Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book Review: The Gospel for Muslims by Thabiti Anyabwile

Let me start by saying that I know even reading the title of this book will offend a lot of people.  It's offensive to them because of the implications.  This book implies that without trusting in Jesus to save us from our sins, we are hell-bound in a very real and literal sense.  To be honest, this has been the most difficult thing about being a Christian for me.  It's hard to come to grips with the fact that not everyone will experience the gift of eternal life.  Though this is a serious issue, it is not one I will deal with here.

For those of you who are Christians and understand the Biblical mandate for world missions, this is a book you will appreciate.  Anyabwile is a former Muslim who discovered that Islam just doesn't answer the ultimate questions of reality and purpose.  His story gives credence to his words, because he studied the Qu'ran for years and has a breadth of knowledge of the foundations upon which Islam is built.  

Anyabwile begins by reminding us that the gospel doesn't change just because we are speaking to a Muslim.  We don't really present it any differently, because Muslims, just like everybody else, need Jesus. Our God is unchanging, as is the gospel.  The difference lies in how we approach the use of scriptures, and the angle from which we even begin the conversation.  

The book takes you through several foundational principals of Islam and how they are in contrast with the gospel of Christ.  For example, many people wrongly believe that God of the Bible and Allah are the same.  Muslims deny the reality of the Trinity, that is, that God is one is essence but three in person as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  To deny this truth is to deny God Himself.  The Muslim faith is in opposition to the Trinity, thus refuting the idea that the God of the Bible and Allah are one in the same.

Anyabwile encourages Christians to share their faith with sincerity and love to everyone, not just Muslims.  We have the truth of God, and that cannot be kept hidden.  The salvation we have received is something to be shared!  When you have any kind of good news, your natural reaction is to want to tell someone about it.  The same should hold true for us as we share our faith.  Reading this book will help you see the simplicity and the necessity of doing just that.

Quotes from the book

"Often Christians place incredible pressure on themselves to have 'all the right answers' and to say 'just the right thing.'  I often think that that kind of pressure is a mixture of godly desire to help others and a serious lack of faith in God's ability to use what we do know to minister to others.  Consequently, many Christians never begin to reach out to their Muslim neighbors and friends.  We doubt our own ability and doubt that God can use us." (P. 47)

"Maybe the best way for Christians to build friendships with Muslim neighbors is to host them in our homes.  We may reach the world for Christ by simply reaching across our picket fences or crossing the street and then inviting them into our dining and family rooms."  (P. 124)

"Much of the Muslim concern about how "Christians" behave comes from equating Christianity with Western culture generally.  Most Muslims don't realize that Christians agonize over Hollywood films, immodesty, promiscuity, drunkenness, violence, misogyny, out-of-control youth culture, and other social ills.  Those things are not the Christian faith.  moreover, many professing Muslims living in lands with greater freedoms also participate in these ills.  The church has her faults, but she should not be blamed for the sinful productions of a fallen culture and more than all Muslims should be blamed for the terrorist actions of a few."  (P. 138)

"Some Muslims appear willing to suffer great things for Islam.  In contrast, many Christians seem unwilling to suffer for Christ."  (P.149)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Carseats and the Sovereignty of God

I believe wholeheartedly in the sovereignty of God.  That is, God is in control over everything and is all-knowing, and all-powerful.  We do have free will, yes, but God knows each decision we will make and the outcomes of those decisions.  Proverbs 16:9 says, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps."  I believe that God's hand is in every aspect of our lives, and is actively involved in what we do on a day-to-day basis.  Even in small and seemingly insignificant things like installing carseats.

A couple days ago I picked up my friends' two boys from school.  Not being a mom myself and having very little knowledge of how to install a carseat, it took me quite awhile to get them strapped into my car and ready to go.  On our way home we ran into some bad traffic due to a horrible car accident that had taken place probably just minutes before we arrived at the intersection.  I found out later that a man had stolen a fire truck (seriously?!) and had caused three major accidents in Beaufort, one that proved to be fatal.

I thought about what a terrifying scene it would have been had we been there.  And then I realized how easily it could have been us in that accident.  It might seem crazy, but had I known exactly how to strap in those crazy carseats, it might have been us being hauled away in the ambulance.  It is in instances like this that I believe God's hand is upon us, orchestrating our steps.  I believe that Paul's words are true when he says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  (Romans 8:28)  This doesn't mean that bad things never happen to Christians.  We cannot understand all of God's purposes, and sometimes what we see as devastating is really being used for our good in the end.  We cannot see the whole tapestry from the viewpoint of God; all we can see are individual threads.  But even in the darkest moments of our lives, God weaves something beautiful that we will only understand from the other side of eternity.

God is sovereign over both life and death.  He is sovereign even over the struggles and difficulties we face.  Many times we endure hardships so that our faith is refined and we learn to depend on God even more.  James writes that we should consider it joy to be tested in our faith, "because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." (James 1:3)   Nothing ever surprises God, even though it may surprise us.  There is a plan for each of us, and God is ultimately in control over every aspect of it.  He alone knows every detail of our lives, and the timing of everything.  It is comforting to know that my life is in the hands of my creator, and I can trust in his sovereignty, even when it comes to strapping in a carseat.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Turning Point

To be honest, the season of Lent hasn't always meant that much to me.  I never really sat down to contemplate what this time was meant for, and how it should draw us closer to Christ.  Last night Patrick and I went to the Ash Wednesday service at our church, and I was hit with a fresh dose of what God can do in my life when I submit everything to Him.

Lent is a time of reflection, repentance, and renewal.  For the longest time, I thought the word repentance had a very negative connotation, and maybe many of you reading this feel the same way.  When we think of repentance we tend to think of someone wallowing in the guilt of their sin.  Recently though, God has shown me that repentance is quite the opposite.  Yes, repentance means confronting your sin and confessing it to God, but more than that it means turning from your sin and being freed from it's grasp.  When we repent, we are in agreement with God that we have sinned against Him, and we acknowledge that we want live in a way that pleases Him.  1 John 1: 8-9 says, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."  We all need to be wrecked by our sin and the fact that it separates us from a loving and holy God.  But being brought low by our sinfulness isn't the end of the story.

Jesus didn't come to this earth and die on a cross so we could live forever under the guilt of our sin.  He took our guilt on his shoulders as he carried the cross.  It was our sin that crucified him, but it was by the power of God that he overcame death and set us free.  Christ died so we could be free.  What a liberating thought!  Jesus says, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."  When Jesus says he'll set the prisoners free, he's not referring to convicts.  He's referring to you and me, who were held in captivity by our sin.

Lent is a time of renewal.  The more I think about it, the more I see that repentance and renewal really go hand in hand.  When we are cleansed from our sin, God renews our heart and refreshes our spirit.  My favorite verse in Psalms is, "Create in my a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."  (Psalm 51: 10-12)  I have found that when I bring my sin before the Lord and truly repent, this verse becomes true.  He renews my heart, and He reminds me of the joy of his salvation.  God makes it possible for me to turn away from my sinfulness and walk in paths of righteousness.

I hope that you will take some time during this season of Lent to reflect on the things that are holding you captive, and the sin that keeps you from experiencing true fellowship with the Lord.  Pray through these things and allow yourself to be restored and renewed in your walk with Christ!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Not Invisible

When I worked at the library in Okinawa I did a children's program for the homeschool kids about the five senses.  It was a great program, and the kids loved it because when we got to the sense of taste, I brought in different foods for them to try to show what salty, sweet, sour, and bitter taste like.  One of the samples was a plate of chocolate shavings.  The kids could barely contain themselves when I brought it out, and they eagerly grabbed for the biggest chunks.  What I hadn't told them was that it was bitter chocolate, and let me tell you, I got some funny reactions!  Where they expected something sweet and delicious, they got something bitter.  What they thought would be satisfying left a bad taste in their mouths.  The lies Satan feeds us are so similar to that plate of chocolate.  We grab for it thinking it'll be sweet but once we eat it, we realize how bitter it actually is.  How often have I experienced this?  How often have you?

The past couple of weeks have been a little rough.  For the longest time I just thought it was me being discontent with life in Beaufort; me being ready to move on to the next phase of our lives.  But the more I prayed about it the more I realized that the darkness was because I had swallowed the Enemy's lies, yet again.

Do you ever feel invisible?  Like you're standing in a crowded room screaming at the top of your lungs, but no one turns around?  I know it's cliche, but that's how I'd been feeling for a while.  It seemed as though I wasn't making any positive impact on people's lives around me.  I was becoming more and more angry, negative, and critical about everything, and it was slowly eroding away at my heart.  I was buying into the lie that I don't matter and that God doesn't love me.  I think if I had really stopped to think about what I was starting to believe, I would have recognized it as Satan at work.

God brought several verses to mind as I sat on the couch late one night praying.  The first was 1 Corinthians 13:12, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."  The part that stuck out was, "as I am fully known."  God knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knows all the rotten things we do or think about.  He sees us at our very best and our very worst, and he still wants a relationship with us!  Another verse on my heart was Zephaniah 3:17.  "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."  What an incredible thought that the God of the entire universe delights in me!  Each time I read this verse I am refreshed in knowing that not only does God know me but he delights in me, and he delights in you too.

Finally I prayed over John 14:27 in which Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid."  It is times like these when I know that God speaks to us directly through His Word.  Jesus came into the world to set us free from fear, but how often do I run back to it?  How often do I allow myself to believe the lies of Satan, which only serve to pull me away from my Lord?  By standing firm in the promises of God and praying for deliverance, we can be set free from the lies and we can live as Jesus intended us to live: life to the fullest!

My prayer for you is that you would not be taken captive by the lies of the Enemy but that you would, "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5)  You are not invisible.  You are known and loved by God.  That is a Truth you can stand firm on!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Goodness of the Good News

There are always two sides to any coin.  Two sides to every story.  In first grade I teach my students how every good story has a problem and a solution.  The same holds true for the gospel of Jesus.  There is a big problem with humanity.  There is a lot of bad news about sin.  But God gives us a solution, and there is good news for those who believe.

Our pastor Mark Oshman has often been quoted as saying, "The good news is only as good as the bad news is bad."  If we don't grapple with our sin and understand the seriousness of our separation from God, we won't ever understand our need for a savior.  Until we see our sinful nature for what it is, the gospel will ring hollow and empty in our ears.  So here's the bad news: we are sinners, separated from God, deserving hell.  But the good news is God has provided a way out for us.  God himself is the sacrifice to atone for our sin and be saved from death.

Jesus came to give us hope for eternity.  I know that sometimes Christians throw around words like hope, faith, joy, etc. without giving any real weight to what they mean.  So what does it really mean that we have hope in Jesus?  He didn't come just to give us a good life here on earth; in fact, many Christians suffer severe persecution for their faith.  The gospel is about having an eternal perspective and realizing that there is more to life than what we have here on earth.  We will one day worship at the throne of God in heaven for eternity.  We have hope that one day all the ugliness of this world, all the suffering and pain, will be wiped away by the One with nail-scarred hands.  "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18)  This life is but a glimpse of eternity.   Now that's something worth living for.

In Mark 2:17 Jesus says, "it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."  Jesus' sacrifice on the cross is an atonement for every man, woman, and child on the planet.  His death was enough to cover us all with His grace.  The gospel is for everyone, not just the ones who sit in the pews on Sunday morning.  It's for the homeless man on the street, and the crack-adled prostitute desperate for money.  It's for the single mother and the gay couple next door.  The gospel is for the frazzled college student and the retiree in the nursing home.  The gospel is for you and me.  There is no sinner beyond the reach of God's hands.  In 1 Timothy 2:3 Paul reminds us that we serve a God "who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." 

God's grace is for everyone who believes, and the most important decision we will ever make is how we will respond to that grace.  For many it is a lifelong question.  My prayer for you is that you will know the goodness of God and answer his call to eternal life! 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book Review: Adopted for Life by Russell Moore

One might think that, based on the title, this book is meant only for families considering adoption.  If so, think again!  While adoption is something Patrick and I are only vaguely considering at this point, reading Moore's book has changed my perspective not only on adoption itself but on our adoption into the family of God.  And that is what makes this a book for any Christian, whether they are thinking about adoption or not.  "Adoption is not just about couples who want children-or who want more children.  Adoption is about an entire culture within our churches, a culture that sees adoption as part of our Great Commission mandate and as a sign of the gospel itself." (P. 19)

Moore begins the book by explaining our spiritual adoption.  For Christians, prior to finding salvation in Christ, we were orphans.  We were lost.  We were unloveable and unwanted.  We were enemies of God.  But then Jesus came on the scene and welcomed us into the family of God.  Through his sacrifice He made it possible for us to receive an inheritance of eternal life.  The salvation of Christ is the ultimate picture of what adoption really means.  To this point Moore says, "None of us like to think we were adopted.  We assume we're natural-born children, with a right to all of this grace, to all of this glory... We're ashamed to think of ourselves as adopted, because to do so would focus our minds on the gory truth that all of us in Christ, like my sons, once were lost but now we're found, once were strangers and now we're children, once were slaves and now we're heirs."  (P. 31)

The clear explanation of our adoption by God makes it easy to see why caring for orphans should be such a priority for Christians.  Moore calls for an attitude adjustment when it comes to adoption.  He says there needs to be a shift in the whole culture of our churches to be one which embraces and encourages adoption.  It makes sense that when we see more adopted children in the pews next to us that adoption itself becomes less strange or intimidating.  "Once children are seen as a blessing, and once adoption doesn't seem strange or exotic, an adoption culture tends to flourish in gospel-anchored churches." (P. 172)

One of my favorite parts of the book was one chapter in which Moore describes part of his own family's experience in adopting their two little boys from Russia.  He describes the scene as they drive away from the orphanage where the boys were reaching back to it and crying.  They didn't understand the goodness that awaited them in their new life.  Moore equates this with how often Christians are tempted to turn back to the old life because we have difficulty seeing the goodness of our heavenly father.  "We don't believe that our new Father will feed us so we hang on to our scraps and long for the regimented schedules of the orphanage from which we've come.  And when our Father pushes us along to new tastes, we pout that he's not good to us.  But he's readying us for glory, preparing us to take our place on thrones as heirs."  (P. 50)

The second half of the book goes into more detail on the adoption process and some questions that adoptive parents may have.  Moore also discusses the importance of the church in being a supporter of adoption and the way the gospel is seen in adoption.  "The gospel welcomes us and receives us as loved children.  The gospel disciplines us and prepares us for eternity as heirs.  The gospel speaks truth to us and shows us our misery in Adam and our glory in Christ.  The gospel shows us that we were born into death and then show us, by free grace, that we're adopted for life."  (P. 214)

Adopted for Life is an incredible book, and I would highly recommend it to anyone, even if adoption is the farthest thing from your mind.  Moore's book will encourage you to live out the gospel not only through adoption but by supporting families that adopt and welcoming adopted children into the family of God.

A few more quotes from the book:

"When we adopt --and when we encourage a culture of adoption in our churches and communities-- we're picturing something that's true about our God.  We, like Jesus, see what our Father is doing and do likewise.  And what our Father is doing, it turns out, is fighting for orphans, making them sons and daughters."  (P. 73)

"It's true that adoption isn't "natural."  We have adoptions because we live in a world groaning under the curse of sin and death.  Fathers abandon mothers.  Mothers get pregnant without marriage.  Parents are killed.  Disease ravages villages.  It was not so from the beginning.  The hard questions about adoption --and the easy ones too-- are only with us because something's gone with the world." (P. 165)

"The Bible reminds us that not many of us "were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth." (1 Cor 1:26)  So why did God choose to save us, to pursue us with the gospel in the first place?  It's all due, simply, to what the Scriptures call his "good pleasure."  (P. 195)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

There's No Such Thing as Divine Drifting

I've been thinking a lot lately about perseverance, and what it means to persevere in my christian walk.  As some of you may know I am an avid journal writer.  I've written every day since February 1996, and it is always interesting to see how I've changed over the years and how God has been at work in my life.  Looking back I can also see how the idea of perseverance has played out in my life.  

Have you ever thought about how most of the words we use to describe our relationship with God are all active verbs?  We talk about our walk with Christ or our journey.  We follow Jesus and carry our crosses.  These words don't paint a picture of sitting still; rather they point us toward the idea of actively pursuing Christ as we pursue godliness.  No one can stand idle in their relationship with Christ and expect to be transformed into his image.  A quote I heard recently from D.A. Carson sums up very well what I've been thinking lately.

“People do not drift toward Holiness.  Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”  

How true; we do not drift toward holiness.  If we are on this road with Jesus then we are moving.  We might be moving toward Him or away from Him, but we're always moving.  There is no standing still.  We can't loiter our way to godliness.  We're not on some heaven-bound moving sidewalk.  When we stand still we naturally gravitate toward godlessness, prayerlessness, and the lack of discipline.  These are not words that characterize the christian life.  

The christian life is a race; more of an endurance race rather than a sprint, but a race nonetheless.  In Hebrews 12:1 we are encouraged to,"run with perseverance the race marked out for us."  In a race no one expects to win unless he runs.  You'll never make it to the finish line unless you keep moving.  James 1:4 says, "Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  How are we to mature in our faith if we do not seek the Lord daily?

So what does it actually mean to walk with Christ?  Psalm 105:4 says, "Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always."  We seek God by reading His word and opening our hearts to him in prayer.  I've talked to some people who don't think it's necessary to read scripture on a regular basis. I don't think you'll go to hell if you don't read the Bible everyday, but it is incredibly important for Christ-followers to seek the face of God through his revealed word to us.  Our lives ought to echo Psalm 119:105 which says, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path."  Without the guidance of the Word of God it would be easy to start to morph God into the image we want  him to look like rather than who he is.  That's a very dangerous road to tread.

I don't want to sound legalistic here, but I believe that true christians will actively walk with Christ.  I believe that Ephesians 2:8 is true when it says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast."  We can do nothing to save ourselves - that is the redeeming work of Christ on the cross alone.  However, when we are saved, we should continue to pursue Christ throughout our lives.  Salvation isn't just a check in the box where we then go back to our old life as usual.  Like Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"  And like D.A. Carson said, no one drifts toward holiness.  To be holy means persevering to walk as near to Christ as we can.  We can walk toward or away from Christ.  Which direction will you choose?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Book Review: A Holy Ambition by John Piper

Once a month Patrick and I have a standing Skype date with our good friends John and Sarah who still live in Okinawa.  Each month we read a book together then discuss it during our chat time.  We tend to focus on missions-related books since the four of us plan to go into ministry together overseas.  Reading and dissecting books with friends is such a great way to expand your mind even further, and I would recommend this approach!

This month our book of choice was A Holy Ambition by John Piper.  This particular book was something of a piggy-back on Let the Nations Be Glad and was one I got a lot out of.  The book is really a compilation of sermons and other texts Piper has written throughout the years pertaining to missions.  Though there is some overlap, the ideas he presents are ones worth repeating.  Piper writes quite a bit on the subject of missions because it is close to his heart, and obviously close to God's heart.  Christians all over the world are called to be a part of God's global purpose, and it is a blessing to be able to respond to God's call!
The book discusses the idea of a holy ambition, a concept taken from Paul who declared in Romans 15: 18-24 "I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation."  As christians we all have a holy ambition, or a deep desire to serve God and bring about his kingdom on earth.  We should strive to align our heart's desire with what the heart of God desires, and that is that we would worship at the throne of God!  Piper reminds us that the goal of missions is, "the global worship of Jesus by his redeemed people from every tribe, tongue, and nation."  

Some people have a problem with the idea that God only wants followers so we can worship and glorify Him.  Piper tackles this issue head on.  "If knowing Jesus were anything less than the greatest of enjoyments, the his pursuit would be unloving.  but he is the most valuable Reality in the universe.  Knowing him is "the surpassing worth" that makes it gain to count all else loss.  Therefore it is profoundly loving for Jesus to exalt himself.  He cannot love the nations without putting himself on display because it is only him that truly satisfies the human soul." (p. 23)  

One of my favorite things in this book is the challenge that all christians are called to glorify God among the nations.  "You were made for this.  I mean all of you who say from the heart, 'Jesus is Lord.'  When you confess Jesus as the Lord of the universe, you sign up for significance beyond all your dreams.  To belong to Jesus is to embrace nations for which he died and which he will rule.  Your heart was made for this, and there will always be a serious or mild sickness in your soul until you embrace this global calling."  What a challenge for all of us to be more and do more for the kingdom of God!  We serve a God who is victorious over all evil, and his is a mission that will be fulfilled.  I for one want to be part of that mission, and I hope it is one that you will embrace as well.

A few more quotes from the book:

"Growing up means getting a holy ambition to wield the sword of the Spirit mightily and drive a truckload of love to the needy and kick Satan's rear end in the name of Jesus." (p. 15)

"So my answer to the question where does a holy ambition come from is this: It comes from a personal encounter with the living Christ, shaped and informed and empowered by the written word of God." (pg. 17)

"Faith is a precondition for enjoying the symphony of God's glory not in the sense of getting a ticket, but in the sense of getting an ear for heaven's music.  The real precondition of enjoying the music of heaven throughout eternity is a new heart which delights in the things of God, not a decision card which you carry in your pocket to ease your conscience while your mind is captivated by the delights of this world." (P. 59)

"Stunning shifts are taking place as God gathers his elect from all the nations and sends his church to all the nations.  Europe and America are not the center of gravity in world Christianity any longer.  The center is shifting south and east.  Latin America, Africa, and Asia are experiencing phenomenal growth and are becoming the great sending churches."  (P. 139)

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Bad Case of Happiness: an Okinawa Tribute

Once I was reflecting on our incredible life in Okinawa with Mrs. Mom (my ever-insightful mother-in-law).  As I gushed about how much I loved living there she told me she thought I'd had a bad case of happiness.  That's a pretty accurate statement.  Our life in Japan was truly blessed, and not a day goes by that I don't miss it.  I wish I'd started blogging before we left, because it would have been fun to share our adventures with our friends in the States.  So I think I'll share some of the things I loved most about Japan here.  If it were possible to capture all the memories from the last four years I would, but hopefully these few pictures will give you an idea of what an awesome life we led in Japan!

I think what I miss the most about Oki was the incredible group of girl friends I had there.  We had an awesome weekly Bible study, and it was such a blessing to study God's Word with other women who love the Lord.  We got together for girls' nights all the time as well.  I'm looking forward to a reunion once we're all back in the States.

The Harbor was our church home for the past two years, and it is an incredible place of ministry.  It is run by Cadence International, an organization that does ministry with the military all over the world. I miss being part of the worship there, but at least we're still able to listen to podcasts.

I had the most amazing job in Okinawa.  I was in charge of all the children's programming for the library system (on base).  So basically I got to plan and do story time for kids of all ages everyday!  It was this job that made me realize that I want to be a teacher.  I'm so grateful that I had a job I loved so much!

Patrick and I led a community group, and through it we made friends for a lifetime.  The picture is from the World Hunger banquet that our group hosted.  We are hoping to go into full-time ministry overseas with John and Sarah (on the right).
I can't write a post about all the things I loved about Japan and not include something about the food.  We had plenty of culinary adventures, and we loved every minute of it.  Dining out in Okinawa always meant spending time with friends, and that's what made it so memorable.  

I had no idea it was possible to love a snake this much, especially since prior to getting him I was absolutely 100% dead set on NOT having a snake.  Patrick always wanted one so I finally conceded.  Within 10 minutes of having him and holding him he became "my" snake.  I never knew ball pythons could have so much personality.  I was so sad when we weren't able to bring him back to the States since we didn't have the required paperwork.  Saying goodbye to Legoless was one of the saddest goodbyes of all, I think partly because it was then that it really started to sink in that we were leaving for good.

Cocoks is a nail salon, but not like what you might have experienced in the States.  Going there meant true pampering where you would get a spa pedicure with massage and incredibly intricate nail art.  It was customary to take a "toe picture" every time we went.  

Patrick and I had lots of opportunities to travel while we lived overseas.  One stop was Tokyo where we also climbed Mt. Fuji.  While it was an experience I'm glad we had, it was also one of the toughest things I've ever done!  Other travels included (for me anyway) Thailand, South Africa, and Egypt.

Okinawa is absolutely beautiful, especially up north were there are large parks where the Cherry Blossom Festivals are held each year.  

Being 8000 miles away from home made it impossible to get back to the US every year for the holidays.  We were never at a loss for friends though!  Each year we would all get together for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, and it was always a great time of fellowship!

Forest Adventure Park is an awesome place to go zip lining through the jungle.  You'd be hard pressed to find a place quite like it in the States.  A great place to overcome any fear of heights. 

For some reason we started the tradition of Sunday Night Movie Night.  After church a group would come to our place and we'd watch a movie every week.  The guys always complained that it was a horrible way to start the week since they'd have to get up so early on Monday.  This picture is from our Harry Potter night where I made Butterbeer.  Yes, we're just that cool.  :)

One thing I miss about Okinawa is all the ridiculous signs.  The Engrish shirts were hilarious as well.  In case you can't tell, the sign says, "Because I interfere with traffic, please do not sit down on a corridor."  Patrick heeds well.  

Okinawa is a place to meet friends and say goodbye to friends.  Most people live there for only three years so people are constantly coming and going.  That's the way the military works, so I had to say farewell to my fair share of dear friends.  Elizabeth and I worked together for several months, and in that time she became one of my best friends.  She made the library an incredible place to be, and I miss her all the time!  This picture was from the night of my Snuggle Up Storytime so we got to wear our pjs to work!

The Marine Corps Birthday Ball happens every year in November, and Patrick and I usually ended up going to two each year (one for the Wing, and one for MACS-4).  I always looked forward to getting dressed up for a fancy date night with the love of my life!

I had the privilege of working with some truly incredible women, and Aiko was one of them.  Even after we both left the library we kept in touch and got together as often as we could for lunch or coffee.  She is a woman of incredible faith and I miss her dearly!

And I can't forget the beach!  We were fortunate enough to live about five minutes from a nice beach, and we never took it for granted!  We often had big group picnics on the beach and spent whole afternoon enjoying the sunshine.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Faith that Offends

This is going to be a hard post to write, but there are some things I want to say here that I think need to be said.  Perhaps the difficulty lies in the fact that this issue hits uncomfortably close to home for me.  Some things are just so personal that it's hard to deal with them even in writing.  But if we never wrestle with the tough things in scripture, or the hard things about following Christ, then we will never grow.  Our faith won't be stretched and challenged, and we'll find ourselves not much farther along the path than we were when we first began our journey with Christ.

Perhaps you are easily offended by the Truth of God.  If that's the case I suggest you stop reading right here and read something else.  Maybe you are pursuing a brand of faith that makes you feel good inside about who you are without the challenge to be transformed into the image of Christ.  If that's the case, you can't back up your faith with the Word of God.  That's just not what Jesus came to earth to accomplish.  Jesus didn't come to be the opiate of the masses.  Jesus tells us the reason he came in John 18:37.  "In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."  In John 10:10 he says this, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."  It doesn't sound like Jesus wants to simply subdue the populace.  He wants followers who are actively seeking Truth.    

The longer I live the more I realize that the gospel of Christ is just plain offensive.  Until you are completely devastated by the sin in your life you will not understand your need for a savior.  Coming face to face with your sin is painful, and most people would rather not do it.  But God did not come to earth so we could feel good about ourselves.  I see much of that in the church (and sometimes in my own life.)  People are comfortable in their sins so they try to justify it by saying "God made me this way so it can't really be sin."  Seriously?  Scripture is blatantly clear about the fact that man is engulfed in the sinful nature and it is Christ alone that rescues us from it.  Christ came to give us new life, not a life continued on in sin.  That means we must put off the old and enjoy life as God intended us to live it; glorifying Him by enjoying fellowship with him.

This is a truth that I believe with my whole heart, and it has given me great joy.  Sadly, this faith of mine offends.  It divides.  It separates.  I've been called an idiot by my family for believing that Jesus is my savior.  Others have called me close-minded, judgmental, and radical.  I wouldn't call my faith radical, I would call it Biblical.  Actually I wish I could be more radical for Christ!  Jesus called his followers to a radical kind of faith; a faith that would turn their entire world upside down.  I want that kind of faith.  I've also been told that all my "religious stuff" has put up walls between me and other members of my family.  At first I despaired at this, but then I remembered that this is exactly what Jesus said would happen to his followers.

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law --a man's enemies will be the members of his household." (Matthew 10:34-36)

For the longest time I thought these verses sounded terrible.  Why would Jesus bring division?  Why would he want to turn family members against each other?  But as these verses come to fruition in my own life God has granted me deeper understanding.  We all have to make a choice about Jesus, and that is the most important decision we will ever make.  Jesus came to separate his followers from the followers of the world.  When you give your life to Christ people will hate you.  They will persecute you.  Jesus is incredibly offensive to people who can't confront the sin in their lives.  It is not so much you that they hate but Christ in you that they can't stand.  "For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life." (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)

"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached to the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."  (Matthew 24:9-14)

Jesus came to earth and turned the world upside down.  It's tempting to simply ignore those who persecute you or even return evil for evil.  But Christ calls christians to something better.  In Matthew 5:43-45 he says, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in Heaven."  If we are truly God's children we will love even those who hate us.  It might seem like a tall order, and if we were to try to do so in our own strength we would fail.  Thankfully we have the power of the Holy Spirit which enables us to do all things for God's glory!

My intent here is not to be a downer.  In fact, my hope is that some of you will be encouraged in your faith with the reminder that, when people hate you for your faith, Christ in you is all the more evident.  In some ways it may be a sign that you are running the race well.  So stand firm in your faith and in your love for Christ.  Though we may lose the love of some family and friends in this life, we are promised eternal life with the Father.  And in the end, it will be more than worth the pain.