Friday, March 23, 2012

The Blind Men and the Elephant

Once there were six blind men who came upon an elephant. Using their sense of touch, each of them discovered something about the animal.  One man touched it's leg and said, "It is like a tree trunk."  The second man touched the elephant's side and said, "It is like a wall."  A third touched the tail and said, "It is like a rope."  The fourth touched the tusks and said, "It is like a spear."  The fifth touched the ear and said, "It is like a fan."  The sixth man touched the trunk and said, "It is like a snake."  The men began to argue over what the elephant was.

The elephant is like a tree.
The elephant is like a wall.
The elephant is like a rope.
The elephant is like a spear.
The elephant is like a fan.
The elephant is like a snake.

A seeing man came along and heard the six blind men arguing.  He explained to them that they were all right, and they were all wrong.  Each of them understood a piece of what an elephant was, and only when they put the pieces together could they understand what and elephant is.  

Like the blind men in the story we have a tendency to focus on only one aspect of who God is.  We tease apart just one piece of God's nature and declare that that is what God is like.  Sometimes Christians even get into heated arguments about the nature of God because they don't realize how vastly complex He is.

God is loving.
God is judging.
God is merciful.
God is majestic.
God is comdemning.
God is a deliverer.

God is not just one or the other, He is all of these things and so much more.  Unless we start to put all the pieces of God's nature together, we will see only a fragmented version of our creator.  We cannot understand the depths of God's love if we do not understand who he is as a righteous judge. We cannot understand his mercy unless we see that he is a holy God against whom we have all sinned.  1 Corinthians 13:12 says, "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."   I thank God that someday I will see him face to face.  I'm thankful that someday I will really see him and know him more fully than I possibly could in this life.  

Since we are finite beings, I think it is impossible for us to fully grasp the magnitude of who God is, but that shouldn't stop us from seeking his face.  Our hunger for God should drive us toward Him and toward a greater understanding of his complex nature.  The more we gaze upon the face of God, the more we love him and the more we will give glory to his Name.  Then when we stand before his throne we will rejoice in the knowledge of the one who has called us into fellowship with him.  

Sunday, March 18, 2012

India, Here We Come!

Patrick and I have dubbed 2012 the year of living out of suitcases.  We'll be doing a lot of traveling, beginning with a two week trip to India.  We leave on Saturday, so tonight we started packing.  It's hard to believe that after all the planning that's gone into it, this trip is upon us!

The main purpose of our going to India is to visit the two children we sponsor through Compassion International: Abhinav and Jeevalakshmi.  We have sponsored Abhinav (age 9) for over two years and have gotten to know him through writing letters every month.  We began sponsoring Jeevalakshmi (age 6) back in September, and have already received several letters from her. Both children have become very dear to us in a short amount of time, and we can't wait to meet them in person!  We are praying that we will be able to encourage both of them in the short time we have with them, and that we can share the love of Christ with them and their families.

The first part of our trip will be of a more tourist nature. We fly into New Delhi and will do a five-day tour of northern India.  Patrick is getting excited to put his new photography skills to use!  I'm sure we'll have tons of stories to tell when we get back, and I'm looking forward to blogging about our adventures there.  (Actually, the reason I began blogging in the first place was so friends and family could keep up with us as we travel around the world in the coming years.)

I'll admit, I tend to get pretty anxious about traveling.  Please pray for me that I would have peace about getting to and from, and that I would simply trust in God's provision for us while we're away.  Also, please pray that we don't get sick while we're there!  My biggest fear is not being well enough to visit with our kids, especially since those visits will be during the second part of our trip.  We aren't taking a computer with us so unfortunately I won't be able to write as we travel throughout the country, but check back in a couple of weeks for updates!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Where is Your Treasure?

I realized that the reason I haven't posted recently is because the things I've been processing lately have been difficult to put into words. God has revealed some things in my heart lately that I thought I had dealt with, and I'm ashamed to say, there's more work to be done.  Just another reminder that we are a work in progress, and the Lord is never finished molding us into his image.  The process of sanctification is just that; a process.

As I've mentioned before, our small group is going through the book "Radical" by David Platt.  This is one of those life changing books that accomplishes the equivalent of putting your life through the spin cycle of a washing machine.  Patrick and I have been looking at the Word of God with fresh perspective and the results are at once terrifying and liberating.  Some of the things Jesus calls us to do as his disciples are difficult.  At times they seem impossible were it not for the grace of God in our lives.

The story of the rich young ruler has really resonated with my spirit the last few weeks.  Here it is from Mark 10: 17-23:

"As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him.  'Good teacher," he asked, 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?'  
'Why do you call me good?' Jesus answered.  'No one is good--except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'  
'Teacher,' he declared, 'all these I have kept since I was a boy.'
Jesus looked at him and loved him.  'One thing you lack,' he said.  'God, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'
At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus calls us to some difficult things; things we'd like to pretend he doesn't ask us to do, like sell all that we have and give to the poor.  We like to rationalize away statements like that saying things like, "What Jesus really meant was..."  As Platt says, "And this is where we need to pause.  Because we are starting to redefine Christianity.  We are giving in to the dangerous temptation to take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into a version of Jesus we are more comfortable with." (P.13)  Though we might not like what Christ says about what our lives should look like, if we are following him with total abandonment, we cannot ignore the difficult things he calls us to do.

Lately I've realized that the things of this world have a stronger hold on my heart than they should.  As many of you know, Patrick and I plan to go into full-time missions overseas within the next few years.  The other day Patrick mentioned having an estate sale to sell all our stuff before we move.  While I know that at some point we would give it all up as we enter the mission field, for the first time I really thought about selling all our possessions, and it was very telling of where my heart is right now.  I don't rejoice at the thought of giving everything up for the kingdom of God.  I really like my middle class American life, and I know it will be a struggle to move away from all that.

There is a part of the passage in Mark that we tend to overlook.  Jesus didn't tell the rich man to sell everything he has to give to the poor so he would be miserable the rest of his life.  Not at all!  Instead, Jesus tells him that he will have treasure in heaven.  I think it's safe to say that treasure in heaven is more than we can ever imagine or dream about on earth.  Jesus tells us to let go of our earthly things so he can bless us even more abundantly for eternity.  What he's basically saying is, "Let go of your pocket change so I can give you riches beyond your wildest dreams!"

What I've been praying for lately is that I would see Jesus himself as the treasure that he is, and how incredibly worthy he is for my obedience and sacrifice.  Because really, when I stop to think about it, giving up on worldly things isn't even a sacrifice when compared to the eternal reward that is ours when we surrender everything to Christ.  The life Christ calls us to live on earth might be difficult in the moment, but when we see obedience through the lens of eternity, our perspective shifts.  Rather than seeing it as Jesus asking us to give up the creature comforts we love so much, we will see it as Jesus calling us to something better than we could ever think to ask for.  I pray for this kind of perspective daily, and I pray that you would experience it too.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Being Barnabas

One of my favorite people in the Bible is Barnabas.  He doesn't have a flashy story, nor does he get much face time in scripture, but the work he did was foundational to spreading the gospel.  The thing I love so much about Barnabas is that he was so encouraging to fellow believers.  His name even means "Son of Encouragement."  He traveled with Paul sharing the good news of Christ and pouring his life out for those who desperately needed a savior.

As the gospel was spreading to the Jews and Gentiles and news reached him, Barnabas made his way to Antioch.  Acts 11:23 tells us that, "When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.  He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord."  I'm sure that Barnabas was a simple man.  Scripture doesn't tell us much about his life prior to his work with the apostles, but I imagine that he was a humble man who loved others and put their needs before his own.  He saw people through the eyes of God and understood their needs.  He knew how to speak to their hearts so they would be encouraged to press on in their faith and not lose hope, even when things were difficult.  Through his encouragement and love, many people came to know the salvation of Christ.

The kind of encouragement that Barnabas gave was more than just nice words to make his hearers feel good.  Sometimes encouragement means saying the things that are hard to say and even harder to hear. Paul told Timothy to, "Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction." (2 Tim 4:2)  Sometimes encouragement comes with correction and rebuke, and that is often hard to bear.  No one likes to think that they aren't on the right track to a godly life, but correction, given with love and encouragement, can be exactly what they need to set them back on course.  To correct in this way requires discernment, and I pray for this every day.

I want to be this kind of encourager.  I want to see people through the eyes of God and understand their needs.  Hebrews 3:13 says, "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness."  There is a very real threat, even for Christians, to be lured away from Christ by Satan.  We can encourage one another by walking through trials together, and by loving each other through the hard times.  When I walk through difficult circumstances, sometimes I need others to remind me that God is still in control and that he will never forsake me.  This kind of encouragement from godly friends is always instrumental in helping me maintain a Christ-centered attitude.    

I want to be like Barnabas to those around me, and I have found that when I pray for opportunities to offer encouragement, God always places someone in my path who needs to be reminded of His goodness of love.  It still amazes me that God would use people like you and me to reach out and be the hands and feet of Christ to others.  Who has God put in your life today that needs your encouragement?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Life in the Lowcountry

I'll be honest, for the longest time I really didn't like living in Beaufort.  I didn't feel connected to that many people and just didn't feel like this town was a good fit for us.  For months I've been praying for contentment, and God is really changing my heart toward living in the Lowcountry.  It's been amazing!  For the first time the other day I actually got sad thinking about moving in June.  I'm finally at the point where I feel like Beaufort is home.  We have several really awesome friends, and we're plugged in to our church community.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about loving life in Okinawa.  Well, here is my tribute to loving life in South Carolina.

We've done several weekend treks with our friends Shane and Melia, and several weeks ago our exploring took us to Columbia for my first ever basketball game.  Though I've never been much of a sports fan, I found that going to a real game with friends is a ton of fun!  It was a UK vs. USC game, and I was surprised to see that there was more blue in the stands than garnet!

We have an awesome small group, and we meet every week at our place for food, fellowship, and studying the Truth of God.  It's so encouraging to be surrounded by those who can encourage us in our walk with the Lord.
I'm still working as a teaching assistant in first grade, and though it can be a frustrating and exhausting job, at the end of the day, I still love all my students and I wouldn't want to be doing anything else.  God has a way of reminding me why I want to teach.
Sometimes my job is especially fun, like on Books and Blankets Day where all the teachers are supposed to dress up like storybook characters.  Yesterday I dressed up as a pirate and went around to several different classes to read pirate stories.  It definitely reminded me of my glory days as a library storyteller.  Yep, reading to kids is still my favorite thing ever!
We've had several visitors to Beaufort since we moved here last June.  Most recently, my sister-in-law Holly came to visit.  It was wonderful to catch up with her and spend time relaxing and hearing more stories from Zambia.
Like I said, we've done lots of exploring with our friends Shane and Melia.  Since Patrick took up photography he wants to go to all the scenic places around Beaufort to take pictures.  It's been fun to check out different areas of South Carolina.  This picture was taken at Hunting Island about 30 minutes away.  
Though I don't spend much time on base these days (and subsequently don't feel as connected to the military), there are some really beautiful sunsets that can be seen there.  Yet again, I'm glad Patrick has taken up photography! 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Freedom from Fear

Our small group has started reading "Radical" by David Platt, and once again, it's turning out to be a life changing experience.  Patrick and I went through this book last year with a different group, and it turned our world upside down.  (I'll write more on the book later.)  One of the discussion points from our meeting this week was about fear, and how total abandonment to Christ casts out all fear.

Jesus calls us to do some pretty radical things; things many of us are not comfortable with at first glance.  Sometimes it takes two or three glances before we really get to the heart of what Christ is saying in the Bible, and the implications for our lives today.  It's tempting to try to relegate Jesus' words to two thousand years ago and pass them off as irrelevant for us now.  To do so would be to deny our purpose in life.  Everything that Jesus said in the Bible very much applies to you and me and has drastic implications for our lives.

In Matthew 10 Jesus is speaking to his disciples about going out among the people and preaching about the kingdom of God.  He explains to them that they will suffer persecution for their faith, and the mission may demand their very lives.  In verse 16 he says, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves."  I think his point here was to show them that they would be vulnerable to those who wish to harm them.  But if we keep reading we see that in verse 28 Jesus says, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell."   Do you catch the implication of this verse?  As disciples of Christ, we might be asked to give up our lives, but we are still told to not be afraid.  The worst they can do is kill us.  Wow.

These are the verses we like to skim over.  We like to pretend that Jesus didn't really mean it when he said we would suffer for his name.  We don't want to think that we might be called to die for our faith.  But if your faith isn't worth dying for, what's the point?  Jesus is worthy of all our worship, all our love, and all of our lives.  When we abandon our lives for him, we have no need to fear.

David Platt says it well in his book.  "We don't need to be afraid to go anywhere in this world, because the worst that could happen is that we might be killed.  The only way this can comfort us is if we have already died with Christ.  The only way this can encourage us is if we are so focused on an eternal God that temporal human beings strike no fear in us." (P. 175)  To die with Christ means to die to ourselves.  We die to ourselves when we are willing to give up the desires of the flesh such as wealth, prestige, or even physical safety.  When we give these things up for the glory of God, we die to ourselves so we can live in Christ.  Jesus says this in Luke 6, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it."

The whole idea of suffering stems from the command that we go to all the nations to share the gospel.  Too many Christians want desperately to believe that God would never call them to suffer or lose their lives.  They want to live safely behind their white picket fences and never step out in faith in what God has commanded them to do.  This is not the gospel.  This is not what we were created for.  Jesus sends us out among the wolves so we can reach out to them and show them the love of Christ.  Yes, we will face persecution, suffering, and maybe death.  But our reward in heaven makes the sacrifice on earth seem like nothing.  We have nothing to fear when we serve the Lord.  Paul reminds us in Romans 8:18, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us." 

These verses are an encouragement to me today as we contemplate our future work on the foreign mission field.  The idea of persecution and suffering is very real in my mind because we plan to work in an area that is relatively hostile toward Christians.  We want to go where the gospel has not been proclaimed, and share the grace of God with people who have never heard it.  There is risk involved, and we may be called to suffer greatly for the glory of God.  We may even be called to give up our lives.  So the promises of God in these verses are precious to me, because I can trust that our sufferings here are nothing compared to eternal life with Christ.  I want to be able to echo the words of Paul when he says, "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."  May we all be so in love with Jesus that even to lose our lives for his glory would be a blessing.