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)

Brisbane_charlie_hebdo_gathering_jesuischarlie_2015-01-08

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

Lies we’ve been fed.

With all of the changes and violence in the news, and people thinking about the end of the world and Biblical prophecies, something I’ve noticed lately is that most people have huge misconceptions about Satan and Hell. Even as Christians, we need to take note of the lies we’ve been fed…

Satan in hell cartoonIt begins when we watch cartoons as kids…. You know, when someone dies, there’s the devil: all red, with horns, a tail, and a pitch fork, waiting to welcome the newest inmates that have arrived for him to torment! — *ahem!* — Firstly, let’s remember that Satan is a fallen angel, formerly called Lucifer, who in his pride wanted to be equal with God. One third of the angels followed him, and they (now called “demons”) were all cast out of heaven.

Satan’s status in Hell will be absolutely nil. He will have NO power. – Hell is a place of eternal death for Satan, his demons, AND all who have died a spiritual death due to sin. That is… all who are not covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, through faith! – Hell is complete separation from God… we wanted nothing to do with God, so that’s exactly what He gives us: the absence of Himself.

Satan is NOT the master of Hell! Satan didn’t create Hell, and God certainly didn’t create it for him as a place where Satan could be the ruler, and reign his terror on sinners. – [Our sins are disobedience against GOD’S law, and Satan is the worst offender. He has no right to punish anyone.] – The Bible tells us Satan is the “father of lies”, who masquerades as an angel of light. – His acting is convincing, and his temptations are tempting. (Obviously!) He wants to keep as many people bound by sin as possible.

Moreover, there is the concept of an/the Antichrist. Firstly, anyone who is against Christ is anti-christ, i.e. an antichrist. But Satan’s biggest attempt to overthrow God’s plan will ultimately be [the] Antichrist. Until he is thrown into Hell, Satan will continue to do all he can to steal, kill and destroy. He’s *always* trying to raise up the Antichrist, because although God knows who it will be, he doesn’t! He can’t see the future. — This is a good reminder to simply put our trust in the Lord, and not waste our life or money trying to figure out prophecies that God said we’re not supposed to know the answer to.

Maybe next time, when people around you are upset about the next big tragedy in the headlines, you can talk to them about how the one true God is a God of justice. He will never let the wicked go unpunished, and Satan will one day meet a very bitter end; never to gain power again.

goodbye, VOICE…

I once had the opportunity to ask well-known missionary and author Elisabeth Elliot one question: “What do I do when I have feelings for someone that won’t go away?”

“The things we love best,” she replied, “are substance for sacrifice.”

That two-minute conversation encapsulates a lesson that God has been teaching me throughout my life.

pitcher illustration

Many of you have heard me share my testimony at VOICE about how God asked me to give Him my love for volleyball, my hopes for education, my security at home in America, my feelings for someone I thought I’d marry… And now, God is asking me to give up one of my greatest passions: VOICE.

I spent the last twelve years developing VOICE into what I thought might be my life work. I made a lot of mistakes, but I got to see God do incredible things in your lives and mine. A couple of weeks ago, I was trying to take care of my sick family and get ready for this conference when God used a book I was reading to ask if I would be willing to give it up for Him.

“What?! Give up VOICE? How? Why?”

I write this with tears in my eyes. I wrestled with this decision as one can only wrestle with an idea that seems completely contrary to reality, but at the same time, it felt so familiar because I had been in this situation before. So I cried. I prayed. And I asked Him to confirm it to me through my personal devotions the next morning, and He did. In the words of a song, “Everything I once held dear, I count it all as loss…”

So what does this mean for VOICE? It means that #VOICE2016 may be our last conference. We hope you’ll pray with us that God will bring the people He wants to grow from the VOICE experience. If you have family or friends who have been thinking about attending “some day,” tell them this is the year they should go. If you’ve been wanting to come for V2, let me know.

Lastly, remember, VOICE is just a tiny chapter in God’s story of the world. We did everything we could to help you understand the Gospel and develop a personal relationship with Jesus. So now it’s your turn.

God is real. Live like it.

Your Real Dad

dad and son

Dad. The word probably means something different to each of us. Recently, I’ve encountered many who have no attachment to that word whatsoever. “Dad” means nothing to them because simply, well, they’ve never had one. Now, obviously there was a sperm donor and from a biological perspective they have a dad. But from a nurturing, relational, and emotional attachment perspective, they feel fatherless.

I really believe that’s why Jesus spent his time on earth trying to help us understand what God is like and who he is. Many times throughout the Bible God is referred to as a dad, and that’s a good thing, but Jesus took it a step further. It’s one thing to say “You care for us like a dad” or “You are our dad,” but to say “Good morning, Dad” takes on a whole new meaning. Jesus wasn’t just describing what God is like, but Jesus also was telling us to relate to God as our dad!

If you want to dig in a little deeper, many scholars teach that when Jesus taught us how to pray in Matthew 6:9-13, and say “Our Father, who is in heaven…” that he was using the word “Abba” – the first word that a young child learns in the Middle East – “Daddy.” Think about what this implies. Even those who have had the best example of an earthly dad have been misunderstood and discouraged because of them. Your Dad in heaven knows you better than anyone else and he is the real Dad to those who have never had one. Not only are you very valuable to him, but he also knows what things you are in need of before you even ask!

Can you imagine the love your heavenly Dad has for you? If God delighted in his plan before he spoke the world into being, how much greater is his delight to witness the full fruition of his labor – a believing son or daughter. That’s why he longs for us to see him as he really is: our Dad. Once we make that connection our entire approach to our Creator should shift – which I believe was Jesus’ intention all along.

Masterpiece

When I originally finished my degree and earned my teaching license, I assumed I would be teaching nothing but ESL as long as I worked in Taiwan. However, this year my school started making big plans to become a bilingual school, where the American teachers will be co-teaching anything from math to art with a Taiwanese teacher. Last semester I started co-teaching art for the first time.

All of the memories of the art class I had at a homeschool co-op when I was a teenager resurfaced. At that time, I loved to create things. I just didn’t want to create what my art teacher wanted me to create. Who wants to draw a bunch of fruit when you could be sewing doll clothes at home? Who wants to draw a color wheel when you could be doing anything else? But I found out that I actually love art–I love the act of creating. I love being an art teacher where I’m allowed to do the two things I love the most: plan and create.

The problem is, I often think very poorly of myself, especially about planning. I call myself “stupid” for writing everything down, or a “worrier” for planning ahead. In the Christian life, it’s pretty common for us to say the words “I’m worthless” because we’re often thinking about what our role is in gaining salvation. Sometimes that affects the way we look at every personality trait of ours, even the good ones.

How do we reorient our lives to believe that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”? That He did nothing wrong when He created us with our unique personalities? The truth is, God made us to look like Himself with His traits. A very familiar verse which we all memorized at VOICE comes to mind: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT) I used a different translation than what we memorized because of the word “masterpiece.” Just the word masterpiece evokes a flood of emotions that is sometimes present when we look at a famous piece of art or hear a famous piece of music. When God made us, He took time. He chose specific materials, mixed the perfect colors, and then intricately designed every detail of our being. Not only that but because of creating us anew in Christ we leave off the title “worthless”. We get a new title “worthwhile”.

I plan because I love to plan, because God loves to plan. When He created the world it was a part of this huge grand plan that each of us take part in every day. When I’m planning and creating I’m taking part in what God has been doing from the beginning and doing exactly what He created me to do.art class 301

Inconvenient Intimacy

Last semester, I read my Bible fewer than 10 times.

I don’t know how many people get up at 5am and holler “oh boy, I’m so excited to read Leviticus today,” but I sure don’t. In addition to natural lethargy, I layer excuses for skipping devotionals:

I want to use my time to its full capacity, and I can’t do stuff and read the Bible at the same time, so I’ll talk to people about Jesus, listen to lots of Christian music, pray as I drive from here to there, and fall asleep to an audio Bible.

And God didn’t strike me dead. I didn’t sustain injuries for each day I put my Bible aside.  I did some stupid things, sure, but nothing illegal or death-inducing. At the end of the day, life remained beautiful and satisfying.

A few days after 2016 began, I asked some friends to text me each morning and ask if I had done my devotionals yet.  After a few weeks of being held to my word, I realized what I had been missing: talking about Jesus’ goodness over a meal, jamming to Steffany Gretzinger, and praying on Central Expressway are all little bits of getting Jesus, BUT reading His word, spending time with Him, and dwelling on what He has to say — that is a crash course on God’s glory.

When I chose not to read the Bible, I didn’t lose my life, my faith, or my salvation, but I lost an intimacy with my Father. I remained a beloved child of God, but ignoring an opportunity to strengthen our relationship showed me how little I was willing to give to Him Who gave His all for me.

We’re all busy in one way or another, but we have the same 24 hours.  I don’t wake up at 5 to crack open my Bible. I don’t even wake up at 5. But you and I have no room to say “I don’t have time”. We all have time — but do we make time?

I still write “devotionals” on my to-do lists because I need to remind myself of His place.

I’ve missed a few days here and there, and I don’t exactly cry about it.

I’m frustrated that reading the Bible means some items on my list don’t get done.

And that’s where we make our choice: what do we value more – our tasks, or our relationship with God?

I challenge you to examine your approach to reading the Bible. Do you choose to immerse yourself in God’s Word, or do you limit His presence to when it’s convenient? Determine what you need in order to make time for Him, and then do it.

Here’s to knowing Him, His Will, and His Word.

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what we have

For thirty years, I didn’t have a Valentine. Guys had to ask my father for permission to date me. Dad was strict, few guys tried, so I gave up hope that I would ever have a Valentine.

Valentine's Day mugThen when I was 31, I received a Starbucks mug with hearts all over it. The box read “To Karen” and that was it. Little did I know that was Luke’s first Valentine’s gift to me.

But this post isn’t about what you may not have. This Valentine’s Day, I want to remind us all of what we do have.

Ephesians 5:31 is a verse we commonly hear at weddings: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Now why would the passage talk about the man leaving his father and mother, when in most cultures, the woman leaves her family? To answer this question, I’d like to share a story.

When Arianna was two, she started having nightmares. One night, she woke up crying that a fox was out to get her. After several nights of her crying for us in the middle of the night, we decided to set up a little bed for her in our room. It was easier.

One night, I woke up hearing her whimpering. I went to comfort her, only to discover that she was still asleep. She was having another nightmare. Even though I was exhausted, my mother’s heart hurt for her. I wanted her to keep sleeping, but I also wanted to wake her up and assure her that everything was going to be ok—that her dream wasn’t real.

That is what Christ did for us. Ephesians 5:32 says, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Marriage is a picture of God’s love for us. Jesus left His home in Heaven, His Father who loved Him, and all His glory to enter into our world—to assure us that our nightmare will one day pass away.

That’s not all. When it says that a man will hold fast to his wife, it’s telling us that Jesus came to pursue people who not only didn’t love Him in return but instead sought after other gods. We love romantic love, because it’s the feeling of being completely known and accepted by another person—but Jesus came to love people who ultimately rejected and crucified Him. I can’t fathom a love like that.

The last part talks about the two becoming one flesh—because Jesus loves us, He lived for us, suffered for us, died and rose again for us—He joined Himself to us, so that when God looks at us, He sees His beloved Son, so that we who were doomed to death might be saved and loved and accepted and completely known. This is the love of God—He became poor so that we might be rich. He took on our sickness that we might be healed. He bore all of our sorrows so that we might have joy. And the Bible tells us that not even death can separate us from the love of Christ.

So this Valentine’s Day, remember what you have—the extravagant love of God.

 

pressed down and shaken together

I recently lent out a rather expensive item to a friend. While it was in my friend’s care, it was stolen and I am quite devestated. Not only was this item a gift from my mother, it is also something I cannot afford to replace at this time.

When my friend told me about the problem and offered to replace the item, I realized I don’t her to. It’s not her fault it was stolen and most of my attachment was in the sentimental value. But still, all my warm feelings of helping her by lending the item are now replaced with frustration and dissapointment. It’s like my generosity shot me in the foot.

Realizing how frustrated I was, I brought my hurt before God and asked Him how I should fix it. He showed me that the only way to gain back my peace is to completely let go of what was mine. I have to take my “generousity” to the next level and become a giver.

There is a difference between being a giver and a lender. A lender will give something of theirs with the hope of eventually being repaid. It’s a kind act when done in love, but a giver has no such hope of repayment. I must count the item as a gift to my friend -gone forever. Does it seem a bit unfair? Well, of course it is! But God isn’t fair. He gives freely.

“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” -Romans 5:8

While all the pain of losing something I valued is not completely erased yet, I chose to give. And while it might make me sound generous, I’m actually doing it with the hope that I will see God give back to me. And when He does, I know it won’t be a meager, “as little as possible” portion, but an overflowing, “as much as can be packed in” gift. And I know this because He’s already done it before.

My sweet gift from God. :)

My sweet gift from God. :)

Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” -Luke 6:38

 

 

So, lender or giver? Which will it be?