Looking Down or Looking Up

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

In the past few years, I have dealt with a number of people who I felt were doing their jobs wrong. When I looked at the actions they took, I thought of many different ways that they could act and think differently. By differently, I meant “better”. I looked down on those people because they did not think or act as I thought they should. I lost sight of the people themselves because of the “glasses” of arrogance that I wore. My pride told me I was better. That pride led to anger. Frustrated, I would ask myself why they did not do things as they should be done (as I would do them.) I began to despise them. Whole groups of people became no more than targets of my distain.

This morning I was reminded of Proverbs 6 verses 16-19, which says:

There are six things that the Lord hates,seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

In my arrogance I looked on my neighbors with haughty eyes. I spoke of them in pride and anger, and not as God sees them, so I spoke with a lying tongue. I was angry without cause, which is the same as shedding innocent blood. Looking at the rest of the 7, I realized that in my arrogance, I acted out each of these 7 abominations to God. That is not a good place to be. It is a scary place to be. God made it pretty clear that I am not lining up my life with the gospel.

I want my life to reflect the gospel. And what does the gospel say? “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” —Isaiah 53.6 “They” are not the ones who are messed up and worthy of judgement, it is “we”, or, me. I am just as deserving of judgement and distain as those I looked down upon. I am more deserving of judgement if Jesus’ treatment of the Pharisees is any indication. Thankfully, judgement is not where the gospel leaves us. Even as my actions have been an abomination to God, Christ has taken my iniquity upon himself. 

Wow. That is pretty cool to think over. Again, God has chosen to lift me out of the pit of my own slime, take the slime on himself, and clean me.

With this renewed perspective, how do I go forward? Micah 6.8 sums it up very nicely:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

This is what God showed me in the mirror of these verses. Take a look for yourself.

Striving

“What are you striving for?” a guest speaker at my church asked.

Frankly, I’m a little surprised I even heard him. I often zone out, get distracted thinking about all the things I need to prepare for work on Monday, or am too busy critiquing what is being said to actually let my heart listen. But I heard him this time and my mind made the connection that he had been pushing towards throughout the entire sermon while at the same time my heart told me this was something I needed to hear. We all are striving for something. We’re all spending effort chasing after something. It could be entertainment, parties, friendships, romantic relationships, money, power, prestige…it could be all of those things.

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I know what I currently AM striving for, but what SHOULD I be striving for?

The thing that hit me while sitting in church that Sunday was this: the things I’m striving for, they might not be bad things, but they’re not the most important thing. The most important thing is knowing God and knowing He knows me, personally. Everything else comes second. Am I striving to know God? Do I spend effort, actual effort, to know God more?

So yeah, God is helping me readjust how I think about my time and effort and what’s important. To be honest, I will probably need God to adjust my thinking again, soon. And again soon after that, and again after that.

Realign, refocus, renew, restore, redeem.

The Sourness of “Cherry Picking”

I admit, lately I’ve been having a hard time not getting really frustrated by “Christian” society/culture. Before I tell you why, let me say that I know I am deeply flawed. I have so many things that I need to let God change in my life. I’m not denying that. Still…

I wonder if you’ve noticed the same situation too? It’s when so-called Christians “zero in” on one sin, and treat it worse than others.

cherries-1503974_1920In English, doing something like this [i.e. talking about or choosing only what you want and disregarding the rest] can be called “cherry picking”.

This kind of cherry picking gives unbelievers the wrong impression! They think all Christians believe we’re better, or without sin. But, if we are serious disciples, we know that the Bible condemns such ideas as hypocritical and prideful.

Moreover, others won’t be able to see God’s TRUE JUSTICE if we only tell them that God judges the sins that we consider bad, while pretending that He ignores the ones we want to hide! That’s deceptive (and ignorant).


Often, recently, I’ve had to explain to several people that “No… homosexuality is not the only sin God hates. Any sexual activity that is not between a husband and wife who are in a committed, lifelong marriage-covenant-relationship (ex. having an affair, sex before marriage, incest, polygamy, etc.) is all against His perfect design… AND, in fact, lying, gossip, anger (uh-oh) :(, cheating, gluttony, lust, and a bunch of other things are also sins. ……
……
BUT FURTHERMORE, because of Christ, all of these things can be forgiven!
Washed clean, forever.


I should add that, sometimes the problem is that we Christians ADD things to the list that God never said were sins… legalism. — Nevertheless, whether we “add sins” or take them away, others can’t see God’s TRUE GRACE if we pretend like our “goodness” has anything to do with our salvation.

Either Jesus’ blood washes ALL of our sins, or NONE of them.

*sigh*

I don’t think that this problem will ever go away. I think it’s one of Satan’s tactics.
But it just seems like it’s so hard to share the gospel with people when almost everything they ever hear about Christianity is false, flawed, only half true, or told by people who only half-follow Christ…

Do you ever feel this way too?

Who’s in Control?

Jesus asked his followers a startling question one day: “Why do you call me ‘Lord’ and not do the things that I say?” Jesus was essentially saying, “Why do you insinuate that I am your king but don’t do what I’ve asked you?”

This question should pierce the heart of everyone who calls themselves a disciple of Jesus. Who is Jesus to you? Is He real? Is He someone you turn to only when times are hard, or merely someone that you look to because you had parents that steered you in the direction of Christianity? There is no way that we can declare He is real, and the Lord of our life, and still consistently withhold a portion of the control of our lives.

Jesus wants a relationship with you so bad that He was willing to die to get it. But living up to the greatest potential of that relationship requires a shift on your part. A shift in your thinking and in your doing – living your life as though it isn’t yours at all. Realizing that your life belongs to Jesus and He is in control. The Lord is a friend to those who fear Him – shifting your entire life to be a faithful follower of the only One worth following.

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Recently I had the privilege of getting to know a Christian man who had lived under an oppressive communist regime in Europe for many years. He shared many harrowing stories with me about various hardships and how he smuggled Bibles without the authorities catching him. Although communism has since dissipated in that country and everyone living there has experienced freedom for many years, he said something that really hit me. He stated how he has realized that the hardest thing for any Christian is to just be faithful to Jesus. The temptation is always there to take control of our own lives, but our responsibility as a follower of Christ is to be faithful in our freedom or in persecution.

Let it be said of us
That the Lord was our passion
That with gladness we bore
Every cross we were given
That we fought the good fight
That we finished our course
Knowing within us the power of the risen Lord

Let the cross be our glory
And the Lord be our song
By mercy made holy
By the Spirit made strong

Let the cross be our glory
And the Lord be our song
‘Till the likeness of Jesus
Be through us made known
Let the cross be our glory
And the Lord be our song

(Steve Fry)

I Need Help

When considering what I would write about, I had a small internal crisis. What can I write about that is actually me being authentic, not just writing a fluff piece about something slightly deep that’s safe to share? You see, I have a problem that’s actually skewing my perspective on the community of Christ and causing me to question anything anybody says about Christianity. I go to church and sing the songs and listen to the message and the whole time, I’m constantly condemning others based on my paranoid assumptions. 

I do the following:

  • View every Christian leader with suspicion, especially if they sound confident. (Because confidence is fake)
  • Hear a happy song and instantly assume the singer is a fake.
  • Think people are fake when they’re crying during worship.
  • Don’t give my money to charity, because I’m worried that it’s fake.
  • Read a church sign and instantly jump to conclusions about the church.
  • Assume I’m part of the spiritual elite because I’m better than that other fake person.
  • Think, that person clearly does not understand _______. But I do. (Because I’m not a fake)

And I realize, I’m not really loving people. I’m using the many examples of public Christian failure to bolster my condemnation of people I don’t even know. It’s causing me to miss out on the beauty of Christian community.

It’s like the dwarfs in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle who refuse to see the new Narnia because of their paranoia and unbelief.

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[The dwarfs] will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”

Part of the beauty of the Christian community is that we all come together at the foot of the cross. We have all sinned, and we are all loved by the same Savior. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Some ways that I’m going to try to deal with my condemning paranoia (not in order of importance):

  1. Write this blog post. Say the words “I don’t know. I’m struggling. I need help.” Especially because I don’t want to admit those things. I want to be independent and fix my own problems, thank you very much. But I’m sick of staying caught inside my own head trying to sort this all out… The second one is closely related, and better, because it involves community.
  2. Go talk to people in real life about this problem. Even though I’m certain that nobody can understand me the way I understand myself! Oh wait, I don’t understand myself either.
  3. I don’t know! I’m struggling! I need help! But the confusion is less having written this.

This Tragic Place

Last night, my sister and I saw the musical Beauty and the Beast.

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I’ve wanted to see this musical for years because of one particular song: “Home”.

Belle sings “Home” during her first night as prisoner in the castle. In just hours, she has been accosted (and “proposed” to) by a misogynistic oaf she hardly knows, lost her father for what’s sure to be forever, and is now doomed to spend the rest of her days with the terrible Beast. I, too, would burst out in tragic song.

Is this home?
Is this what I must learn to believe in?

With what’s happening around the world, I ache for Heaven. For the heartbreaking losses of Orlando and the horrific ways we have responded, for the outrageous Brock Turner assault and our apathy toward and perpetuation of rape culture, and for the little things that scratch at my own life, I pray that Jesus will come.

Try to find something good in this tragic place –
just in case I should stay here forever, held in this empty space.

I am overwhelmed, wary of saying or doing something to release the politically-correct wrath of someone more educated than I. I am ashamed of how I-as a Christian- focus more on the legalities and the formulas than the gospel. And at the end of the day, I’m scared that nothing I do will be of any benefit to this broken world of ours.

Oh, but that won’t be easy. I know the reason why:
my heart’s far, far away; home’s a lie.

So if I were Belle, I’d sit on that cushioned bed and crank out one sob song after another.

98% of me is blissfully drifting down the river, hands folded, eyes closed in ignorance, waiting to reach the feet of Jesus.

2% wonders: what would happen if we cared?

What if we, like Belle, finished bawling, picked ourselves off the floor, and made concentrated efforts to engage our world in love?

What if we stopped fearing things and people we didn’t understand and initiated means to do so?

What if?

Let’s stop running from the world-“those people” and “those things”-because the very situations we’re shaming and hating are places where the love of God is most needed.

Belle stayed.  She listened to, ate with, and cared for the Beast. She realized he wasn’t willingly ignorant-he’d just never learnt to read. He wasn’t hateful-he actually cared for her relationship with her father. He wasn’t against her-he simply had yet to understand.

Yes, Belle married the Beast. No, we are not meant to marry the world (John 17:14-17).

But we are meant to transform the world as God’s hands and feet (Matt 28:16-20). And if the feet are busy running in the opposite direction, and the hands are twiddling their thumbs, don’t be surprised when even the world says “depart from me; I never knew you”.

“Oh,” you may say, “it’s so uncomfortable.” It is. It’s uncomfortable to step outside of what you know and reach into another’s life. But if God was willing to put His life aside and mingle, love, and die for the most mind-boggling creatures of existence (read: us) and not judge them aside from what He alone as the Judge can do (John 8:11), then what are we doing?

Jesus doesn’t call us to take flight.

Jesus calls us to “take heart”. (John 16:33)

Jesus doesn’t call us to hide.

Jesus calls us to be seen as the light, be tasted as the salt. (Matt 5:14)

This is not our forever home, but we’re no less called to make it a home of God’s love.

beautyandbeast

 

Disappointment

blahI’ve been thinking a lot about disappointment. Our family was supposed to go on a camping trip with some friends today, but when we woke up this morning our youngest child had a fever, so together with some other factors it was the last straw to cause us to postpone the trip…again. On a completely different level, my sin through lust gives me frequent cause for disappointment with myself. Really, June is a month that seems particularly set up to disappoint me, with the structure of the school year gone and the structure of VOICE not yet upon me, yet lots of responsibilities and tasks needing to be done in an environment where I’m not sure how to prioritize or get things done. I need to do some logistical planning for VOICE, create a teaching syllabus for the Fall semester, revise philosophy papers and submit them to various places, fix our house and car, take advantage of the opportunity to spend more tiem with the family…etc. Meanwhile, since I’m home all the time now, Karen’s and the kids’ needs are much more immediate and pressing, so I feel more pressure than before to stop everything and help them with whatever the current crisis is (and there are many crises every hour, believe me). So I end up disappointed in myself for not getting more done or not reading that book to Isaac that he was begging me to read, or not getting out the door earlier in an attempt to get away and do some computer work…etc.

Disappointment, and disappointment in myself, isn’t necessarily bad. It just means that some expectation I have hasn’t been fulfilled or I haven’t achieved something I desire. There are some legitimate expectations that I should have, especially of myself, and there are some things that really are valuable and I should desire them. But disappointment is one of those emotions that can start to take over, making me feel like everything is going wrong. And that’s probably not true.

A realistic perspective can be hard to maintain – sometimes a lot of things are going wrong, sometimes a lot of things are legitimately disappointing, but for the Christian, that’s never the end of the story. There is a great good thing that we have, something that is just shocking and impossible, but true: God loves us! And no matter what else goes wrong, that’s really enough to overcome it all:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:28)

Further, there’s a very visible and pressing way that God puts that love into our lives: His people around us. I need to stay connected to the Church and God’s people, letting them see where I’m hurting so that their love (which is really God’s love) can touch me where I need it:

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2)

So…I’m trying!

Three Little Kittens

This is a story of three little kittens.

Once upon a time, my brothers found some kittens in our backyard. They brought them inside, not realizing it was a death sentence for the little creatures who were only a few days old. We put them back out, but the mother cat never returned to feed the kittens. It’s quite normal for a mother cat to abkittensandon her children if they are touched by humans.
After a day or so, I felt badly for the kittens that would surely die and I brought them back inside and tried to feed them and find them a better home. It was awful. One of the worst experiences ever. They always cried, because they needed their mother and I was an inadequate replacement. It was so heartbreaking for me to watch those little creatures slowly die. I lost sleep trying to feed them and even when I was not in the house I could hear their cries.

It was haunting.

Eventually, there was only one kitten left and I finally found someone with much more experience to care for him. It took a long while to recover from this awful experience. And it took a long time not to hear the kittens’ cry.
One night, a few weeks later, I had a dream about those kittens. In this dream, there was Jesus holding them while they cried.
I awoke and realized why I had been so utterly devastated by the crying. The kittens didn’t cry alone. They cried along with me. While I was desperately trying to save those tiny creatures’ lives, my brother was in a hospital far away fighting for life. I was crying for God to save him, but I didn’t know if He would save him or not. I was helpless, like an abandoned child.

Yesterday, I saw a picture of a Syrian refugee offering up his small baby to be saved from an overloaded raft. The refugees were all crowded together, their faces stricken by hopelessness. They are crying, because they have no safe place, no refuge for their children. And their cry of desperation mixes with mine.

Years ago, I was in a baby orphanage in Romania. There were three rooms filled with beds and a baby in each. The babies had no mother, no one to pick them up when they cried. And though I was only there a few hours, the cries of those motherless children are still with me today.

The kittens, the babies, the refugees, and me. Our cries go up to heaven and beg for hope. And there is Jesus, holding the dying kitten, and somehow as I think on that, I realize that He holds my heart too. And that’s enough.

 See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand. ~Deuteronomy 32:39

The Day I Lost My iPhone

“Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly:
I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” (John Newton)

I remember looking at my phone at the bottom of the stroller and thinking, “I’d better put that somewhere safe in case it falls out.”

And so I did. I pulled it out and took a picture of Elliot standing proudly on a chair. That’s when I looked over at Isaac who had a “I-think-I-need-to-go-to-the-bathroom” look on his face. After three months of potty training and accidents, the last thing I wanted was to have an accident in the middle of the public library. So I did what any normal “mom-in-the-middle-of-potty-training” would do—I hustled to the bathroom. Three kids, stroller, baby carrier, balance bike, library books, and all.

It was over an hour later before I realized that I had everything but my phone.

So I did what any normal “mom-who-just-lost-her-phone-ID-and-credit-card” would do: PANIC!

For the next few hours, Luke and I cancelled our credit card, called the police, filed a report, and followed my phone’s location on Find My iPhone.

Now a strange thing happened while I was tracking my phone—I found myself channeling all of my pent up anxiety, fears, and anger at that little dot that represented the thief. I could barely tear my eyes away from the website lest I lose my phone’s location and thereby the opportunity to bring that person to justice.

At some point, I began to realize that maybe this wasn’t how Jesus wanted me to respond. Sure what that person did was wrong and my anger was justifiable, but if the police really did help me track my phone (which they didn’t) and brought the thief to me, what then? How does one forgive a nameless, faceless offender?

Two things helped me that day: First, I realized that the thief hadn’t taken anything of lasting value to me. Eventually, that iPhone would become obsolete, and thankfully, we cancelled our card before they had made more than a couple of fraudulent charges. But it is likely that my greater treasures—my children—were in the library at the same time as the thief—and they are still safe. For that, I am extremely grateful.

Secondly, I had to come to grips with the fact that I am also a thief—someone who has robbed God of the honor, glory, time, and money He deserves, and yet He has freely forgiven and pardoned me. If He has forgiven me so great a debt, how can I not forgive someone for taking something as insignificant as a phone?

“What sort of tale have we fallen into?”

In this world full of wounds and desolation, we can only hobble forward, like in The Lord of the Rings when Sam miserably asks Frodo: “What sort of tale have we fallen into?”.

Just look at all the “wounds and desolation”:
2001: The September 11 attacks, USA
2002: Bombing incidents, India
2003: Bombing incidents, Iraq
2004: Madrid train bombings, Spain
2005: London subway bombings, England
2006: Mumbai train bombings, India
2007: Bombing attacks, Pakistan
2012: Houla massacre, Syria
2013: Westgate shopping mall attack, Kenya
2014: School attack, Nigeria
2015: Paris attacks, France

Perhaps you are already used to it—you get up one morning to find that some corner of the world has changed forever. They are weeping, they are helpless, they are caught in the middle of an uncertain struggle.

Perhaps you are already used to it—trying your best not to think about the possibility of this kind of tragedy happen to you. If something did happen, what could you really do about it, anyway?

Perhaps you are already used to it—you think about it sometimes when you’re alone: Where can we escape to? Everywhere we look is full of the unknown, it has all grown wild and there’s no feeling of security anywhere.

We angrily shake our fists. We talk about how much those people deserve to die because they have no kindness in them. We hate the terrorists. We fear them. We hope that someone would just wipe them out. And then one day we hear a different voice. A voice that seems to awaken something within us…but it’s unclear exactly what that something is.

“Bad guys are not very nice. And…we have to be careful…we have to change houses.”
“Oh no, don’t worry. We don’t need to move. France is our home”
“But there’s bud guys, daddy!”
“Yes, but there’s bad guys everywhere.”
“They have guns. They can shoot us!”
“It’s ok. They might have guns, but we have flowers.”
“The flowers and the candles are here to protect us.” (Interview after Paris attacks)

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Isn’t it this same way in our relationships? When we’re hurt we instinctively choose to run away, whether it’s in our hearts or with our actions. We try to build a wall—we try to disguise ourselves. We don’t want a sincere apology and we don’t want complete reconciliation in the relationship. We just want to pretend nothing ever happened. Sometimes, when we see that person, the harsh words they used to sting us come flashing back and our heart cowers for a moment—yet on the outside we’re calm and collected. Our conversations and laughter lacks a genuine care, replaced by a hint of passive aggression.

What does our faith say about this? When the whole world had picked up stones, ready to hurl them at each other, Someone laid a hand on my shoulder and said, “Child, neither do I condemn you”. My angry fist slowly loosens and I turn to face my Jesus, only to discover He is already beaten and bruised. And yet, He’s still smiling with His arms open wide…waiting for me. When the voices of popular opinion are all promoting the use of mass violence to conquer the world, my Lord stands there behind Pilate. He’s wearing a crown of thorns. His shoulders are draped with a purple robe. As mankind moves back and forth in a cycle of revenge, Jesus is being nailed to the cross. His arms spread wide, just like my mom would do when she would say, “I love you this much!”.

When I think of this, I know my heart has already been conquered by the love of Jesus and it is hidden away in my Lord. Therefore, I have the ability to learn to embrace those around me, even though I know I’m giving them the power to hurt me. When faced with incidents of terrorism, I choose not to let myself be filled with hate. They will not win my heart. When my heart is hidden with my Lord, they cannot take it away.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” ~ John 10:10

In this world full of wounds and desolation, we can only hobble forward, like in The Lord of the Rings when Sam miserably asks Frodo: “What sort of tale have we fallen into?”.

But when I look at my Lord, my heart knows this is going to be a beautiful story.

What is beauty?
Beauty is flower-like weakness
It’s the fragrance shed after being crushed

Beauty is the silent forming of a scab after injury
It’s an irresistible embrace, even before the scab has finished forming
It’s coming from the embrace bloodied and bruised, yet blessed

Beauty, a quiet collection of tears
The expunging of anger that ought to be
The sifting of scalding criticism
Morphing it into profound perspective

What is beauty?
Beauty is a lamb-like innocence
It’s being transformed while still bearing scars

Author: Esther Lee

Translator: Ethan Feig