He Will Give

One of my favorite places in the world is Saint Mary’s College Chapel.  I am so blessed to live less than a 10-minute drive away from this sanctuary, this place where I can consistently find a quiet, peaceful space to sit, relax, and enjoy the overall privilege of slipping away to just be with God.

Things were tense at home last Thursday, and I felt really agitated and anxious.  In times like those, all I desire is the comfort of my Father, to be in His presence and feel Him bring my soul out of chaos and into serene stillness.  Time spent with Him gives me clarity of mind and He renews my strength and resolve to continue to live with Christ’s love towards the people He has brought, and will bring, into my life.  When I arrived at the chapel last Thursday, I sat down in one of the pews in the back.  Even though I have been to this place many times, I still like to spend a few moments to take in my surroundings.  At the front is a crucifix:

This picture really doesn’t even capture one-tenth of the beauty of this place.  The stained glass windows have a deep, rich purple background, and when the sunlight filters through them, the interior of the chapel just swims in a multitude of colors.

After a while, I knelt down on the kneeler board, took off my glasses, and just closed my eyes.  I silently reveled in this experience of tranquility, and when I opened my eyes, I looked back up at the crucifix and saw this:

Which is exactly what you would expect to see if you’ve got really poor eyesight and have gone without your corrective lenses.  I knew that the chapel was beautiful because I still remembered what it looked like when I had my glasses on, and as I reached to put them back on again, I just felt really grateful to have them.  

That thought stuck with me for a bit, and as I thought about what life might be like without them, if I didn’t have insurance or a job and could all of a sudden not afford them…  A small amount of panic began to rise in me as I sat with that thought and the implications of being without corrective lenses began to play through my mind.  I would be in pretty bad shape.  It would be infinitely harder to get around.  I could no longer drive.  I would be unable to do my job.  A lot of the things that I pride myself on being able to do, would be impossible for me.

And I really believe that at that point, God prompted me to remember a certain passage in Genesis that I had read earlier that day.  After Joseph interpreted the dreams of both Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and his chief baker, and the events came to pass (Pharaoh reinstated his chief cupbearer, but executed his chief baker), the chief cupbearer forgot all about him, and Joseph languished in prison for “two whole years” (Genesis 41:1).  After that, Pharaoh had a dream that none of his magicians could interpret for him, and the chief cupbearer suddenly remembered Joseph.  

14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” 16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in meGod will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (Genesis 41:14-16)

When I first read over Joseph’s answer to Pharaoh in verse 16, I felt like rolling my eyes a little.  What a “Sunday school”/get-me-out-of-this-tight-spot answer.

But as I sat inside the chapel and thought about how utterly helpless I felt as I realized how quickly and absolutely my life would change without the ability to see, I pondered afresh how he could say what he said, without any hesitation, to Pharaoh.

I came to see that I definitely take a lot for granted.  And what’s worse, even though I might not ever voice this opinion outloud, my actions and attitudes show that there is a part of me that believes I deserve good things.  Moreover, another portion believes that that is so because I possess an inflated view of what I think are my own abilities.  What do I have that I have not worked for, that I do not, consequently, deserve?

Joseph, on the other hand, had come a long way from being his father’s favorite, the envy of his older brothers, and the one who had unabashedly shared two dreams that his family would one day bow before him (Genesis 37).  I believe that God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, put Joseph through the trials that he went through to show him what I got a glimpse of today – that we see, breathe, move, and exist by the very grace of God alone.  There is nothing I bring.  There is nothing add.    

Joseph knew this to be true after seeing God’s mighty arm take him through each and every painful, seemingly impossible to redeem situation he found himself in, and it was from such a deep conviction born of experience that he told Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

God will give.  God is giving right now.  God has already given.

Too often I strive for what I don’t have, and I end up forgetting that there is so, so much that I already have been given.  Why can’t I exercise more gratitude?  Why can’t I exercise more faith in God’s provision knowing that He will never change?  

I know I need to.  I pray that as I recount all the ways God has shown His mighty arm and redemption in my life, that I would become humble and confident like Joseph.

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Five Favorites (Vol. 7)

Five Favorite Photos from this Fourth of July Weekend with my Family.  I’m really glad I got to spend time with my Dad again.  Can’t wait to see him when he comes back in September (God willing)!

1. SFO

 Self-um-father-daughter-ie!  Even though this photo was snapped at 2 in the morning last Friday, we’re all SMILES =D

 

2. Happy Belated Birthday

My aunt ordered a cheesecake, my Dad’s favorite, from Junior’s.  Ten candles just for fun and making-wishes-sake!

 

3. Opera at the Ballpark

My Dad happens to really love the opera, so we went to AT&T Park on Saturday to watch Verdi’s La Traviata.  My brothers and I like garlic fries – yum!

 

4. Sunday Brunch

After church, we headed to Lake Chalet near Lake Merritt in Oakland for brunch.  It was a beautiful, sunny day and the food was great!

 

5. Fortunes

We had Chinese food for dinner on Sunday, but my mom and brothers didn’t want their fortune cookies so my Dad and I split them.  My two fortunes are on the left; his are on the right – he got the same exact ones!

The Dinner That Almost Wasn’t

Little Bro #1

Little Bro #1

 

You see that cool teenager up there?  He is one of my two (not so) little (anymore) brothers.  That photo was taken a few Saturdays ago at the closest Chipotle to our house.  Do you know what he was up to from 8 am until 1 pm earlier that same day?  Why, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).  Poor guy.

A few weeks prior to that, I told him that I would take him out for lunch after his test at whatever place he wanted.  He suggested Chipotle because it’s his favorite, and I agreed to it, marking it down on my Google calendar.  However, in the days that followed, I must have mentally gone back and forth on that decision about 20-30 times.

Every time I told him to study, and he told me “later” because he wanted to rest, or just flat out refused, I wanted to reneg on going to Chipotle.

Every time he didn’t help with the dishes or folding laundry, I wanted to reneg on going to Chipotle.

Every time I heard him blasting a song on his iPad that I didn’t approve of, I wanted to reneg on going to Chipotle.

Every time my eyes fell upon some new dress in a shop window, and I thought about how I could expand my personal purchases if I just stopped buying things for others, I wanted to reneg on going to Chipotle.

I know… I’m pretty twisted, right?

A couple months ago I checked out a study on Romans by John Stott from my local public library.  I had been praying about going over a book of the Bible with the junior high students on Friday nights, and it came down to either Genesis or Romans.  I was leaning towards Romans because of just how much it really goes into the Gospel, but I also like the foundation that gets laid in Genesis (literally and figuratively, har har).

At the very back of the study booklet is a section on “Guidelines for Leaders,” and the very first point under the subsection on “Preparing for the Study,” was this little nugget:

Guidelines for Leaders

Preparing for the Study

1. Ask God to help you understand and apply the passage in your own life.  Unless this happens, you will not be prepared to lead others.  Pray too for the various members of the group.  Ask God to open your hearts to the message of his Word and motivate you to action.

One of the biggest reasons I turned away from my Christian upbringing in high school was precisely because I felt like most of the Christian adults in my life, as well as the youth my own age, “talked the talk” without “walking the walk.”  (Note: Of course I now realize that I was even more misguided.  Not only did I not talk or walk, but in my scathing judgement of those around me, I was failing in Jesus’s command to not judge others, but instead to examine myself and make sure that I allowed Him to help me deal with all of my issues – Matthew 7:1-5).  And yet, it’s still so easy for me when I lead studies, to just let verses concerning God’s commands just fly out of my mouth at other people with the intent of having them learn something.  What I always seem to fail to realize is that God desires that apply those very things to my life first, to struggle in my obedience, to attempt to persevere, and then to come humbly before others with the same passage and lots of love and compassion for the difficulty of what God calls us to do, but encouragement as a sister in Christ who is in this struggle with them.

I’m thankful for Stott’s wisdom in pointing that out very clearly in his guidelines because it’s so important to remember.  As James 1:22-25 says:

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was life.  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

Not just hearers, not just talkers, but doers.

Last Sunday, the lesson in The Little Oak Grove was on “Barnabus Shares” (Acts 4:32-37).  Here was the Teacher Challenge:

Barnabus Shares

Two lines in particular stood out to me:

1) The new believers in the Early Church shared because of their abandon to God…

2) But remember God’s generosity toward you.

When I first read over the passage, I was honestly a little nervous about coming in to teach the Pre-K kids because, well, 99.999999% of the micro-fires that break out on any Sunday morning concern situations where “_____ won’t share wit meeeee!”  I could just imagine going through the story, admonishing them to share with one another, and either being met with blank stares or resounding no’s.  

I remember waking up that Sunday morning a little panicked, but I just prayed that if I had concerns about just talking about the act of sharing itself, that I be able to get across the reason why we are to share, the motivation behind the action.  It was a bit halfhearted because I still have this funny doubt that God really cares about me and all the little details of my whole little life, but as I made my bed and placed my gigantic Hello Kitty pillow in the middle… Aha!  I grabbed HK and once I got to the classroom, I took up a little baby doll, too.  

After I went through the story of Barnabus found in the illustrated children’s Bible, I held up my pillow and asked if anyone knew who it was.  Almost all of the girls, and a few of the boys, screamed, “Hello Kittyyy!”  I affirmed their answer and talked about how much I really liked Hello Kitty.  I admitted, though, that I often have a bad, selfish attitude about it.  At that point, I clutched the pillow and made a mean face as I said, “This is my Hello Kitty!  I don’t want you to touch her!”

Oh boy… most of the kids giggled at my antics, but one little girl frowned back at me, clearly offended.  Oops!

I asked the kids if they liked my attitude and they, of course, said no.  I told them that God didn’t like that kind of attitude either and instead calls us to share; nevertheless, the reason He calls us to share is not just because He “said so,” but because He is so giving and generous to us.  I asked the kids if they remembered what Christmas was all about and they screamed back, “Jesus!”  Absolutely.  I held up the little baby doll and told them that God had given His precious and only son to us.  Easter was not that long ago, so I asked why that day was so important.  There were blank stares, but after some coaxing, they could say that Jesus died on the cross.  Yes.  Jesus in turn, gave up His life for our sins, so that we could be reconciled to God and live eternally in Heaven with Him.  Even though there was nothing worthy about us, even though we sinned against Him, God in His love and overwhelming generosity, shared His Son who shared His life so that we might live.

I’m not sure how much our kiddos grasped out of all of this, but I know that it’s something that the Holy Spirit keeps bringing up to my mind because if the episode I began this post with is any indication, I clearly still haven’t quite grasped it either.  And even when I do, I allow myself to forget God’s generosity to me.  In Romans 8:31-32, Paul writes:

“What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him  graciously give us all things?

Father, 

I pray that I would always purpose to reflect on The Gospel, that I would never grow cold and ungrateful to Your sacrifice for me, that I would live with abandon to You, and that Your generous love would flow through me to others.  And this, of course, is my prayer for those who are brothers and sisters in Christ, too, so that we might freely give to one another as we have received from You, that needs might be met and the Body strengthened.  And for those who do not yet know You, Lord, I pray that their lives will be touched and transformed by Your abundant love in Christ, that they would experience true freedom in all areas of their lives.

Amen.

Belonging [Part 2]

Part One is HERE

***

So where were we?  Ah, that’s right… Scripture.  Finally!  🙂

“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named […]” – Ephesians 3:14-15

As I prepared for last Thursday’s study, I decided to finally utilize the Greek & Hebrew Bible app that my friend, Sherri, had told me about.  I had seen her use it on multiple occasions as she led the Women’s Fellowship in a study of Genesis, and because I gleaned so much from knowing more about the words used in a particular passage, I was inspired and curious to see what that kind of word study would do in Ephesians.

Father

Father

From those two verses, I honed in on “Father” and “family.”

No big surprise there, right?  With everything going on with my family, they are always on my mind.

But the Apostle Paul was a single, childless, adult male.  Why would he use those words?

The study Bible that I have notes that in his Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul was addressing a group of believers who were living as spiritual paupers because they did not know the full riches they had in Christ.  But why and what didn’t they know?

I think Ephesians 2:11-22 gives us a clue; here’s an excerpt from verses 11 to 13:

“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. ” – Ephesians 2:11-13

For someone like me in the 21st century, the distinction between Jew and Gentile doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.  But to the Gentile believers that Paul was addressing, it was.  From birth, they probably knew who they were, or more importantly who they weren’t, in relation to God’s chosen people, the Jews.  There must have been some sense of alienation and of being outcasts deeply ingrained in their thoughts and feelings.

Family

Family

Which is why when Paul spoke of unity so intimately in the way that he addressed them as part of one family, one body in Christ, it must have been a truly life-altering mental shift.  What he was proclaiming was radical; the implications were huge.  Centuries old divisions and hierarchies were being struck down in Christ.

The Greek & Hebrew Bible app noted 2 other instances in the New Testament where that particular form of the word “family” is used:

1) Luke 2:4 – “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David.”

2) Acts 3:25 – “You are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘In your seed will all the families of the earth be blessed.”

Of David.  Of Abraham.

But while Gentile believers had been living their lives apart from the Jewish people who were of that human bloodline, Paul was now affirming that Christ’s death on the cross had made them part of God’s own family.  They belonged to God’s family because Christ had paid for their sins, His righteousness was bestowed upon them, and now they “who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” – Ephesians 2:13.  And that was not an identity that could be shaken or denied them by anything or anyone.

***

My Daddy & Me (early 90s)

My Daddy & Me (early 90s)

If you’ve grown up going to church/in the church, you’ve heard the phrase “family in Christ” tossed around a lot.  But if you take a second to stop and think about what it really means and looks like in your mind, what do you see?  Who do you see?

And another question… do you belong?

Not do you feel like you belong.  But do YOU belong?

From what I shared in the previous post, I carried pretty large wounds and chips on my shoulder towards those who called themselves Christians.  But according to this passage, and many others, there was no need for me to feel that way.

I do believe that hurt is a natural and valid reaction to being othered, but to carry a grudge?  No.  I’ve come to realize that I didn’t have to, and that I don’t have to.  You see, the only reason I felt that way was because I was giving others the ability to tell me my identity and to decide whether or not I belonged in God’s family, when He had already affirmed me in His Son as His daughter.

I can bypass the inner turmoil of always waiting to see if I’m going to be accepted, and for how long, because I claim the fact that I belong because I am a forgiven sinner and a child of God.  That is my only identity and in Christ, I not only have a place in Heaven for me, but wherever God calls me now, I have, as one of my sisters in Christ likes to put it, “a place at the table” – whether others recognize and/or grant me that space or not.

Now, this doesn’t mean I get to figuratively or literally bust through doors and shove it in others’ faces.  No.  I can come boldly, but in humility, or else God will certainly have something to say about the pride and hatred in my heart.

Celebrating Daddy's Birthday (mid-90s)

Celebrating Daddy’s Birthday (mid-90s)

***

Lastly, if you look through some of the pictures that I’ve posted around this blog, you’ll probably notice that I look Asian (I’m Filipino), but that my Dad is… most decidedly not, lol.  If you think so, then you’re right.  He is African-American.  The larger story behind this happy circumstance will definitely be something to post on later, but I will say that even if he isn’t my biological father, he has shown me all the love any father could ever show his daughter.  I’ve been blessed to have been given such unconditional love from another human being in the role of an earthly father to me.

But it is an entirely different thing on a whole ‘nother level to know the endless love of our Father in Heaven.  I pray that we can come to know and accept that, and stand secure in who we are, and what we have, in Him.

Belonging [Part 1]

Isn’t this a lovely portrait of Christian community?

The whole concept and experience of “Christian community” is still fairly new to me.  Even though I grew up going to church, I decided pretty early on that I didn’t want much, if anything at all, to do with the “Christians” I would encounter on Sunday mornings.  Not only did my innate introversion keep me very much inwardly oriented just as a matter of course, but I had such low self-esteem, too, that I couldn’t possibly fathom why others would want to bother being around someone plain and forgettable like me.  So growing up, I’d just preempt their rejection and direct myself towards the sidelines – literally and figuratively.

But there were other reasons.

My mom and I had a lot of issues growing up, but no matter what I thought and still think her glaring flaws are, I cannot deny that she possesses a great deal of humility and honesty when it comes to telling others about the great work that God has done in her life.  It’s astounding, really, what she will share concerning her own past failures and even present brokenness.  And while it used to make me cringe as a child, as an adult, I realize that there is so much power and peace in a life lived like that.  After all, you aren’t gagged by secrets or enslaved by the false image of yourself that you project outward to others.  With a casual flick of your wrist, you can effortlessly dissipate the black smoke of condemnation rising up from the candles of others’ judgmental, prideful hearts.

Or at least, there can be so much power and peace if you claim it in Christ.  If not, the poisonous fumes billow up around your flailing arms to fill the space around you, closing in until it enters your lungs and disrupts your breathing.

The women my mother shared her life story with at church used what she shared as ammunition against her.  My mom dropped out of dental school in the Philippines because her father had left their family to be with his mistress-du-jour, and her mother had fallen ill, no doubt heartbroken and also overwhelmed with the task of caring for their thirteen children alone.  As the eldest, my mom went to work to support her family financially.  When this became known to the group of college-educated “Christian” women, they looked down on her and told her that she wasn’t “one of them.”

As her family crumbled, my mom, who had walked away from God, looked for emotional support and found it in a relationship with my biological father.  Or at least she found the distorted form of “love” that he offered her, and nothing of its actual substance.  I am a product of that much misaligned union, and when the women found out about the circumstances surrounding my conception, they treated her with contempt and disgust.

In high school, I was already not too keen on going to church, being religious, etc.  I had stopped going to youth fellowship and would actively seek ways to avoid church service by just walking out of church and around the surrounding neighborhoods and shopping centers at times.  The harsh treatment my mother received only served to drive my misgivings about who I believed God and Christians were deeper into my heart.

I might have been more inclined if everyone looked like this.

I might have been more inclined if everyone looked like this.

Though many more reasons (excuses?) exist as to why I avoided Christian community all my life, I’ll list just one more to complete this trifecta – pride.

In 2007, my father lost his job and we ended up losing our house.  This was not the final nail in the proverbial coffin, but the tiny fissure that breached a dam.  I will save many of the elements to this story for subsequent posts, but let me just say that by the time my family moved in with my Dad’s sister in February 2010 and found Regen, I felt completely bereft of any dignity, my sense of worth erroneously tied to material things, and I did not want anyone to see me in what I felt was my great shame.  Though many members in the Body of Christ at Regen reached out to me for three years, from 2010 through the end of 2012, and even though I could feel God’s tug on my heart to allow them to embrace me, I just wouldn’t.

Chocolate or Strawberry ice cream?  Hm...

Chocolate or Strawberry ice cream? Hm…

Insecurity.  Old Wounds.  Pride.

But if you asked me at that time what kept me from participating I would have kept back all three of those things.  Indeed, whenever someone at Regen extended an invite, I would brush them off with an “I’m busy juggling work and school.”  Whenever God would confront me about this area of disobedience in my life I would tell Him that I was too busy, too, willing myself not to think about the Book of Jonah.

I graduated from college at the end of 2012, though, and I knew that even if I had by and large shut down everyone at Regen with my cold stubbornness, God was not deterred in the slightest.  My walk with Him had been feeling very stale and empty, and I knew it was because He wanted me to address my brokenness over community which had become a real sin issue between us as I was blatantly refusing His call to it.

At the beginning of 2013, I got in touch with someone I had formed a pleasant acquaintance with in 2010 because we happened to sit in the same area of the sanctuary during AM service.  She was the same age as I was, and had also just finished up college as well.  I asked her if she would like to check out a home group with me and, as God would have it, she was thinking of doing that, too.

Olivia and I (or our shadows at least) waiting near the Tacos Mi Rancho Food Truck

Olivia and I (or our shadows at least) waiting near the Tacos Mi Rancho Food Truck

I was commuting an hour to and from Vacaville from the East Bay for work at the time, and having to pick-up my brothers from school, so the one home group that seemed to fit my schedule was Late Night, which met on Thursday nights from 7 to 9 pm.  My friend, Olivia, and I went that first meeting on January 10th… and we’ve been there ever since.  Lots more, of course, that I could say about this, but this post is already growing longer than intended, and I haven’t even gotten to the Scripture verses.  🙂

But let’s save that for the next post, shall we?

***

Part Two is HERE

Yogurt

“Yogurt.”

If I didn’t have my phone in my left hand and a pen in my right, I would have facepalmed.  I couldn’t believe it.  That was my dad’s answer to my inquiry concerning what he had for dinner last Thursday night.  I sighed.  Knowing my dad, it was probably the most unhealthy iteration of Yoplait badness, complete with some syrupy fruit concoction lurking at the bottom.  “Daddy!”

“I know, I know.”  My dad didn’t even bother to point out the flipping of the script where parents address their wayward offspring by their full name in a chastising tone.  He knew what I was getting at.  Growing up, he always stressed healthy eating habits.  When I was in middle school, he would sit in the car and not start it up until I had eaten something for breakfast.  And now here he was, a grown adult, eating just a cup of yogurt for dinner.

“Dad, haven’t you been to the store since last week?”

“Well, yes.  I finished the steak I bought last week a couple of days ago, and when I went to the store yesterday, I bought some cod and chicken.  But there’s no stove in the kitchen of my hotel room, and I really didn’t feel like frying either thing in the pan.”

The pan.

My mind raced back to an old email chain in which he told me that the nearest supermarket was Meijer’s, and when he went there, he bought Uncle Ben’s rice, steak and some petite peas.  He only had one pot and one frying pan, though, so that night he cooked the rice in the pot and the steak in the pan – hold the peas.  I thought back to the hearty dinner I had before I left the house and my heart ached.  It only intensified as I remembered the last line of that email, and how he noted that it was the first meal he had cooked “since those Chicken Pot Pies J.”

Ever since elementary and middle school, I have had a strong aversion to chicken pot pies.  Of the can-be-found-in-the-frozen-foods-section variety.  And in particular, the version made by Marie Callender.  It’s not because they have the same amount of sodium as 8 small bags of potato chips, the fat equivalent of 23 strips of bacon, and the calorie equivalent of 7 Taco Bell Fresco Beef Tacos, but because on the two separate occasions that my mom visited the hospital to give birth to my two younger brothers, those little things were what my Dad put on the menu every.single.night.

I still remember going with my Dad to visit my Mom after she had given birth and was recuperating, only to, with manyyy tears and sighs, regale her with the awfulness that was breakfast, lunch, and dinner without her culinary skills.  And I still remember her handing me her tray of hospital food so that I could eat to my little heart’s content.

Those memories normally elicit many chuckles, but this time, they just made my heart heavy.  Dad was so far away and so far removed from us.  Carless out in Chicago, just buying the groceries he could manage to carry with two arms.  Cooking just a single portion because his whole family was together somewhere else.

I looked at the time: 8 PM.  I was already half an hour late for home group, but it was worth it just to get a chance to check-in with my Dad.  “Dad, I’ve got to start heading to home group.  Can I just pray for us really quickly?”  I started the engine of my car, switched to speaker, and began to pray and drive.  I lifted up the sadness and the worry, I lifted up the way and timing of his return as God would have it, and I asked for guidance for myself as I led that night’s Bible study on Ephesians 3:14-21.

After I finished, my Dad said, “I’m sure you’ll do well tonight.  I know that you know God really well and can understand His Word.”

I smiled.  “Thanks, Dad.  Goodnight.  I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

I put my phone down, and wiped away some stray tears.  I found parking across the street from where we meet and tried to compose myself.  I was simultaneously feeling both bad and good about the phone call.  I definitely felt his distance more keenly, but I was so grateful for his words of encouragement.  It meant a lot to have my Dad affirm me in that way, and moreso, to be the kind of father who prized closeness with, and understanding of, God in his daughter.

I’m normally very, very nervous before leading a study or lesson of any kind, even with the little ones on Sunday mornings.  I was still somewhat nervous last Thursday, but I could also sense a peace present and available for me.  There was an assurance that as long as I stuck to God’s word, He would work His truth out that night.

And I believe He did.

I look forward to posting about that in subsequent posts.  Stay tuned.

One Week & Counting

My boyfriend, MH, is the Worship Leader and Youth Director of a church here in the Bay Area (that reallyyy narrows it down for ya, doesn’t it? lol).  As part of his duties, he coordinates and oversees the Youth Fellowship, which is comprised of both junior high and high school youth, and meets every Friday night from 7:30 to 9:30 PM.  Right now, everyone gathers together in the beginning for worship, announcements, and an icebreaker.  After this, the two groups branch off for their separate teaching and small group time.  Before the night ends, though, we all gather back together for a time of corporate prayer.

MH teaches the high school group on Fridays, and junior high is co-led by a mutual friend of ours from our Thursday night small group, and myself (we swap weeks).

Last Friday was my turn, and just as I began the lesson, I saw this message flash across my phone screen:Image

And even though the reality that he is in a place that falls into the Central Time Zone, while I am in the Pacific Time Zone is ever-present, things like this slice like a scalpel to my chest, leaving my innards bare.  Things like this betray the existence of a barrier that I have tried to erect in my conscious mind so that I can keep myself from feeling the full weight of this separation – the tiny paper cuts of loneliness, the mind searing worry over him out there without any family or friends, the soul shackling sense of helplessness.

So there I was last Friday night, surrounded by our junior high students, ready to go through 1 Peter 1:3-9 with them.  But when I began to go through the first verse of the passage for that night, I just couldn’t keep the heaviness in any longer.  I admitted to them that I had had a really rough time over the past couple of weeks, and that I was in such a vulnerable place emotionally, yes, but even more so spiritually.  I admitted that we were about to go through a passage that highlighted something I felt myself, in that week especially, to be bereft of, if not open to being apathetic to entirely – faith.

A Heavenly Inheritance

“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.”

How do we as human beings typically react to tough times?

Confusion.  Yes.  Why is this happening, God?  Why my family?  Why me?

Anger.  Yes.  It’s all your fault, Dad and Mom!  You’re not really a loving God!

Fear.  Yes.  What are we going to do?  What’s going to happen to us?

I told the youth that I had not been immune from feeling any those emotions over the past few weeks, nor had I succeeded in keeping the following thoughts at bay: God hates me; God doesn’t love me; God isn’t in control.  Moreover, I confessed wanting to retreat away into myself and away from people.  I felt so defeated and forsaken that I didn’t want to go to church and I debated walking away from ministry commitments like that very Friday Night Fellowship.

But I decided to come that night because of the truths God reminded me of concerning Himself and His purposes for me as I read through that passage.

Verse 3 opens with “Blessed be.”  Blessed be.  Praise.  Well, that was certainly not something I felt like doing.  How could I in the midst of this trial?  The answer followed: “according to His abundant mercy [He] has begotten us again to a living hope.”  Mercy?  Living Hope?  Where?  My eyes saw a plainly packaged box before me.  I still needed to open it up so I reached for the ribbon, “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

For as much as the Apostle Paul knew, I always used to wonder why he singled out and wrote that “[he] determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).  I guess such a question betrays what a baby I am in terms of my walk with God, that I saw, and still continue to see and react to, the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a small thing.  It’s for those who don’t yet know Jesus, but once you’re a Christian, well, you move on to meatier things.  Such ignorance has cost me greatly.

There I was questioning God’s ability to exert control in my family’s circumstances when it was His power that resurrected Jesus Christ from the dead.  There I was questioning God’s love for me when He so loved the world, that He sent Jesus to die for us all.  And through Christ’s death came the forgiveness of all my sins.  And through His resurrection and ascension, a living hope, and then some.

Verse 4 tells me it is “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away.”  The implications of the word “inheritance” humbled me.  After all, who normally receives such a thing?  Someone considered an heir, an offspring by the person who currently holds possession of, or dominion over, something.

It reminded me of one of my favorite verses, James 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

I was beset by so many fears and doubts concerning God and His goodness because I had forgotten who I was to Him, a beloved child, and I had ascribed characteristics to Him that were not His.  Yes, we in all of our humanity can change.  I, too, am capable of great evil, and can be moved to perform good acts because of many shifting and twisted, selfish and sterile motives.  God, however, is not like us, just on some larger scale.  He is good, and that never changes.

And my inheritance from Him?  A truly “good and perfect” gift, yes, but jumping back into 1 Peter 1:4, also “incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away.”  I can so intently fix my focus on the acquisition and loss of things in a world that is already fading away (1 John 2:17), that I completely compromise my own sense of peace.  Because I have invested myself into what thieves can break in and steal, and what moths and rust can destroy, my heart is tethered to this corrupt world and every tremor and quake causes palpitations threatening cardiac arrest (Matthew 6:19-21).

God, however, is not so myopic, and He urges me, even as I exist here in the flesh, to fix my eyes forward to where my inheritance is, “reserved in heaven for me.”  No matter how many troubles I face here on Earth, it will be nothing compared to the eternity I have in Heaven with God.  In Him, I do not have to see present sorrows in light of this life.  In Him, I can see present sorrows in the perspective befitting His child, that is to say, in the light of an eternal life in glory.

Verse 5 offers even more reassurance because we “are kept by the power of God […] for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”  However, we cannot forget that it is “through faith.”  Now faith is something that has, for the longest time, seemed very abstract to me.  I could rattle off a dictionary definition.  I could even put forth Hebrews 11:1-3, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.  By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”

But if you were to ask me what faith meant to me and how it existed in my life, well, I would be at a complete loss as to what to tell you.  And I think I still am in the middle of learning what God wants me to understand about it, but I think I’ve got a start on it.

The phrase, “have faith,” is meaningful, but I personally draw much more encouragement nowadays from hearing, “have faith in God unto salvation.”  My faith is in God.  I know Him.  I trust Him.  And it isn’t to no end; it is unto salvation.  And that is surely no small thing.

Verse 6 never fails to fill my spiritual lungs with clean air: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.”  It is in the knowledge of my eternal salvation that I can and should “greatly rejoice.”  If I can be filled with momentary gratitude for the fleeting things of this life, how much more should I be filled with unfailing joy at the prospect of what my life in Christ is both in enabling me to live godly and free from sin in this life, but to be taken into a heavenly home in the next?

I have always respected how “real” this verse is, too, in acknowledging that there is suffering in this life, and that I will be “grieved by various trials”; nevertheless, putting them in perspective again, it is only “for a little while.”

When I was younger, I felt like people were telling me that it was great to be a Christian because life was going to just be fab-u-lous, that I’d be happy all the time, that my life would be devoid of pain so long as I did the right things (moralistic deism, essentially).  Needless to say, I would buckle under the weight of inevitable trials and end up embittered because I thought I had done everything I was supposed to, and yet here I was suffering while there were so many others who weren’t Christians and seemed, to my eyes, to be doing a lot better off.  There’s a lot that can be said and unpacked here, but I’m only going to touch on a small part of it – my attitude on one of the differences between being a Christian and not.

As 1 Peter 1:6 says, there are going to be trials in the Christian life.  Various trials.  And those who aren’t Christians face tough situations, too.  However, the difference that I have seen and experienced in my own life, as one who remembers what it was like to be without God, is that now as a Christian, I am not aloneand my suffering is not senseless or arbitrary.  My Father God is with me to comfort me (2 Cor. 1:3-5), and what mankind or the enemy might mean for evil, God can and does turn to my good (Gen. 50:20; Rom. 8:28).

Verse 7 reinforces the importance of “the genuineness of [our] faith” and tells us that it is “much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire.”  This is so important to grasp.  You see, if my present comfort is the most important thing, then when the things that I have attached my sense of security to are threatened (i.e. money, job, social standing, certain relationships, etc.), I feel like I am an utter failure.  However, if I prioritize the genuineness of my faith regardless of outside circumstances, well, I can remain grounded because I am with God and believe wholeheartedly that He is in control, just, loving, etc.

Such faith is also precious because it will be “found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” the very One who gave everything up for, and to, us (1 Peter 1:3).  There is truly none more worthy.

Verse 8 acknowledges that we love Him even though we have not seen Him, but even “though now [we] do not see Him, yet believing, [we] rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”  Again, it is in believing and knowing Him that we can rejoice in any circumstance with “joy inexpressible and full of glory.”  Reading that description, I desire to pray that God would show me what that caliber of joy is like in Him.  Don’t you?

It also reminds me what the whole point of this blog is for me.  I greatly desire to know God’s will of being joyful always, praying without ceasing, and giving thanks in everything (1 Thess. 5:16-18).  But I realize that that isn’t so 1,2,3, automatic.  It is very much a choice.  Granted, a choice that is probably made easier only to the extent that my faith in Him has grown.

But what a blessing it is to be able to put our faith in a Savior who is “the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2).

I pray that Jesus will help us to see the joy that is set before all of us.  I pray that we, too, can despise whatever temporary shame and pain we find ourselves in, and come to receive, as this passage concludes in Verse 9, “the end of [our] faith-the salvation of [our] souls.”

Father, help us to know the truth; help us to know You.  And in the middle of the pain and anguish found in the trials of life, may our faith in You not waiver, but deepen.  Keep us through Your power, Lord, and see us safely to the glorious end You have planned for us with You in Heaven.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.