Sunday, February 26, 2012

Found Worthwhile

1 Corinthians 3:12-14
"If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one's work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test that quality of each one's work.  If anyone's work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward.  If anyone's work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire."

Amy Carmichael
Missionary to India

Amy Carmichael, who later became a missionary to India, was a little girl when God led her to those verses.  She read those words and wondered what the meaning was to her.  "Amy had known for as long as she could remember that God loved her, but she began to wonder about how knowing He loved her changed the way she acted each day.

"After several hours of praying and thinking, Amy finally decided she knew what the words from the verse meant to her.  For one thing, she would no longer waste her time on things that weren't important in God's eyes. When all the things she'd done in her life were finally judged by God, she wanted them to be found worthwhile.  She wanted them to be seen as gold and silver, not hay and stubble. For another thing, she would never again worry about what people thought of her.  If what she was doing was pleasing to God, that would be enough for her.  If other people, even other Christians, didn't want to walk with beggars, that was their business, but Amy would walk with them, and she would walk proudly."

The sentence leaped off the page and into my soul:  When all the things she'd done in her life were finally judged by God, she wanted them to be found worthwhile.

May my every moment, every breath, every bit of energy and resource be spent on things that are important in God's eyes.  May I only do those things that will be found worthwhile to Him.  All else is hay and stubble that will burn and be forever gone...wasted time, wasted resources, wasted life.

***Quotes taken from Amy Carmichael, Rescuer of Precious Gems, by Janet and Geoff Benge***

Thursday, February 23, 2012

He Welcomed Them

My Father met me in Luke 9 this morning.

After a long day, Jesus took His disciples and "withdrew privately to a town called Bethsaida.  When the crowds found out, they followed Him.  He welcomed them, spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and cured those who needed healing."

I heard that still quiet voice that is unmistakable:  "This is your job as mama."

I read back through those verses.  Yes, I can identify with Jesus.  He was trying to withdrawal privately, as I have found myself many many times in need of some reprieve, some quiet.  When the older ones are bickering, and the dryer is announcing another load to fold, and the rough and tumbly one needs his 6th bandaid of the day...  When the dishes are stacking up, and the cat needs an emergency visit to the vet, and the chicken is still frozen an hour before the meal needs to be on the table, and the little ones ask me to play a board game...  Sometimes a cup of tea and a good book tempt me to leave the arena in the height of the tournament.  Sometimes even a closed bathroom door provides a temporary retreat...if even for just 2 minutes...and then under the door wiggle little fingers sliding a newly created work of art and exclaiming, "Look, Mama...look what I just did!"

When the crowds found out, they followed Him.  He welcomed them, spoke to them about the Kingdom of God, and cured those who needed healing.

He welcomed them.  

tr.v. wel·comedwel·com·ingwel·comes
1. To greet, receive, or entertain (another or others) cordially or hospitably.
2. To receive or accept gladly

Notice that it is a transitive verb.  Verb means action.  Transitive means that there must be someone or something that receives that action.  It seems Jesus provided a case study in transitive verbs.  He was Love in action, and there was always someone at the receiving end of that love.

To follow Jesus sometimes looks like a mission trip to the other side of the globe.  It sometimes looks like forgiveness when we would rather hold a grudge.  Sometimes it looks like helping a widow replace lightbulbs.  

But today it looks like welcoming my imperfect children, even when I'm tired or busy.  It means speaking to them about the Kingdom of God, and providing the bandaids, hugs and prayers that soothe and heal even the most invisible of scrapes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Life Well Lived

I've realized that my mind turns in different circles than most.  Do you remember the children's game of trying to figure out which one of the things didn't fit in with the rest?  Well, that's me...the one that doesn't match the others...odd girl out.  

Here's a case in point...  Retirement.  Dreams of retiring comfortably simply don't exist in my goals.  Entering one's "golden years" in style appeals to me about as much as watching paint dry.  Saving, collecting, investing money for's the thing to do...everyone says so.  Work is supposed to dwindle down, and comfort is to be escorted in.  And yet, my mind spins in an entirely different realm.

Sometimes I find a kindred spirit who truly understands my soul.  Oftentimes, it's someone from the pages of history, living in bygone days.  Jonathan Goforth was one such person.

Jonathan Goforth lived from 1859-1936.  He was a missionary to China, who lived through the infamous Boxer Rebellion, where many foreigners were killed in China during a time of great unrest in the country.  Jonathan's story is a page-turner.  

One thing that struck me was how he spent his "retirement years."  At the age of 56, after many years of hard work in China, "no one would have blamed (him) for retiring, but that word was not in Jonathan Goforth's vocabulary!  There was work to do, and while he sill had breath, he would do it."

Nine years later, he was quoted as saying, "I am sixty-five today...Oh how I covet more than a miser his gold, twenty more years for this soul-saving work."  

Closer to the end of his life, many people asked him if he was going to retire.  His answer was always: "I'm not going to sit in a rocking chair and wait to die, not while there is work to be done!"

At the age of 67, Jonathan headed into Manchuria, yet another area that had not heard the Gospel message.  Living conditions were harsh, and that winter was the coldest on record.  A plague hit and wiped out 1/3 of the people.  Yet, Jonathan worked tirelessly to bring the Gospel to everyone he could.

At age 69, he set out on a brand new adventure to bring the Gospel to yet another area.  Within 2 weeks, 400 people had become Christians.

When Jonathan was hit with illness, he pressed on.  He had a severe jaw infection that kept him bed-ridden for 4 months, but he used the time to go through his old missionary journals with his son, who made the stories into a book.  When he lost the sight out of one of his eyes, he used his down-time to dictate another book, Miracle Lives of China.  And, when struck again with losing the sight out of his other eye, a completely blind Jonathan Goforth still discipled many people with the Scripture he had filed away in his memory.  Absolutely nothing would stop him from doing the work God had given him to do.

At age 77, he finally left the mission field and returned to Canada to speak in churches and to ignite a fire of passion for others to go to Asia as missionaries.  He averaged speaking 10 times every week.  No rocking chairs and plush slippers for this gutsy man!!    

On his last day of life, he spoke at a church service, came home late at night and climbed into bed.  He woke up in Heaven, having breathed his last on earth.  He had lived 77 years.

When my children and I read the last page of his biography, I determined that I want to live as he did.  I want to die as he did, having given everything...every breath, every muscle, every last inch of my being and life for the work God has given me to do.  No complacency.  No "I-have-arrived," but rather "I-am-still-on-the-journey." 

I believe Jonathan Goforth's life was lived well.  Given the choice between his life and one of working for money and retiring in comfort, I'd take the former.  

But, then again, my mind turns in different circles than most....

(**All quotes are from the biography, Jonathan Goforth: An Open Door in China, by Janet and Geoff Benge**)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

This Clay

The lessons continue every day.  I am every-changing, a lump of wet sticky clay spinning round and round against His Hands.  Hardened, stubborn clay doesn't work...ever.  The Potter has to remove it and replace it with soft, pliable clay.

"I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean.  I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you;  I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  I will place My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances."  (Ezekiel 36:25-27)  

He was forming the new clay to His image, and the pressure of that process was more than I wanted.

Round and round I spun, lopsided, messy.

Slowly, the scales begin to fall from my eyes.  The rejection, the pain, the despair I had been feeling for months were fully justified in the flesh.  But, I was called to abide IN HIM, not in my flesh.  The raw truth of this meant one thing: I had to deny myself.  Deny myself the right to be hurt, deny myself the right to be right...deny myself, me.

"...He said to them, 'If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it'." (Mark 8:34-36)

The Potter's sharp tool raised to the clay.

The clay yielded.

Death to self is a process.  In many ways I thought I had already died to self.  I had given up my career to raise a family.  I had done repetitive menial tasks for years on end with no pay.  I considered myself selfless.  Others considered me selfless.  Yet I stood face-to-face with the reality that I was only a white-washed tomb...looking good from the outside but defiled on the inside.

With patient hands, the expert Potter slid the sharp edge of His tool into the clay.  Useless bits of clay fell to the floor.

Why do we mourn those scraps?

"The one who loves his life will lose it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me.  Where I am, there My servant also will be.  If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him." (John 12:25-26)

It's far too easy to say I want to follow.  But the first condition is to DENY lose my own self.  That is loaded with a million sacrifices.

Pride is annihilated.

    1. To destroy completely.
    2. To reduce to nonexistence.
    3. To defeat decisively; vanquish.
  1. To nullify or render void; abolish.

All along, I desire the precious fruit of the Spirit to burst forth from my branches...  The love I long to give, the joy I yearn to posses, the gentleness, self-control, peace...all of it.  Yet my branch dries in infertility, yielding not even a promising blossom.  And I crumple at His feet and ask, "WHY?"  The answer echoes back from the pages of His eternal Word: deny yourself.

For fruit is born only at the high cost of denying self.  Self blocks the flow, cuts off life, shrivels blossoms long before fruit can unfold.  Self has to be cut completely out.  Dethroned so that the rightful King can inhabit.

Round and round the clay turns, blade inserted...all in the hands of a loving, all-knowing Potter.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

She is His Messenger

Though I had fallen upon Hudson's Taylor's spiritual secret, the key that I knew would answer my own spiritual struggles, I could not grasp it.  It was slippery, vague, elusive as I reached for it.  I read and reread Hudson Taylor's words, and yet they were not released into my own life.  I began to lose hope that I would ever fully appropriate it.

And, in what seemed at the time to be a cruel joke, my world began to shift and crack.  Serious illness of extended family members...abandonment of friends...stripping away of life dreams...rejection at the most painful levels...innumerable tears.  I felt gutted.  Numb.  Unable to breathe deeply.

I cried out many times:  IT'S NOT FAIR!!!  Here I was trying to learn the spiritual secret to resting in Him, and I found myself in the hardest, most unfair and painful situations.  I figured that it was all in His plan to help me learn to rest...the way trials are blessings in disguise.  But, I found myself unable to grasp seemed more elusive than ever.  I simply could not rise above the pain.  And hope began to fade.

I was a pitiful heap of humanity, crying late into each night over my losses, over the unfair realities in life, and especially over the raw sting of rejection.  I couldn't see past it.  And when it was too much to bear, and I was begging Him to please show me how to do this, in my spirit, I heard the words:

"I sent you a teacher..."

Our youngest daughter is our "treasure of the nations," adopted from Taiwan in 2009.  Her life story includes abandonment, rejection and pain that make my life's biggest trials look like trifles.  And this 3-foot bundle of love came to me one day when the hurt was an immovable weight on my heart and spirit.  I did not outwardly show my struggles in front of my children.  I would usually make it fine through the days and save my tears for my alone moments.  But, this little doll can sense things like no other.  Maybe it's that extra chromosome that makes her extra sensitive to of God's gifts wrapped in a package we least expect.  Whatever the reason, she looked me deep in the eyes and said, "Sorry," and rubbed my face gently.  I couldn't hold back my tears...rivers of silent tears.  Having never had such a display of emotion in front of any of my children, I bent my head down to avoid her eyes.  She took those little hands and rubbed them gently, soothingly on my back.  I cannot explain it in mere human words, except to say that I met Jesus that day...I FELT his love tangible and fluid and fully present.

Though silent on the outside, inside I was screaming the questions: "HOW???  How can this little girl who has known abandonment and rejection in the deepest most painful way be okay?  How can she give such undiluted love to others when she has been so hurt?"  Because the truth was that I simply could not figure out how to love when I was feeling so rejected.  I mean REALLY love...the kind of love that my daughter had.  She had never read a book to show her how to love despite her losses.  She had never taken sermon notes about how to genuinely forgive.  She had never been taught about entering Christ's sufferings and choosing to love in the face of rejection.  She had never been taught by Hudson Taylor how to exchange her life for Jesus's life.  And yet she LIVES it.  She is more like Jesus than any human being I've ever met.

God was right.  She is my teacher...His messenger and representative.  And so began my education sitting at the feet of the least.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Discovering the Secret

The spiritual journey over the past several months...close to a year...has been an ongoing breaking of old ways, old self and building up in Him.  But I found myself stuck for many many months.  Intense struggle of soul that nobody can see on the outside but is of enormous consequence inside.

As I was reading Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret, I fell upon a chapter that described exactly what I was going through in my own soul...

"I knew that if only I could abide in Christ all would be well, but I could not.  I would begin the day with prayer, determined not to take my eye off him for a moment, but pressure of duties, sometimes very trying, and constant interruptions apt to be so wearing, cause me to forget him....  Each day brought its register of sin and failure, of lack of power.  To will was indeed 'present with me,' but how to perform I found not.

"Then came the question, is there no rescue?  Must it be thus to the end---constant conflict, and too often defeat?  How could I preach with sincerity that, to those who receive Jesus, 'to them gave he power to become the sons of God' (John 1:12; i.e. godlike) when it was not so in my own experience?  Instead of growing stronger, I seemed to be getting weaker and to have less power against sin; and no wonder, for faith and even hope were getting low.  I hated myself; I hated my sin, yet gained no strength against it.  I felt I was a child of God.  His Spirit in my heart would cry, in spite of all, 'Abba, Father.'  But to rise to my privileges as a child, I was utterly powerless.

"All the time I felt assured that there was in Christ all that I needed, but the practical question was---how to get it out.  He was rich truly, but I was poor; he was strong, but I weak.  I knew full well that there was in the root, the stem, abundant fatness, but how to get it into my puny little branch was the question.  As gradually light dawned, I saw that faith was the only requisite---was the hand to lay hold of his fullness and make it mine.  But I had not this faith.

"I strove for faith, but it would not come; I tried to exercise it, but in vain.  Seeing more and more the wondrous supply of grace laid up in Jesus, the fullness of our precious Savior, my guilt and helplessness seemed to increase.  Sins committed appeared but as trifles compared with the sin of unbelief which was their cause, which could not or would not take God at his word, but rather made him a liar!  unbelief was, I felt, the damning sin of the world; yet I indulged in it.  I prayed for faith, but it came not What was I to do?"

When I read those paragraphs, my heart found its words for the struggle that plagued me.  Unbelief...the condemning sin of the world...and I, too, was indulging in it.  My eyes flew quickly down the page, wanting to latch onto whatever "secret" Hudson Taylor had discovered that ended his struggle.  I felt desperation at wanting...needing...this struggle of soul to find its victory.  I needed my eyes to be opened to whatever the key was.  I read on...

"When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from dear McCarthy was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before.  McCarthy, who had been much exercised by the same sense of failure but saw the light before I did wrote (I quote from memory): 'But how to get faith strengthened?  Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the faithful one.'

"As I read, I saw it all!  'If we believe not, he abideth faithful (2 Tim 2:13).  I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that he had said, 'I will never leave thee' (Heb. 13:5.)

" 'Ah, there is rest!' I thought.  'I have striven in vain to rest in him  I'll strive no more.  For has not he promised to abide with me--never to leave me, never to fail me'....

"Nor was this all he showed me, nor one half.  As I thought of the vine and the branches, what light the blessed Spirit  poured direct into my soul!  How great seemed my mistake in wishing to get the sap, the fullness out of him!  I saw not only that Jesus will never leave me, but that I am a member of his body, of his flesh and of his bones....

"...Can Christ be rich and I poor?  Can your right hand be rich and your left poor?  Or your head be well fed while your body starves?  Again, think of its bearing on prayer.  Could a bank clerk say to a customer, 'It was only your hand, not you, that wrote that check'; can your prayer or mine be discredited if offered in the name of Jesus (i.e.not for the sake of Jesus merely, but on the ground that we are his, his members) so long as we keep within the limits of Christ's credit---a tolerably wide limit....

"The sweetest part, if one may speak of one part being sweeter than another, is the rest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for he, I know is able to carry out his will, and his will is mine.  It makes no matter where he places me, or how.  That is rather for him to consider than for me; for in the easiest positions he must give me his grace, and in the most difficult his grace is sufficient.  It little matters to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash worth of things or the most expensive articles.  In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases.  So, if God should place me in serious perplexity, must he not give much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength?  No fear that his resources will prove unequal to the emergency!  And his resources are mine, for he is mine and is with me and dwells in me.

"And since Christ has thus dwelt in my heart by faith, how happy I have been!  ...But I am dead and buried with Christ---ay, and risen too!---And now Christ lives in me, and 'the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20)...."

I had found the key...the secret.  But, maybe I am slow...or perhaps I was plagued with a bigger dose of unbelief than Hudson Taylor had...because it would be many months before my eyes were fully opened to this truth he had shared.  It took reading and rereading that chapter...probably (with no exaggeration) at least 25 times.  I had it practically memorized, but still no donning in my spirit.  It wasn't for many months that I made that truth my very own...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Knocking Down Before Building Up

A look in my spiritual journal shows the trail that has led me to where I am...

A year ago, I asked Him to knock down every part of me and then to rebuild me the way He wanted me.  I had no idea how long that process would take (and it is still in the process...always in the process).  The walls of self have been smashed one at a time, with painful cracks and splits and dizzying thuds to the ground below.

One such moment occurred during my quiet time when I was reading about the Pharisees, hypocrites.  It's easy to condemn them and nod our heads in agreement that such people are truly no good.  Then the mirror arose before my spiritual eyes, and I saw myself in those pages.  It was I who was a hypocrite.  Jesus commented on the Pharisees being white-washed, of having their outsides clean but the insides corrupted.  It was me.  I sat dumbfounded for a few moments and reread it.  Again, the mirror showed my reflection.  I  shifted uneasily in my chair and reread it a third time.  My reflection was unmistakable.  How, Lord?  How am I a hypocrite?  And the mirror became too much to bear...  My cup, so very clean on the surface, so very admirable on this blog screen, so incredibly honorable in front of friends and strangers was nothing more than a polished cup with crud inside.

You want to get real with yourself?  Just look inside your life's cup...all the hidden thoughts and secret grumblings...all the stuff you sweep under the rug when the neighbors drop by.  Look into that cup...face the filth...and ask Him to clean it out.  Only He's much too crusted-on and stubborn for you yourself to remove.  It takes His blood.