The Hands and Feet of Jesus

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I just got back from serving as an STM (short term missionary) for a week at Joni and Friends.  For those of you who haven’t heard of this ministry, we are trained to be a buddy for a child with special needs for about four days.  We participate with them in activities such as Bible study, arts and crafts, fishing, swimming, dancing, and a talent show.  While we are watching the children, there are programs for the parents to go to and relax.  I often heard that instead of going fishing or to the lake, the parents enjoyed just going back to their rooms and taking a nap because they didn’t get a chance to do that all year long.

I was paired up with a 9 year old boy who had aspergers and ADHD.  The first couple days were smooth sailing but the last full day of camp came with some difficulties.  My camper was non-compliant and physically aggressive and I wanted to give up.  When my patience was wearing thing and I just wanted to walk away, I kept trying to remind myself of his mom.  She’s raising him on her own–the father wasn’t in the picture, she works full-time, and is also busy at school furthering her degree.  I don’t know how she does it all but I was determined that camp would be a blessing and a relaxing break for her.

The last morning came with a session where the parents could share how camp had impacted them.  It was such an encouragement to see mothers and fathers getting up and sharing how many years they’d been bringing their families to camp and how they were looking forward to coming back next year.  But the biggest blessing of all came when my camper himself stood up and raised his hand.  When the microphone was handed to him, he said: “This was my first year at camp and I didn’t know what to expect.  But I had a great time and I made new friends.”  Then he turned to me, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “And I want to thank my STM, Addi.”  Let me just say the tears were forming.  His mom turned to me and said that he’d never talked in front of people before.  Crowds scared him and he wasn’t a big talker.

Galatians 6:9-10 comes to mind: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  

During that last session, the camp pastor read Philippians 4:11 which says: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”  Many of the parents at this camp were a wonderful representation of this verse.  They have learned to be content whatever the circumstances–whether or not their daughter will ever be able to say their name or their son will be able to see their face.  Whether or not their child will ever walk or ever be independent.  When the medical bills are piling up or another scare takes them back to the hospital.  When another surgery becomes necessary.  When their second or even third child is also born with autism or another disability.

I’m thankful for my time at Joni and Friends.  I always go to camp ready to serve and be a blessing but when I get there I end up being blessed far more than I can ever return.  The child-like faith and openness, the hugs and love from all of the campers reminds me that in some aspects of life, they are so much farther ahead than I will ever be.

Faithfulness Before Marriage

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     In Matthew 19:6, Jesus reminds us of the sanctity of marriage when He says, “They are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”  Marriage is a beautiful commitment to remain faithful to your spouse.
     However, I think we often forget that faithfulness to our spouse begins long before the wedding.  Proverbs 3:3 says: “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” Faithfulness isn’t something that begins after you’re married. Faithfulness begins NOW.
     Even in the little things, we can prove by our actions and attitude a lifestyle of faithfulness. Everyone around us should know by how we live that we are not casually giving ourselves away but instead purposely saving ourselves for our future spouse.  Anything you would be ashamed to do if your future spouse were around, you shouldn’t be doing. If we are praying and hoping that our spouses will maintain lifestyles of purity and faithfulness, then shouldn’t we all be striving to give our spouses the same?  
     Whether you are currently single or in a relationship, ask yourself if you would be embarrassed for your future spouse to see the way you interact with others.  Even when you’re in a relationship, you need to keep in mind that you may not end up marrying this person.  

     Luke 16:10 says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” For a relationship to thrive, trust must be at the core. What better way to show that we can be trusted than by living a life of faithfulness even before marriage?

 

The Heart of Fellowship

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We often pray before church get-togethers or group gatherings that God would bless our time of fellowship.  But I think that often we use the word “fellowship” when it’s anything but.  Fellowship often involves casual conversation over coffee, not deep or meaningful spiritual conversations.

The Greek word koinōnia is where we get our English word “fellowship.”  It comes from a root word that means “partnership”, and suggests a close relationship among believers–an extension of the love that exists between God and His people.

1 Corinthians 14:26 says, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”

True Christ-centered fellowship involves mutual edification, sharing things that have drawn us closer to Christ, encouraging each other, praying for each other, sharing our needs and our struggles and asking for accountability.  It involves building each other up and pointing each other towards Christ.

Our Faithlessness, His Faithfulness

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Today during my Bible reading, Numbers 21:4-9 really stuck out to me: “[The Israelites] traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”  Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.  The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole;anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.”

Get your eyes off your problems and put them on Jesus.  Stop looking down at the wound and finding things in your life to complain about.  Look up.  Just as the Israelites had to look up to the serpent to be cured, we need to look up to Jesus.  In John 3:14-15 Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

Matthew Henry says, “Compare their disease and ours. Sin bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder. Compare the application of their remedy and ours. They looked and lived, and we, if we believe, shall not perish… Whosoever looked, however desperate his case, or feeble his sight, or distant his place, was certainly and perfectly cured. The Lord can relieve us from dangers and distresses, by means which human reason never would have devised.”

John Piper says, “Their complaining wasn’t rooted in their scenery, but their heart… A heart of gratitude and thankfulness isn’t dependent on your bank statement, doctor’s diagnosis, or the praise you receive for a job well done. Thanklessness and grumbling — regardless of your situation, even your suffering — reflect your heart.”  Piper goes on to say that the reason we complain is because we forget.

We don’t remember God’s gracious forgiveness, unfailing love, and abundant mercy.  We forget his redemption and sovereignty.  He doesn’t follow our plans for our life and we forget that His ways are best.  So we complain.  We murmur.  We grumble.

When we remember God’s faithfulness, I think it should look something like Psalm 77: “I cried out to God for help;  I cried out to God to hear me.  When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted.  I remembered you, God, and I groaned; I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.  You kept my eyes from closing;  I was too troubled to speak. I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night.  My heart meditated and my spirit asked: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again?  Has his unfailing love vanished forever?  Has his promise failed for all time?  Has God forgotten to be merciful?  Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”  Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.  I will remember the deeds of the Lordyes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.  I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.  With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.  The waters saw you, God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed.  The clouds poured down water, the heavens resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth.  Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked.  Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.  You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”  

The sentence I love the most from this chapter is “though your footprints were not seen.”  I think that’s when we often complain.  When we can’t see God’s hand in our life.  When His presence isn’t felt.  It’s easy to be thankful and joyful when life is going well but when it feels like everything’s crumbling in around you, when His footprints aren’t seen, that’s when we grumble.  But it’s important that we never forget that although we may not see His footprints in the moment, it doesn’t mean they’re not there.  Remember His faithfulness.

 

Even When It’s Hard

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I read Galatians 6:9 the other day which says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

As the second oldest of four kids, it often seemed to be the expectation for me to be “the mature one” when there was an argument.  It was often hard for me to make what seemed like the majority of sacrifices.  To not say something mean back even when they hurt me first.  My young mind saw it as unfair to be the one who usually did what was right.  There were times when I decided it was my sibling’s turn to make the right choice.  I became weary of doing good and I gave up.  I still struggle with this sometimes.  It feels like there are some people in my life who never make the right choice and I sometimes have trouble reacting right when I feel they “deserve” whatever I’m inclined to dish out.

John Piper says that we’re all apt to do this: “Probably the worst enemy of enthusiasm is time. Human beings have a remarkable and sad capacity for getting tired of wonderful things. Almost every one of you can think of something you were enthusiastic about recently, but now the joy is faded. Your first day of vacation on the coast the sunset was breathtaking and made you so happy you could sing. But by the end of your stay you hardly noticed it any more. Vacationers get tired of sunsets, millionaires get tired of money, kids gets tired of toys, and Christians get tired of doing good. At first the excitement of teaching that Sunday School class was strong, but now you have grown weary of well-doing. The thrill is gone. At first you felt clean and strong in the Holy Spirit as you drove the van, taught the Lao English, led the small group, visited the newcomers, started reading the Bible, worked in the emergency shelter . . . but now you have grown weary in well-doing. The inner power and joy have seeped away. It’s a chore. You’ve lost heart.”

Just because it’s the right thing, doesn’t mean it will be the easiest choice.  But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we should give up.

Trusting God’s Timing

images     For years, I’ve been the girl who was frustrated by everyone’s good intentions when it came to my singleness.  “You’re still young; don’t rush it” or “It’ll happen when the time is right” or “Trust God, He’s got it all under control.”  I thought that these people just didn’t remember what it was like to be single.  They were in a great relationship or were happily married and it’d been too long since they’d be alone.  They couldn’t relate.  They didn’t understand.

     But I think I get it now.  I’ve been in a relationship for a little over two months now and if I had the chance, I think I’d offer a lot of the same advice that I used to detest.  I really was too young and the timing wasn’t right.  I definitely wasn’t ready to be in a relationship two years ago, let alone six months ago.  I’ve changed and matured so much that some days I feel like such a different person than when I moved here from New York two and a half years ago.

I am so happy that God is in control and not me.  When I found out two and a half years ago that we were moving from our little country house in New York to a suburb of Dallas, I was mad at my parents.  I didn’t want to move.  I had a small circle of close friends.  I was happy.  When we finally got to Texas, I knew that as soon as I was financially able to take care of myself, I was going to move back to New York.  But, now, I can see a little bit more of that big picture that everyone is always talking about.  If I’d stayed in New York or if I’d moved back like I wanted to, not only would I not have made some of the amazing friends that I have today but I would not be in this wonderful relationship with a great guy.

It may not feel like it but I can honestly say that there’s a reason for waiting.  If it’s not you that God’s preparing, maybe it’s the guy that God’s working on.  Keep trusting.

Pride

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I oftentimes view pride as that stuck-up, nose in the air attitude that makes someone think they’re superior to everyone else.  However, pride is usually more subtle than that.  The following questions by Nancy Leigh Demoss really helped me think about the pride that is evident in my life.  More than half of the questions seemed to perfectly describe something that I feel or do.  I’d never pinpointed those things before as pride.

  1. Do you look down on those who are less educated, less affluent, less refined, or less successful than yourself?
  2. Do you think of yourself as more spiritual than your mate, others in your in your church?
  3. Do you have a judgmental spirit toward those who don’t make the same lifestyle choices you do . . . dress standards, how you school your kids, entertainment standards, etc.?
  4. Are you quick to find fault with others and to verbalize those thoughts to others?
  5. Do you have a sharp, critical tongue?
  6. Do you frequently correct or criticize your mate, your pastor, or other people in positions of leadership (teachers, youth director, etc.)?
  7. Do you give undue time, attention, and effort to your physical appearance—hair, make-up, clothing, weight, body shape, avoiding appearance of aging?
  8. Are you proud of the schedule you keep, how disciplined you are, how much you are able to accomplish?
  9. Are you driven to receive approval, praise, or acceptance from others?
  10. Are you argumentative?
  11. Do you generally think your way is the right way, the only way, or the best way?
  12. Do you have a touchy, sensitive spirit? Easily offended? Get your feelings hurt easily?
  13. Are you guilty of pretense? Trying to leave a better impression of yourself than is really true? (Would the people at church be shocked if they knew what you were like at home?)
  14. Do you have a hard time admitting when you are wrong?
  15. Do you have a hard time confessing your sin to God or others? (not just in generalities but specifics)
  16. Do you have a hard time sharing your real spiritual needs/struggles with others?
  17. Do you have a hard time praying aloud with others?
  18. Are you excessively shy?
  19. Do you have a hard time reaching out and being friendly to people you don’t know at church?
  20. Do you resent being asked or expected to serve your family, your parents, or others?
  21. Do you become defensive when you are criticized or corrected?
  22. Are you a perfectionist? Do you get irked or impatient with people who aren’t?
  23. Do you tend to be controlling—of your mate, your children, friends, those in your workplace?
  24. Do you frequently interrupt people when they are speaking?
  25. Does your husband feel intimidated by your “spirituality”?
  26. Does your husband feel like he can never measure up to your expectations of what it means to be a good husband, spiritual leader, etc.?
  27. Do you often complain—about the weather, your health, your circumstances, your job, your church?
  28. Do you talk about yourself too much?
  29. Are you more concerned about your problems, needs, burdens than about others’ concerns?
  30. Do you worry about what others think of you? Too concerned about your reputation or your family’s reputation?
  31. Do you neglect to express gratitude for “little things”? To God? To others?
  32. Do you neglect prayer and intake of the Word?
  33. Do you get hurt if your accomplishments/or acts of service are not recognized or rewarded?
  34. Do you get hurt if your feelings or opinions are not considered when your mate or your boss is making a decision or if you are not informed when a change or decision is made?
  35. Do you react to rules? Do you have a hard time being told what to do?
  36. Are you self-conscious because of your lack of education or natural beauty, or your socio-economic status?
  37. Do you avoid participating in certain events, for fear of being embarrassed or looking foolish?
  38. Do you avoid being around certain people because you feel inferior compared to them/don’t feel you measure up?
  39. Are you uncomfortable inviting people to your home because you don’t think it’s nice enough or you can’t afford to do lavish entertaining?
  40. Is it hard for you to let others know when you need help (practical or spiritual)?
  41. When is the last time you said these words to a family member, friend, or coworker: “I was wrong; would you please forgive me?” (If it’s been more than a month, mark it down!)
  42. Are you sitting here thinking how many of these questions apply to someone you know? Feeling pretty good that none of these things really apply to you?

Fulfillment in Christ

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Saint Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” I can’t believe how true this is. My thoughts often drift towards marriage but these daydreams never leave me feeling full. I don’t walk away from a romance novel or a chick flick feeling complete. Instead, I often feel discontent or jealous. But when I walk away from a time of prayer or an hour in God’s Word, I feel so satisfied, so peaceful, so close to Him.

Jonah 2:8 says, “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.” I feel like this verse speaks right to my heart. I hope for an enduring love and I’m seeking it in all the wrong places. I build an idol out of marriage. But the only one who can fulfill my desire for steadfast love is God. My husband will be a fallible human being. He will let me down. He will make me angry, frustrated, or sad. By pursuing what I think will satisfy my desire for love, I’m actually pushing aside the only One who can fill that void. A man will be sure to fail me but God will always love me perfectly.

Right now, my aim is to fall in love with Christ. I used to chase the idea of marriage but now I’ve decided to run hard after Christ. That doesn’t change the fact that I hope to one day get married.  It’s not that this is a bad desire.  But when it becomes more important to me than God, that’s when it becomes an idol.

When Good Desires Become Idols

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This past Sunday night, we watched part of the video series on “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand.”  The two things that stuck out to me the most that Paul Tripp said were: “Desiring a good thing can become a bad thing when it becomes a ruling thing” and “Desires properly held are held with an open hand.”

In the popular story of Abraham being tested in Genesis 22, we see a perfect illustration of these two statements.  For one hundred years, Abraham waited for the son that God had promised.  And now God was asking him to sacrifice Isaac?  Yet he proved that he loved God best by placing his son on the altar.  He was ready and willing to carry out what God has asked of Him even though it didn’t align with his own desires and plans.  He trusted God’s sovereignty and followed obediently even though I’m sure he didn’t understand God’s purpose.  We see that he held this desire for a son with an open hand and that his love for Isaac (a good thing) was not a bad thing because it was not a ruling thing.  Instead, his love for God was what ruled his life.  Luke 22:42 also accurately describes these statements: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  These are the words of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before His crucifixion.

John Piper describes an idolatry as “an act of loving too much what ought to be loved less.” Often our idols in and of themselves are good things.  It’s when we place them above God and love them more than Him that they become idols.  It’s not what we love but how much we love it.

Accountability Partners

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I struggle with sticking to a regular Bible study.  I often am “too busy” or I just plain forget.  But what is that saying of me?  That school or work or hanging out with friends is more important than God.  My priorities are a tad askew when those excuses are my reasoning for not spending time in the word.  I have time to watch a movie with my family but “don’t have time” to read a chapter of the Bible?  I remember to grab dinner with a friend but “forget” to seek God’s face?  Something sounds wrong there…

Recently, I started reading through the Bible with a friend from church.  We’re holding each other accountable weekly.  I find this is helpful to me.  We plan to meet up a couple times a month to talk about what God is teaching us that month.  It’s a wonderful way of encouraging myself to stick to a study plan.

I did the same thing a few weeks ago with some a few people from my Bible study class at church.  We memorized Isaiah 53.  We would memorize 4 verses a week and then test each other on them.  If you struggle with staying consistent in Bible reading or memorizing, I would definitely encourage an accountability partner.

My friends also hold me accountable in other areas of my life.  I trust them and am able to share my struggles.  They pray for me and also check up on me to see how I’m doing with particular sins/issues I’m struggling with.  Find someone who you can also encourage in their walk.  As Romans 1:12 says: “that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”