Monday, December 31, 2012

Post-Christmas Reflection: The Three Wise Man and What They Taught Me This Christmas

 During the days surrounding Christmas, I spent a lot of time in reflection about the incarnation and the atonement.

As I looked at Christmas lights, I thought of John’s prologue. As I looked at the angel figurines I collect, I thought of Mary’s obedience in the face of adversity. And then, while riding in a car, I looked up into the night sky and was struck by the beauty of the stars. It made me think of the Three Wiseman and their long journey, guided by a magnificent star.

Matthew 2:1-12 The Visit of the Wise Men
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
 are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
 who will shepherd my people Israel.’”Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. 
For some reason the idea of the magi coming from the East, guided simply by a star really caught my heart this year. I thought about the absolute certainty that they must have felt to travel that far; the absolute certainty that they were part of a momentous part of history; the absolute honor they bore him by bringing the newborn king such extravagant gifts. I was just blown away by the significance of that moments and what an honor to be a part of it.

Then I had a thought. Yes, Jesus’s birth and even His death are monumentally significant! But they were part of God’s salvation plan; His plan to draw us near to Him and allow Jesus’ death to allow us to stand righteous before Him. It is because of these significant events that I can have assurance of my eternal life. As such, I get to be part of something truly amazing; the unfolding salvation plan in my world and in my own life.

I pondered about whether I had that same sense of wonder and awe when I consider my unique role in history and God’s plan. The honor is two-fold really; firstly, that Jesus would come to die for me, to give up His own sinless life in my place. Secondly, as an extension of that, that I have eternal life and a role in the kingdom. Too often, I think, I am preoccupied with how difficult I feel like God’s plan for my life is or how much I have to give up that I forget the absolute honor of being adopted into His family, to have a calling on my life.

As this is being posted, it is the last day of 2012. As I pray about what God would have me do; what He would have me pray; what He would have me learn, this lesson is at the forefront of my mind.

That I would continue to make it less about me and more about Him; that I would revel in the absolute significance of this moment, each moment of my life. That I would appreciate each season the Lord has me in; that I would appreciate the honor of being able to be a reflection of His glory. And above all, that I would come to love Him more than ever before. 
Friday, December 21, 2012

We Are Still Here

December 21, 2012. It came and we are still here. Albeit as I write this the day is still young and anything can happen, but let's face it, most of us have treated this prediction of the end mostly as a joke. Did you see the picture comparing the Mayan calendar to the design on an Oreo cookie? Or the one about the Incan guy whose job is was to finish the calendar, but quit and went to have a tequila with his friend? Hollywood decided to make a few dollars and made a movie. Many decided to party like it was the end and do things they would otherwise regret. They are waking up with regret today.

But the reality is that there will be that day. Scripture tells us that in Isaiah, and Daniel, and Matthew, and Thessalonians, and Revelations - among others. We know that. There is a generation who is destined to be the generation who will experience the end. I don't know what it will look like but my theology says that they will see worse things than we can imagine. Although I know God's plan is perfect and that we win, it still scares me. I am not sure I want to be here for it, or my children, or my children's children, or my children's children's children....

So what do we do as we wait or wonder. Peter tells  us what not to do. Do not let yourself be enticed by sensual passions of the flesh by those for whom utter darkness has been reserved. The are loud and relentless in their attempts to lure us. Jesus. on the other hand, tells us to be like the five virgins in Matthew 25, watching and waiting and ready for the coming of the Bridegroom. 

I want to know what that looks like. What do I want my last day to be like - whether it is at the end of time of when Jesus calls me home? And everyday could be my last. I found a treasure in Psalm 40.

But may all who seek You
rejoice and be glad in You;
may those who love Your salvation
say continually, "Great is the LORD!"


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Surviving Seminary with a Heart of Flesh

“The Lord doesn’t want you to come to Him as a brainiac who knows her Greek and Jewish language-her Hebrew. He wants us to come to Him as His children. He wants to shower us with His love. So don’t spend time flogging yourself. That’s not what the Lord is asking.” I needed to be reminded of this by Mom today.

It’s so easy to forget that the Lord has us here namely to be loved by Him and to allow us to love Him, and then others, in return. In doing so, we bring glory to God. Seminary, sometimes pronounced by Freudian slip, “cemetery,” has an ironic way of drawing me dangerously close to forgetting this simply profound truth.

I can be WAY too hard on myself, which then in turn leads me to feel apathetic and numb as a way to cope.  It’s not that I don’t  care; it’s that I care SO much that when I fail, I feel that I’ve failed the Kingdom of God and HIS righteousness. And so why continue on? I’m already a royal screw-up. That’s the “logic” I battle with.

But who am I to uphold and maintain HIS righteousness?

I have a need—a deep desire to please my heavenly Father, to love Him through obedience. I can’t let that go. And I know that my choices have real, serious consequences. But I need to remember that it is He who is the justifier, the one who reckons His righteousness to me by faith through Jesus Christ, alone (Rom 3:26; 4-5).  

I also need, as Mom, Dad, Danny, Tiina, Jenny, Chelsea and many others have reminded me, to have a social life! I don’t have one. I’m even more open to Satan’s shame-bombardment in isolation because of it!!! Lord, give me a packaged social life for Christmas this year! Throw all the good people together in a bundle and put a purple bow on it with gold trimming. Oh and I need a JOB that doesn’t relate so heavily to theology in order to stay mentally balanced. Ohhhh how I long like never before to suction the water and spit from dental patients’ mouths!  Or to serve over-priced coffee at Starbucks! I said that I would never take a job at Starbucks, because I can do much better than that. I recant! Starbucks could just be my ticket to staying sane.

I have failed the Lord, and I will again and again, not because I want to, but because I’m still battling a sin nature, which I hate. My only hope is to feed from the Love of God which is infinitely larger and more powerful than my sin, than my grievous failures. My only hope is to drink from His never-ending faithfulness and lovingkindness, and to love Him in response, with everything that I am. What I have to offer is trivial. But I offer it to a God who can make anything He wills from it. I offer it to a God who raises me—yes present active tense—from death to life. From depression to passion.  He alone sees to it that I’m raised up every morning. My hope of life and shalom—the way my child-like soul knows things ought to be—rests solely in Him.

To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen. [And Amen.]

Rise Up Again

Though sin has beset you and taken control,
Though Satan’s great strongholds stand fast in your soul,
Whatever your failure, though great be your fall,
God’s mercy and pardon are offered to all.

Rise up again, take back the ground.
Turn from your sin and let grace abound.
Press toward the prize; the victory you”ll will.
Forget things behind you and rise up again.

Let’s seek those who’ve fallen from grace to restore
and show them God’s mercies forever endure.
In spite of our past our Lord uses us still,
and works it for good in the course of His will.

Rise up again, take back the ground.
Turn from your sin and let grace abound.
Press toward the prize; the victory you”ll will.
Forget things behind you and rise up again.



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Remembering the Importance of the Journey

Today, I bombed my Hebrew Test that I spent 3 days studying for. I might not have failed it but I definitely consider what happened today to be bombing a test. I knew the material but there was just so much to recall in a second and I psyched myself up to the point that I made dumb mistakes. Honestly, I would have done worse if several of my lovely classmates hadn’t calmed me down as I was being ridiculous. I truly wasn’t at my best today and that left me flustered, sad, and a little adrift. As a recovering perfectionist, days like this are hard for me. Being a perfectionist at things you are good at is exhausting and fairly futile, but perfectionism is even more devastating when you aren’t successful.

While contemplating the reality of doing poorly regardless of how much I prepared, I remembered a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that says, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” I contemplated about the way that I have been approaching life in general and school in particular lately. While it is so important for me to do well in school because of my plans to continue into doctoral studies, I also need to remember the bigger picture, the bigger reason for studying so hard is to come to know more about God and to be able to share that knowledge with others. Today, I didn’t do well on a test but I have learned so much in Hebrew in these last 13 weeks, things that have changed me and will continue to do so as I continue to learn more. As soon as I begin to study just for the sake of studying, just for the sake of having an A on a grade report then I have lost sight of that big picture. I will have been living for the destination, instead of experiencing the journey.

The destination is certainly important; without it we would have nothing to journey towards. Yet, when it becomes the singular focus of our lives we miss out on the small things. We don’t notice those small things that force us to contemplate and evaluate our lives, emotions, and actions. We miss out on learning from mistakes and the joy of overcoming obstacles because our focus is elsewhere.

I wrote some weeks ago about finding balance in my life. The reality of the matter is that I am an A-student and do A-level work. In order to be a good steward of my talents and obedient to the call on my life, I do need to walk in excellence in this area. Yet, once again, it shouldn’t just be for the sake of getting that A or getting into a PhD program, it should be because I want to learn and honor God in all areas of my life, to the best of my abilities. It should be because I am entirely engaged in my life and the things both big and small that comprise it.

Today, I failed at finding that balance, but I also learned a valuable lesson and was blessed by the many people who spoke kindly to me in my crazy stressed mental breakdown. I was once again reminded of the Lord’s loving correction, pulling my focus away from my own achievements and putting it once again where it should be; solely on Him.

And because, one Ralph Waldo Emerson quote isn’t enough:

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In the Blink of an Eye

Davin (our 21 year old son) came home last night from playing softball and it was obvious something was bothering him. He proceeded to tell us that he had just heard that one of the boys he played baseball with in high school is being charged with murder. According to Davin he was a quiet, somewhat shy, really nice guy, and, although they had not been great friends, Davin spent considerable time with him. Michael was very involved in Davin's playing and knew everyone of those boys by first name and position. I remember a lot of pimples and green uniforms. The somberness in our kitchen was palatable. Those of you who know me know that I don't cry a lot, but I have been fighting back tears ever since.

So what happened? We don't have details and it is not my place to share them, but it seems drugs were involved. All I could think of was, "there but by the grace of God, goes my child." But my heart has ached ever since. I woke up several times last night feeling like I needed to cry out to God, "Help them!" Help this mother whose baby is now facing years behind bars. Help this family who is trying to make sense out of all of it. Help this young man whose dreams have now been shattered to smithereens. All in the blink of an eye.

I spent the morning listening to God-is-in-control music. That is usually the only way I can make sense of this kind of stuff; reminding myself who He is in our direst circumstances. And as I was driving to work, all of a sudden I was reminded that everything changed in the blink of an eye 2000 years ago. At the cross we went from enemies of God to being redeemed. To where by His grace things like this do not have to be the end of us. To, if we let Him, he can turn all the horror in our lives into something good. To a place where ashes can become beauty again. And the beauty of that moment has had ripple effects all these years. Everytime someone says yes to Him all of the above becomes true in their lives. It happened to me, and it happened to most of you.

I don't know anything about this family and so I have no idea whether or not they are believers, whether or not they have Jesus to turn to. But I am praying for that for them. I am praying that they perceive Him reaching out to them, comforting them, and embracing them. And I am praying that Davin, as he tries to process all this, will also turn his face to the Lord and say, "Lord, that could have been me. Help me."

Friday, October 12, 2012

I Don't Want to Have It All Together

One day at school, I was a bit of a mess. I couldn't mind my highlighter or pencil and I was running round trying to get things done. Someone said that it was good to see me a bit frazzled because I always seemed to have it all together and it was good to know that I had my off days too.

I was a bit heartbroken. I thought... is that what people think of me? That I have it all together?

That was never my intention. I generally don't share with many people the things that are going on in my life because that is just the type of person I am. Unless you are someone I trust deeply, I am very unwilling to be vulnerable with you. My intention in trying to always remain upbeat and put together is not to point to myself, it was always to point to Christ. I thought that by pushing through the tough times, helping others in spite of my own pain, and working hard pointed to the absolute belief that I had  in God's plan for my life.

But I guess I was wrong after all. I have become one of those people that is hard to get to know. I am one of those people that seem a little bit unapproachable. And that is no one's fault but my own because  somewhere along the way, I have rebuilt that wall that I thought was long demolished.

When people look at me and think I have it all together they don't see so many things going on in my life. I am hiding an apartment so messy that I can't have people over. They don't see the Friday nights spent alone doing homework. They don't see the moments of profound self-doubt and uncertainty. They don't know that it is hard for me to make friends. They don't know that I stay in the background because it hurts less when I am ignored.

image from here

I need balance.

I stand behind my original intention to always honor God in spite of it all but perhaps I need to be a bit more open about what is going on behind the curtain. I don't want to have it all together because I want people to see Christ in me in spite of my brokenness. I want the victories and successes in my life to point solely to Him and not my perfectionist tendencies.

I don't want to have it all together, I just want Him putting His plan to action in my life.

 It's time I start finding that balance. 
Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Jesus and the Feast of Tabernacles

I had to post this e-mail newsletter I got from the Chosen People Ministries - if for nothing else because I want to remember where to find it.:) I LOVE this kind of stuff and this serves as a reminder that God does not waste anything! The picture is from the replica of what the temple/Jerusalem would  have looked like at the time of Jesus. The water the author is talking about actually ran down the temple stairs and down the streets. The Pool of Siloam would have been to the bottom left so they had to bring the water uphill. Enjoy!


We have just finished celebrating Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles), which is also called Hoshannah Rabbah – the Great Day of Salvation. I wrote a chapter on this incredible Jewish festival in the book my wife Zhava and I wrote for Moody Press many years ago, entitled The Fall Feasts of Israel. I would be happy to send you a copy at cost with free shipping if you'd like to read it! You can order it by replying to this e-mail, and we will bill you so you do not need to send any money ahead of time.
The week was a busy one in the religious Jewish community in Brooklyn, where I live. Sukkah booths dotted the landscape and Orthodox Jews took the week off from work – many were living in the booths or at least eating their meals in these structures. You can check out a few pictures in our "Sukkot in Brooklyn" photo gallery to get a sense of the neighborhood!

According to Jewish tradition and also gleaned from Leviticus 23, the purpose of living in booths is to remind the Jewish people of the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites and to remember the ways in which God provided for the Jewish people. Additionally, the Jewish people are reminded of the frailty of life – just as the booths let in the wind and the rain and are built without nails, so we in our humanity are frail creatures and can only have joy in life if we fully depend upon God and His provision.
This is one of the reasons I love this holiday! It is also a great time to witness to Jewish people, as the somber and serious season of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are now over and my people are now reflecting on the joy of knowing God's care.

I especially love the last day of the seven-day festival of Sukkot, as in John chapter 7 we see Jesus celebrating this day with the multitudes of Jewish worshippers gathered at the Temple:
Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Jesus spoke these words at the conclusion of a ritual that was referred to as "The Ceremony of the Water Drawing" in the Talmud. Alfred Edersheim describes this ceremony as follows:
Thus the Talmud says distinctly: 'Why is the name of it called, the drawing out of water? Because of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, according to what is said: "With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation."' Hence, also, the feast and the peculiar joyousness of it are alike designated as those of 'the drawing out of water'; for, according to the same Rabbinical authorities, the Holy Spirit dwells in many only through joy.

This is the culmination of the week-long festival, during which the Jewish people were daily asking God to provide rain so that the new season of crops in Israel would be able to grow. Each day the priests would bring water in large urns from the pools of Siloam to pour out over on the altar while raising their hands and asking God to send rain. This tradition developed over the years, and the request for rain expanded to include the sending of the rain of His Spirit in the end of days – a clear signal of Messianic expectation. "Send the rain... send the Messiah" was the mentality, as expressed in the reading of Psalm 118.
On the final day of Sukkot, the priests and the Levitical orchestra would march down to the pool of Siloam, fill the large urns and carry them back to the altar with great ceremony. They walked around the altar seven times, crying out "Save us, save us, save us, Lord," based upon Psalm 118:25, O Lord, do save, we beseech You; O Lord, we beseech You, do send prosperity!

In the midst of these heartfelt cries to God by the Jewish people for the promised salvation, Jesus stood up and with a loud voice announced that what was hoped for was now fulfilled! Their Messianic hopes and prayers that the Spirit would be given to provide sustenance, life and joy would now be fulfilled in Him!

What a magnificent event! What a moment for Yeshua to announce His Messiahship!
I know that you have a busy and challenging ministry, as do I, but I hope you are encouraged by knowing that we can fully depend upon Him who provides the Spirit and the joy to keep us smiling.

May the joy of the Lord fill your soul today!

Your brother in the Messiah,

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Am I Willing to Admit That I Might Be Wrong??

image from here

Today I came across the Facebook statuses of one of my closest friends from college. In it she said: 

God will provide for your every need. Except, he might not heal you, because he might want you to have that sickness, so that you can learn something from it. #LIE

I commented that I did not think that the second part was a lie, because while He doesn't necessarily want any of His children to suffer, that in His sovereignty, He does not heal everyone. While my friend believes that God wants to heal everyone, I don't think He does. Obviously, illness and disease is NOT from God but He has allowed it (in the case of Job) or even used it to bring glory to His name. 

Here's the thing... sometimes when I say that I think God uses illness for His glory people say two things. They say that a good Father wouldn't cause an illness. To that I would say that God, at least to my knowledge, doesn't cause the illness. In fact, we did! Humanity introduced sin into the world and although Christ's atonement allows us to stand righteous before God, we are not automatically absolved from the consequences of a fallen world. Illness is a part of our fallen world and God Himself choses how to deal with it when we ask Him for healing. 

Secondly, people say that a healed person brings more glory for a person to walk in health, healed by God, than when He uses a person's illness for His glory. Now, I think that is a lie. Who are we to say what brings God more glory? Why is a person healed a bigger impact than a person who, in spite of their illness, still praises God? It is here too that I am sometimes accused of allowing my experience of people who are ill but still praise God to influence my theology. I say, no, because I don't believe that Scripture affirms that God wants all healed. My experience is just an outflowing, a confirmation of sorts, of what I see in God's word. 

Now, let's be clear. I don't think God wants people to be sick, much like I don't think He wanted Adam and Eve to allow sin to enter the world. I don't think He wants to see us suffer and I don't think He wants to see creation slowly destroyed by depravity. Yet, for some unknown reason, sometimes He allows bad things to happen and God-loving people die from illnesses that He could have healed. 

Furthermore, I think that we as a Church need to be more bold about asking for healing. Just because I don't think God wants to and will heal each person, doesn't mean that I don't believe we shouldn't ask. Yet, I am also comfortable with the reality that we live in a fallen world and so many things about how God works in this fallen world are beyond my comprehension. 

I was sitting here this afternoon, just mulling this over. Often, as a seminary student, I am accused of putting God in a box and not allowing Him to be supernatural. I am accused of being a know it all. I am accused of being prideful and arrogant. 

And you know what? Sometimes, these people are right. Sometimes, in spite of my best efforts, my relationship with God becomes more about school and less about Him. Sometimes I talk like I know more about the Lord than other people. Sometimes, I think I am better than other people. 

And sometimes I am just wrong. 

There are so many things that I am not willing to be wrong on. Fundamental issue of our faith must be preserved in an orthodox manner so that the Gospel message will remain intact. On so many things, I am not willing to entertain the idea that I am wrong because those things are the foundation of my relationship with God.

Yet, others, I am finding, I need to be careful to not harden my heart and close my ears to what others are saying because maybe it is something that I need to hear. I need to be careful that in my hurry and zeal to protect orthodoxy that I don't drown out the Lord's correction in my life. 

So, all this to say. This healing thing... I disagree with my friend and many others on God's desire to heal. I do think we need to be careful when making blanket statements about His desire to heal, but I also want people to be more open to asking for healing in the first place.

And above all, I want to always be willing to let the Lord guide me. 

So, today, I am willing to admit that I might be wrong. I don't think I am, but just maybe, I have had it all wrong this whole time. 
Friday, October 5, 2012

Who is Jesus Watching?

The big article in the latest issue of Christianity Today highlights 50 women to watch as according to them these women are the ones who are “most shaping the church and culture” today. While I am all about publicly recognizing women (and men) who have dedicated their lives to Christ and/or bettering our world, I have to admit that the more I dove into the article the more saddened I became. One of my friends and colleagues pointed out that the layout and look was almost identical to People Magazine. A few days later I read an article on Her-meneutics, a blog by women for Christianity Today, expressing their disappointment that more women were not featured in another article about the 100 top Christian blogs. I understand the intent of both these articles, but is this where we have arrived? Christian notoriety?

As a female in ministry I have encountered every situation that my gender seems to create. I cannot count the times I have been asked whether or not I want to be the next Beth Moore – and admittedly I have tipped my feet in that dream. I have watched men get opportunities I was more qualified for, just because they were male and I was female. I have been shunned in my classes by fellow students, sometimes more overtly than others. (I want to add that the faculty at Phoenix Seminary has always been very welcoming and encouraging to me.) But I have also watched women react to these kinds of situations in ways that have made me ashamed of my gender - and have done it myself more often that I care to remember.

In my role at Phoenix Seminary I counsel women who are either considering seminary, just starting seminary, half-way through seminary, or getting ready to graduate, regarding what ministry will look like for them. What really is at the other end of 3 or 4 or 5 years of hard work and lots of money? Unfortunately I have to tell them that the options are limited at best. I try to get them to realize that they may never make a single penny doing what they have been trained to do. The enrollment counselors down the hall have to be just as realistic with the women who come and seek to be educated here. Yet we all want to see more women as students. I have also realized that my job is less about changing the way the male students here interpret the women-in-ministry scriptures, but encourage the women to respond to the situations they face with dignity and grace, which will help the men see them as viable partners in ministry.

The 50 women in the Christianity Today article are all amazing women in their own right! I know one of them and have sat under the teaching of a few others. And praise God for the ministry they are doing and the difference it is making. But then there is the sweet, quiet female in our office, who patiently makes sure that the vinyl lettering on someone’s office window is straight because “it is their name and that is important to them.” She will never be on the cover of Christianity Today. In a conversation about all this my friend and colleague told me that she felt Jesus had said to her, “It does not matter who the rest of the people are watching. I’m watching you.” If we remember the story of the widow and her mite that should be the attitude of every one of us, male or female. I can't help but wonder if there were as many books written or conversations had on unity in the body as there are about what women can and/or should do in ministry the church would be a different place.

Charm [and fame, and fortune, and accolade] is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised – Prov 31:30
Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The creation was subjected to futility

I have a hummingbird feeder in my backyard, placed where I can see it when I go out there in the mornings with my (white) tea and my Bible. Three hummingbirds regularly come and visit it, but I think other birds are helping themselves to it too as I see them often chasing the hummingbirds away and I have to refill it every few days. The hummingbirds are so used to me being out there that almost every day they come and say hello to me by buzzing only a few feet in front of me and then taking off. That always feels like a butterfly kiss from God - a small reminder of His goodness.

What fascinates me though is that they seem to not get a long with each other at all. I often watch air wars a la Top Gun before one of them feels free to come and drink. It seems that hummingbirds are highly competitive and territorial. Who knew? And this morning I could not help but wonder about the extensive effects of the fall in Genesis 3. We know that we humans now have a permanent sin nature, but birds?

Romans 8 says that the "creation was subjected to futility, not willingly but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the whole creation would be released from its bondage to corruption and obtain the glory of the freedom of the children of God." I see that in my hummingbirds.  But scripture says that there will be day when "the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together" (Isaiah 11:6) and the hummingbirds will be able to share a place to drink. I am looking forward to that day.

Monday, September 17, 2012

7 years: A Lesson in Thankfulness

downtown Madison, Wisconsin 

This past weekend I returned to my home state of Wisconsin to visit family and friends. It was a wonderful time, especially because I was able to feel the first winds of fall. Fall is my absolute favorite season and is one of the things that I miss most since I have moved to Phoenix. I often find myself pining for fall and then it drifts into nostalgia for my more carefree undergraduate years.

I was able to visit my undergrad campus with some friends for an hour or so and as we were driving up, I braced myself for the wave of emotions that were sure to wash over me. This was the place that I really learned who I was and who my friends were. This is the place that I truly came to know the Lord. Many will surely attest to the magic that is often the college experience and I often miss it. I miss living in a house with 6 others girls and no heat and I miss the excitement of a new year and I miss the excitement of football games. And sometimes, I just miss the person I was then, good or bad.

I truly believe that the Lord has worked in miraculous ways since I have left college and continued into Seminary and the person I am now is more conformed to His image, but sometimes those feelings sneak in. They combine with those feelings that miss college and fall. They mix with my current fatigue and stress and make me wish things were different. This isn’t a healthy evaluation of my life, but a pity part that frankly does the Lord a great dishonor because I am not valuing where He has chosen me to be at this point in my life and the person He has molded me to be.

This weekend as I walked the campus of UW-Madison, it was 7 years almost to the day I started as a freshman. I came expecting for it to be bittersweet because I missed it so much, yet, this time, it was different. Somewhere along the way, I had chosen to honor God’s calling on my life my embracing every part of my life now, good and bad. Certainly, I miss people and those experiences, but I also value the people and experiences in my life now.  And because I had this mind shift, I was able to learn and remember from my experiences this weekend not from a place of disgruntlement but one of peace and wonder at the journey the Lord is leading me on.

As I sit typing this, my heart is renewed with excitement for the future. In being reminded of where I have come from and what a journey it has been, the fatigue of the everyday has started to melt and my heart becomes excited for the new ways the Lord will work in my life.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  (Jeremiah 29:11)
Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Excellence, Perfection, and Perfectionism

image from here

I have been thinking a lot about the difference between these three terms for some time mainly because  I have been pondering the balancing acts of doing what we have been called to do with excellence and doing it while keeping God at the center. Finding that balance can be so tricky in a world that values excellence based on our own strength which often creeps into perfectionism. 

I wrote this post for one of my favorite blogs called Word of Williams which outlines some preliminary thoughts I have had on this topic. Then, just this week, I began to read a book which has been on my list for some time called Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance. The author, Bruce Ware, outlines some terribly fascinating intricacies of the Trinity that I had not previously thought about but I remember that something jumped out me while reading that was applicable to this discussion. 

Ware was discussing the beauty of Jesus' life and specifically was talking about His relationship with the Holy Spirit. Luke 14 tells us that everything Jesus did was because He was lead by the Spirit. Ware elaborates that not only was Jesus led by the Spirit but He was living in utter obedience to the Father. He says, " Live as Jesus has lived before the Father, abiding in his truth and speaking only what the Father has taught them (pg.75)." Another part that struck me was when Ware pointed out that everything Jesus did was to ultimately bring glory to God. 

Thus, in a book that was not about excellence, perfection, or perfectionism, I was given a bit more to chew on if you will. In my guest post I made the distinction between excellence being founded in Christ and perfectionism in our own strength. Likewise, perfection must always be about our relationship with God. This section of the book then just brought more dimension to my thoughts about this... that if we are truly going to be followers of Christ then what we are doing should always bring glory to the Father. It is here then that excellence and perfectionism can be seen as the opposites they are. 

Ultimately, excellence points to the Father and perfectionism points to me. 

As I continue to live in a world where that distinction is rarely clear, I pray that I continue to do only what the Father would have me do and that everything I do would be a testimony of His greatness. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Breaking and Healing

I have a phone with swipe texting. It has been a source of some fun at times. Like the time I texted, "Do you want to go to a pregnancy exchange?" to my daughter. Or "How was your nothing?" to my husband. This morning a foibled text I was sending to my friend, who is in the middle of a tough relational struggle, made me stop and think. I meant to say, "No healing is ever going to happen unless...." The phone texted, "No breaking is ever going to happen unless...." And it hit me. Is there healing without breaking?

What really is brokenness before God, but a path to restoration and healing? The admittance that we have been wrong all along and are surrendering to His ways, which will effect the healing of our souls and will the conduit to heal broken relationships.

I have been in the middle of a tug-of-war with God on some of the things I want to cling to for some time, and more and more He is showing me that I won't heal from these unless I let myself be broken before Him.  It's not a whisper anymore. He has picked up the megaphone.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16  For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:14-17


Friday, July 6, 2012

A Car Ride with Jesus: Light in the Darkness

Image from here

Some of my favorite times with God are when I am driving from here to there during the craziness of my day. God has so ministered to my heart during these times, often bringing things to my mind that I need to work through or even ideas for projects I am working on at school.

Last fall, I was driving home and just letting my mind wander as I drove down the dark lanes of the 17 and I thought to myself how beautiful the lights were in the darkness. My mind shifted to memories of Christmas lights and how I was always enraptured by the beauty of a lit up Christmas tree in the dark stillness of a home. My heart just loves the simple beauty of light! My mind then shifted to a passage in the prologue of John that we had just read in my Greek class that week.

It says, “ In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:4-5).

Can I just say that I love my Greek class…it is a ton of work but I have learned so much about the absolute stunning beauty and clarity of the God’s Word. I remember reading this in class and thinking that the battle is already won. We know this from Revelation, but here we see that Jesus is the Light and the darkness could not comprehend it. Another way to say this is that the darkness cannot contain the light. They will always stand in opposition to one another. I remember being blown away by the reality that I have nothing to fear. Jesus is light and the darkness of the world can’t contain Him. Because I have the Holy Spirit is in me, I will always stand in opposition to the darkness but it will not be able to comprehend, contain, or even ultimately destroy me.

Then, as I am sitting in the car, thinking about the simplistic beauty of Christmas lights in the darkness, it hit me even more fully. We might not know why we find candlelit dinners or Christmas lights so beautiful, but our hearts do. Deep down, we find something beautiful about lights in darkness. Perhaps without us even knowing, we are drawn to the beauty of God’s work in our lives; that He sent His son into the world to bring redemption to humankind. And that timeless truth of that sacrifice will always shine as a light in the darkness.
Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Independence Day!

Picture Source

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

An Uncomfortable Life

This is a post I wrote some time ago that was previously posted on my personal blog, but I like to refer back to it from time to time as a reminder when things are a little rough.

 Do you ever stop and think that life would be so much easier if you just stopped doing so much and led an “ordinary life?” Here, I am not talking about setting priorities and ceasing to strive. I am talking about those moments when the life you have been called to just seems too much. I will be honest, I sometimes grapple with this very feeling. Sometimes being a woman in Seminary seems like too much work. Sometimes being in charge of new programs seems like too much work. Sometimes being a Christian seems like too much work.

Can I say that last statement? Is it too raw for Christians to say that sometimes our lives just seems like too much work? That the calling on our lives is too much, that the spiritual warfare we face is just too daunting?  That sometimes we just want to be people who go to work and take care of our families. Yes, we want to love Jesus but not in that dangerous, stand out on the end of a cliff type of love. We want to be safe. We want things to be just a little bit easier.

I am gone through these moments in my life because I have this very interesting inner struggle. In some ways, I thrive when I am walking in the destiny that God has for me. Yet, sometimes the task in front of me seems so daunting. As a woman, I will always face an uphill battle in the arena of Christian academia. I will always struggle against those who say I don’t belong in Seminary or those who say that I am not able to teach.

So, then, I begin to back pedal a bit into this more comfortable area. But here too, I am uncomfortable because my heart is aching for something that is missing. My mind spins with the vision that God has given me for my generation. So I have to make a choice. Either way, some aspect of my life will be uncomfortable. Will I choose to be uncomfortable because of the sinful world I operate in or will I choose to be uncomfortable because I am defying God’s plan?

This is a choice that I made some time ago, yet I was reminded of it again this morning and I sat and looked out the window of my office. Many new opportunities are presenting themselves, which would put me exactly where I would need to be for this vision to start to come into being. Yet, I am very much standing on the edge of a cliff. Not many people get my vision, fewer believe in it.

I thought for a second about retreat. I thought about my to do list, my laid down dreams, my tiredness. I thought about ordinariness and a simpler life. I thought about the work ahead and wondered what my future holds. But then I remembered that I would rather be uncomfortable because I am standing in opposition to the world than uncomfortable because I am embracing it.

I may not know the whole plan that God has for my life, but I know enough. No Christian is every meant to be ordinary because we all have a predestined role to play in the kingdom. To be sure, life is a continual balancing act in which we must determine priorities and boundaries, die to ourselves daily, and learn to rely on the strength of the Lord. It is messy and beautiful at the same time, exhausting on one hand and thrilling on the other.

The world is not the way it was meant to be and we are a sinful people who are continually being sanctified. The reality is that we will always be uncomfortable until the Lord calls us home. Today, I choose to be uncomfortable because I embrace my call to stand opposition to the world.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Writing on the Wall

My husband and I are in a bit of a pickle. What it is and how we got here is somewhat irrelevant. All we know is that we are having to trust God for the outcome. Time is ticking and we are still waiting. As always this is the hardest part about trusting God.

I have been working through a Bible study on Daniel and the author of the study summarized the writing on the wall in Daniel 5 as I AM, I KNOW, I ACT. We could argue that she took some major liberties with the text, but I get her point. Belshezzar thought he was getting away with something, but God stepped in. Daniel's interpretations of the writing on the wall was clearly a rebuke of Belshezzar's behavior.

But my husband and I were talking this morning and encouraging each other to just hang in there for a while, those words rang in my head. I AM, I KNOW, I ACT. He is Who He says He is - the God of the Universe with everything under His control. He does know what is going on, what we need and how this is going to end. And He does act. He is not powerlessly sitting by watching us wait; He will do what He will do when He will do it, and however He will do it.

And so we wait....
Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Fat Cat

I saw a fat cat lying on the sidewalk as we were driving out of our neighborhood this morning. There was a bird doing a dance just a few feet in front of the cat, but the cat did not even blink. As I was, once again, running late for work all of a sudden I felt very envious of the cat. It was laying in the shade just starting the day with nothing on its agenda – not even catching the bird. I wanted to turn around, go home, make myself a latte,  finish my quiet time with God, finish cleaning the kitchen and putting away the laundry, call some friends I have not seen for a while, and just chill.
In the past few days I have been reminded from several sources how we in America are the richest 1% in the world. I struggle with feeling guilty about that, but this morning as I was processing a passage in James, I told God that I did not choose my circumstances, the time and place of my birth, or the social status I was born into. How then do I not feel guilty about that and live in my circumstances honoring God with what I have, enjoying the blessings, but being a good steward and help those in need. It sounds simple, but it’s really not. Do we not go to the movies? Do we never buy new clothes? Are we allowed to take care of our skin? Do I buy vitamins that keep the effects of the approaching menopause away? If I did not have a car I could not go to work. Should I even work? According to the statistics 99% of people in the world do not even have a choice to ask those questions. Which is the blessing?
But then I looked at my last week and have to admit that the time I spent with my two friends going to the movies was a huge blessing to all of us. We all needed some time to just be women. But then again we all live overloaded lives – some of us out of sheer necessity – and if we didn’t, could we do that without having to create that time.
Sometimes I find myself wishing that I would be content with being at home. But I also know that my academic, overactive mind would go crazy in about a week. I love my job. I am blessed to work with people and in an organization where the advancement of the Kingdom is the goal. I get to encourage amazing women who feel God has placed a calling on their lives. And I know that God called me here and I see Him working in many of the things I do.
James 5:1-5 says:
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
I may not have defrauded anyone by what I do – or have done – in my life, but who is suffering because of the pace I keep? Are my children missing out? Or my grandchildren? Is my husband having to pick up too much of the slack? How about the very lonely single mother and grandmother who just can’t step into the grace of the cross because she is afraid? Or my sister-in-law who, finally after 12 years, is starting to ask for help in getting into the Word?
I heard a very convicting poem over the weekend.
Babel-on in Babylon
Brimming closets shoe racks bulge
One in every color, I’ll just indulge
My wildest whim will oft be met
Bigger, faster, give me, get
Travel-on, in Babylon
May I go first, No you not care
My time is precious, you’ve lots to spare
I’ll slip in front and off I’ll go
See, I’m quite fast, and, well, you’re quit slow
I and me, fast friends, lifelong
Prattle-on in Babylon
Nip it here, just there a lift
I just turned 40, it was a gift
The eyes, the lips, the bosom’s new
Sculpted, lazored, injected too
No wrinkles left, the tummy’s gone
Journey-on in Babylon
Enough of me, how do you view me?
You get one, but give me three
I couldn’t bear to just say no
It’s my desire, and rightly so
Add another and on and on
Shuffle-on in Babylon
No end in sight that I can see
Today is blocked by the mirror in front of me
A wreck, a death, tsunami tide
It mildly stirs me, I must confide
TV claims thousands gone
Oh well, let’s see what else is on
Numb to the stunning sight of each new dawn
Sinking fast in Babylon
Like a lobster in a pot
Who begins to like the water hot
I’ve been duped, been tricked, been had
Convinced that truth was somehow bad
Evil coddled and cooed and purred
And beckoned me and called and lured
Now in a place with the light turned on
I’m racing home from Babylon
Which of my motives for what I do, want to do, and wish I could do are from God, and which are just about bigger, better, and me?  I don’t have answers to any of these questions, but I don’t want to stop asking. But this is what I think God says:
’Cause there's a bigger picture you can't see
You don't have to change the world, just trust in Me
'Cause I am your creator, I am working out my plan
And through you I will show them, I Am (Ginny Owens – I AM)