with all of the grace that God has given you through Christ Jesus. These responses are easier said than done, but we can find rest in the knowledge and promise that we can do and endure all things through Christ, in whom we find our strength (Philippians 4:13).

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Run YOUR Race!

Hebrews 12:1-2

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,
let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Wow! November is getting away from us SO quickly. I’m usually much better about posting regularly, especially during Adoption Awareness Month, which is one of my favorite times of the year. This November, I have a confession to make. I get kind of envious when I see mothers with new babies, or who are expecting, or who have adopted children, or who are fostering to adopt. With my youngest having just turned four years old last week, I feel like that phase of life is just slipping away.

And the further away from it we get as a family, and the closer we get to our arbitrary self-imposed adoptive-parent age limit of 40 years old (I will be 38 in February, can you believe it?!), the less likely it seems that we will end up pursuing adoption after all. Granted, we always say we’re open to burning bush moments and clear direction from God to the contrary, but for now, it seems unlikely.

Still, I STRONGLY support adoption. I think it is one of the most amazing and miraculous things you can do, and I believe that it offers such an indescribable blessing to everyone it touches. So I may ask God, Why not us? But as I read Hebrews 12:1-2, I hear God instructing me, “Run with endurance the race that is set before YOU…” While we ultimately all run a race designed to glorify God and advance his kingdom, we do not all run the exact same race, or the exact same route.

And, at this moment, the race set before me is not one that necessarily includes adoption (as sad as it is to admit). Instead, it includes being a wife and mother within a family of FOUR. It includes mentoring young women as they transition into the next stages of their lives. It includes praying for others at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It includes befriending the elderly, who have too often been neglected in this fast-paced world of ours. It includes teaching college students not just about subject matter, but about responsibility and character. It includes writing research papers that draw attention to important social issues of our day. And so many more things.

Your race may look very little (if at all) like mine, or like anyone else’s for that matter. But whatever it does look like, I would encourage you to embrace it and pursue it with diligence, as unto the Lord. And if YOUR race involves the joy and blessing of adoption, know that while I will feel a twinge of envy, I will also cheer you on, champion your cause, and do whatever I can to help you to run that race, and to run it well. You have my prayers and my admiration.

Run YOUR race!

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In Waiting

Romans 5:6

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

Waiting is hard. And it’s especially hard when God has called you to a place or a task or a position. Have you ever longed to do something that you felt you were born to do, meant to do, or created to do? Has God ever given you that sense of passion and urgency, only to instruct you to wait? Wait?! Are you kidding me? Well, I’ve been there…in fact, I’m there now. But it turns out we’re in good company. The Bible is full of people who were given their calling well before it came to fruition. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just share three.

First, there was Joseph (Genesis 37-42). You remember Joseph…that little brat who couldn’t keep his mouth shut about all of the grand things God was going to do through him. Yeah, that one. Well, after being given these dreams of grandeur, he had to wait and suffer for quite some time. After his brothers plotted to murder him, they changed their minds and sold him to a band of Ishmaelites, who in turn sold him as a slave to Potiphar. He probably thought his luck was turning around when Potiphar made him leader of his household, until Potiphar’s wife accused him of attempted rape (falsely, mind you). So then he ended up in jail. There, he met two servants of Pharaoh, whose dreams he correctly interpreted. But it was still another two years before Joseph was called on to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. It was only then that he was elevated to his divine calling, and it was still awhile before his brothers came to him for help during the famine. Ultimately, Joseph and his family prospered in spite of all they’d been through; Joseph’s dream had come true.

And how about David? (1 Samuel 16) He was somewhere between 10 and 13 years old when Samuel anointed him the next king of Israel. But it was still some 20 years before he took over the throne, and he faced some serious trials and obstacles in the meantime. He fought in battles, led armies, fled for his life more than once, and wrestled with despair over his circumstances. But in His time, God followed through on David’s earlier anointing. And God remained faithful the whole time—just as He always does.

And finally, let’s not forget Jesus. He had known for time eternal that His calling was to save humanity from our sins. And then, even when the time came to be born on earth, He had to wait another 33 years to fulfill His ultimate calling. He watched countless people suffer for years before He was even in a position to begin His public ministry of healing. His power, intentionally bridled for a time, must have been absolutely yearning to save and heal every single person He encountered during those waiting years. But He waited, He submitted to the will of the Father, and died for us at just the right time.

When we are confident in God’s calling for us, it can be torture to wait. We may be chomping at the bit to get after it. But I read something recently that I really liked:

“What God does in us while we wait is as important as what it is we are waiting for.”
–John Ortberg

Fleshing that out is a post for another time. But for now, let’s all be watching for what it is that God may be doing in us while we wait.

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Step Out in Faith

It’s not easy being a girl.

I know what you men are thinking…that this post isn’t for you. But don’t let my opening statement scare you away. This message is especially and specifically for you. But it bears sharing a bit of background, as in, it’s not easy being a girl. You’ve heard and even perpetuated the stereotypes, you’ve encountered the Bridezillas and the other crazies. To be honest, there aren’t that many areas on which I personally identify or connect with the traditional “female” experience. But there are a few—and there is one that especially stands out to me.

FAITH.

I know what you guys are thinking—women don’t have the corner on faith. And you’re right. As with any generalization, there are exceptions. But those exceptions belie the rule. Case in point: the cross. Think back, where were the disciples? Nowhere to be found. They were off hiding in the bushes somewhere. Who remained? The women. Now, I don’t know if they were 50 feet from the cross, but I can tell you how I picture the scene at Calvary. I see the Marys, all three of them, kneeling beneath the cross, worshiping Jesus in spite of what seemed a hopeless defeat. They’d been at His feet before, hanging on every word of His teaching…anointing His feet with the finest of perfumes and even their own precious tears. But this time, it was different. This time, it was He who was anointing THEM, with His own precious blood. And they believed Him and His promises. Still.

Need more proof? How about the tomb? Where were the disciples then? Running around like chickens with their heads cut off, that’s where. Why? Because they had finally met with a set of circumstances that defied their sense of reason, circumstances that they couldn’t understand or explain, or FIX. You can relate, can’t you? In a society where you’re expected to be self-sufficient, strong, successful. In a world where you’re expected to perform and provide, and to be right. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. You’re tired—exhausted. You’re weighed down with burdens that God never meant for you to carry. What He wants from you is FAITH. And I feel God telling me to tell you today, Step out in faith. Step out in faith. Don’t step out in the calculated risk that YOU can accept and manage. Don’t step out in your own resources—your wealth, your intellect, your spatial reasoning skills. Don’t step out only in what makes perfect logical sense. When you rely on these worldly “wisdoms” and competencies, you are stifling your God. You’re making Him small, weak, impotent—not in reality, but in your MIND, and your HEART.

Consider David, when he faced Goliath. Did he step out in his own strength, or experience, or prowess? No, in his own words, he stepped out “in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel” (1 Samuel 17:45). God never said to be strong and courageous in your own abilities. In Joshua 1:9, we see that God commands us to be strong and courageous, and to not be afraid or discouraged, “for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Don’t stifle the Holy Spirit inside you. Don’t put false limits on a God who is limitless. Have faith. Deepen your faith. And then STEP OUT IN FAITH!

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God, I pray that you would raise up not just one generation of faithful men, but an army. I pray that these godly men would allow themselves to trust you, and to not rely on their own strength and understanding. Instead, let them pursue you BOLDLY, recognizing that you are a BIG God, and that you have in store for them BIG, GOD-SIZED dreams and possibilities. Give them courage to rest in you, and to step out in faith for your glory and your kingdom. A thousand times, Amen. In your matchless and limitless power, let it be so today.

 

Dust

Psalm 103:13-14

“As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.”

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Well, I finally got tattoo #8 yesterday. I’d been thinking about it for some time, but the logistics only just fell into place. Whenever people see a tattoo in another language, the first thing they ask is what it means. Well, in this case, the Korean symbol on the back of my ankle means “dust.” It isn’t the only symbol for dust in the Korean language, but this one means, “soil, earth, clay, dust, ground, terra.” And that seems pretty close to the meaning of dust in the Bible verse above. WE. ARE. DUST.

I think we forget that sometimes. We think we are greater than we are, more invincible, more in control of our own destiny. Or maybe we are constantly beating ourselves up because we aren’t as great as we think we should be; we aren’t as kind, honest, or righteous as we are called to be. We fail. We fall. We disappoint ourselves, and those around us, and presumably God. But the verse above suggests that our God is a God of compassion, understanding, and unconditional love.

We also need to remember that, just as we are formed from dust, so are the people around us. They will fail. They will fall—and the higher the pedestal you’ve put them on, the greater the fall will be. They will disappoint. They will betray. And God remembers that they, too, are but dust.

Now, does this mean we should throw in the towel and dispense with all the good we know we should do? Does it mean we should do away with our efforts to promote justice and righteousness? And does it mean we should try to avoid the consequences of our actions, or protect others from suffering the consequences of theirs? No, no, and no. Paul makes that abundantly clear in Romans 6:1-2: “What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may increase? By no means! How can we who died to sin live in it any longer?”

We should do what we know to be right and good. As Micah 6:8 commands, we must seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. And as Jesus stated (Luke 10:27), we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Still, as hard as we try to obey God’s instructions, we will fail at least some of the time. And no matter how hard our fellow believers try to keep those commands, they will fail. And no matter how much trust and loyalty we place in our leaders, they too will fail. And maybe, just maybe, if the God of the universe—holy, righteous, and just—can show compassion toward such dusty creatures as you and me, then perhaps we could too.

Star Wars and Heart Wars

1 Chronicles 17:1, 3-4

After David was settled in his palace, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under a tent.”….
But that night the word of God came to Nathan, saying: “Go and tell my servant David,
‘This is what the Lord says: You are not the one to build me a house to dwell in.’”

Last week, in his God in the Movies sermon series, our pastor taught on the faith lessons to be gleaned from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Now, you have to know that I am NOT a Star Wars fan. Every 10 years or so, I try again to watch A New Hope, but I fall asleep before they get out of the desert. I once tried to watch The Empire Strikes Back, but couldn’t manage to stay awake for more than about 20 minutes.

Even so, the spiritual significance of this new installment was not lost on me. Our pastor highlighted the main theme running through the film, namely that there was a generational handoff afoot. The old guard was giving way to the new, and there were tensions and sacrifices associated with this transition. He compared this transition to one depicted in 1 Timothy, wherein the Apostle Paul is handing the ministerial baton to Timothy, his understudy.

This epistle has at least three lessons to offer to both the old guard in the faith and the new. For the older generation, Paul sets the example of being willing to: (1) serve for as long as he lives, even if the capacity of that service may change; (2) serve with humility; and (3) provide wise counsel as a mentor. For the newer and younger members of the Body, Timothy sets the example of: (1) having a teachable spirit; (2) finding confidence in his calling rather than his experience; and (3) being willing to sacrifice his own desires for the sake of the greater good.

This handoff reminds me of another story in Scripture, one that is recounted in both 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17. In this story, David wants to build a temple for God. God has other plans, however. He intends for David’s son Solomon to build the temple. David sacrifices his desire in the interest of God’s. And sometimes we must follow in these same footsteps.

As I have reflected on last week’s sermon, and these passages, I can’t help but relate them to my own desire to adopt a child. I’ve had a heart for adoption for a long time, but have not received clear direction from God to go forward. Sadly, I have no Nathan in my life to speak directly on behalf of God. But something in Brady’s sermon did catch my attention. He said, in relation to Timothy’s calling, that our callings should be “affirmed by Godly leaders.” So I thought back. I’ve been talking about adoption for a long time, to pretty much anyone who would listen. But try as I may, I can’t think of anyone who has actually affirmed that desire as my calling. People listen, they promise to pray, they ask if we’ve come to any decisions, they have even pressured us to come to a decision (one way or the other). But if I’m being honest, that affirmation hasn’t come.

Lesson #3 from Timothy also caught my attention. God’s people must be willing to sacrifice their own desires for the sake of the greater good. It’s one thing to make sacrifices for things we desire—although certainly not easy. But it’s quite another to consider the bigger picture and the greater narrative, and to give up our own desires for the cause. And what if, for me, adoption is just that—a desire? What if it isn’t my calling after all?

What if I’m actually part of the old guard in this narrative? What if I’m meant to pass the baton to the newer and younger followers? What if my role now is to move on to a new stage in life, and to serve in any way that I can from that position? What if my job is to offer wise counsel to those who follow? What if I am called to mentor and disciple future leaders, investing in their spiritual growth? What if I am meant to shine God’s light in a classroom, rather than being confined to the walls of my home?

I have to tell you, I don’t have all the answers. But I’m willing to ask the questions, and I figure that must count for something, right?

Here’s to you, and your own search for meaning, purpose, and calling in this life.

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An Unlikely Enemy

Isaiah 55:8-9

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”

They say that the good is often the enemy of the best. It’s one of the truest statements ever made. I think it applies especially to God and to His plans for each of us. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got some ideas. I’ve got ideas about how I can serve God, and further the Kingdom, and bless all of humanity. Yeah, I’ve got some big ideas and some equally big plans. But wait—what’s that the Bible says in Proverbs 16:9? “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.”

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But my plans are good! They’re noble, they’re selfless and sacrificial. And those things are true. But no matter how good my plans may be, they may not be BEST. God may have better plans than I do. Let’s face it, He undoubtedly does. So He’ll close some doors and open others. He’ll speak to me through other believers. He will give me a sense of peace, or perhaps a sense of unrest. And sometimes, some of our dreams have to die to make room for the dreams God has for us.

There’s a story I’ve heard several times, of a little girl with a fake pearl necklace that she adores and wears religiously. One night, her Dad asks, “Do you love me?” Her reply is, “Yes, of course I love you.” Dad’s reply? “Then will you give me your pearls?” Devastated, she replies, “Daddy, I do love you, but I can’t give you my pearls.” This exchange goes on for several nights, until the little girl finally answers, “Daddy, I do love you, and if you really want my pearls that badly, you can have them.” And once she hands them over through tears, the dad pulls out a beautiful string of REAL pearls, a gift he’s been waiting so long to give her. She’s finally willing to give up the good, in exchange for the best. The question is, am I? And are you?

Oh God, let us accept your best for us with open minds, open hands, and open hearts. Help us to believe the truth that your thoughts and your ways are so very much higher than ours; that you have plans to prosper us, to bring us a future and a hope; and that you are ready and waiting to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine. In the all-powerful name of Jesus, let it be so.  

The Greater Blessing

Hebrews 12:1-2a

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run
 with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus,
the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

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If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you may recall how I feel about blessings and what it means to be blessed. Awhile back, our pastor described blessings in terms of a nearness to God. So it isn’t the material things (money, houses, cars) or even the nonmaterial things (health, longevity, family) that we so often ask God for that offer the greatest blessings. Rather, it is those things that draw us closer to Him, that force us to place our trust more firmly in Him, and that help us to fall ever more in love with Him.

I recently posed an argument that opportunities to become more like Christ would also fall under this definition of blessing, and I still believe that’s true. However, over the last week or so, God has begun to change my heart about what that Christ-like transformation might look like—namely, it will look different for each one of us.

Of course, we are seeking a likeness to the same Jesus, who is as unchanging as God the Father Himself. But that Jesus is made up of many more characteristics than one. And we each excel at Christ-likeness in some areas, and struggle in others. And God wants us to grow closer to Him along all of those dimensions. And that growth may look different for you than it does for me—in fact, it almost assuredly will!

So, perhaps God will grow my patience, while He grows your joy. Or my gentleness and your love. Or my self-control and your peace. These exercises will require different actions from each of us. God has convicted me to recognize that my way is not the only way, or the right way, or the only right way. It isn’t even necessarily the better way. Instead, each of us will find the greater blessing when we openly accept God’s invitation to draw most near to Him. It will come when we allow God to stretch us beyond our current strengths, and to grow us in our areas of weakness.

I pray that we would each be open to God’s leading and instruction: that we would read the Word with intention and conviction, taking from it the hard as well as the easy truths; that we would seek and discern wise counsel from among the many voices swirling around us; and that we would trust and follow the Holy Spirit. Godspeed as you seek the greater blessing!

Who I Am–Part VII

Matthew 16:24-25

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me,
he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it;
but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

I’ve been married almost seven years. But I have to admit, I was never one of those girls who was anxious or eager to get my MRS degree. I had plans, and I worried that marriage would interrupt those plans—be it through an inconvenient move, or an unplanned pregnancy, or any number of other “trials” that sometimes come along with marriage.

But what can you do? I met a great guy and we decided that we might be able to serve God better together than alone. Besides, when the time came to say good-bye and go our separate ways, neither of us really wanted to. So we planned a beautiful but casual wedding—in a barn! And that was before it was “cool” to get married in a barn. But before we got married, I got my most recent tattoo. It’s on the inside of my left wrist, and reads “Surrender” in Arabic.

This was very intentional. I knew that marriage would mean sacrifice. I knew that motherhood would mean sacrifice. Knowing this, I chose to give up any control that I perceived myself to have, in pursuit of the greater good. But making that choice consciously didn’t negate or nullify the sacrifices that would follow. It hasn’t even always made those sacrifices easier. But if they were easy, I guess they wouldn’t be sacrifices.

As I’ve thought about this truth over the past few days, it occurs to me how perfectly suited this entry is for today—Easter. Jesus, after all, is also well acquainted with the ideas of sacrifice and surrender. He chose to submit to the Heavenly Father’s will, to come to earth, and to humble himself, taking on human flesh. He laid down the rights of his deity, and then he laid down his very life as a sacrifice for our sins. And we sometimes console ourselves with the delusion that, because this sacrifice was undertaken willingly, it was somehow less sacrificial and less requiring of surrender. But the Bible makes clear that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Even knowing the glory set before him on the other side of the grave, Jesus pleaded with God the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). As if that wasn’t enough, Luke 22:44 tells us that “in His anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.”

And if surrender and sacrifice were so taxing to Jesus’s spirit, how can we expect anything less? Our lives will offer these opportunities and invitations over and over again, until we are ultimately called home. When they come my way, I do my best to hold open hands up to the heavens in acceptance of God’s will. And when I do, I’m reminded of that word—surrender. I’m convinced that Jesus also holds his hands out in front of him from time to time. But instead of his scars reminding him of surrender or sacrifice, they remind him of you and of me. It is as though his hands are tattooed with the word beloved…along with each of our names.

Isaiah 49:16

“Look, I have inscribed your name on my palms; your walls are constantly before me.” 

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Abide

John 15:4-5
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine,
so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches;
he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Last weekend, I hopped between two different local sites for this year’s IF:Gathering. This worldwide livestream event allows women of God to gather, to find encouragement, and to be challenged to a deeper and closer—a more active—walk with Jesus. The premise? IF we believed that Jesus is real, IF we believed that God is who He says He is, IF we believed that the Bible is true, then what? What would that mean for our thoughts, words, actions, and relationships?

And each year, we come away with a token of God’s personal challenge to us. This year, we each received a domino, on which we were invited to write one word—one word representing something the Holy Spirit is calling us to “fall into” this year, in prayerful hope of an amazing chain reaction among God’s people across the globe.

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By the end of the weekend, my word was pretty clear: ABIDE. Abide in the Word, and in prayer, and in Christ’s presence. I can recall a time in my life when morning quiet time was a staple in my day. But then I let it slip for a bit. First it was because I was studying for comprehensive exams and writing a dissertation. Then it was because I was a new mom, sleep deprived and exhausted. Then it was because my second child came out with no intention of sleeping through the night—at least not until she was 18 months old. Then it was my part-time teaching job. Now the kids are 4 ½ and 3, and are still keeping us up at night, and my commitment to that quiet time is still sketchy.

I’ve made all kinds of excuses—being there for my kids is my calling in this season; my students are my mission field right now, and they take so much of my time and attention; my gift is encouragement, and so and so needs encouragement right now; there are only so many minutes in the day…blah, blah, blah. And truthfully, none of that has changed.

Still, the time has come to be more deliberate about spending time in the Word daily. After all, I spend so much time praying for direction, guidance, and clarity—but perhaps it’s in that abiding that God wants to speak the answers to those prayers.

How about you? What is God calling YOU to fall into during this season?