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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Good

I was about to turn 10 years old. My aunt and uncle, both of whom have always been like a second pair of parents to me, bravely ventured a road trip to Disneyland with their three kids, my sister, and me. To this day, that trip was one of my fondest memories. I was the eldest kid of the group, then came my sister Nisha aged 8, my cousin Emmi aged 7, my cousin Joe aged 5 and my cousin Lisa aged 2. My uncle drove us for hours and hours as we were all packed in their old station wagon, and I remember watching through the window--the rosy sunsets, the rolling sand dunes, the vast farmland, and the bright stars piercing through the black night. We kids listened to the radio, played games, talked, slept…and sometimes fought or cried. I remember we got to stay at motels with swimming pools, and we loved to swim in the sunshine. We visited Knott’s Berry Farm, Sea World, and of course, Disneyland. It really was a kid’s dream come true. My aunt and uncle were so amazing. I think that of them even more so now that I am an adult since I can better appreciate just how much work it would be to take 5 kids under the age of 10 on such a long road trip! Their station wagon even overheated and broke down in San Diego.  They had to buy a new one for the return trip home! Yet even this did not dampen their joy.  Only one thing bothered me on this otherwise idyllic trip. My parents had given us each some pocket money to spend on the trip. For some reason, I had my heart set on getting a t-shirt from every place we visited as a souvenir. However, every time we came to a gift shop, my aunt would not allow me to buy a t-shirt. I could not understand why. I was frustrated. I was irritated. I was disappointed. After all, it was my money. Why couldn’t I spend it in the way that I liked? (I know, I was a whiny, selfish, brat.) On one of our last days in California, I woke up to a birthday breakfast celebration. It was my birthday. Everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to me. And, as if this memorable trip was not such an amazing gift enough, my aunt handed me a wrapped present. I had no idea what the present could be. I tore the paper, and carefully opened the box. To my astonishment, there inside were all the t-shirts I had wanted to buy with “my own money”. My aunt had lovingly bought and collected them for me to present to me--free of charge--on my birthday. As you can imagine, I felt pretty convicted about being so selfish and pout-y and for assuming the worst of people who loved and took care of me so well. But I also felt humbled, grateful, and loved.

I have often thought of this story as a parallel to the way that I often relate to God. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Too often though, I forget the next verse, Romans 8:29, which gives me insight into what working for my good actually looks like and means: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

I am so short-sighted in what I consider “my good”. I default to associating my good with immediate relief, with maximized pleasure now and minimized pain now--and all in the ways that I see best. As audacious as it is, I get frustrated, irritated, and disappointed with God when He does not orchestrate my life in congruence with MY concept of my own good. Why wouldn’t He give me a child? Why wouldn’t He open the eyes of my friend to see things my way (which is clearly the right way :) )? Why wouldn’t He make it easier for me to walk in holiness? Why did He let that person die? Why didn’t He bring that dream into fruition? Why? Why? Why?

Just like I forgot to trust my aunt and uncle who loved me and had always been good to me, I forget to trust my God who loves me with a PERFECT, UNFAILING, STEADFAST love and who is the DEFINITION of all that is good and right and who has never failed in His FAITHFULNESS to me. I forget to trust that His definition of “good” is infinitely greater than my definition of “good”. The good He has in store for His people is beyond what we can hope for or imagine, and yet we settle for so much less and pout when we don’t get some lesser thing than God Himself. In his sermon, the Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis insightfully observed:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
As Romans 8:29 tells me, God’s vision of my good is that I get to enjoy Him in relationship—unencumbered by sin—conformed to the image of Christ so that I could enjoy being with Him as His FAMILY (the scandal of which is that I don’t deserve to be with Him even as His slave!). There is no greater joy. There is no greater good for me. This good is more than worth every pain as He strips me of my self-reliance, my unworthy affections, and my empty idols and instead carves into my soul with the knife of affliction--steadfastness, character, and genuine faith—making me His in every way...and even using me (as flawed and broken as I am) to draw others into fellowship with Him too. What a God He is!

Psalm 84
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD of hosts!
2 My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise!
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6 As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.
8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob!
9 Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed!
10 For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
12 O LORD of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Legacy of Three Mt. Hood Climbers

Saturday night, we gathered together with family and friends to celebrate my cousin Lisa’s 25th
birthday. As we sat enjoying Tutta Bella’s delicious pizza and drinks, Lisa’s boyfriend, Owen, anxiously anticipated news about his dear friend Luke who had not reported back after a climbing trip. Luke was an avid and experienced climber and Owen fully expected to hear that Luke had made it safely down the mountain. During the meal, Owen’s cell phone rang and he quietly slipped away to take the call. Minutes later, Owen returned to the table—the anguish on his face was unmistakable. The tears flowed freely down his face and he was barely able to speak. He had received stunning and unbelievable news. Searchers had recovered the body of his dear friend, 26 year-old Luke Gullberg. Owen was utterly broken with grief over the loss of his friend. Our hearts broke too as we heard the story of this young man and as we witnessed the deep pain of Owen’s loss.

I’ve never met Luke Gullberg, but according to Owen, he was a remarkable friend. News reports suggest that Luke may have died in a sacrificial effort to get help for the other two friends who were climbing with him that day—one of whom may have been injured. Ever since we heard about Luke and his two friends who are still missing, we have been praying—for the family and friends who are grieving the loss of Luke, for Katie Nolan and Anthony Vietti who are still missing, for the family and friends who are desperately longing to hear news about Katie and Anthony, and for all who were tirelessly working to rescue the stranded climbers. At this point, there is little hope that Katie and Anthony are still alive even though they have yet to be found. From all accounts, Luke, Katie, and Anthony loved Jesus, loved people, and just made this world a little better.

I was so moved to hear the accounts of these three climbers’ families. Luke’s family suffered the loss of Luke’s mom to cancer last year. And yet, the families have hope in God—a God who is in COMPLETE control and who is ALWAYS working for the good of His people. The confounding enormity of the pain and loss of these three precious lives points to the unfathomable enormity of what is to come…the hope of glory…the inexpressible and glorious joy of the life ahead for all who follow Jesus, a life lived in unfettered and perfect communion with our Magnificent God, the eternal weight of glory. The incomprehensible claim to which Scripture bids us to cling is that this real, raw, and wretched suffering is actually part of God's sovereign, wise, and good plan to bring about the glorious end for which we long. Somehow that awaited life makes even the most real, the most raw, and the most wretched suffering in this life pale in comparison.

Only this eternal and inestimable hope would allow a heartbroken father to say:

"This has not shaken our faith," said John Vietti, Anthony Vietti's father. "This has strengthened our faith." (quoted from: )


John Vietti’s stunning words echo the heart of another devastated father who lost his beloved children and all that he had:

Job 1:20-21 “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

They also bring to mind the powerful words of Habakkuk as he anticipated great calamity:

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.

What an incredible testimony to the supreme worth of our God.

Though many of us have never met them, the lives and deaths of Luke Gullberg, Anthony Vietti, Katie Nolan, and the faith of their families and friends have left their impact on this world—strengthening our feeble faith and increasing our sheer awe of God. And still, our hearts sincerely grieve for the loss and weep for the very real and very intense pain of those who knew and loved these three. As Job tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground in anguish, we deeply grieve. Please join me in praying for the Gullbergs, the Viettis, the Nolans, and all the family and friends who are missing these three beloved ones.

Romans 5:1-5 “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

2 Corinthians 4:7-18 “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you. 13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

1 Peter 1:3-9 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ... 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Monday, December 7, 2009

Gift Giving

This week I have been in a bit of a funk.  I've been struggling to remember my identity in Christ.  Instead, I have been seeing only all the disappointments, struggles, and hardships.  One thing God has shown me is how much I need the Body of Christ.  He administers His grace to me through the Body. 

1Peter 4:10-11 "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."

There are so many areas where I am weak and not gifted at all.  There are so many times when I need encouragement and reminders of what the gospel is and who I am in Christ.  Here are a couple of ways in which the Body of Christ ministered to me in beautiful and truly helpful ways this week:
  • Solid, faithful, humble preaching, from the WORD
  • Moving, beautiful voice inspiring me to WORSHIP
  • Thoughtful phone call from a friend telling me that she is PRAYING for me
  • Providential encounter with a newer friend who wants to HELP and ENCOURAGE me in an area of sin and struggle
  • COMPASSION and EMPATHY from godly ladies who have walked the lonely journey of infertility too
The Body of Christ has helped me this week when I have not wanted to open my Bible, or open my mouth to praise, or sit down and pray, or try to do the things to which I know God has called me, or seek encouragement.  Increasing, God is showing me how He designed us to help each other.  All of us needs help from the Body.  All of us are also equipped to help others in the Body with the gifts that God has given us.  EACH HAS RECEIVED A GIFT from God to be used to SERVE ONE ANOTHER. 

1 Cor 13:4-11 "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills."

Some of these gifts are louder, flashier, and more public than others. Some of these gifts are quieter, behind the scenes, and more subtle than others. All of them are important for building up the Body.

1 Cor 12:12-31 "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves [4] or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way."

Yet, our gifts are meaningless without gospel love. 

1 Cor 13:1-3 "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."

Everyone of us in the Body is gifted and equipped and called to do our part.  We are to excercise our gifts with the right heart.  In love, humility, gentleness, and with patience, we are to exercise the gifts that God has given us to benefit the Body so that we as the Body of Christ would attain the UNITY of the faith and of the knowledge of Jesus, be MATURE, grow up INTO CHRIST in everyway; and be built up in LOVE. 

Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”
9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for not giving up on us!  Thank you for administering your grace and love through the Body of Christ.  Remind us what a privilege and responsibility it is for us to do our part.  Remind us that any giftings we have come from you, the power to use them come from you, the opportunities to use them come from you, and the ability to make these giftings fruitful comes from you!  Remind us that our giftings, no matter how flashy, public or grand make us no better than anyone else in your Body.  The Cross is an even playing field--we are all sinners who missed the mark and while we were sinners without hope in ourselves, you died for us.  Make us humble--that we would remember that we all have something to learn from each other. Show us the giftings you have given us and give us a vision for how you would have us use these giftings to edify your Body.  Thank you for allowing us to participate in what you are doing.  Thank you for bringing us help in the form of our brothers and sisters.  We love you.  In Jesus Name, Amen

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

More Love

I just read a great book by Harry Kraus, MD called, The Cure: The Divine Prescription for the Body of Christ--Life Changing Love. His message is clear, the heartbeat of the Church must be love--we need to be saturated with God's love for us (the gospel), this love needs to flow out to nurture the rest of the Body of Christ, and this love must overflow to bless those who do not know Jesus. This love is not saccharine, short-lived, self-serving, superficial, conjured up, or simply grand talk with no action. This love is sacrificial, persevering, pursuing, engaging, risk-taking, sincere, affectionate, lasting, and devoted and does not return evil for evil, but rather returns evil for good. As Dallas Willard puts it (quoted in Kraus' book p.62) this love is "to will to good" or to promote the good of the beloved for the sake of the beloved.

How many of us love like that? When I am in an argument with Kristian, how often are my words and actions oriented toward his good? When I have met the most annoying person on the planet, how are my demeanor and actions oriented for his or her good? When I have witnessed someone wrongly accused or wrongly treated, how are my actions or inactions oriented toward that person’s good? When someone has deeply hurt or betrayed me or someone I love, how are my heart and actions oriented toward that person’s good? When I see my brother or sister in blatant sin, how are my heart and actions oriented to that person’s good? All of these situations require me putting my interests aside—interests like my comfort, my pride, my rights, my reputation, my feelings, my resources, my time, my energy, etc.

What I am not talking about is conceding to or enabling another person’s sin or fostering injustice. What I am talking about is a heart that tells the truth of the gospel in love. This involves telling the truth about sin—our sin first—remembering that our righteousness was bought at a price we could not pay. And from that place of HUMILITY, it involves communicating IN LOVE (with words and without words—through prayer, longsuffering, service, overlooking minor offenses/irritations, etc.) the glorious truth that forgiveness and true freedom are graciously offered without cost from the hand of Jesus for all who would humbly come to Him. This good news is something about which we must lovingly remind each other because sin WILL creep up in our hearts and lives on this side of heaven, and our hearts and sins deceive us. We need each other so that we will not be deceived. At the heart of this difficult and inconvenient love is a heart of reconciliation. We cannot love someone and be okay with the lack of reconciliation between us. We must do all we can in love to pursue peace (Romans 12:18), but only in a way that is true to the truth of the gospel of love. Obviously, there is only so much we can do when the other party refuses to be reconciled. Yet we must continue to love actively through prayer and through any opportunity that God provides—never giving up. When we love like this, we are promoting the good of those we are called to love.

Here is a quote from Kraus' book:
Love stands at the heart of the gospel, the core of God's motivation and plan to rescue is bride. Now just to be perfectly clear on this, I am not talking about a wimpy, overly soft love that says, “I love you no matter what you do. Rather, this love, God’s love for us, says, “Your wrong thoughts, words, and actions are despicable in my sight. I cannot wink at or overlook any of it. Nevertheless, I love you. I want to pardon you and make you brand-new, and that’s why I sent my only Son to pay the price of your sins and win your forgiveness in him.” Yes, love stands at the heart of the gospel—love that was demonstrated at the cross where the totally innocent Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, died so we could live. In that sense the cross stands at the heart of the gospel, because it was there that God’s love shone most clearly and most powerfully. And once we come to know God through Jesus Christ, that love is to flow out from us to all who are around us. Jesus couldn’t be clearer. Love was to be the way that everyone who wasn’t a Christian would look on and understand. Oh they’re Christian. I can see it in their behavior.

Paul says that without love, we’re dead in the water. Ministry fails. Evangelism falls flat. Our witness is void. Come on my good deeds must be worth something! Surely God notices.
Not if they are devoid of love. Then every effort is useless. That’s why Paul says we are to pursue love. I like the way it reads in the Living Bible, a helpful paraphrase: “Let love be your greatest aim!” 1 Cor 14:1a. ----pp 172-173 The Cure
Oh Father, Please give us more love!  Fill us so completely with your love.  Remind us of all you have done for us.  Remind us of your character--the heart of which is love.  Show us the beauty of the true and powerful and tender love between Father and Son by the Spirit.  Show us how you have made that amazing love to overflow to us. Thank you for allowing us to partake!!! Show us how we can love your Body in ways that honor you.  Show us how we can love those who do not yet know the joy of worshipping you.  I can think of so many specific examples in my life and the lives of those I love where there is separation due to sin.  Teach us how to honor you in these circumstances.  Where we are blind to our own sin, please open our eyes.  Please help us to walk in repentance and in humility.  Help us to be teachable and open to your loving rebuke however it may come to us.  Show us how to love those who are walking in blatant sin against you and against others.  Speak to us about concrete ways that you want us to love them.  Show us how to promote their good in each circumstance.  Show us what loving them should look like even when they want nothing to do with us.  Bind up the wounds we have all suffered.  Refresh our weary souls with your satisfying love.  May it energize and empower us to love others.  We pray for you to soften any hardness of heart in ourselves and in those we love.  Please bridge the gap again, Oh Great God of Reconcilation!  Do a marvelous work that your name would be exalted.  I thank you that even though there is so much we simply don't understand, you are infinitely worth of our trust.  The good you are working toward even in the ugliness of our sin and theses situations will one day take our breath away.  I know it!  Thank you, Lord.  In Jesus' Name, Amen.