“…finding out the greatness…”

- 2013 -

“Lord, why am I here? You clearly opened the door for me to work at this job, but I feel like I’m dying inside! I don’t care about business; I don’t even believe in the work that I’m doing!”

A year and a half ago, my heart cried this regularly. I didn’t understand what the point was for me to be working at that company. I sought to share Christ my coworkers, but other than that? Ick. – I saw no purpose in my work.

Finally, I began to rest and trust God. I began to rejoice, even though I didn’t feel like it.

- 2014 -

Just this morning, long-anticipated plans threatened to collapse. Excitement turned to worry and frustration. Someone else’s money could be lost, myself and others would be sad and disappointed… I prayed frantically as I tried to fix things. I groaned. I wanted to cry.

Just as I began giving into my fear and sorrow, an old hymn came to mind. “Jesus, I am resting, resting in the joy of what Thou art. I am finding out the greatness of Thy loving heart.” I knew the words were not true of me, but they needed to be! Because God’s faithfulness was already true of Him. I began to sing.
- – -

Fast forwarding to my current self… >>>>

Now, I see so much more clearly! To my surprise, the skills that I use every day at my current job [which I love] are the very same ones that I learned at the job I felt unfulfilled by. – - – God knew the future. He knew my need. He knew what purpose He wanted to fit me for, and provided me with free (in fact, paid!) training for the work He was leading me to. – “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in [my] eyes.”

And as for Today? 3.5 hours after it began, the crisis was over. The problem was solved. I’m still feeling an adrenaline rush from the “excitement”, but more than that, I’m so grateful to God for working it all out AND for teaching me again that rejoicing is always appropriate. That His name is worthy to be praised with or without the sun shining; with or without a silver lining.
- – -

These two circumstances remind of a lesson I learned 4 years ago… in the middle of yet another trial,

IMG_6547

“I will be praising God in a week or a year’s time for what is happening now, so why should I wait to praise and thank Him for His loving-kindness? He is ALWAYS good!”

Growing Pains

2104459_orig

I recently started a new job as a teacher at a developmental center for children and their parents. After two years of teaching in Taiwan, I figured this job would be pretty easy. But after just two weeks of enduring some pretty rigorous training, I’ve been having second thoughts. Every day, I have to surrender my old ways of teaching in order to adopt all new methods and lesson plans. My trainers give me loads of grace as I’m figuring it all out, but at the same time, they’re seriously invested in seeing me change into the teacher that they want me to be. Turns out that this process feels anything but “normal”! It actually feels really uncomfortable at times. But, they keep telling me it will get better, because soon enough I won’t even think about the involved lesson plans once all these things grow into me as a teacher. Apparently, all the things that I’m rigorously learning will simply become a part of who I am.

Well, I’m not there yet, but slowly, day after day, mistake after mistake, I’m learning what it means to change. I’m becoming a different kind of teacher, and growth – as uncomfortable and hard as it is at times – is the vehicle that’s getting me there.

As I was sitting in trainng the other day, it hit me that growing into a new position isn’t just for new jobs. The Bible tells us that the gospel is the good news that Jesus’ death on the cross secures for us a new position. We, who once were enemies of God, have now been called daughters and sons and co-heirs with Christ. Redeemed, restored, and forgiven are  all a part of our new identity. As we come to more fully understand who we now are, there should be a very real change that is working it’s way out in our lives. Will that growth always feel comfortable? Probably not. Will it happen overnight? I wish! The older I get, the more I see just how sinful and far away from God my heart truly is. But God’s not giving up, and the redemptive work that He’s begun, He will complete…no matter how hard the process may be.

What’s God using to grow you today? Does it feel uncomfortable and hard? Let the growing pains remind you that God is at work at your life, because He loves you too much to simply leave you where you are.

To the Max

keep-calm-and-live-life-to-the-max-smallI was talking recently with a father of nine. His youngest are now about junior high age. He had an interesting perspective on the difficulty level of raising different amounts of children. “When you have your first kid, it’s all you can handle. You’re maxed out,” he said. “Then when you have your second kid, you’re maxed out. When you have your third kid, you’re maxed out. It’s all you can do just to keep up. With four kids, you’re maxed out. With five, you’re maxed out. It’s all you can handle.” And so on. Actually he might have only gone up to four and then said, “That’s how it just keeps on going.”

What’s going on with that? Clearly there’s more going on in this guy’s life with nine kids than there was with one. Clearly there’s more going on with two kids than with one. Did his capacities just keep on increasing? Did his need for sleep keep on decreasing? I doubt it. Probably there were some changes in his personal priorities, some willingness to pursue his own interests less, so that he could spend more time and energy on the kids. But surely that cannot account for all of the “more going on” that happened as his family’s size increased. It seems like there must have just been a lot going on that he wasn’t even aware of, and that group of “things going on that he wasn’t aware of” increased as more kids came along. Nevertheless, he remained engaged in as much as he possibly could all along the way: he was “maxed out.” (It would be interesting to find out whether his wife would describe it the same way he did, but if she would, I bet this analysis would apply to her as well.)

I think it makes sense that there is a certain amount of stuff that I can be engaged in at any point in my life…and that God would put the situations into my life at each point that would “max out” my engagement capacity.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men (Col. 3:23).

The parable of the talents also seems to say that God has given us the right amount of business to keep us busy doing His business.

What does this mean? Well, if it’s true that God has put just the right amount of stuff in my life to max out my engagement capacity, then if I’m over my capacity, there must be something I’m engaged in that isn’t for me right now. Conversely, if I don’t feel maxed out, there must be something in my life that I need to be dealing with, I need to be engaged in, that I’m not. Think about it. Are you overworked or underworked? Are you over-engaged or under-engaged?

created for eternity

This weekend the kids and I fly out for my grandmother’s memorial service. She lived to be 91, faithful to Jesus and loving her family to the very end. Last year, we thought we might lose her, but God gave us one more year, so I was able to take Isaac to visit her earlier this month—unknowingly for the last time.

Last visit with 奶奶

Last visit with 奶奶

This time, I’m taking Arianna too. That means figuring out how to explain death, eternity, and heaven to her very young three year-old mind.

For example, after I received the news of Grandmother’s death, Arianna cupped my tear-streaked face in her little hands and said, “It’s ok, Mama. Maybe you can go to Heaven to see her!” I tried to smile and replied, “Yes, because I know Jesus, I will see her in Heaven someday. Do you know Him?” She smiled and answered, “Yes.”

Later that evening, I told Luke about our conversation, and he asked her, “Arianna, do you know Jesus?” She nodded. “Do you know where He is?” She grinned shyly and answered, “In my body.” “Oh really, how did He get there?” “Through my back!”

So maybe her theology is a bit off, but it’s a lot for her little mind to comprehend! And in reality, there’s a lot about God and the Gospel that we can’t fully wrap our adult minds around either. I remember in high school hearing about how beautiful and wonderful Heaven is, but deep inside, I hoped Jesus wouldn’t come back just yet. I still wanted to do things—like win the volleyball tournament, graduate from high school, date, get married… There was so much more to life that I wanted to experience before I went to sit on a cloud above streets of gold and sing hymns while playing a harp.

If there’s anything I don’t want Arianna to believe, it’s that picture of Heaven. Yet even now, after I’ve tasted some of the pain and sorrow in this life, I can’t quite grasp how Heaven holds everything that my soul longs for—and more. I can’t fathom an eternity without tears (or anger and frustration for that matter). I can’t imagine how petty and outdated the iPhone 6 will seem when we’re in the presence of the Word Himself.

This year at VOICE, we studied the Ten Commandments. The tenth commandment warned us not to covet the things on earth—why? Because there is absolutely nothing in this world that can satisfy the longings of our heart. It’s a reminder that we weren’t created for this life only—we were created for eternity.

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3 ESV)

Look at me!

Boy riding a hippo “Look at me! Look at me! Uncle, look!” My nephew latches onto my finger, and tugs at me to join him. I can’t help but set aside whatever I’m doing to appreciate his newest discovery: a paper kite, a new acrobatic move, his little sister’s amusing antics, a laundry hamper transformed into a fort, a new monster formed out of Mr. Potato head parts…  even the most commonplace things are magical. Being only three years old, everything is new and exciting to my nephew. However, my nephew can’t completely enjoy his discoveries unless he shares it with a friend or family member. And if you are the one he is sharing with, you can’t help but be charmed by his sense of joy and wonder. Though it’s true his obsession with sharing everything with everyone seems a little extreme, at the same time, I realized that all humans, to some degree, are like my nephew. God created humans in his image, and God is a relational God. He has a relationship with Himself within the Trinity, and with us as His children. We are the same way, and an important part of enjoyment and pleasure is being able to share something that you enjoy with someone that you love, and the one you love in turn gets to experience something with you. So that means, if we truly love God, then when something brings us joy and delight, we should naturally also want to share it with God. When you are entertained by a movie, you should tell God about, and see how he feels about it. “Hey God, wasn’t that movie really cool? The script was written so well!” When you complete a difficult task, you can show it off to God. “Hey God, look at this musical that I finished!” One of the most special times that I had with God this past year was during a typhoon in the spring. I love running in the rain, and the sheets of rain crashing from the sky were both wild and refreshing. As I splashed through inch deep puddles around the track, I basked in the power of the storm, and in the presence of the Lord. The coolest thing about it? I think God enjoyed that time, too. Today, why don’t you pick something that you love, and take the time to enjoy it with God together? “Hey, God, look at me! God, look!”

Failure to Love

Anita, Tina, and Loren Paulsson at Rainbow Falls.

I sat on the floor crying.

Earlier that day we met my parents and sister and boarded The Lady of the Lake for the four-and-a-half hour cruise up Lake Chelan to the Stehekin, Wash.

It was a beautiful day. And I thought briefly about the opportunity this was to spend time with family.

Then I got all wrapped up in photographing the lake and the mountains.

We had an hour and a half in Stehekin before heading down lake again, and I determined to get a picture of Rainbow Falls. My wife, Tina, persuaded me to stay at the foot of the falls where Mom and Dad were headed. But not to be entirely thwarted, I climbed down to make a picture of the stream.

It wasn’t until we were back on the bus that I realized I’d lost my wedding ring.

Then just before parting ways at the home pier, we had a fellow passenger take our family picture using my phone.

Mom wanted a picture on her camera too. But somehow I ignored her.

As we headed home, it hit me. I remembered the last time we took that cruise, 27ish years ago, with extended family, and grandpa and grandma who are no longer with us. I might have other opportunities to love my wife, my parents, my sister, but the opportunities of that day were gone.

Sitting on the floor at home, I felt helpless to fix it. My efforts in the present or what I planned to do in the future could not recover what was lost that day.

For a Christian, called specifically in the Bible to love God and love others, these missed opportunities are not unfortunate misses along the road to a nice life but failures of my heart to take shape. I wanted to punish myself and hide like Adam and Eve did, even from God.

But this is also when the promise of “beauty for ashes” means the most. This is when God comes and finds us. This is when the sin-destroying love and mercy of God in Christ yanks us from the shadows and exposes the sinfulness even of our efforts to improve. And when all else is burned away, the promises of God remain.

Bigger is better?

“I want to be extraordinary!”Pile of Pancakes

“I’m going to do BIG things for God.”

How many of us can relate to those two statements? Even if you have never uttered those phrases, would you agree that the thought of it at least has entered your mind? Full disclosure: that mindset has been a part of my DNA for years now, and I am just now beginning to realize and admit it. It’s amazing how almost every person is determined to make a powerful impression on society or within their sphere of influence – and that’s not a bad thing! Nevertheless, what I’ve been wrestling with is how much that passion to be relevant has dictated my decisions and even affected the way that I view other people.

In the book, Go Small, Craig Gross points out that so many of us want to be revolutionaries and change the world; however, we’re so consumed with our desire to do big things that we often overlook the ordinary, bland things, and really miss the raw opportunities that are right in front of our face. If you look at Jesus’ life, He consistently flowed with the seemingly ordinary events of life – and oftentimes that’s where He would do His greatest works.

The challenge with this approach is that often I don’t get noticed when I’m doing the “small things.” I want to be involved in something that’s going to look good on my Facebook post; something that will win hundreds of people to Christ; something that will get me noticed by the masses. But it’s because of that mindset that I don’t notice, or have time for, the child playing around my house; the dirty dishes that are piling up in the sink; the friend at church that just needs someone to listen to them.

How about you? Can you be motivated to blossom right where God has planted you? Not worrying about if you get noticed or not? Live your life to the fullest in the same way Jesus did, in that He “made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” God isn’t focused on counting how many Facebook likes you get or worried about how slowly your small group is growing. Start noticing the “small things” that are sitting directly in front of you and stay faithful to that – you may be amazed at the ways God shows up and the contentment that follows!

Earning My Place

I’m standing before the doors to a regal throne room. My clothes are torn and my face is dirty, but I have to go inside. I see two choices. I can try to clean up my mess and earn a right inside or I can bust open the doors and walk to see the king.

This is not any old throne room. There sits the 680px-Synagogue_of_Dijon_-_Great_DoorCreator of everything we see and feel and know. He is reigning on a throne in the heavens, reigning over every spirit and being. He is surrounded by angels and heavenly beings who are worshiping and serving Him in perfect obedience.

With that in mind, you might think about that second choice and find it a little audacious. How could I walk in and think I’m “important enough” for God to hear? If I was simply an innocent child, it might be a different matter, but I know I’ve failed. I’ve tried my own ways. I’ve been distracted by things that don’t matter. I’ve listened to the lies. I’ve got the face and hands to prove it. There is dirt on my soul.

But, putting that aside for a moment, look at choice number one. Is there any possible hope of me earning my way into that throne room? Good works never impress God and there is no possible way for me to remove dirt from my soul. So really, what I see as a choice is actually an impossibility. There is no way into the throne room except through Christ.

Ephessians 1:4 is talking about those who have accepted Christ righteous sacrifice and been forgiven. It says, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” There is no arguing that our own “clothes” are stained. We have the guilt and shame to prove it. But what Christ did was take those dirty clothes on himself and he gave us his.

So, I’m here before the doors of my Heavenly Father’s throne room. I see the stains of sin on my life and my heart tells me I must change. But instead of working harder, I open the door and I run to the One who can change me. God looks and sees His own child, running through the great hall, and He opens His arms.

Anna :)

Rest

Rest

I have a long track record of becoming far too busy. Things-to-Do pile up, deadlines loom, and the potential to disappoint clients, friends, and family becomes dangerously close to reality. All this leads to a very unhealthy, and ultimately ungodly amount of stress. At some point, I realize that I’m way stressed out and add another thing to my to-do list: rest. However, I find that adding rest to my list of “things to do” doesn’t work. After all, I have more things on that list than I can do anyway, and resting doesn’t really relieve pressure from the rest of the list.

This summer I was challenged in my thinking about rest by some ideas from Jon Acuff in his book Start: Punch Fear in the Face. Here are some thoughts that have helped me that just might encourage you too:

  1. Rest is a gift. God gave us rest and it’s not something that we have to earn or deserve. Hebrews 4 talks about entering into Christ’s rest which is a finished work. I don’t add to it or take away from it. It’s done.
  2. Rest is part of humanity. We participate in God’s design for us and for the world by resting. It’s required. We quite literally cannot live without resting. By having to rest we remember our humanity… daily.
  3. Rest is worship. When we embrace rest we worship God by trusting Him for the things we can’t complete in our own strength.

I have thought about this a lot recently as I fall into bed exhausted every night. I don’t need to feel good about my day, myself or my performance to rest. Resting is an act of worship that embraces my humanity and rejoices in a very good gift from God.

Rest well!
Rowan

Changes

How well do you handle change in your life? If you are like me, perhaps change is something you see as a necessary evil. You cannot stop change from happening, and so you force yourself to accept it. In the past, there have been times where I feared change in my life, and would try to do everything within my power to keep things ‘normal’ so I could feel secure. As I grow through life, I’m learning more and more that my idea of ‘normal’ is not always what God has planned for my life. Change is necessary to bring me to where I can be useful in God’s hands.

Recently I have experienced a lot of changes. Adjusting to living back in Taiwan (Summer is hot. . . REALLY hot. . .), getting engaged, getting married, changing jobs, moving to a new house, and not working at VOICE this year (sad face) to name a few. Of course, some of these changes are good and exciting, but even so, they take me out of my comfort zone.

For some of you, this is a time of year filled with change. Moving to new classes or schools, adjusting to family changes as people move away. For the VOICE class of 2014, some of you may be suffering from VOICE withdrawal and wondering how you can survive! Don’t worry, life goes on. And it goes on because we have fellowship with the One who gives life. 1 John 4:18 shares with us how God’s love drives out our fears. As we walk in fellowship with Jesus Christ and with our Christian family, we have no need to fear change or the future.

Christ is always with us, and has loved before we loved Him (1 John 4:19). As we experience change in our lives, remember that it is because God is guiding us in His love for His children. Even though our lives will be different than they were before, God will never change, and neither will His love for us. With this in mind, we can be accept and even look forward to the changes that God brings into our lives. And trust me, some changes are very good.

Joel and Vicky's Wedding

Joel and Vicky’s Wedding with awesome VOICE friends!