Thursday, December 17, 2015

Named by God

In Ephesians 3:15, the Apostle Paul identifies the One to whom he is praying - [The Father] from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named

My name is Eva Maureen Dubert Burkholder. I was named after my aunt. While Aunt E got the shortened form, I never had a nick name. Eva means "life or giver of life" in Hebrew. Maureen came because my mother chose names that started with "Ma" after her name, Marjorie. I didn't appreciate the depth of my name until I gave birth to my first son. My name also helps me appreciate my God who is a life-giver and who has given me both life here on earth but also eternal life.

In grade school, my two closest friends and I created code names for everyone in our class so we could talk about them and pass notes that no one understood. (What a silly schoolgirl thing to do!) My name, for the record, was Jelly Bean. And you know, I cannot even remember why I got that name even though we did have some sort of strategy. In French class, I had to choose a name, so I chose Renee, just because I liked the sound of it. In college, my weird and delightful senior roommates coined a way to abbreviate our names, thus I became Eu Da (pronounced "ooda"). And after pledging to love and cherish my husband, I took on a new last name as well as some endearing names. Oh, the evolution of names in one's lifetime!
Isaiah 49:1b says The Lord called me from the womb; from the body of my mother he named me (NASB). God felt names were so important that he gave Adam the task of giving every creature a name. This became their identity, the description of who they were. Without a name, we are nobodies, not acknowledged. Knowing someone’s name means we know who they are. My Australian friends find it troublesome when we Americans talk about someone who is present in the room using the third person. “She’s (standing right next to me) really happy that our son called today.” Aussies find this very rude. Why would you not use the person’s name, “Jane is really happy”….? Using just a pronoun is dehumanizing.

We have several examples in Scripture of God renaming his children. Abram became "Abraham" (Gen 17:5), Sarai became "Sarah" (Gen 17:15), Jacob became "Israel" (Gen 32:28), Simon became "Peter" (Matt 16:18). God even named his Son "Jesus" (Matt 1:21). When we learn the meaning of these new names, we see that they were pictures of the people God intended they would become.
While I have had many names and code names, the one most precious to me is the name God gave me. After a time of emotional struggle, God named me "Hephzibah" from Isaiah 62:4. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married. I hesitate to share this very personal experience because Hephzibah has been the brunt of many Christian jokes, but it is very special to me. Hephzibah means "my delight is in her". "Delight" for short. (By the way, Naomi, Jewel and Eden also mean "delight".) This naming came at a time when I did not feel delighted in, but God reassured me that this was the way sees me, the way he made me to be, the one I will become.

It is also very comforting and intimate to me to know that God not only names me but he calls me by my name. Isaiah 43:1 But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. (NKJV) In those times when I am struggling to know who I am or if I am worth anything, God calls me "My delight" and I stand tall and stop trying to get others to tell me how delightful I am.

Recently, my dear friend Lori stepped into the presence of Jesus. How sweet that moment must have been when she heard her Savior call her name - out loud - to actually hear it! "Lori, my sweet one, you are whole again!"
What name has God given you? What picture does it paint of who God wants you to be? What will your Savior call you when you step into his presence?
Life is not a matter of creating a special name for ourselves, but of uncovering the name we have always had. - Richard Rohr
My God to whom I pray, You are the One who has named everyone, including me. You see everyone. You know who we are and will become. You are our source, our origin. You give us our meaning and our identity. Thank you for naming us and calling us by our name.

For others in this series, see Let us Kneel.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Tribute to My Friend

I don't actually remember when I first met Lori. One day, she and Ben just showed up at our church. And they wanted to be our friends, so Mark and I started hanging out with them, sharing our stories and doing life together. Little did I know what a blessing I would receive in Lori.

I used to walk by Lori's workplace on the way home from my work. If I had time, I stopped in to see Lori, though she never demanded it of me. She always greeted me with her famous smile, a hug, even a kiss on the cheek. She introduced me to those she worked with and soon I saw what a fan-club Lori had. I watched her share Jesus in such a natural way by simply loving others.

Sometimes, we ate our lunches together and prayed. We shared about our week, our children, our plans. I always felt like she cared just as much about me and my life as I did about hers. She never complained, but spoke freely of how God was her sustainer during her times of illness and her hope for life eternal. She smiled and laughed and I always felt better after being with her.

Because of Lori, my life is richer today. She showed me how to simply be more pleasant, more friendly, more positive and non-demanding, to love others and greet them cheerfully, to rejoice in suffering. Lori taught me what a friend should be like because she was one to me.

When we told Ben and Lori that we were praying about moving away to join a new ministry, Lori gave me the greatest gift any friend can give. She graciously let me go. And now it is my turn to release what I have received, to let her go into the loving, caring hands of her Savior and Lord. And while it hurts to do so and I will miss her terribly, she gave me the gift of true friendship, and that will suffice until I see her again in glory.

Prayer:  I miss Lori, Father. Her smile and cheerful words and questions and stories about her life and kids. Thank you, Lord, for the connection we had, for the easy friendship and laughter we shared, for our wonderful spouses and beautiful children. You have blessed us each by knowing the other. Thank you that she was so gracious when you called me away from her. Thank you that she prayed for our ministry and gave of her own precious supply so that we can live and work in Texas. Thank you, Lord, for Lori's undemanding friendship, her love for You and the joy she and Ben have brought into our lives. Take care of her Lord as she now lives free and whole in your presence.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Grief and Love

I was standing on the banks of Lake James in Angola, IN while my friend lay dying many miles away. As the water rippled up to the shore, the waves of grief washed over me. The November wind blew strongly in my face and through my pants, harsh and cold like the disease that ripped through Lori's body - a reminder that life is harsh and cold.

I leaned against a tree and sobbed. The words to a chorus came to mind, "As your love in wave after wave, crashes over me, crashes over me. For you are for us, you are not against us. Champion of Heaven, You've made a way for all to enter in".* I stood there and let his love wash over me as I believe it did over my Lori. And the stillness of the moment quieted my tears.

Harsh wind and gentle waves - grief and love together at the same time. The wind comes and goes but the waves are constant. In the midst of the biting winds of life, God's gentle waves of love will remain long after the wind dies down.

*You Make Me Brave by Bethel Music

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Perfect Foursome

Not often does one find a couple friendship where all four enjoy and challenge each other. Mark and I were knee deep in reentry after twelve years of ministry overseas. We were settled in Mark's home town and didn't have many friends. On top of that, we were on church staff which unfortunately put a barrier between us and potential new friends. 

But Ben and Lori were not intimidated or put off. They reached out to us and asked us to be their friends. So we started hanging out, eating together and sharing our stories. Watching football (only with them!) and HGTV. Drinks on the deck. Lots of coffee. Vacations at the beach. Prayers, laughter, tears and so much more. Ben and Lori were just what we needed. Such a comfortable friendship.

But following Jesus doesn't allow us to sit still in our comfort. God called Mark and I to join Christar. No longer would we be able to go hang out at Ben and Lori's or have them to our place. When we told them we were praying about a new position, Lori encouraged us, "You should go. You have gifts that need to be used beyond the borders of this county." They graciously let us go, committed to pray for us and to give to our ministry. They even helped us get to our new location by driving the truck with all our belongings.

Following Jesus for us meant going. For Ben and Lori, it has meant a journey of illness. An aggressive form of breast cancer to be specific. But this isn't about cancer, but about friendship and the evolution of relationships. About following Jesus even if it means loss and grief and pain. This isn't about what we may have given to them (though I hope we have given something). It is about my life being richer for knowing Ben and Lori and walking together in our respective journeys. 

I am so grateful for having experienced the perfect foursome. And I am especially grateful for Lori, for having a friend that is so non-demanding, so low-maintenance. Not pressuring contact but grateful and happy for all she gets. She loves so easily. She is such a pleasant soul, happy by nature, positive, caring for others. A lover of Jesus who shares Him in such a natural way by simply loving people. Her influence is evidenced by just how many people call her their friend. 

Because of Lori, I have been encouraged to simply be more pleasant, more friendly, easy going, non-demanding. Just love others and greet them happily. Lori teaches me what a friend should be like because she is that to me.

But life changes. People move. People die. It is part of life. It sucks! You see, we always want to get to that comfortable place and stay there forever. We find the perfect church and then the worship leader resigns. We join a small group and the leader moves away. We get the ideal job and the company gets bought out. We work hard to make the basket ball team and then during the first practice, we break our wrist. We finally arrive on the mission field and half the team announces they are leaving. We find the perfect foursome and one couple moves to Texas and another prepares to join Jesus in heaven. Things change.

And yet despite the change and the accompanying pain, I know love and friendship. And that is enough.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. Proverbs 17:17

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Let Us Kneel

When I was a lonely freshman at Baylor University, I found a wonderful church filled with even more wonderful people. I can't remember how I actually found this church. I think it was because the advertisement on campus said they would come and pick up students. I was a new to the USA. My parents were in Papua New Guinea. I had no car and knew no one.

I was graciously picked up by an amazing older couple who quickly saw my need and adopted me as their daughter. I soon learned that I was only one of many such "daughters and sons", but that made them even more wonderful.

Soon I was having meals in their home and even staying overnight when I had no other place to go. And every morning, after breakfast, a short scripture was read and prayers were said for the day. And without fail, Mr. Weller got down on his knees as he committed his day to God. I think Mr. Weller and the Apostle Paul had a lot in common.

The Apostle Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 begins with the phrase: I kneel before the Father... I have been in a few churches that have a kneeler attached to every pew. I don't see that often anymore and I wish we'd bring them back for I realize I don't really know how to benefit from posturing my whole being when I pray.

Scripture has many references to kneeling or bending the knee. King Solomon knelt with his hand spread toward heaven when he prayed (1 Kings 8:54). The Israelites knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground when they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord (2 Chronicles 7:3). David calls his people to kneel and worship (Psalm 95:6-7)Daniel knelt three times a day and prayed to God (Daniel 6:10). Jesus himself knelt down and prayed (Luke 22:41). And Paul speaks of kneeling together as a congregation on the beach (Acts 21:5).

Kneeling is appropriate when we worship, to pay honor, or make a request. Kneeling speaks of humility, that one is able to humble herself and get down on a knee to ask a request. In our culture, guys still do this when asking a gal to marry them. In other cultures, kneeling is still practiced when giving honor to elders.

Then why am I uncomfortable with kneeling? Mostly because it reminds me of the beggars I saw in Indonesia. I didn't like being asked for money, or being put in the position to say no or being a target of scams. To be honest, I dislike the thought of begging to God.

So I looked at various people who came to kneel before Jesus - the man with leprosy, a synagogue leader, a Canaanite woman, the rich young ruler, the mother of James and John. If these folks fell at my feet, I would implore them to get up. But Jesus does not. Jesus, because he is worthy of their honor and because he truly can grant their request, listens to their plea. With Jesus, they know he will help and there is no need to manipulate or control.

Sometimes I try to convince myself that I don't need to kneel, because "I kneel in my heart”. And of course there can also be restrictions to kneeling depending on one's health and setting, and this is not a required or magical posture. But why would I not want to make my body reflect what I am feeling in my heart? More likely, my body IS reflecting what is in my heart - nothing. No emotion, no praise, no reverence. How can I pray to my Father and not feel submission, or honor or even a desperation to plead with him? I suggest that true worship affects my whole person, including my body and thus demands bodily expression.

I realize now that I need to put myself in the position of  these needy people at Jesus' feet. I need to realize that without the cross, I am truly poverty stricken and thus begging to God is my appropriate response. If I am to get comfortable with this, I need to practice it. Will you join me?
What is keeping you from reflecting your heart attitude with your body posture?
How could you become more comfortable with kneeling or raising your hands when you pray?

Father God, I bow down in worship, I kneel before you, my Maker, for you are my God and I am one of your pasture, one of the flock under your care (Ps 95:6-7). I kneel in humility and dependence begging you to hear and answer. Amen.

Scripture also speaks of other postures that we can use when we pray: Standing (Mark 11:25), lifting up our arms or hands (I Tim 2:8), looking up to heaven (Mark 6:41) and lying face down (Neh 8:6).

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Love Languages & Bling

My dear mother-in-law has given me expensive and beautiful jewelry for as long as I have known her. As a young bride, her gifts didn't really do that much for me since I was not a big bling kind of girl. Being more practical, I would have preferred a blender. In the early days I even questioned her love because gifts really aren’t my love language.

And then there’s my spouse. At the beginning of our marriage, I put a huge burden on him to love me the way I wanted to be loved and was not willing to see his expressions of love in other ways.

And more currently, there is someone else in my life who demands that I show my love (prove my verbal declaration) by doing what they want. They have dictated one way, and one way only that I can prove I love them. No matter how much I declare my love, they fail to receive it because it is not expressed as they desire.

This whole idea of being loved the way I want to be loved has gotten me thinking again about God’s love. If you have read any of my blog posts or heard a number of my devotionals or known me for some time, you know that I talk a lot about God's love. (If you haven't read about God's Lavish Love, please do.) I harp on this theme because it has been so transformational in my own life. That may surprise you because I came from a good background with parents who loved me in a stable home. I was encouraged to use my gifts and praised for them. I was happy and confident.

My road to deprivation came when I was a young adult, alone at university, away from my home for four straight years. My need for family pushed me towards other people and I became a target for co-dependency. In a moment of tutoring, God directed me to hand over all my loved ones, both near and afar, to him and to release my gaping need for them. What followed this tearful relinquishing was the beginning of sweet intimacy with my Lord and a journey of learning to let him satisfy all my needs. 

However, as is typical for humans, I did the pendulum swing, and greatly withdrew from deep human relationships. I declared (vows are never a good thing) that I would not need  another human being like that again until God gave me a husband. What a set up! So when I received the blessing of another human to love til death parted us, I heaved all my pent up needs for human intimacy onto his unsuspecting, broken soul. And thus, I felt unloved for the very first time by the very one I had expected would love me most. And hence my desperate crash course in God's love for me.

David Benner in Sacred Companions says "If we are to become great lovers, we must return again and again to the great love of the Great Lover...Our primary assignment in this school is not so much study and practice as letting ourselves be deeply loved by our Lord." 

I have already written about reasons that we may be blocked from receiving God’s love through the Cup Illustration. Today I am thinking about whether our preferences for how we like to be loved, our love languages if you will, are keeping us from letting ourselves be loved by God.
God has shown his love to me in one rather amazing way. He sent his Son to die in my place (I John 4:9-10, Romans 5:8). But I confess that this demonstration is often too far removed from my daily life. It doesn't always "speak my language" so I don't feel loved. I'd prefer that he prove he loves me by giving me what I want. If you loved me, you'd heal my cancer. If you really loved me, you'd give me a child or a husband or a friend. You don't love me because my life is so hard. I will know you love me if you fix my marriage or provide a job.
I suggest that the state of being loved is not dependent on whether I get what I want or even if I feel loved. It depends on the lover. I cannot say that God doesn't love me because I don't get what I want. I need to look at who he is and trust that when he says "I love you" that it is true, not matter how I feel. 
So, when I make demands of God, insisting that he love me this way, or that way, then I am not trusting, believing, receiving and knowing the love that is there for me already. God set the terms. He determined how he wanted to show his love. Dying on the cross would not have been my choice. I would not have thought of that as the ultimate demonstration of love. It seems weird. And yet it makes me go back to the foundation. Back to him. Back to the cross. Again, David Benner explains how to know myself as loved by God:
“I meditate on his love, allowing my focus to be on him and his love for me, not me and my love for him. And slowly things begin to change. My heart slowly begins to warm and soften. I begin to experience new levels of love for God.”
What I have discovered is that as I began to experience new levels of love for God, I also began to live out what Paul prayed for believers in Ephesians 3:19: that I would know (experience and feel) this love that surpasses knowledge. And as I grow in knowing God’s love, I am getting better at loving others and receiving their love - in any language.
Over time, as I have learned to let myself be loved by God, I have learned to also let myself be loved by both my mom-in-law and my husband. I know now that they really do love me and I can accept their expressions of love as they choose to give them.
Eventually my kitchen has been filled with many items from my in-laws. And I have even grown to love the bling! My spouse works hard to demonstrate his love and I now appreciate his long conversations and creative dates. As for the other one, I will continue to show love in the ways that I can and pray that someday, they will be able to let me love them once again.
What have you demanded that God do for you in order to prove his love?
What are some of the many ways God has already shown his love for you?
How can you change your focus from yourself (and your love languages) to the Great Lover?

Prayer: Lord, this moment I think of you, not simply about you. Teach me to become attentive to your presence with me. Teach me to spend time gazing on you, being still before you and focused on you. Help me to listen to you so that I will believe your demonstrations of love and know you as the Great Lover.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Be Who You Desire

The year was 1987. The occasion was my first movie date with a handsome young man with dark curly hair. The movie was none other than The Princess Bride. Little did we know that we were making history as our movie of choice went on to become an iconic favorite with a cult following. Since that day we have watched it countless times, owned it in various forms, introduced our sons to it and practically memorized every line.

A common quote in our household is when Inigo Montoya interrupts his losing sword fight with the masked man (who is obviously much more than he appears to be) and asks in amazement, with Spanish accent, "Who ARE you?" When a member of the family isn't acting as predicted, we quote this line.

And so I ask you today, "Who are you?" How would you describe yourself? Would it sound something like my description of myself? I am a middle-aged (how did that happen?) woman of European descent, married with two young adult sons. I am a mentor and teacher of others. I am involved in missionary member care. I love gardens, puzzles and detective shows.

BUT is this truly who I am? The real part, the important part? The part that will go on forever?

The final, and probably the most important, line of our prayer is the heart cry that I am willing to be who You desire.

Who does God desire that I be?
God desires me to be who HE says I am.

Who does God say I am?
God says I am his child (I John 3:1, Romans 8:16).
More specifically, I am his adopted child (Galatians 4:5).
But most accurately, I am his son, and as I son, I am an heir (Galatians 4:6-7, Galatians 3:26).

Yes, you read that right. I am a son of God. Because I am passionate about making sure woman have a voice, are represented, empowered to use their gifts and given a chance to be ezer warriors, I tend to prefer to use the term "daughter" or "child". But if I use those terms exclusively, I miss the significance of being called a son of God because we no longer practice the laws of first-born-son-inheritance of the Biblical patriarchal society. On the surface, it seems like the Apostle Paul is excluding women, but by including women in the status of a first-born son, he was actually elevating the value of women.

This means that when I accepted Christ's death on the cross as a substitute for my sin, I was adopted into God's family and was given all the rights and promises of the firstborn son. Yes, everyone (male, female, Jew, Greek, slave, free - Galatians 3:28) gets the same inheritance that is described in the rich verses of Ephesians 2 and elsewhere.

These descriptions speaks more to a state of being than to behavior. In some cases I show who I am by my behavior, but the character, the person, the essence, has to come first. I love this quote by Evelyn Underhill (Christian philosopher and teacher of the early 20th C):
We mostly spend our lives conjugating three verbs: to Want, to Have, and to Do. Craving, clutching, and fussing on the material, political, social, emotional, intellectual - even the religious - plane, we are kept in perpetual unrest: forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance except so far as they are transcended by and included in, the fundamental verb, to Be: and that Being, not wanting, not having and not doing, is the essence of a spiritual life.

So what does a son of God look like?

A son doesn't worry about the future, where food and clothes are coming from (Matt 6:25).
A son trusts her father to take care of her (Matt 6:8)
A son knows that her father will give her good gifts (Matt 7:11).
A son knows daddy can solve any problem (2 Chron 20:17).
A son looks to her daddy for comfort when she is hurt (Ps 94:19).
A son enjoys being with her daddy, right now, this moment (Ps 16:11).
A son thinks Dad is the greatest (Ps 48:1).
A son belongs to a family (Eph 2:19).
A son is loved unconditionally and valued highly (Is 43:4a, Jer 31:3)
A son inherits the traits and blessings of the father (Gen 1:26-27).
A son looks like her father (Eph 5:1).

How do I BE that?

Jesus told us how in John 15. "Remain in Me, Abide in Me, Live in Me, Make your home in Me, Join with Me in an intimate and organic relationship, Make yourselves at home in Me" are the various ways this concept is translated.

Moses and Joshua figured out how to do this. "The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, the way a person speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his servant, Joshua son of Nun, a young man, did not leave the tent (Exodus 33:11)." I think Joshua didn't want to leave because he was basking in God's presence. I want that. I want to "stay" in the tent, spending time with Jesus, fellowshipping with him and experiencing intimacy with him, not performing a set of activities. 

So, stop trying to gain God's approval by serving him and instead accept that you are already loved and saved.
Learn who God says you are and live out of that reality.
Focus more on who you are becoming and less on what you are doing.
Emphasize character rather than performance,
Being above doing.
Be comfortable, settled, relaxed, rest in God's presence.
Be still, be a child, be Christlike, be loving, grace-filled, trusting.

May I suggest that you practice sitting still for ten minutes (or longer) to just BE with God. Look around, take in the scenery, sounds, smells. Answer the question, "Who am I?"

What is keeping you from just being with Jesus?
What would need to change in order for you to Be Who He Desires?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Garden Walk

This morning I walked with God in a beautiful garden. But Eden it was not.
While speculator by human standards and usually quite vibrant, today this garden looked a bit tired, a bit worn down.

A few stubborn weeds could be seen among the carefully manicured beds.
Desperate plants seemed to beg for mercy from the hot Texas sun.
Blooms once full and majestic were drooping and dying.
More specimens than not seemed to be at the end of their blooming cycle.
With life comes death.

The garden mirrors my life.
Some days, I am thriving and bearing fruit.
Some days, I droop under the baking heat.
Other days, I experience death, mourning and loss.

I am in a constant battle to keep the weeds at bay, to find shade, to bring water to my thirsty soul and to just survive.
Tending my life is hard work which requires constant attention.

This morning was a drinking time, a time to walk and talk to my Heavenly Father and hear him invite me along hidden paths to enjoy his creation, to drink in his presence. This I need to not just survive, but to thrive.

But blessed is the man who trusts me, God, the woman who sticks with God. They're like trees replanted in Eden, putting down roots near the rivers - Never a worry through the hottest of summers, never dropping a leaf, serene and calm through droughts, bearing fresh fruit every season. Jeremiah 17:8-9 (The Message)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Do What You Require

This next to last line of our prayer resonates with me. I can easily relate to this one and at first glance, I say "No problem, I've got this." After all, I was raised on the hymn "Trust and obey."

I have shared before about my propensity to "do". As a child, I was obedient and compliant. I wanted to please and to do well. I followed the rules. I excelled in school and was given leadership roles. Some time in my teens, I discovered 2 Corinthians 3:5 in my Living Bible and tried desperately to attribute my success to God. While in college, I backed off of always praying aloud in groups because I was convicted that my motivation was to show off. I genuinely wanted to serve God, but how to do it without appearing proud or pious was my challenge. Because, you see, I WAS proud and pious. I now realize that while I was a model child, I was also a little Pharisee. 

The King James translation calls this vainglory. "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory" (Philippians 2:3). In other words, empty pride or vanity, pomp or show. In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus addresses three ways that the righteous leaders were vainglorious: giving to the needy, praying and fasting. These were the guys who had set aside their lives for service to God (like me) and tried very hard to obey all the laws (also like me). But their problem, according to Jesus, was that they were all about show and recognition - publicly giving large sums of money, saying their daily prayers loudly for everyone to hear and looking half dead to prove they were fasting.

What does this look like today? How do we show off our good works for all to see? How about serving on every church committee? Donating the new addition, complete with plaque? Praying long virtuous-sounding prayers in prayer meetings? Attending the right kind of Bible studies (the real, hard, inductive ones!)? Spending long hours in study of God's word to produce an expository sermon? Logging the number of hours spend in silence and solitude? Choosing the church's "highest" position - missionary? 

Let me address my missionary colleagues specifically. We have all done what God requires. We have followed God in missions. Some say this is the ultimate service we could do for God. We have obeyed the Great Commission. How can that be vainglory? Has anyone ever said to you, "I couldn't do what you do!" While we say we hate that comment, it is a form of praise, that others think our service for God is so admirable, so other-worldly, so godly.

Years ago, on our very first furlough, we attended a little country church in Oklahoma with a college roommate. Our friend introduced us to the pastor who then asked my husband to close the service in prayer. As soon as he said the final, "Amen", an elderly woman seated in front of us, turned around, grabbed his hand and gushed in her country drawl, "Ooh! I get goose-bumps when missionaries pray!" While my first reaction to this was abhorrence, there was also an element that fed my sense of vainglory.

You get the picture. We too can be about show, about the pat on the back, the admiration of those who praise us for serving God in hard places, for our sacrifice and for our piety. Let's be honest. I like the praise of men. I feels good to be affirmed, to be thought to be wise or godly or kind or hospitable or full of mercy - or whatever that virtue is that you deem to be the most Christ-like.

But Jesus says to serve in secret. What does that mean? In order to serve God secretly, I must (first of all!) be totally secure in Christ's love. While my Christian sisters and brothers may think me more holy for my choice of service, God will not love me more or less for it. My salvation and eternal inheritance have been secured on the cross and nothing I do can change that.

Someone recently told me that doing the right thing out of love for God was not motivation enough. There needed to also be some measure of guilt, or fear of consequences. To this I humbly venture to suggest that this dear one still doesn't really know (deep and enduringly down inside their soul) that God loves them, regardless of their behavior or attitude. I appreciate how James Bryan Smith puts it:
You are valuable to God. God loves you no matter what. Your worth is not dependent on your performance or on what others think of you. Your worth is found in the loving eyes of God. If you win, God loves you. If you lose, God loves you. If you fast and pray and give your money to the poor, God loves you. If you are sinful and selfish, God loves you. He is a covenant God, and his love never changes. You are valuable, precious and worth dying for - just as you are. (The Good and Beautiful Life)
Why do I do what God requires of me? To be applauded, recognized, noticed, praised? Or because I am deeply loved by God and want to be in a vibrant relationship with him and humbly serve him? If I am willing to do what God requires, I need to also be willing to do it privately, without fanfare, without keeping track of my accomplishments, and without concern for what others think of me - not because God will love me more, but because he already loves me totally and fully.

Our goal is to get to that place where "we are able to play without needing to win, love without needing to receive, pray without feeling pious and serve without needing to be thanked. Our value is set; our worth is stable and unchanging. We are loved and valuable, no matter what people tell us. When that narrative penetrates our hearts, we become free people indeed". (Smith)

What does God require of you?
How are you tempted toward vainglory?
Father God, my life is a work in progress to rid my soul of vainglory. I know I still have a ways to go. So as I pray this line of our prayer, it is to me, a reminder that You love me so completely that I can obey you without regard to my standing before your or before others. I give you my heart and trust that my obedience will be a sweet savor rising up in response to your great love.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Wait Until You Say Go

If this line of our prayer had fallen on any month last year, I would have talked about waiting for the sale of our house and the purchase of a new one. Or I could have pulled up an article I wrote years ago about waiting for God to answer prayer. And I know that our prayer specifically speaks to waiting for God to give the ok, to open the doors, to allow us to get to where we can't wait to go. But I'm going to take a different angle on the topic of waiting because most of my waiting lately has been done in travel.

A friend described traveling as an experience of "hurry up and wait". We prepare, pack, load the vehicle, rush out the door, only to sit in traffic. We get to the airport, and then wait in the check-in line. We run down the hall, to wait in the security line. Then we wait to board the plane, then wait to take off. We wait for the plane to fly to its destination, then we wait to disembark, to have our passports stamped, for our luggage to appear, for the ride home and perhaps we wait once again in traffic.

While walking rather briskly through the airport to wait in yet another line, I saw an advertisement asking, "What are you waiting for?" Life is full of waiting. A quick google search revealed we spend approximately 45 minutes of every day waiting (except of course while traveling, which ends up being the entire trip). We wait for...
     the coffee to brew
     the casserole to cook
     the water to boil
     our children to get ready
     the light to turn green
our turn to check out
     the next vacation
     a visit with family
     the visa application to be accepted
     to get to the mission field
     the medication to work
     the test results
     the correct diagnosis
     our body to heal
     to start the ministry we dream of
     for a spouse
     a loved one to change
     a conflict to be resolved
     justice to be served
     the verdict to be decided
     God to fulfill his promise

While waiting on my trip, I looked around at others waiting. Most were gazing at cell phones but some just sat and some tried to sleep. While on the plane, I watched endless movies to pass the time. It helped that I had someone to wait with. Together we could talk and laugh. But mostly we just waited, just wanting it to be over with. We viewed it as a necessary means to an end, an annoyance that we had to endure. We just wanted to get on with it, get it out of the way. Truthfully, I only gave my wait some thought because I knew I had to write this devotional. Looking back, I think I wasted my wait.

Waiting feels hard because it delays that which I want so badly, but it is good for me. Waiting can teach me many things. For instance...

Waiting is about giving up control and letting go. Almost every part of my travel was dictated by someone else - the time of the flight, when it actually took off, when I was fed, who I sat by, at times even where I sat. My only choices were deciding to get on the plane, sometimes picking my seat, what movie to watch and when to go to the bathroom! Being at the mercy of others isn't easy but it is a good practice. It teaches me to trust others - the pilot, the ground crew, the mechanics, the attendants, even the one who will meet me at the other end. And more importantly, it increases my trust in my Heavenly Father because ultimately, the only one who can ensure that I will make it safely to my destination is my God.

Waiting forces me to slow down and live in the present. Waiting teaches me to not be in such a hurry. It makes me stop running at a thousand miles an hour and gives me the chance to look around and consider the present. I notice what is happening around me now. I see who else is here with me in the wait. I consider how I might be able to help another right now. I find something to enjoy about this current moment. I see things I would otherwise miss. I can either wait, staying in the present, appreciating now, or I can put life on hold while waiting for that thing I want in the future.

Waiting gives me an opportunity to listen. Sitting at the gate or on the plane left me alone with my thoughts. Mostly I filled them with movies and mindless distraction, but at times, I turned my attention to The Lord, prayed for loved ones, talked to God. Once while drifting off, I heard God's prompting of how to act in a difficult situation. It is in the quiet moments that we hear his still small voice. Waiting can be one of those precious times.

Waiting also reminds me that I don't have to fill every moment of every day with busyness or productivity. I sometimes feel that by waiting, I am doing nothing and thus not making a valuable contribution. Sitting on a plane for 14 hours seems like wasted time. But waiting can be very active since I still make choices. I can choose if I am going to be still and make the most of the wait, or if I am going to stew and be frustrated and waste even the waiting. Even in my seeming inactivity, I am resting, being still, giving God time to work, allowing time for events to fall into place, taking time to smell the roses, so to speak.

I now wonder why I was in such a hurry to get on with life, get to the next thing. Getting home meant house work, cooking meals, appointments, bills, responsibilities. Traveling meant a change of pace, the joy of seeing new places and meeting old and new friends, of having an excuse to put off some tasks and responsibilities. The house can wait, the cleaning can be put off, why deal with traffic? Slow down and enjoy.

I now also reflect on my heart attitude as I waited. At times, I was anxious to make sure we were at the gate in time. I worried when my husband disappeared without telling me where he was going. I felt annoyed when the woman, with child and elderly father in tow, boldly walked to the front of the passport line without taking her turn. I was discontented as I scanned the various lines to see which one moved faster, trying to strategically speed things up. Not always was I patient.

My example is Abraham who waited many, many years for God to fulfill his promise of an heir, a nation and a land. Hebrews 6:15 says "Abraham waited patiently, and he received what God had promised". Wow! The author of Hebrews considered that Abraham waited patiently. Even with the hiccup of Haggai and the birth of Ishmael, Abraham waited patiently! This gives me hope. I don't feel like I wait so patiently sometimes. I have been in a fetal position on the floor weeping at times. I have been frustrated and anxious. I have been dissatisfied with my present position. I have tried to take control. I have not appreciated the present. And yet, after times of tears, confession, journaling and crying out to God, I continue to wait. I think that is enough. That is waiting.

I find it interesting and comforting that God also waits. Isaiah 30:15 & 18 says, "This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. (NIV) Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you; And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for Him." (NKJV)

God waits...for repent, to let go of the reins of our life, to trust him, to make the choice to do good, to be still and listen, to appreciate the present. As he waits for us, let us wait for him.

What are some things you are currently waiting for?
How can you let go of the control of your life?
What about your present can you notice and appreciate?
Have you taken time to listen to God during your wait? What is he saying to you?
How can your inactivity in waiting be valuable?
How is your heart attitude as you wait?

Thursday, April 16, 2015


The beach of Budva, Montenegro on the Adriatic Sea, left me breathless.

Not a coral beach with shells and crabs like I am used to, but a beach composed of and covered in rocks.

Rocks of such diversity and color. Black, brown, green, white, terra cotta, grey, lavender, and cream rocks. 

Lined, speckled, sparkly, rough, smooth, round, square, and odd shaped rocks, in all stages of the refining process.

Catching the light rays among the rocks were also man-made objects of discarded glass and old tile. Even these were were made beautiful and smooth by the tumbling of the waves.

I was drawn mostly to the smooth rocks. So smooth and soft they almost felt like cloth or velvet, certainly not like sharp stone. On these particular rocks, there were not one rough element. And to think that they were created by many months (years?) of tumbling in the waves and crashing against each other.

Every day, I spent some time with the rocks. They began to form, for me, a picture of the community of believers.

I asked God, "Give me eyes to always see the beauty of diversity, the perspective of another, the reason for their actions and opinions.

Help me to be a smooth rock. Not to shy away from saying hard things but to do it in a kind and non-abrasive manner.

I want to be a smooth rock, not because I want to just be liked by everyone, but because there is no need to be ugly and prickly. Please let the waves of life and the tumbling of pain and suffering rub off my rough edges and make me smooth."

Enjoy the beauty of the diverse rocks. Seek to be a smooth one. Together, create a beautiful beach - a community - of exquisite souls.

Living In the Midst

Today I feel like I'm in a fog. A fog of stuff hanging over me.

     Nagging back pain that doesn't seem to get better
     an unresolved family relationship
     house repairs that need attention
     work load beginning to pile up

And I know others who live daily

     with physical pain, with a terminal illness, with disorders and deficiencies
     who have yet to see a family member enter the Kingdom of God
     or dreams fulfilled
     or children turn back

I feel small and unable. I want to fix it quickly and resolve it. I want to make it go away, pretend it isn't there. But I can't do that. Life isn't that easy.

Do I put my life on hold while I give full energy to making this better? What if it never gets better? What if all my attempts to make it right are not enough? Does life end?

My heart feels like Psalm 42:5 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

I must learn to live "in the midst" - in the midst of pain, brokenness and the "to do" list.

The nagging stuff may never fully go away, but it does not need to control me
It does not need to dictate my actions and emotions
It does not need to rob me of my joy and peace because

All these troubles and nagging worries teach me to thirst for my God (Psalm 42:1-2). When I hear the taunt of others that my God is not the right God and that I don't have my beliefs right (v 3, 10),

I pour out my soul (v 4)

     I tell Him exactly how I feel
     I shed tears
     I write down my cares

I put my hope in Him, my Savior and My God (v 5).

     the one who gives me an eternal future with an inheritance
     the one whose power raised Christ from the dead
     the one who listens and answers my prayers

I praise Him (v 5). I choose to be grateful

     for my life
     for my home
     for the good things which are too numerous to count
     for the privilege of serving Him
     for loved ones
     for the precious memories of the past

And I receive the unfailing love that He pours on me (v 8)

     I am his treasured possession
     I am his beautiful masterpiece
     I am chosen and adopted as his child

and I sing the songs He gives me
and pray to Him. (v 8)
Precious Father, teach me to live in the midst of nagging stuff that I cannot make go away. Show me how to not let it control me or rob me of my joy and peace, because you are my Savior and My God, my hope.

Suffer What You Ordain

The thing about suffering is that we can always downplay our own by finding someone who suffers more than we do. I have four sisters and all of them can say more about this subject than I can. One endured years of separation from her husband in an attempt to heal her marriage. Another endures loneliness and isolation in a foreign country. Still another became a widow after only three years of a very happy marriage. And the last has suffered countless years of health struggles and dietary restrictions. And there are my two friends that epitomize the definition of suffering in my opinion. My Indonesian friend, Nella, was constantly sick and finally succumbed to her body's weakness in death. My Lancaster County friend continues to fight to keep ahead of the cancer that refuses to die despite several surgeries and endless treatment.

And me? Yes, I have suffered, to some degree. The early years of my marriage held much pain as my dear husband struggled to love me as the Scripture instructs due to his own brokenness. I desired to have one more member in our family, but a miscarriage and subsequent infertility prevented that. Going from one crisis to another in Indonesia was unpleasant and stressful. Losing my mother to heart failure was a huge loss. Living without a home for the last six months was inconvenient and tough. And more recently, my theology and inaction has been attacked by one I love deeply. But, is this suffering? Am I qualified to say anything on this topic?

While many know more about suffering than I do, I can point to some truths that have helped me over the years.

Normalize, not minimize.

1 Peter 4:12 says "Dont be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you!" Everyone suffers in varying degrees and ways. But bottom-line, we all suffer. Are you alive? Do you breathe? You will suffer. It is normal, but it also hurts. Don't compare your suffering with someone else's, either to minimize it or to exaggerate it. When Jesus gave the apostle Peter a glimpse into his future death in John 21:21-22, he blurted out, “What about him [John], Lord?” Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” Each of our journeys is handmade by God for our best, to produce the best results according to his will.

Joy, not complaint.

1 Peter 4:13 says "Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world." Complaining only reiterates the troubles and keeps them in the forefront of our minds. After a particularly difficult time, I picked up a devotional by Joy Ritterhof entitled "Are You Rejoicing?". Day after day, her challenge to me to rejoice gradually changed my perspective and brought relief.

Pray, not worry.

"Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray." (James 5:13) Some of my sweetest times of communion with the Lord come during times of suffering. Pouring out my heart to him gives me a place to take my concerns, my fears, my cyclical thoughts and lets me pull them up out of myself and give them to someone who can actually do something about them.

Participate, not avoid.

"But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." (I Peter 4:13-14) My experiences are not new. My Lord too is often misunderstood. His words get twisted. He is blamed for everything. Folks reject him because he doesn't do what they want. All sorts of evil are done in his name. He is given ultimatums and attempts to control or manipulate his actions. He is slandered and insulted on a daily basis.

When this kind of suffering is directed my way, I put on the belt of truth, "But if [I] suffer for doing good and [I] endure it, this is commendable before God. To this [I was] called, because Christ suffered for [me], leaving [me] an example, that [I] should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." (I Peter 2:20b-23) Though this may be one of the hardest kinds of suffering, it affords me the opportunity to identify with Christ in a new and deeply profound way. He gets it — he understands —and I begin to get him just a little bit more.

Journey, not leap.

1 Peter 1:7 says "These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world."

I have always wanted the easy way to maturity, the one without suffering. That is why I usually choose to do the right thing, not because I am especially good, but because I want to avoid suffering. As a "results-person", I want to hurry up and learn the lesson and get back to "normal" life. But the illustration of climbing always helps me here. A climber cannot magically leap to the top of the mountain. He must journey, sometimes painfully, inch by inch to the top. There is a reason for the journey, the process, the present. Through suffering, I am starting to appreciate the process, the small steps of growth, the journey, not shortcutting my lessons with a leap to the finish.

My wise husband once said, "I contend that suffering involves the inner turmoil of the process of becoming Christ-like. In this regard, the daily choice of dying to my own desires and choosing Christ's enacts God's will in my life through the path of suffering."

Heaven, not earth.

Romans 8:23 says "And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us." I love life. I enjoy living, laughing, feeling and creating. At times, I find it hard to believe there is something better. Without suffering, I would be so blind to the real reason I live—not for earth, but for eternity. This world is not my home, I'm just passing through.

I used to think that only those who were disobedient or rebellious or unwise would suffer. That suffering was the punishment or consequence of some kind of sin. WRONG. In John 9:1-3, Jesus saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parentssins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parentssins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him". So my attempt to live perfectly in order to avoid suffering is futile. God wants to show his power in me and one way is through suffering.

Like the apostle Peter, I want to suffer "in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust [my] life to the God who created [me], for he will never fail [me]. (I Peter 4:19) I frequently remind myself that: "God is always good, always on his throne, always working, always knows what he is doing and his love for me never stops." (Carolyn Custis James)

Which of these Biblical truths about suffering did you need to be reminded of today? Why?
How has that truth helped you in your present suffering?