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Archive for January, 2011

WHO’S IN YOUR GAP?

“It’s my father’s fault that my mother died when I was twelve years old,” Mrs. Wang said bitterly, wiping away a stream of tears.  It was late one night in the second city of our East Asia trip, and Mrs. Wang was sharing with some of the Fresh Start team her heart-wrenching story of a childhood with a distant, abusive father.

“He beat my mother.  He beat my brothers and me.  He didn’t provide for the family.  He didn’t love us.  My mother had a bitter life, raising eight children, and my father didn’t help her.  That’s why she got sick and died!”  The pain was clearly very deep.

“Was your father wrong?” asked Pastor Steve gently.  Pausing to reflect, Mrs. Wang answered slowly, “Not really.  He couldn’t help it.  He grew up in a family that didn’t show love to him.  So he didn’t know how to love.”

“What is our Heavenly Father like?” prodded Pastor Steve.  “Is He loving?  Is He kind?  Does He provide for our needs?” Nodding, Mrs. Wang quickly replied, “Oh, yes!”

“Then, is there a gap between what our Heavenly Father is like, and what your earthly father was like?  God is loving – your father was not loving.  God is kind – your father was abusive.  God provides for our needs – your father did not provide for your family.  That’s the gap.  That’s what you need to forgive.”

For more than forty years, Mrs. Wang had protected her father’s reputation, excusing his behavior and burying her pain.  But when she was able to admit that her father was wrong and how his behavior hurt her, she could start the process that would lead to forgiveness.

Who’s in your gap? In our relationships with others, there’s always a gap between our perfect Heavenly Father’s character – and the actions and attitudes of imperfect human beings.  Whether it’s a big gap or a small gap, there’s always a gap.  Be honest with yourself and with God.  Identify who or what is in the gap.  Allow His Holy Spirit to help you get started on the path to freedom!

“Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.”  Psalm 26:2

Going vertical!

MJ

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ONE STEP AT A TIME

With a fixed smile that matched her starched green apron, the hostess at the hotel restaurant informed me that I couldn’t have breakfast without a meal ticket from the front desk.  Thanks to jet lag, I’d been up since 5:00am on this first morning of the Fresh Start East Asia trip, and by 8:00am I was more than ready for something to fill my stomach.  Turning back towards the front desk to inquire about the meal ticket, I didn’t notice the slight step down from the restaurant into the lobby area until I felt a sudden searing pain in my right ankle. “Aarrgh!” I groaned inwardly as I rubbed the tender ankle, “I’m so tired of this!”

It’s been four long weeks since I fell down cement steps in Germany, spraining my right foot.  The swelling has gone down, and the ugly purple and blue bruising has faded to a light yellowish-green.  Now my doctor tells me I need to start moving my foot and walking a bit so that it doesn’t get stiff and weak from lack of use.  But as I put gentle pressure on it and carefully do the exercises I learned from a physical therapist (like writing the alphabet in the air with my toes), the strained muscles and tendons resist the effort.  And as soon as it feels like one area is starting to heal, I discover another area that is still weak, as was revealed by today’s miss-step in the hotel lobby.  Yet I know this is all part of the healing process.  It’s often painful, but if I want to be able to walk normally again I need to press on through each stage of recovery.

A friend of mine who’s been going through counseling says that God’s been working on her heart one layer at a time.  The Holy Spirit has been revealing deep-rooted bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness toward her mother that has been buried for years.  “As soon as I’ve dealt with one issue, another issue is revealed that I need to work on,” she confided in me recently.  “I’ve been tempted to quit many times, but I know I have to keep going if I really want to move past this.”

It’s God’s grace that we don’t have to deal with all the issues of our heart at once.  He never gives us more than we can handle.  The process may be slow and painful, and at times it may seem we’re not making any progress.  But as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s work, the Father will lead us, step by step, on the path to complete healing and wholeness in Christ.

“Our steps are made firm by the Lord, when He delights in our way.  Though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the Lord holds us by the hand.”  Psalm 37:23-24, NRSV

Going vertical!

MJ

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TARNISHED SILVER

Wrapped in crumpled newspaper and stuffed in an old box, the tarnished trays and pitchers looked like they should be dumped in the trash.  A friend who was moving discovered the items, abandoned by a former roommate.  It didn’t look like there was anything of much value.

Yet beneath the grime and dark gray-green stains was a glimmer of former beauty.  With a damp cloth, a tub of silver polish, and fierce determination, I tackled the first item, a small sugar bowl.  As I painstakingly rubbed the polish onto the surface, years of tarnish disappeared, bit by bit.  Encouraged by the first hint of shine, I continued my efforts, until the beautiful craftsmanship of an elegant piece of fine silver was revealed, gleaming in the afternoon sun.

As I polished piece after piece that day, I wondered – how many times do I write off someone who is a little rough around the edges, just like I was ready to chuck the whole box of tarnished silver into the trash?

Karl was an imposing character, tall and broad, with bushy gray eyebrows that appeared to be locked in a permanent scowl.  A regular at our German Bible school’s free neighborhood café, Karl’s favorite topic of conversation was his latest foot surgery, and he would corner some sympathetic listener for hours with his tales of woe.  Though I always smiled and said hello, he had no patience for me once he discovered I didn’t speak German.

So I was shocked one afternoon when Karl hobbled up to help as I struggled with bulging bags of groceries outside the local supermarket.  Barking instructions at me in German, he took over the situation, insisting on walking with me the two blocks back to the house in his slow limping gait.  He wouldn’t leave until we had carried all the bags up the steps and into the hall.  When I thanked him, he brushed it off gruffly and shuffled away.  Though he never smiled, I felt like I’d seen a faint glimmer of shine that day.

Polishing silver takes a lot of patience and hard work.  The hours of listening to Karl’s complaints and the countless prayers for him were like the gentle rubbing of the polish, slowly removing years of built-up bitterness.  Yes, it’s hard work, and the results aren’t instant.  But in time, the beauty of God’s perfect design is revealed, as we persevere in the process. The Holy Spirit is the polish that makes us shine!

“Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.  To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.” Colossians 1:28-29 NIV

Going vertical!

MJ

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GOD’S PAWN

My cousin says if she wrote a book about my life, she would call it God’s Pawn.  “God just picks you up and puts you where He wants you to be,” she told me.  It sounds very spiritual.  But sometimes it’s not so much fun to be a pawn, moved around on a giant chessboard.  My life often seems random.  I never know where He’s going to send me next.

When God plopped me down in Germany these last three months to teach at a Bible school, it seemed like a random move.  “Why Germany, Lord?  I’ve spent the last several years in China, studying Mandarin and the Chinese culture.  Why send me to Europe now?”  I certainly felt like a pawn.

One cold Saturday a few weeks after I arrived in Germany, I was giving away free waffles and hot coffee in the neighborhood with the Bible school students.  My German was limited to “Guten tag” and “Danke schön,” so all I could offer was a waffle and a smile to those who came by.  Then two Asian ladies approached our table.  Tentatively I asked them in Mandarin, “Ni men shi zhong guo ren?”  Breaking into big smiles, they nodded.  Yes, they were Chinese!  The next time someone said something to me in German, I asked my new Chinese friends to translate for me – from German into Mandarin!  I was amazed to see God’s hand at work.

I wonder if the disciple Philip felt like God’s pawn.  An angel of the Lord told him, “Get up and go toward the south.” Philip didn’t know why he was going there or what would happen next.  But he went out of obedience, and came upon an Ethiopian official, who was reading the book of Isaiah.  God used Philip to explain that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies, and the Ethiopian believed and was baptized.  Immediately after they came up out of the water, the Bible tells us, “the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away,” dropping him down in another city, where he continued to preach the good news (Acts 8:26-40).

God’s a master chess player, and each move is carefully planned.  Even when my life seems random, I can trust that He knows what he’s doing.  I just need to be available and ready to go where He asks me to – as God’s pawn.

Going vertical!

MJ

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