Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Review: The Shaping of a Christian Family by Elisabeth Elliot

Elisabeth Elliot is a gifted writer to say the least.  She writes with simple clarity that draws the reader in to her story.  She paints vivid word pictures about her life in this book and you get the idea that you actually know all of her family members.  In The Shaping of a Christian Family Elliot tells about her upbringing in a christian home along with her five siblings.  Her parents desired to raise their children to love the Lord yet felt inadequate to the task.  Their humility and submission before God was blessed, and the Lord gave them wisdom in rearing their kids.

Katherine and Phil Howard were Elisabeth's parents, and were devoted christians themselves.  They believed the word of God and strived to live it out as best they could.  Their 'living faith' brought about the best example and teaching for their children.  Phil didn't just tell or push his kids to pray, he led them.  He showed them the way.  The children always knew that their parents could be trusted because they lived out what they said they believed.

What impressed me most about Elliott's childhood was the simplicity.  Yes, she grew up in the 30's and 40's and times were different then anyway, but I get the impression that even if she was writing about today things wouldn't be much different.  The family wasn't forever scrambling from one activity to another, yet they actually spent time together.  The family gathered together each day for breakfast and devotions and prayer.  It's almost hard to imagine pulling that off these days, but what a difference in made in the lives of the children!  There is no better way to begin the day than by communing with the Lord!

The thought of being a parent (no matter how far down the road) is both exciting and terrifying.  Parenthood comes with such huge responsibility; not only do you have to make sure the child's physical needs are met, but God commands that parents raise their children to fear the Lord.  I don't at all feel up to that task, but I know that by God's grace, when the time comes, He will give the the provision I need to be faithful to his commands.  I'm also thankful for authors like Elliott who can be guideposts for me in my own parenting.  This book is one that I will refer to again and again throughout the years, and I would recommend it to those who are already parents and those considering having kids in the near future!

Some quotes from the book

"Ordinary work, which is what most of us do most of the time, is ordained by God every bit as much as is the extraordinary.  All work done for God is spiritual work and therefore not merely a duty but a holy privilege." (p.157)

On the teen years:
"We were not taught to expect a stage of chaos and rebellion  Some prophecies are self-fulfilling.  If they're never heard, they never happen.  it's amazing how much simpler life was without television!  We did not know we were supposed to kick over all the traces, go completely wild, declare our independence, defy our elders, do our own thing.  We did not know we had reached an uncontrollable stage, everything at the boiling point, everything up for grabs." (p. 181)

"Our parents' ultimate goal in their discipline, the goal of anyone who teaches anything, is that the pupil may be led by degrees to self-discipline and become a law to himself.  I for one am thankful for the habits they taught me, for habits are powerful things --work, prayer, obedience, churchgoing, "eating your spinach before you eat dessert" --these things have helped me through all my life." (p. 182)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Book Review: Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver

This is one of those books I've been wanting to read for years but always put off doing so.  I was afraid it would be just one more of those books written for christian women with the sole intent of making you feel all warm and gooey inside.  While those books have their place, that's not usually the kind of literary fare I'm interested in.  I'm happy to say that Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World was not what I expected.  I also read it at a time in my life when I really needed to hear its message.

Joanna Weaver writes in a way that is approachable but not at the expense of what she is trying to say.  She does an excellent job of explaining the scriptures without dumbing down the theology.  I also enjoyed the way she detailed some of the Biblical characters' lives (however fictitious it may be.)  

The cornerstone of the book is the story that takes place in the home of Martha as Jesus and his followers came to dine with them.  The story is found in Luke 10:38-42.  Martha is busily running around making preparations while her sister Mary sits at Jesus' feet.  Martha gets upset and demands that Jesus tell Mary to come help her.  Jesus responds, "Martha, Martha, you are worried about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."  (Luke 10:41-42)

Womens' lives are characterized by busyness these days, to the point where we often miss out on fellowship with the Lord.  We can even busy ourselves with seemingly good things, but never find true peace.  Weaver writes, "Martha opened her home to Jesus, but that doesn't automatically mean she opened her heart.  In her eagerness to serve Jesus, she almost missed the opportunity to know Jesus."  

Weaver goes far past the issue of being too busy for God.  She delves into other problems that interfere with our faithful following of the Lord including: worry, our need for justice, discouragement, feeling inadequate, and doubting God's goodness.  Satan uses all these things and more to draw us away from our Lord.  By diving into God's word and making it a priority to spend time with him in prayer are we able to combat these attacks.

I truly enjoyed Weaver's book, and her transparency regarding her own life and her own struggles made it very relatable.  Finding the balance between service for the Lord and fellowship with the Lord can be difficult.  It's comforting to know that I'm not alone!  But by God's grace He will lead me and show me "what is better."  I hope you find encouragement in Weaver's book as well.

A few quotes from the book...

"He knows that if we're overly worried and bogged down by duties, chances are good our hearts will not hear the Savior's call to come." (p. 18)

"What is it about us women that creates such a desperate need in us to always "know," to always "understand?"  We want an itinerary for our life, and when God doesn't immediately produce one, we set out to write our own.  'I need to know,' we tell ourselves.  'No,' God softly answers, 'you need to trust.'" (p. 26)

"All over the world people go to unimaginable lengths to find God --which is sad when you consider the unimaginable lengths God has already gone to find us." (p. 65)

"God always has a plan.  But it may not follow human logic.  In fact, it may often seem to go directly against what we believe about God." (p. 121)

"Today we suffer.  Today we don't understand.  But someday, in that eternal tomorrow, that same Savior who weeps with us will wipe every tear from our eyes.  he'll unbind our graveclothes of earthly flesh, and we'll be set free.  Someday all the scattered, broken pieces will fall into place, and we will suddenly understand the hand of God has been upon us all the time.  All the tragedy --all the darkness-- will instantly be swallowed up in triumph."  (p. 136)

"Unfortunately, it's often easier to talk about obedience than to do anything about it.  We'll dissect and analyze God's truth, debate it and philosophize about it --anything but actually let it affect our lives." (p. 148)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

View from the Sycamore Tree

We all have our favorite Bible characters and one of mine is Zacchaeus.  A strange choice you might say, considering his background, but I love the way he responded when Jesus came into his life.  His story is one of complete transformation and is a reflection of how we should all be changed upon receiving salvation.

Maybe you don't know Zacchaeus, so I will gladly introduce you.  Zacchaeus was a tax collector living in Jerico during the time of Christ's ministry on earth.  Tax collector, or should I say major jerk?  The Jews of the day hated tax collectors because they worked for the Roman government collecting taxes for Caesar.  Not only that, they often overcharged people, pocketing the extra.  So it's pretty safe to say that Zacchaeus wasn't overly popular.  He probably didn't get invited to too many parties.  He was probably talked about behind his back and made to feel like somewhat of an outcast.  Nonetheless, when Jesus came into town, Zacchaeus just had to see what all the fuss was about.

"Jesus entered Jerico and was passing through.  A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.  He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way." (Luke 19:1-4)

Zacchaeus had probably heard about the miracles Jesus had performed, and maybe even some of his teachings.  He wanted to see him, but didn't want to get too close.  He probably thought a view from afar would suffice.  What's interesting is that we do the same thing two thousand years later.  We might want to check out this whole God-thing, but we don't want to get too close for fear it might actually change us, or convict our hearts.  Nothing like the ole' standoffish approach to avoid any real transformation.  But Jesus doesn't play that game.

"When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately.  I must stay at your house today."  So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.  (Luke 19:5-6)

Don't you get the impression that Jesus saw right through Zacchaeus?  It's almost as if he were saying, "I see you up there trying to hide from me.  But come out of that tree and get to know me.  Let me pour out my grace into your life.  Let me show you a better way!"  Not only did Zacchaeus hop down from that tree, but he welcomed Jesus gladly into his home.  I definitely get the impression that Jesus wasn't purposelessly strolling through the streets of Jerico that afternoon.  Something tells me he had a divine appointment with a short man in a tree.  

"All the people saw this and began to mutter, 'He has gone to be the quest of a 'sinner'. (Luke 19:7)

Ouch.  Zacchaeus just can't catch a break from the neighbors, but he doesn't care because the Son of God wants to have lunch at his house!  We might be quick to judge Zacchaeus for his treachery against his own people, but let's remember that Jesus didn't come to save the righteous but the sinners.  He regularly spent time with tax collectors, prostitutes, and every other lowdown and dirty kind of person we can imagine.  But here's where it gets really good.

"But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, 'Look, Lord!  Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.'  Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." (Luke 19:8-10)

Christ might have gotten a lot of grief for hanging out with 'sinners,' but when these people were in his presence, something changed.  Jesus didn't just have lunch and go on his merry way, He took Zacchaeus' life (and mine for that matter) and turned it upside down.  He showed him grace and love, a love so intense and personal that Zacchaeus couldn't help but be transformed by it.  We see an immediate reaction as Zacchaeus pledges to give away his wealth to the poor, but I think there is a deeper pledge here.  Zacchaeus was a man changed from the inside out, and from that day forward he would live a life that exalted Jesus and everything that God had done for him.  He had seen God, and God had seen him and saved him.  There was no turning back now.

The love of Christ overwhelms and humbles me.  He came to "seek and save what was lost."  That includes me and you.  We were all lost; lost in sin, lost and separated from God.  But Christ came to change all that.  He came to find us and bring us back to the Father.  And no matter what kind of weird hiding places we'll crouch in, He'll find us.  Even if it means calling up to us in the branches of a sycamore tree.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

With All Your Mind

Prostitute.  Whore.  Adulteress.  Unfaithful.  These are words you think would only describe a woman in the red light district, but no, these are words used in scripture to describe God's chosen people.  Israel had turned its back on the one true God to serve and worship false idols.  Like a common prostitute, the chosen people of God had been unfaithful to their one true love.  "There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land.  There is only cursing, lying, and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.  Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away." (Hosea 4:1-3)  

At first glance I'm tempted to think that we are immune from this kind of treachery today.  Surely this unfaithfulness isn't found in the church?  Right?  Wrong.  Christians are not exempt from falling away into the arms of false gods, especially when we turn away from the Living God only little by little.  Anything that pulls us away from God is sin, and we are all too easily engulfed in it's tangles.  

Reading through Hosea this week opened my eyes to another way we prostitute ourselves.  Hosea 4:6-7 says, "Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children.  The more the priests increased the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful."  What caught my eye was the phrase, "Because you have rejected knowledge."  Our faith is not some whimsical misty thing that floats around and fills our hearts with warm fuzzies.  Jesus commands us to, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."  God doesn't want us to idly accept Truth, but to seek knowledge and understanding.  God doesn't want mere mental assent, he wants all of us.  And anything less is unfaithfulness.

The Israelites exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful, and in Romans 1:25 Paul says, "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator-- who is forever praised."  There is a big push for tolerance and welcoming of all religious ideas and thoughts about God.  Let us remember the dangers in this.  When we start to look to the world for definitions of who God is, the lines of truth are blurred, and we slowly start to drift away from the one true God.  Pretty soon we are worshiping a god who does not exist.  We prostitute our minds when we subscribe to false doctrines and false gods.  Our hearts are sinful and desire to worship ourselves so we try to form God to our image rather than the other way around.  That is not worshipping God, it is worshipping an idol, and we must be on guard that it doesn't happen in our own hearts.

The beauty of the prostitute analogy is that though we have turned away, God still loves us and is still willing to save us.  He wants to bring us back from the precipice of death and give us new life.  He wants to remove our dirty rags and wash us clean.  "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death." (Hosea 13:14)  When we turn back to God he welcomes us with open arms.  We do not have to live the life of a prostitute forever if we are willing to have the mind of Christ.

Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8-9, "Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable --if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things."  Loving God with all our minds means focusing on the things of God rather than the things of the world.  It means seeking the knowledge of God in all things, not closing our minds to it!  After all, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline."  (Proverbs 1:7)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Book Review: The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis strikes again.  I'm always bowled over by his way of rearranging ideas I've held for years and putting them in a new light.  I wish I could write (or even speak) with his bold creativity and unashamed zeal for scriptural truths.  In the book The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses we read the transcripts of several speeches Lewis gave to various audiences.  Some of these addresses I found more engaging than others, though I think them all worth reading.  If for no other reason than they will stretch your mind from what otherwise may be a lax position.

The first address in the book, The Weight of Glory discusses the idea of the christian's reward in heaven and the glory that awaits us.  Lewis does not envision robes and harps and the usual fare of heaven.  Rather he speaks of a glory brought about by the very acknowledgment of God upon men.  My favorite section of this essay is the one in which Lewis reveals the heart of man to desire heaven.  "We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience.  We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting is, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name."

Another address that tugged at my conscience was the one entitled On Forgiveness.  In it Lewis discusses the difference between being excused for something and being forgiven.  While often in our prayers we ask for forgiveness, what we are really asking for is to be excused from whatever it was we've done.  We want the proverbial pat on the hand and to hear God say "Oh it's alright, you couldn't help what you did, don't worry about it."  Here Lewis says, "Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.  That, and only that, is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it."  

Honestly I don't think I can do justice to Lewis' writings, because to try to condense the content of this book would be in vain.  I would highly recommend this little book, and while it is not a terribly long one, it is one worth mulling over at a slow pace.  

A few other quotes from the book:

"Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth."

"For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things.  The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Lesson in Love from the Lover of My Soul

Sometimes I make things way more complicated than necessary.  Sometimes I search high and low for answers to big questions only to find them staring me in the face in the most obvious of places.  Does this ever happen to you?  Lately I've been practically agonizing over the question what does it mean to really love someone.  Sometimes I find that after years of thinking I know something backward and forward, it turns out I don't have the slightest clue about it.  This is how I was starting to feel about the issue of love.  Maybe I don't really know what it means to love someone the way Jesus loves them, and I wanted to get to the bottom of it.

So I've been praying for insight and wisdom and practical answers to the question.  This morning it hit me.  It was almost like Jesus was standing at the front of a classroom at a chalkboard ready to write the answer down.  "Are you ready for this Beth?" I could almost hear him asking.  "Because I wouldn't want you to miss this.  Maybe you should write it down.  Here's the big, complicated answer to your big, perplexing question."

1.  Love God
2.  Receive God's love

I almost fell off the couch this morning when a cold splash of the obvious hit me in the face.  Of course!  We can know how to love others only when we love God, because it is only then that we can actually see other people through God's eyes.  That random guy on the street is just a random guy until I see Him through the Father's lenses of love.  That irritating first grader is just another annoying child until I see her through God' eyes.

Loving God is how we love those around us, because when we love the Lord our hearts are transformed and conformed to his will, and we start to look, act, and think more and more like Jesus.  I think this is why when asked what the greatest commandment is Jesus responded, "Love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your heart and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself."  There is a reason loving God comes before loving others.  Only by loving God can we ever hope to achieve sincere love for those around us.

Receiving God's love can be difficult, but it's also a lesson in loving others.  When we allow God to pour out his love in our lives, it naturally flows out of us onto others.  Think about it: God is eternal, and he comes to dwell in our very hearts, minds and souls.  When you try to cram infinity into something finite, it naturally spills out all over the place!  I have found that when I simply bask in the fact that God loves me with an unconditional, unparalleled kind of love, I not only receive love, but I have it in droves to give away to others.

So maybe it's not that complicated.  Maybe it's just a matter of being in tune with the will of God and seeking His face at every turn.  Because when we pursue a relationship with the one who loves our souls, we get the ultimate lesson in loving others.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Called to Something Incredible

Has God ever asked you to be part of something big?  When you think about it, christians are called to God's work every day of their lives as we seek to live as a reflection of who Christ is.  We are all called to share Christ with those who don't know Him.  We are called to be the salt and light of the world, sharing hope where there is hopelessness, and light where there is darkness.  Sometimes God calls you to be used right where you are in your town, and other times he calls you to leave everything behind and follow him to foreign soil to share the Light of the World in unreached places.  Either way, the call is the same.  "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20)

If I can be perfectly transparent for a moment, I must admit that for most of my life I've been just this side of terrified that God would call me to the foreign mission field.  I've always wanted to serve the Lord, but I just wasn't willing to give up everything to follow Him.  Funny thing though, God usually calls me to do the exact things I'm afraid to do.  It's a constant lesson in learning to trust God in all things.

So here's the exciting part.  Over the past few years God has been at work in our (Patrick's and my) hearts, moving us toward the decision to go into full-time missions.  Over the last two years our eyes have been opened to see God's heart for the nations, and He has been shaping us to have a similar love.  The pull to move overseas has become stronger, and we now have a desire to share the good news of God's love in the dark, unreached places of the world.  "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:15)

It is clear from scripture that God will save people from all people groups around the world.  Revelation 5:9 says, "You were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation."  We can go with confidence that, because God has set aside some for salvation, our work will never be in vain.  It is incredible that we get to be the messengers for Jesus Christ.

Our plans to move overseas are still in the beginning stages, but we imagine that we'll head out within the next 3-4 years.  Patrick will start seminary next January, a two-year masters program, and after that we'll dedicate some time to raise financial and prayer support.  We are putting together a team along with some dear friends in Okinawa, and we're hoping to find more people to join us.  We are praying about the different ministry opportunities that will be available to us be they ministering to muslims or the animist tribes of the surrounding territory.  

We are so excited about what God is doing in the nations, and we are thrilled that He has called us to be a part of it!  We are also looking forward to getting friends and family in the States involved through various avenues of support.  Please be praying for us as we continue to dream and plan about what lies in store for us! 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Self Taught Lesson

Today I had the pleasure of teaching in the kids' ministry department for the 2-4 year olds at church.  I have a soft spot for toddlers and preschoolers after my years of working as a storyteller for the Okinawa libraries.  Working again with this age group brings back many good memories!

Our lesson this morning focused on the passage in scripture where Jesus is teaching and some children try to come close to him.  The disciples are indignant and try to shoo away the kids but Jesus rebukes the disciples saying, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." (Mark 10:13)  It's a beautiful picture of God's love for his children, and it was a fun lesson to teach this morning. What could be better than teaching a child about how much they are loved by Jesus?

The kids weren't the only ones learning this morning.  This same lesson of God's love is one that I need to learn over and over again.  I'm not immune to thinking that God can't possibly love someone like me.  I am ever in need of grace and can't seem to get it right most of the time, and this spawns the fear of God removing his presence from me.  I can think of nothing more terrifying.  But the fact remains that God does love me despite, well, me.  I can rest in his grace and know that there is nothing I do to earn his love; God loves us freely because we are his creation and we are made in his image.  He loves us with an unending, knows-no-bounds kind of love.

I went back to my favorite verse in Zephaniah which says, "The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."  It's hard to imagine that God sings over me with his love, but it's true.  And He is singing over you as well!

This was a lesson I needed to learn today, and will probably continue to need throughout my life.  So once again I give thanks to God for the opportunity to teach children, because it reminds me that I too am a child of God and am loved deeply by Him.  Amen!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Treasure Maps and Race Cars

I'll be honest, sometimes teaching is a bit discouraging.  This week I saw a pretty mean side to many of my students and it left me nearly speechless.  I came face to face with a brand of bullying that I thought couldn't possibly exist in first grade, and coming out of the mouth of a seven-year-old made me not only sad but angry as well.

So after a trying week with first graders I was excited to get to babysit some of my favorite kids in the world, my neighbors Isaac and Aaron.  They are three and four, and every time we get together we have a blast.  And it's refreshing to hang out with kids who are respectful and willing to actually follow rules.  These two have a lot to teach my first graders!  Not only are the boys polite but they have really active imaginations as well.

One of our favorite things to do when I babysit is go on treasure hunts.  We busted out the art supplies and made some pretty awesome treasure maps.  I even taught them how to wrinkle them up so they would look old.  Once our maps were finished, the living room became a dry dessert, and a pit of vipers; the couch was a tall mountain to climb.  The hallway became a deep ravine and our only way across was a rickety bridge.  We made our way through the dark forest of the dining room, making sure not to wake the forest monster (the dog.)  Finally we splashed through the lake which had puddled up in the kitchen.  After dodging the many dangers, we found the treasure, a tiny green race car.  The boys would then take turns hiding it for the rest of us to find.  This went on for a long time and the kids never really tired of the game.

There's something about imaginative play that is so special for children.  These boys especially are good at letting their minds take them to spectacular places, and it's fun to get to tag along.  Sadly, the element of imagination has been lost for so many kids with the increased use of video games and TV.  It breaks my heart to come back to school on Mondays asking the students what they did over the weekend only to discover that they never tore themselves away from the TV or computer screen.

So after a disheartening week at work with children who, rather than diving into imaginative play together fight and call each other names, it was refreshing to spend time with kids who still know how to have fun!  Thankfully they have awesome parents who take the time to play with them and encourage them in their imaginative play.  I hope that someday I can be a parent like that.  I can't wait to go on treasure hunts with my own kids someday!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Broken Foot

Christians often talk about being the "hands and feet" of Christ on earth.  This means that as Christ's followers he uses us to accomplish his purposes in this life before we enter into eternity.  In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul talks about the body of Christ, which is the church.  Verses 12-13 say, "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and through all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free --and we were all give the one Spirit to drink."

Clearly God created us with different gifts that we bring to the table, and different ways that we can serve in the church and beyond.  I think though, we can become so caught up in these verses, and for me anyway, I can start obsessing over what spiritual gifts I have and how I can specifically do God's will in my life.  It's a prayer request I hear from others as well so I know it's not just me.

John 14:12 says, "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."  To be quite honest, sometimes this stresses me out.  While it never ceases to amaze me that the God of the universe would use puny little humans to bring about His plans on earth, it can seem like quite a tall order.  I worry a lot that I'm not doing enough for Christ and I'm not being a living example of Him to other people.  I worry that I'm not allowing God to use me to the fullest to bring him glory.  If we are the hands and feet of Christ, sometimes I think I'm the broken foot.

But it is here that I must stop and really think about what the Word of God says.  In Matthew 22 Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is.  His reply is this, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  And all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."  The most important thing we do is love God.  The focus here is not on doing but on being;  being obedient to God and being humble about our need for His grace.  When we love God with all we are, the doing of good works naturally flows out of that love.

I think we need to remember is the importance of just being who God wants us to be.  Being open to his leading and seeking his face in prayer and study of His word will make clearer how you can specifically serve Him in a physical or practical way.  But we if we are so busy being doers, we will fail to be people who draw ever closer to the Lord.  God desires us to be faithful followers of Christ, and when we are obedient in loving God with our hearts, minds, and souls, we will be obedient in all things God has for us.  When we are the people God created us to be, we won't be broken feet, because God will use us to accomplish His great purposes on this earth!  

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Not Our Own

Today I continued reading through 1 Corinthians, and I found myself needing to stop every few verses to digest what Paul is saying.  There is so much theology here, and so much to ponder.  This morning I read these verses, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body." (1 Cor 6:19-20)

It dawned on me that despite our constant desire for independence, we are never our own.  We have no claim to our own lives at any point in time.  Apart from Christ we are slaves to sin, and therefore, slaves to the god of this world (aka Satan.)  In this state we are not our own because our minds are controlled by our sinful nature and cannot please God (see Romans 8).  While we might not see ourselves as slaves, when we submit to anyone or anything but God, we are indeed held captive by it.  Captivity can be so subtle, for example, before I became a christian I was held captive by the need to please other people.  While wanting to make others happy isn't in itself a bad thing, when that became foremost in my mind, it held me captive.  My mind dwelled on this day and night and gave me no peace.  Others might be held captive by sin in other ways: the desire for positions of power, the accumulation of more stuff in their lives, or even allowing the actions of other to rule their emotions.  If our lives are not fully submitted to Christ, Satan will take even the good things in life and twist them into chains.

Verse 20 goes on to say, "you were bought at a price."  That price was the blood of Christ who died to set us free from Satan's grasp.  Christians are to be submitted to the Lord and declare their lives fully in his hands.  I've written on the idea of submission in previous posts and how the world has turned it into an ugly word.  In actuality, submission shows us, a beautiful picture of the Trinity.  It is when we recognize that we are not our own, rather, that we are His that we finally know freedom.

This verses ends, "Therefore honor God with your body."  This section of Paul's letter is warning the Corinthians against sexual immorality and allowing sin to creep into the church.  God gives us freedom in our salvation, but this freedom doesn't mean we can do whatever we want.  Earlier in his letter Paul says, "Everything is permissible for me--but not everything is beneficial.  Everything is permissible for me --but I will not be mastered by anything."  (1 Cor 6:12)  What he means is that in Christ we have great freedom, but not everything we want to do is honoring to God.  I belong to Christ, but if I were to continue sinning, my life would not glorify God.  Rather, we are to be examples of Christ on this earth and live in ways that are pleasing and honoring to him! 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Book Review: The Cat Who Came for Christmas by Cleveland Amory

This book was recommended to me by Mrs. Mom, and as our taste in books is very similar I had a feeling I would enjoy this one, and enjoy it I did!  For my second book of 2012 I was looking for a fun novel, and this was just the book I needed.

Cleveland Amory is an animal rights activists and has worked for many years in New York not only for a large organization but also as an animal rescuer.  One cold Christmas Eve he rescued a scrawny, hungry, and terrified cat from the alleyways of the city.  This book is the story of their life together the first year after the rescue.  While it might not sound like much, the way Amory weaves the tale is, in a word, hilarious.

Perhaps this is a book only those who are, as he puts it, "cat-owned" can appreciate, but I would recommend it to anyone who loves animals.  As one who had cats up until I left for college, I could relate to many of the tales in this book.  What made it such an enjoyable read was how he wrote about the dialogs he would have with his cat, Polar Bear.  Apparently Polar Bear is quite the opinionated cat and could communicate as much through non-verbal cues as we do through speaking.  Amory covers everything from naming his cat to traveling to dealing with other animals who occasionally made an appearance in the small city apartment and many other cat-related subjects.

Amory not only details life as one who is "cat-owned" but also describes some of the work he has done as an animal advocate.  He founded Fund for the Animals, an organization that has been championing the rights for animals since 1967.  They have fought battles against whaling, sealing, and many others throughout the past five decades, and continue to do so today.

The Cat Who Came for Christmas was a great read, and I would recommend it to anyone looking to read a fun, lighthearted story of the joy of having a cat!

Made Clean

There is always more than one side to every story.  If we only listen to one side we don't get the full picture of what the speaker is saying.  The same is true for the story of salvation.  There are two sides.  The first side tells us that we are sinners in need of a savior and apart from him we cannot know God.  I get the impression that many people read or hear this and immediately tune out.  After all, it's hard to acknowledge our sinful nature and our utter dependence on God to bring us out of it.  But there is another side.  Jesus came to Earth to give us new life; to give us peace and joy, and the ability to come freely before the Father.  God doesn't call us to salvation so we can forever feel ashamed of ourselves.  No, He calls us to salvation so he can give us life, and life to the fullest at that!

I'm reading through 1 Corinthians this week and came across a familiar passage.  This is one that probably offends a lot of people, but read it through to the end.  Chapter 6 verses 9-11 say, "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived; Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

In the past as I've read that verse I've tried to be sure that I wasn't included in the list of those who won't inherit the kingdom of God.  But then this morning while reading it I realized that Paul begins his list with "the wicked."  In our sin we are all wicked, and apart from Christ none of us will inherit the kingdom.  But then here is the beautiful part, when we have salvation in Christ our sins are washed away.  We are made clean and righteous.  We become a new creation and the old sinful life is no more.  What a wonderful picture of God's grace.

We are not saved from a life of sin in order that we might continue on in the same path.  Jesus dined and fellowshipped with sinners.  He was ridiculed for spending time with prostitutes, but after experiencing the grace of Christ, those prostitutes didn't continue in their life of sin.  They began a new life in Christ!  The same is true for us today.  We don't become perfect overnight, but by seeking the Lord everyday, we can walk in righteousness.  When you allow the grace of Christ to wash away your sins, you do not take on a heavy burden of guilt and shame, rather He makes you clean and sets you free!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas in Canada

I know this is a little late, but here is our Christmas update...

Patrick and I were fortunate enough to be able to spend Christmas with my family in Canada.  My Dad lives there with my stepmom and little sister Anika, and it was wonderful to get to spend some time with them.  Even better, my older sister Kristen, niece Asha, and brother Brian came in too.  It was a restful Christmas, and we spent the majority of our time inside since no one really wanted to brave the Canadian winter.  We did manage to make one trip out to walk to the nearby Tim Hortons (a Canadian coffee shop), so Patrick could have a true Canadian experience.

It was a blessing to be able to spend some much needed time with my family whom I don't get to see very often.  As always it was incredible to see how much Anika and Asha have grown.  Anika (my little sister) is an incredible reader and will talk your ear off.  Asha has also become quite a talker, and it pretty much the most precious child on the planet. (This seriously puts pressure on me to have cute kids!)

Here are a few of the pictures we took along the way...
Gingerbread house attempt #1 with my sister Anika

Gingerbread house attempt #2 with Kristen
Walking to Tim Hortons

Hot chocolate break!

Dad and the Valentine girls 

Book Review: Walking from East to West by Ravi Zacharias

One of my goals for 2012 is to read 52 books.  I have been inspired by several people from the Harbor who undertook the same project for 2011, and I think it will be a great way to expand my reading for this year.

My first book of the year was Walking from East to West by Ravi Zacharias.  He is a noted apologist and evangelist who has written many books and traveled the world speaking to diverse audiences about the gospel of Christ.  This book was his autobiography, and it was a captivating read.

Zacharias was born and raised in India, and he places great importance on his humble beginnings.  Though outwardly it seemed he had much going for him, he struggled throughout his teen years to find meaning in life.  Unable to find purpose in anything, he attempted suicide.  It was by the grace of God that he survived and afterwards he committed his life to Christ.  This was the turning point in his life, and though not everything was perfect afterwards, Zacharias was able to see that God alone is the one who gives meaning to our lives.  He goes on to tell how God used him in ministry opportunities that took him around the globe.

What I appreciated most about Zacharias' story is that he didn't have it all together all the time, but God was still able to use him for His glory.  Because of the gifts Ravi possesses, many people have come to know the Lord.  This gives me hope, because there are times when I feel completely useless for God.  This book was a reminder to me that the Lord uses the weak and foolish to accomplish his purposes on this earth.

One of the undercurrents of the book was the idea that God is in the shadows.  This seemed to be a theme in Zacharias' life as well as my own.  Even when we have no idea what God's plan is, or why certain things happen in our lives, God is there with us through it all.  Even when we think he has forsaken us or abandoned us, He is there.

For anyone who has benefited from Ravi Zacharias' work, this book is a great pick.  I think it's always fascinating to learn more about people who have helped shape my own theology, and Zacharias' story was no exception!