My Weakness Made Strong

Throughout university, I participated in events with my college and church ministries, sharing the gospel on trips, at programs, and on campus. Excited with the freedom of open listeners and only the boundaries of sensitivity, I rarely felt fearful of sharing the gospel.

Ever since I began teaching at a public high school, fear began to creep up in the form of discomfort and trepidation. Those with whom I could freely share were now limited to co-workers. As one of the youngest staff members (and, consequently, possessing the least amount of professional experience), I worried about solidifying my position, gaining respect, and not warding people off. While I took opportunities to share my reason for hope, I often left feeling discouraged and ashamed. I felt weak, incompetent, and bumbling.

My words failed me, and so, I thought, I’ve failed God.

Shortly after this school year began, my small group started studying 1 Corinthians. Reading through and wrestling with each passage, I found that the following verses suddenly took on more value:

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

– 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

– 1 Corinthians 2:12-13

I am called to be faithful to the opportunities God invites me into. If He, in His sovereign will, allows me to share the best news with others, why should I fear that the outcome will be anything other than that which He desires? He has all power to use us in our weakness. My own abilities carry no weight – my fear has no place.

He, within me, will impart His gospel in words taught by the Spirit, and that is always more than enough.

Goodbyes and the Future

Saying goodbye to things that you love is hard. Saying goodbye when you don’t know what comes next is even harder. It’s that feeling of the unknown; knowing that God is leading you to the end of something, but hasn’t revealed the next step yet.

This year has been full of goodbyes. Last summer I was part of the last VOICE conference, and was the last V2 graduate. My Grandpa passed away into Jesus’ arms in January after a long struggle with illness. It happened during CI’s in Taiwan, and it was very surreal to balance my feelings of loss about my Grandpa and also my feelings of the impending loss of CI’s, since no one was sure if it would continue after that. In July I left my job of three years, said my goodbyes to Taiwan and cried as the plane left the ground, because I didn’t know if/when I would return to the country and people who had captured my heart. And now, this is my last blog post for the VOICE staff blog.

It feels like I’ve had to let go of a lot of things without having been given their replacements yet, and the future is a great big question mark for me. I don’t know what I’ll do after I graduate from school in a few months, and that feeling is a bit scary. In this season of goodbyes and uncertainty about the future, I’m comforted by this promise from Proverbs 3:5-6 (KJV):

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart”: God has proven himself faithful to me over and over throughout my life, and I would be a fool to doubt Him now.

“…and lean not unto thine own understanding.”: Even if my life doesn’t look exactly like I think it should right now, or things aren’t working out the way I want, I have to trust that God’s sovereignty and wisdom is greater than my own. Some of the greatest blessings of my life have come from completely unexpected places; things I would have ignored because *I* did not think they were worthy of my attention. How glad I am that God’s goodness to me is greater than I could ever imagine!

“…In all thy ways acknowledge him…”: When you’re in a period of change, you’re often faced with a lot of big decisions and choices. It’s often really hard to know what decision is the right one, if they all seem equally valid. I’ve been learning the wisdom of acknowledging God’s authority in my life, and ensuring that whatever steps I do take are honoring and glorifying to Him. When I do that, it gives me the confidence that I’m not making decisions based off of my own wants and desires.

“…and he shall direct thy paths.”: I may not know what that path looks like right now, but that’s okay. I trust that the God of the universe who knows my name, finds me worthy and calls me to Him will direct my path in His own timing.

I may not know what my future holds, but I know Who holds my future. So in this season of goodbyes, loss, change and uncertainty, I can cling to the promise of my Father God that He will never leave me or forsake me and that He will use my life to glorify Him, no matter what that life looks like.

Come Awake

I had several personal annual traditions at VOICE, two of which involved music.

First, the food court in the OKC mall had a jukebox and anyone could select songs to play over the loudspeakers. Every year while VOICE was eating lunch in there I selected “Creep” by Radiohead. It wasn’t breaking the “no music” rule since it was a public place and music would be playing anyway. That’s what I told myself.  

Second, on the last day in Chicago, everyone’s last morning at VOICE, I would blast Matt Maher’s “Christ is Risen” as loudly as possible on my phone or computer and walk around from bed to bed to wake up the guys in my house (because of the “come awake” lyric). As annoying as that must have been for VOICE guys three years in a row, the song still remains a very special reminder to me to this day.

“Let no one caught it sin remain inside the lie of inward shame.”

Are you caught in the lie of inward shame? I am. For years, my internal dialogue has been a constant stream of shame and negativity. I often feel inadequate, unloved, and unsatisfied with myself. I’ve used these negative feelings as an excuse to make bad choices like pulling away from healthy relationships with people who love me because of fear and shame, or not trying for goals I know I want because I’m afraid of failing, and even accepting abuse from others because I feel like it is what I deserve.

But those are lies. God hasn’t created us for a life of inward shame. Christ has risen to save us from the weight of our sin. He has provided a church body to support us by sharing vulnerabilities and strengths. We can have confidence, security, and peace when our identity is rooted in Christ…I think. I’m not an expert. I’m trying to learn.

If you are facing a similar struggle, keep going. It’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to reach out for help. Focus on the Truth. Come out of hiding. Come awake.

“What will people think?”

By Hamazasp (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There is a little question in my heart that tries to hold me captive:

“What will people think?”

It started when I was young. Growing up as “Stephen Chen’s daughter” meant behaving well, dressing appropriately, helping out at church, and generally living a commendable sort of life. My parents never spelled it out that way. Somehow between how I was corrected and praised by my parents and other adults, I concluded that the Christian life is a fishbowl life: people are always watching, so be careful what you do.

This mentality worked for a little while. It taught me to weigh my decisions. It helped me to be a little more cautious. It taught me to be sensitive to others’ feelings. The problem is that people pleasing became a way of life. I decided what to wear based on the people I would see. I chose my words based on what people might want to hear. When I needed to make difficult decisions, the loudest voices in my head were the expectations of the ones I love. Worst of all, I measured my worth by how well others thought of me.

One day, I came across this verse in the book of Galatians: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

Even now, my mind can’t fully grasp the enormity of my problem. When I get frustrated, when I am embarrassed, when I feel disappointed, when I’m stressed, I am beginning to realize that it’s often because I crave the praise of other human beings, not the approval of my Savior.

Do you worry about what others think of you? Remember this: Christ died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8)! Our worth lies not in how loud the applause may be or how well we do in school or how many likes we get on Facebook or how big our paycheck is. Our value has nothing to do with us but everything to do with the One who has chosen to love us and redeem us at infinite cost to Himself.

And that is why His is the only approval that really matters.

My Little Friend, Loneliness

This is my first summer since 2004 without VOICE. Even without VOICE this year, many of us past VOICE staff gathered in Saint Louis for a wonderful reunion hosted by Luke and Karen. Part of each day was spent sharing about the lessons God has been teaching us, and through it, I noticed a surprising common denominator: the shadow of a little friend lurking, nagging for our attention, gnawing away at our emotions. You may not yet be aware of it’s presence, but trust me, it can creep upon you in surprising ways.

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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?

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