A Special Relationship

I’m leading a team of kids at the Vacation Bible School this week at our church, and my two oldest children are on my team. The organizers said they put my kids with me on purpose, and at first I thought, “Oh, ok, that makes sense.”

But throughout the morning I was treated to my kids constantly trying to assert their privileged relationship for attention that took away from the team. Asking to be allowed to sit out of activities. Yelling at me while I was trying to teach a Bible verse: “Daddy! Daddy!!! DADDY!!!” I happen to know that if they were on a different team, they would follow along very well with their teacher and happily take part in everything.

So my initial reaction was to think that my kids would learn better on another team, and I’d have an easier time teaching, so…why not that? They expect favoritism from me, and even if I don’t give it, that expectation makes them act and talk in ways that seem to take away from the team experience. And of course they do get better treatment some of the time: even if nothing else, there’s my being much more familiar with their names and the different meaning it has when I use their names as opposed to what it means to one of the other students. But doubtless there’s plenty more than that.

But then I thought…maybe God does play favorites with us. After all, God certainly cares about everyone in the world, even affirming that it’s legitimate to say that we’re all God’s children (Jonah 4:11; Acts 17:28). But he then gives a special relationship to those of us who accept Christ, complete with special grace, favors, attention…favoritism! (I won’t list out those special privileges here, but I trust you can easily find a full page or two mentioned in the Bible. Email me if you can’t!) My relationship with God is not all that different from how my kids treat me on the VBS team – “God, don’t you think I’m special? Listen to me! Look at me! I need, I need, I need!!!” And as near as I can tell, God says “ok” quite a bit!

Not to say that I’m planning to have a double standard with some of my students this week, but it does seem a bit more like the organizers might have had a good idea after all. My relationship with my kids is different from my other students, so the way I love them should be different. I think I’m seeing that this doesn’t take away from my ability to appropriately love and care for all of my students. After all, if it’s good enough for God, who am I to judge?

Be, Not Do

Last weekend, when I was supposed to have posted this, I was at a young adult retreat out in the middle of nowhere. No signal, no wi-fi — only massive bugs that bit like none other. On my 4-hour drive down, I could see messages flashing on my phone – questions, comments, and concerns from students, their parents, and school staff. Because the retreat occurred over a long weekend, I was unable to work for almost 4 days, and it bothered me so badly that I sometimes found it difficult to focus on the sermons and enjoy “free time” with the other attendees.

So now I’m one week late in writing my VOICE blog post, it’s 5:20am, and I’m at the airport on half an hour of sleep. After a few more legs of flight, I’ll be in China for a two-week mission trip, teaching English in universities as a means to build relationships for Christ.

Six years ago, on the same mission trip, our missionary contact shared three words that I have since spoken to others and myself countless times: “be, not ‘do’.”

Be, not do.

This phrase may very well summarize my greatest struggle. My life has been about “doing” for as long as I can remember, and for anyone like me, society calls for a relatively-conservative, performance-based, Asian, female Christian to be nothing less.

This spring, after months of sleepless nights and early mornings and “almost-sick” and “still sick” and being stricken with deep fear to the point where I could only sit and think of how scared I was of every day, I took a week for recuperation. (Granted, it was Spring Break, so my break was mandatory, but.)

During that time, I pushed aside the majority of work waiting for me, read a few chapters from Shauna Neiquist’s “Present Over Perfect,” and went to a different church to escape “being” and to simply hear and be. And I heard. God knew what I needed to hear from Him because the pastor spoke on how fear is a result of pride, pride the child of a lack of humility, and humility only gained when we allow God to take complete control of our lives through daily surrender, basking in His word, and choosing to let go of any incidence that causes me to bristle in defense.

It’s been better, since. Better, but a far cry from the complete surrender I want in Christ.

Yet the more I see my human incapacity to let go of all the tangled threads I’m clinging to, the more I know that God does not call me to do anything by myself.

A snippet from one of the messages at the retreat reads: “Godly character finds its identity solely in the Lord your God.” My frazzled doing, if it fully believed that all my worth rested in what God has done, is doing, and will do for me, would morph into a trusting being.

In Christ, we are both called to strive 100% to complete the tasks He has given us and to allow God to take 100% control of all circumstances.

We are human beings, not human doings.

And so six years after the words “be, not do” were spoken into my life, I’m encouraged to know that in my constant struggle to surrender my fear and pride and idolization of control, God is slowly but surely working His will into my life. I have been called to complete the good works in Him that He ordained for me before creation, but I have been saved in grace and faith, and it. Is. Not. My. Own. Doing.

Shining on the Evil and the Good

We often ask why bad things happen to us, but have you ever stopped to ask why so many good things have happened to you? I have recently found myself asking, “Why have I received so many blessings?” 

In the Bible, I found Matthew 5:45b, which says, “For [God] makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Even for those who are evil, God still gives the blessings of rain and sunshine. If we read all of Matthew 5:43-45, He tells us to do the same. ‘“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”’

So why has God blessed me or other followers of Christ? So that we may bless others, even if they are evil and unjust. In other places God says that a judgement is coming. Therefore, if they do not repent, the blessings given to evil people do not last forever. However, our part in this life, as God’s adopted children, is to bless. 

If you do not follow Christ, then the idea of God blessing the just and the unjust should be scary, yet give you hope at the same time. Why? Because it means that if life is going well it does not automatically mean that God is pleased with you. The hope that it gives is this, that just as God has been merciful in giving you life, provisions, and many blessings in this life in spite of the wrong that you have done (according to God’s law we have all done wrong), that He will give you grace and mercy that lasts forever if you believe in His Son Jesus Christ. 

Sun on Evil and Good

Come As You Are

I don’t know about you, but spring is always a tough time of year for me. I’m a full-time student and teacher, so my days are extremely busy. Hardly a day goes by without experiencing some mini-crisis that revolves around school, work or relationships.

When life gets busy, it’s so easy to let my relationship with God sit on the back-burner. In the past, I would let things slip and slide until I realized that I hadn’t touched my Bible or prayed in weeks/months, and then I would feel consumed with guilt and shame. What an awful Christian I was! I would beat myself up about my failings, and think that there wasn’t any point in working on my relationship with God if I couldn’t do it “right”. So I would just stop trying.

Even now that I’ve learned how to be more consistent in my walk with the Lord, I still go through bouts where I feel like a terrible Christian. I let fear, worry and anxiety consume my life, and don’t trust in God’s grace and provision. Every day is a struggle where I try to hold onto things that God never intended me to have. I feel like I have to “fix” my issues myself before God will be happy with me.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a song by Crowder called “Come As You Are”. The chorus goes like this:

So lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You’re not too far
Lay down your hurt
Lay down your heart
Come as you are

It reminds me that no matter how many times I’ve failed to be the kind of Christian I want to be, God isn’t asking for my perfection. He knows that we’re full of problems, mistakes and exhaustion, and He doesn’t demand that we fix ourselves before He’ll accept us. No, He just wants us to come.

A wise friend once reminded me that we tend to have the wrong perspective of God. We view him as someone who looks at us and says, “Ugh, you are the worst. I never met such a lazy Christian in my whole life. Come back once you get your act together!”. But actually, it’s not like that at all. It’s more like God says, “Hey! I like you! Actually, I love you! I really just want to be a part of your life, if you’ll let me.”

Instead of letting my discouragement about my mistakes and forgetfulness drive me away from God, like I did for so long, I’m learning how to take those feelings of inadequacy and failure and bring them to Christ. I still have so much to learn, but I think the key is using those feelings to remind me of how much I need God, and that I’m nothing without Him in my life.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (ESV).

In my weakness, He is my strength. In my failures, He is my Redeemer. In my troubles, He is my rock. He’s not pushing me away; He’s asking me to come.

Death

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. (Luke 24:1-9)

This past Palm Sunday, as many Christians took up olive branches and went out into the streets, a spirit passed out of its mortal flesh and away from this life.

She wasn’t tall. Her body was petite but her laugh was very clear and resounding, so you never had to worry about how to find her in a large crowd. She had a blunt personality. If you said something wrong, she would be sure to loudly correct you right away. If she was angry she would loudly announce her dissatisfaction. She was a simple yet sensitive person. Her hair and her eyebrows were jet-black which contrasted with her fair skin. She had a set of piercing, pitch-black eyes and she could speak with those eyes. One look into her eyes and you could tell exactly what she was thinking, whether she was sad or perplexed or perhaps just joking with you. The very first time I saw her I said to her, “You’re so beautiful!” She replied, “Me? No, I’m not.” She never discovered how truly beautiful she was.

Those beautiful eyes closed in the midst of charcoal fumes, closed forever. I think she was so selfish. How could she decide it was her time to go? How could she leave behind those of us that loved her? But none of us can understand the pain she carried. None of us can judge. We only know that her fear of living was greater than her dread of death. People had scheduled meals together with her, but whether or not those meals will happen, that we must leave up to the Supreme Judge for an answer.

At her memorial service on the morning of April 15th, I thought about what happened to her lively spirit, fun-loving yet full of hurt and suffering. What happened to it? As I watched her body being pushed into the little room my own spirit felt heavy. The spirit. It’s a heavy thing, unique and precious. How can we bear something so heavy?

I thought of a Body with a spirit inside which carried the weight of all things and all time on the day that heaven and earth were changed…it must have been extremely heavy. Exhausted, parched, misunderstood; He seemed to be voluntarily moving, slowly but steadily, towards His own death. One step, one fall, one lash of the whip, one tear, one nail, one sigh…the end. His eyes, closed forever. People moved His body but they knew He wasn’t inside anymore. The next day they knew He was gone, remaining only in memory.

But then I saw, on the day after that, His eyes opened forever. He is the only one able to bear the heavy weight of the spirit, and without one broken bone!  He is the only one who has experienced death and yet the poisonous, evil power of death could not harm Him! My friend’s coffin bears the weight of her corpse, sad and decaying, but Jesus’ grave is empty! “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5b) We no longer need to be a witness to death in this dark world. We just ask that when He walks with us and guides us we will be able to recognize when He comes. (Luke 24:13-34)

Some say that the situation Christians are in now is like the Saturday of the first Easter weekend. Jesus has already died on Friday and Sunday is on its way when we’ll get to see Jesus’ resurrection manifest before our eyes. Even though we’re in this “already but no yet” stage, we still need to encourage each other and remind each other not to forget our true hope. To put it simply, even though we still need to go to work, even though we can’t skip class, even though our heads might still hurt, we still should be reminding each other of God’s love, remembering Jesus in daily life, talking with Jesus, loving Him and receiving His tender care. Remember, He came to put an end to the anguish of suffering. He came to put Death to death. He came so that one day His people can be reunited with His beloved Father. Together. Sitting down for the feast that we have longed for for so long.

My friend is gone and I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again, but I know my Jesus is still alive. He knows all things and He’s in charge of all things.

 

Death, be not proud

by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

 

What God’s Will Isn’t

Photo Credit: www.flickr.com/photos/archetypefotografie/

Recently there are so many decisions I have to make. I’m seeking for God’s guidance on my service at church and the future plan after I graduate college next year. I really want to know what God wants me to do also His plan for me. How do you pray and what do you do when you are seeking God’s guidance and hoping to get clear signs? —a former VOICE student

This is an excellent question, namely because you’re crossing from making your own decisions to wanting to know what God wants for your life. If this is where you are, congratulations on making a very big first step. The subject of God’s will is incredibly broad, so I will only tackle a tiny aspect here…

God’s will is not like GPS. He does not list out all of the steps to our final destination. He does not (usually) give us step-by-step instructions on how to get there (“Go to this school.” “Date this person.” “Accept this job offer.”). He does not warn us about construction or traffic jams ahead. If this is what you’re looking for in God’s will, you’re not looking for the right thing. Seeking God’s will is actually more like knocking on doors. You may have absolutely no idea who or what lies on the other side. Or you may think you know and then find out it’s not at all what you thought. Whatever the case may be, your only responsibility is to knock and then enter when a door opens.

God’s will is not a safeguard against suffering. I once thought that if I just followed Jesus carefully, my life would (only) be blessed (read: safe, secure, and successful). If something went wrong, I must have screwed up somewhere along the way. I have since learned that while I do feel blessed, that does not mean that everything always goes well. In fact, I often feel more insecure following God, because He’s pinpointing all my false securities and tearing them down. That is exactly why He is my Savior—He is destroying all the things I trust in that can’t save me.

God’s will is not about your life. It’s important to seek God’s will for the big (and little) decisions in your life—but keep in mind that this isn’t about your life. It’s about the story He’s writing for the world. And because it’s His story, He cares infinitely more than you do about your part in it.

And lastly, God’s will is more about the journey than about the destination. Of course, God cares about whom we marry and what we do with our lives, but this whole issue of seeking His will is actually about learning to trust Him one step at a time. It’s about letting Him expose our hidden fears by taking us places we don’t want to go. It’s about resting in Him when our pressures are too great for us to handle. It’s about learning who this God is that we (thought we) decided to follow. Someday, we will arrive at the Final Destination and see Him face to face, but for now, living life is about knowing Him, and that is what following Christ is all about.

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

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Last time I wrote on the VOICE blog, it was about the beauty of friendships in Bible Lab. (You can read about it here). In addition to Bible Lab, God has given me some of my best friends through serving in the Children’s Institute. However, this year, God had something a little different — even better than friends — prepared for me. Continue reading

Belief Over Time Produces Faith

On Chinese New Year, we went to visit our pastor’s family. Pastor Samuel is passionate about the truth and getting his congregation to understand why and how Jesus is real and worthy of belief. As I’ve written before on this blog, it has been a huge struggle for me to believe this.

After dinner, instead of the planned board games, he initiated a Socratic discussion (asking and answering questions) where he asked us “who is Jesus?” Somehow we arrived on the topic of Abraham, and I realized for the first time the amount of time between promises God gave to Abraham and their fulfillments. Decades of time where Abraham wondered if he would ever see his promised descendants, let alone a single son.

Belief over time produces faith.

When I first found out I was pregnant, it was hard to believe, especially after a few emotional months of “not yet.” Those first weeks were flooded with all kinds of anxiety, but also a prayerful hope…

When I first saw my tiny baby during the 10 week ultrasound, I believed a second time. I was shocked at the stillness of the baby sleeping on its side, but heard a strong heartbeat and so I cried.

The third time, the baby lay on its back like a little cockroach, wiggling arms and legs. He was alive and moving. I believed again and cried.

These times of actually seeing how my baby was growing were spaced out by months at a time. Not as long as Abraham, but still requiring a kind of faith that the baby would continue to grow and thrive. Now I have almost daily evidence of his (yes, he’s a boy) existence through his kicks, punches, and rolls.

Belief over time produces faith.

Matthew and I have already given him Chinese and English names. The essence of his name meaning is “to understand the truth.” This is something that has been a struggle for me and one of the reasons I’ve struggled in my faith. Even with a name like that, my baby has that potential as well. But he has already helped me understand a very small truth that faith is about the experience of seeing God at work in the past and present in the hope that He will continue in the future.

Belief over time produces faith.

Identity in Christ

My identity in Christ. This is a phrase that I’ve heard my whole life, and I know the right places in a conversation to say it, but I realized that I don’t really know what it means. Yet it makes a big difference in life who I see myself as: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).

What is my identity to begin with? Who am I? What is your identity? Who are you? I’m Luke. OK, is that all? That’s my name, but is that me? I can change my name at any time, but surely that wouldn’t immediately change who I am as a person? The movie Batman Begins has the famous line in it, “It’s not who you are inside, it’s what you do that defines you.” Is that right? A lot of times, when we are “getting to know” someone, we ask what they do. Once we know that, do we know them?

Well, I’m learning that the meaning of having identity in Christ is that, in some way, it’s what he does that defines me. In fact, whatever it is that defines who Christ is, that also is what defines me if my identity is in Christ. So it’s helpful to think about who Christ is and how I get to know people in general, including Christ. Two things come to mind:

  1. I get to know others by learning facts about them.

I could spend a lot of time with someone, then later find out it was the governor, and what might I say? “I didn’t know who I was talking to.” Similarly, the Bible presents a lot of facts about me that are true because of my adoption into God’s family through Christ:

  • I have been given the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16
  • I am not my own; I belong to God (1 Cor. 6:20)
  • I may approach God with boldness, freedom and confidence (Eph. 3:12)

There are lots more facts like this that are true of us because of our relationship with Christ, and understanding and taking these to heart is part of knowing my identity in Christ.

  1. I get to know others by spending time in relationship with them.

Conversely, I could learn all the facts there are about someone, and yet not know them: reading someone’s life story, however detailed and accurate, is nothing like being friends with them. So to know well who I am in Christ, I need to know Christ well. This is probably where I fall short the most – Christ is a person who is alive and can be interacted with, conversed with, related to. Like any relationship, it takes work and effort to learn the best ways and then do it, but there is intrinsic reward and benefit for making that effort.

Maybe working on these two aspects, I’ll make some progress in understanding my identity in Christ.

Act, Love, Walk

One week ago, President Trump issued an executive order temporarily banning “immigrants” and “non-immigrants” from seven countries for the subsequent 90 days and suspending the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for a minimum of 120 days. Protests ensued, detainees were released, and federal judges took a stance, but if this country’s division was evident before, my tiny section of America has made it clear that the gulf now gapes at widths precarious for those on either side. Deeply-rooted fear, rational or not, is here.

This post has taken me over a week to formulate. I would prefer to give tangible answers of how I’ve sought and now understand the key to responding correctly to politics. I’d prefer to.

But I am the child, friend, and teacher of immigrants, I am an American who desires a safe future for myself and those I love, and I am a Christian whose hope is to shine for Jesus. How do I reconcile those parts into a whole?

I have listened to atheists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, agnostics, individuals of all different sexual orientations and gender identifications, educators, the educated, and both the blue- and white-collared, and their hearts make sense in one facet or another. So how do I find an answer for myself?

A sign in one of my favorite coffee shop’s restroom reads “Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly”.

This verse comes from the Bible’s Book of Micah. God is speaking to the Israelites, calling them on trial for their disobedience, dissatisfaction, and disrespect. He reminds them of His faithfulness and mercy in bringing them out of Egypt and consistently protecting and blessing them.

The Prophet Micah asks God what, in light of all His mercies and blessings, would satisfy Him.

“With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

And God answers with oft-quoted Micah 6:8 –

“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”

Thomas Constable’s Expository says, “There is a progression in these requirements from what is external to what is internal and from human relations to divine relations. Doing justice toward other people demands loving kindness, which necessitates walking humbly in fellowship with God.”

The bottom line is that I don’t know what to do. I have no plan of action that every Christian should march upon. I cannot tell you an exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts. I will not tell America to freely take in foreigners as God did and does because it is not the same. I will not tell America to shut her doors and give her people the guarantee of everlasting peace and protection that God has and will continue to offer to all His children.

But the overarching idea is that in light of what God has done for us all, we must individually and collectively seek His guidance on what it looks like to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

How do you treat immigrants, refugees, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, women, police, and blacks? The same way God has called us to treat everyone else, and certainly, as Ethan wrote over the summer of 2015, with empathy.

Are my actions just?

Have I given mercy?

Do I walk humbly?

Not one exists without the other.

One thing remains: in, out, and up, seek the example of Jesus Christ.