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Archive for January, 2012

Cockroaches are not my friends.  My hatred of the creatures was solidified the year I was twelve, when my family lived in Guatemala.  Scurrying along the tile floors in our house, these unwelcome visitors were at least two inches long, and some of them could fly!  My strategy for dealing with cockroaches was to clamber up on the nearest bed, table, or chair, squealing for help, until my mom or dad came to take care of the crisis.

I once read a story from a missionary in Asia who had a daily battle with cockroaches in her apartment. She finally resigned herself to the fact that they would probably always be there, and decided that she better learn to live with it. So she adopted the “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy.  As long as she didn’t have to look at them, she was OK.

She tells of waking up in the middle of the night and going to the kitchen to get a glass of water.  Flipping on the light switch, she immediately closed her eyes and kept them shut for several seconds.  Then she waited as they scurried off into their dark hiding places under cabinets and behind walls.  By the time she opened her eyes, they would all be gone.  Cockroaches hate the light.

There are other pests that linger in the dark corners of my mind and heart sometimes.  Fear, anxiety, depression, rejection, bitterness, anger – they’re like those stealthy cockroaches that just refuse to leave.  I try to shove them into the closet or under the bed, shut the door, and pretend they’re gone.  Yet when I’m alone, when I’m tired, when I’m feeling vulnerable, the anxious thoughts will come creeping back out of the shadows.

But when I shine the light of the TRUTH of God’s Word into those dark places in my heart, the evil residents will be brought into the light!  “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.  …Everything exposed by the light becomes visible – and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.”  Ephesians 5:11-13 (NIV)

I can just hear those haunting, condemning thoughts and feelings scurrying away as I meditate on the truth that I am the beloved daughter of the King, and that I have victory through Jesus Christ!  And if those evil creatures ever try to come back, I’m ready for them!

Are there any “cockroaches” of unforgiveness, resentment, or other effects of hurt and loss that are lurking in the shadows of your heart?  Are you ignoring them and hoping they’ll just go away?  Expose the darkness with the light of God’s Word, then ask the Holy Spirit to help you process the issues of your heart to make sure all those lingering pests are gone for good!

Going Vertical!

MJ

You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light.” II Samuel 22:29 (NIV)

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“The honeymoon is officially over,” I announced emphatically, slumping into a chair in our tiny apartment.

Sprawled on the couch, my roommate Kathy half-heartedly stroked our puppy Phoebe’s ears and nodded her agreement.  “We are waaay past the honeymoon stage.”

Several months into our first year of teaching English in northeast Asia, the initial wide-eyed enthusiasm over the novelties of living in a foreign country had worn off.  My students who were once so sweet and obedient were now often unengaged and uncooperative.  Shopping among the tanks of live eels and barrels of squirming silkworms at the fresh market no longer felt like an adventure.  Getting stared at in the streets of our remote town and having strangers ask to take pictures with the wai guo ren (foreigners) had lost its appeal.

I knew God had called me to live in Asia for this year, and I had been excited about building relationships with my students and sharing my faith as opportunities arose.  But on days like this, I was tempted to put a bag over my head when I walked out the door, and pray that people would just leave me alone.

Grabbing a notebook, Kathy started scribbling furiously.  “What we need to do,” she decided, interrupting my personal gripe-fest and pity-party, “is to think of all the things we like about living here.”  She showed me a lined page with the title Things We Love About Asia on the top.  We came up with several items together right away, laughing at some of the memories they sparked.  It was amazing how quickly we filled the page!  Here are a few of our entries:

#8 – Riding the number 10 bus to the end of the line, just to see where it goes, for only 12 US cents.

#16 – Signing autographs in my middle school students’ notebooks.

#20 – The six-year-old students standing up at the beginning of class and saying in unison, “Good morning, Teacher!”

Over the weeks and months, we added new items to the list that we kept on our coffee table.  When I was having a particularly bad day, the list reminded me of some of the things I could thank God for.

#21 – Quiet mornings with my coffee and my Bible and my worshp music playing.

#22 – Walks along the river with my dog in the early evening as the sun sets.

Naming the gifts God has given us is an act of receiving, Ann Voskamp explains in her book One Thousand Gifts. “Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives,” Voskamp writes.  “Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! To His grace.”

Writing our list didn’t change the circumstances of our life in Asia.  Kathy and I still sometimes had uncooperative students, language difficulties, cultural barriers, and daily irritations of life as a foreigner in our small rural town.  But as we intentionally looked for and named the everyday gifts strewn on our path, we were reminded of what a full, rich life we have, and our hearts were in a position to give thanks!  Giving thanks in ALL things is a daily choice – make it a lifestyle!

Going Vertical!

MJ

Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:20 (NIV)

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It wasn’t until I started to pay for lunch that I realized it was gone.  I looked on the floor, under my chair, and even underneath the table, but it was nowhere to be seen. 

“Have you seen my purse?” I asked our smiling and attentive waitress.  “It was right here, hanging on my chair.”

Staffed by the particular people group that my team was praying for and trying to minister to, this riverside restaurant in my small East Asian city was a favorite place to take guests.  Though it was a bit pricey, we liked to give them our business and interact with the servers. 

The waitress’ smile never wavered.  “No, Miss, you didn’t have a purse there.  You must have left it at home.”

I was starting to feel like I was losing my mind.  Our table was at the far end of the restaurant, and I was sitting with my back to the wall. No one had gone behind me except our waitress…

Suddenly it hit me.  When I took out a business card to give our waitress, she had to have seen the cash in my wallet (a whole month’s salary that I’d just received that morning), plus my cell phone and digital camera.  It must have been the waitress who stole my purse. And the whole staff of the restaurant seemed to be in on it, backing her up on her claims of innocence.

“How could they DO this?” I fumed inwardly.  “The whole reason I left the U.S.and moved to Asiais for THESE people!  I’ve lived here all this time, prayed for them every day, tried to show the love of Christ to them, and this is how they repay me???”

For months I didn’t want to even walk past that restaurant.  I stewed in anger.  One day as I walked along the river, I realized that Satan was using this to try to turn me against the very people I had come to serve.  He would love to steal my joy and poison me with bitterness.  

Repenting of my wrong attitudes, I chose to forgive the waitress and staff of the restaurant.  Reluctantly at first, I began to pray blessing over them and their business, and slowly God changed my heart.  Eventually, by God’s grace, I was able to enter that restaurant again and face that waitress with a smile and the love of Christ – the love that repays evil with good.

Going Vertical!

MJ

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. …On the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. …Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:17,20-21 (NIV)

 

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Inside an austere cement structure, a small group of tourists made their way solemnly from room to room of the Jerusalem Holocaust Museum.  Disturbing images of cruelties against the Jews at the hands of Nazi soldiers hung like a dark cloud overhead, as their knowledgeable Jewish tour guide painted a vivid picture of the sheer injustice of it all.

But something especially bothered Rhoda, one of the members of the tour group.  She had searched for a particular name in the room dedicated to those who helped Jews hide and escape from the Nazis, but the famous rescuer was nowhere to be found.  As they were exiting the building at the end of the tour, she decided to ask their guide about it.

“Do you know the story of Corrie ten Boom?” Rhoda prodded.

“Never heard of her,” the guide answered gruffly.

“Corrie ten Boom was a Christian woman from Amsterdam who helped save many Jews by hiding them in a secret room in her house,” Rhoda explained.  “Her whole family was arrested by the Nazis, and eventually all but Corrie died in a concentration camp.

“But what makes her story unique is what happened after the war.  Years later, Corrie met one of the Nazi guards who had been the most cruel to her and her family.  Immediately feelings of anger and hatred against this man rose up in her.  Yet she knew that only by forgiving him would she be set free.  Praying with each step for God to give her strength, she walked up to the former prison guard, looked him in the eye, shook his hand, and was actually able to forgive him in her heart!”

The tour guide, who had only been listening half-heartedly to the story, now got visibly angry.  “How could she forgive that man?  Some things shouldn’t be forgiven.”

Whirling away, he stalked back to the building, without even saying goodbye to the rest of the group.

Some things shouldn’t be forgiven. The tour guide was right.  That Nazi guard didn’t deserve to be forgiven.  The truth is that none of us do.

In unimaginable pain, suffering a slow death at the hands of unjust and cruel Roman soldiers, Jesus gasped, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24).  He was talking about you and me.

I don’t deserve that kind of forgiveness.  I could never earn it.  I could never pay Him back.  I can only thank Him for His amazing grace.  And because Jesus forgives ME when I don’t deserve it, I can ask Him for the grace and the strength to forgive others – even when they don’t deserve it.

Rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8 (NRSV)

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A molten ball of liquid glass on the end of the iron pipe glowed brilliant yellow-orange.  The instructor skillfully rolled the pipe along a wooden railing as one of the assistants began to blow through the opposite end of the pipe, forming a small bubble.  As the bubble grew larger, it was carefully shaped using a wooden mold and thick heat-resistant pads. Every few minutes the glass had to be re-heated in the “glory hole,” the 2000 degree Fahrenheit furnace, so that it wouldn’t crack as it cooled.

Sitting on the edge of my seat in the observation area, I was enthralled with the intricate process of glass-blowing, manipulating liquid glass into beautiful works of art. The shimmering bubble grew bigger and bigger, until, stretched too thin, the glass suddenly shattered.  There was a collective gasp from the audience as we stared at the once-beautiful object, now a pile of broken shards.  But the instructor just smiled.

“We recycle everything in our glass-blowing lab,” she explained, picking up a paper-thin fragment from the cement floor.  “Nothing is wasted.  These pieces will be melted down in the furnace so they can be used over and over again.”

The glass-blowers then started again, patiently dipping, heating, rolling, shaping, blowing, squeezing and re-heating the liquid glass.  Finally the finished product emerged – a glistening Christmas wreath, complete with delicately-shaped flowers, leaves, and a big bow.

As one year has ended and a new year is beginning, I’ve been thinking a lot about those shattered fragments on the floor of the glass-blowing lab.  There are areas of my life that seem to be broken pieces, destined for the trash.  Things I hoped for in this past year that didn’t come to passRelationships that have drifted apart or aren’t what I wish them to be.  Plans that failed.  Great ideas that came to nothing.

It doesn’t seem fair.  It doesn’t seem right.  And I find myself raging at God sometimes, wondering why He allowed these things.  The verses in Romans 9:20-21 seem to be speaking straight to me today.  “But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God?  Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (NRSV).

 When all I can see are the broken pieces, I can trust that the Master has a purpose in it all.  He gently picks up the jagged fragments and puts them all in the “glory hole” – the blazing furnace – until it comes out as shimmering, golden molten glass, ready to be re-shaped and molded according to His ultimate design.  He makes “all things beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV).

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