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Archive for October, 2010

TEMPTATION & FREEDOM

It’s 10pm and there’s a plum streusel calling me from the kitchen.  I distract myself with organizing the books on my desk, trying to pretend it isn’t there.  I tell myself that I shouldn’t eat desserts this late at night.  I remind myself that I already had a generous piece after dinner tonight.  But my stomach isn’t listening to my brain.

“Just a small piece won’t hurt, right?  Think of those tart plums with the golden crumb topping, dusted with powdered sugar…”

These next two months teaching in Germany will be a real test of my will-power.  This is the land of soft pretzels, crisp waffles, and baked apple streudels.  How can I resist?  But there are worse temptations than plum streusel.

The two young girls who came into our Bible School’s storefront property Friday night already smelled of alcohol.  They had seen some of the students playing Wii Sports through the windows and wanted to see who we were and what was going on.

“We’re going to a party!” giggled the red-head.  “Yeah, and I’m not drunk, I swear!” laughed her tall friend with the jet-black hair.  Over cake and apple soda in the kitchen, we chatted for a few minutes, the girls’ feet dangling as they perched on the countertops.

“It’s so hard not to do drugs when all our friends are doing it,” the tall girl said. “Yeah, we only do it sometimes, but we can stop anytime,” chimed in her red-headed friend.  They were only 14.

My heart ached for these girls.  What could I say to them? I don’t know what their lives are like.  But I do know what it’s like to struggle with temptation.  I often do things I know I shouldn’t.  My eyes linger on things they shouldn’t see. My lips say things I later regret.  It’s easy to beat myself up about these things, thinking I just need to “try harder” and “be stronger.”

Paul’s letter to the Romans takes on new meaning for me tonight. “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  …Wretched man that I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15, 24-25).

There’s only one solution for those 14-year-old girls. It’s the only solution for any of us when we face temptations of any kind.  Only Jesus can rescue us.  You CAN be set free – through the power of Jesus Christ!

Going Vertical!
MJ

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REAL PEOPLE, REAL PROBLEMS

Zucchini and tomatoes sizzled in the pan as Bridget added garlic and spices, stirring with a wooden spoon.  The cold autumn wind rattled the windows, but inside our kitchen it was warm and cozy.  It was my first week teaching at this Bible school in Germany, and I was talking with one of the staff about some challenges of full-time ministry.

“Why do we feel we have to keep up a certain image?” Bridget asked as she served steaming dishes of pasta and vegetables.  “People look at us in ministry and think we never have problems.  But we’re real people too!”

In North America, Europe, or Asia, the issues are the same.  Christians feel like they can’t let anyone see their weaknesses.  But what if I’m having a bad day?  What if I’m feeling lonely or discouraged or frustrated or angry?  Do I paste on a happy face like nothing’s wrong? Is it okay to be honest about my struggles?

Jesus had real emotions.  He got angry at the sellers in the temple.  He was grieved at the death of his friend, Lazarus.  He was in “agony of spirit” as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing  He would soon suffer a cruel death (Matthew 26:37-38).

David says, “I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart” (Psalm 9:1).  To me, ‘whole heart’ means all my emotions – even my negative feelings, even my struggles.  It does not do any good to pretend like everything’s perfect when it’s not.  God accepts us in our weaknesses.  He wants us to be honest, to come before Him with everything we are.  So let’s get real!  Pour out your heart to the Lord!

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us in our weakness.  But we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Hebrews 4:15-16

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ONE PURPOSE


“Can I sing you a song?”  Sitting next to “Ye Ye,” my friend Jin’s grandfather, I held his hand as he rested on the couch.  Ye Ye nodded, looking pleased at my request.

I took a deep breath.  This was it.  The moment I’d been preparing for.  Countless hours of travel by plane and taxi and bus, navigating through multiple airports and cities, from my home in the eastern U.S. to this town in northeast Asia – all for this one man and this one conversation.

“Zhe yi sheng zui mei de zhu fu…”  As I sang, I prayed that the lyrics would penetrate his heart. “The most beautiful blessing in this life… is knowing Jesus.”

When I finished singing, Ye Ye asked to see the lyrics.  Peering through his magnifying glass at the characters in my notebook, he listened as I shared about the joy Jesus has brought into my life.  I was surprised at how naturally the words flowed.  During the four years I lived in this restricted country, I had never been so bold in sharing my faith.  Fear held me back. I worried that I wouldn’t know what to say, that it wouldn’t be the right time, that I would cause trouble for others, or that I would get deported from the country.

But the sole reason for my trip to Asia this time was to share with Jin’s grandfather about Jesus.  And this was the last day.  I knew that I had to talk with Ye Ye before I got on that plane back to the U.S.  Knowing my purpose gave me the confidence to speak.  The Lord had sent me, and it was His message of love that I was sharing. There was freedom and release in knowing that the results are not up to me.  I am only responsible to say what He tells me to say.

Do you know your purpose?  Do you know why you are here? Jesus’ sole purpose on earth was to do the will of His Father.  He said, “I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me.  And the One who sent me is with me; He has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to Him” (John 8:28-29).

I love the words of the old Westminster Catechism – “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.”  There is no greater purpose, and there is no greater joy.

Going vertical!

MJ

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HALFWAY ACROSS THE LAKE

“What am I doing here, God?  Why did you bring me to this place?”

It had been a rough day.  Trying to communicate what I wanted to buy in the market when I didn’t know the word for “beef” in the local language, forgetting which bus to take and ending up on the opposite end of town…  Why had God sent me to East Asia?  I didn’t know Asian culture, I didn’t speak the language, and I couldn’t even use chopsticks!  “You must have made a mistake, God, because I’m just not cut out for this kind of work!  I’m not going to make it!”

“Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”  The disciples sounded a lot like me.  Battling the raging storm that threatened to sink their little boat, they frantically searched for Jesus, shocked to find Him sound asleep in the stern.  After Jesus calmed the waves and the wind, he rebuked the disciples.  “Why don’t you have any faith?” (Mark 4:35-41).

When Jesus took the disciples out on the boat, he didn’t say, “Let’s go halfway across the lake and then sink in a storm.”  He said, “Let’s go to the other side.”  So when the wind rocked the boat and waves crashed over the edge, Jesus wasn’t worried.  He was able to lie down and sleep through the storm, because He knew their final destination.

That first year in Asia, I often felt like my boat was sinking in the storm.  But by faith I was able to continue, knowing that one day I would learn the language, believing that eventually I would figure out the bus routes, and trusting that He had a purpose in it all.  He didn’t send me out just to go halfway across the lake.  My destination is the other side.  And if He’s with me, I know I’ll make it.
“…and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”   Matthew 28:20 NIV

Going vertical!

MJ

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