vivian

‘JESUS!’

What would happen if you screamed the name of our sovereign God at the top of your lungs in your street? Would it be met with equally loud yells to keep it to yourself? Perhaps everyone would just ignore the weird Jesus freak on the street? I know some of us have neighbors who would echo the sentiment of screaming our Savior’s name at the top of our lungs with pure joy. In Haiti, most likely, someone would yell it back, start singing a worship song, pray or yell ‘Amen!’ In Russia, you would get weird looks, but not because someone disagrees, more due to the fact your relationship with Jesus is private and not for everyone to see. However, for many places in the world it would be outright dangerous to yell the name of Jesus in a public place.

Her name was Vivian, and for whatever reason, God brought her to mind this morning in church. We were worshipping and her named popped into my head, soon followed by images of my time sitting in a concrete dorm room in China with her. I had no idea why she was brought to mind, but any confusion about random thoughts was put to rest once the sermon started with 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 where I had written next to it, “Chinese Christian we cannot see…Vivian. 7-29-01”

What are the odds, right? I don’t believe in odds. I believe in a God who serves as a connector among all his people, and for whatever the God reason, I am deep in prayer for her and those like her around the world today.

I met Vivian July 29, 2001 while in China for the summer on a cultural exchange at Ningxia University. I had mistakenly used a toothbrush in the sink water and was down and out for a solid couple of days. [Haiti trip goers will identify this as why I am now hyper crazy about using ‘clean’ water for everything.] I’d gone to cultural classes in the morning and just couldn’t do it quite yet, and had gone back to my dorm room.

Then a knock came on the door.

I’d assumed it was another American checking on me, but instead this beautiful, sweet Chinese face peaked through the door. ‘Can I help you?’ I asked.

‘I am looking for the American Christians,’ she replied softly, almost in a whisper.

My world slowed to a stop in that moment of awe as a Chinese believer stood in front of me. It could have been a trap to get me in trouble for evangelizing or legitimately be a believer looking for another believer. When we’d arrived in China we’d been told any conversation about Jesus that was not invited by a question could get us into trouble with the government. It was drilled into our heads. Live and act out your faith, but don’t use words until you are asked for them. Honestly, I was relieved this was how we were expected to live among the Chinese students. I was a young believer and terrified of saying something wrong or turning someone away from Jesus because I didn’t have the relationship with them to speak into their life.

Factoring all that in a mere split second, I took the leap, and off Vivian and I went into a conversation about Jesus. She had heard there were American believers on campus and wanted to meet them. She wanted to pray with them. She sought encouragement. She wanted to take hope from the freedom we had to believe in Jesus where we came from. She wanted to feel connected in a tangible way to the American church that was not constricted to house churches or by a government that wanted to control beliefs. She wanted to meet those that live in constant security that whatever you chose to believe you would not be punished for by anyone.

God put me in the time and place to be that connection. We prayed together. Broken English, Mandarin and English blended together all in praise and petition of the one who knows. She left with plans to meet at the night market later and I would bring some friends.

I was exuberant…and I was naïve.

I was an American with no clue what repercussions could come on this sweet, young Chinese believer trying to find her place in God’s Kingdom. I had no idea the risks she took simply opening my door to ask for the ‘American believers.’ I had never known a place that believing in the sovereignty of God would put me in danger.

Our university representative heard about what had happened and approached our American staff. It wasn’t safe, for her or us. It could not happen, and we were not allowed to go to the night market that night.

I never saw Vivian again, but as today can attest…it doesn’t take a lot of time for someone to make a mark on your life. Vivian’s bravery, and thirst for the connection to believers who lived in a place where they were free to shout ‘Jesus!’ from the rooftops was contagious and inspiring.

‘All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. You can be sure that the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. So when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your benefit and salvation! For when God comforts us, it is so that we, in turn, can be an encouragement to you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in suffering, you will also share God’s comfort.’ [2 Corinthians 1:3-7]

As you journey through wherever God has placed you today, remember that the Gospel is a gift to you and intended for those around you. It is truth. It is life. It is the hope of restoration of all things new. It carries freedom no matter who you are or where you chose to believe in him. It is not to be kept to yourself, and horded for simply one moment…it is meant for many moments. The beauty of the Gospel and a Savior who loves you enough to sacrifice himself is intended for you to demonstrate daily. As believers, separating ourselves from that truth separates us from the heart of God. Sink into that truth today, and allow yourself to acknowledge the majority of believers in the world are demonstrating that truth in places that will get them thrown into jail or sacrificed. That the majority of believers in the world are sacrificing everything when they chose to claim Jesus as their own.

When we live within an easy, friendly Gospel we are not projecting the truth of that Gospel. When we present God as tame, where is the God who fights against the injustices in the world? Where is the God who died on a cross for the sins of ALL of us? Where is the God that fervently, relentlessly pursues us with unstoppable love? Where is the God that tossed the tables in the temple with every aspect of righteous anger he had?

As a good friend reminded me recently, God is not a tame lion. Here’s to finding the risk in our belief of the God who calls us to love deeper as I am burdened to pray for those that choose to believe in places it will cost them everything.

Advertisements

hate

Hate is such a strong word. I find myself correcting others when they use it by asking, ‘Do you hate it? Or do you just not like it?’

It really has to do with a lot of emotion and passion about whatever you are directing the hate towards.

I hate the sun when it burns my skin. Hazards of being a redhead, really.

But what do I gain by directing that hatred towards something I have no control over. I do have control over myself…and putting on sunscreen. (Note: I will be putting an emergency stash in my car for extreme situations that put me on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck now.)

As believers, are we supposed to hate anything?

Could we say Jesus hated anything?

Even when Satan tempted Jesus in the desert…did Jesus slug him? No. But he probably should have. Instead Jesus stays strong, quotes scripture, keeps the focus on his Father and remains calm.

My interactive imagination would like to see a rebellious Jesus punching the air with certain fingers extended to our common foe. But Jesus knew there would be a time for the ultimate win, and it wasn’t time yet.

We also have the point when our Gospel highlights Jesus flipping the tables in the temple in John 2:14-16.

In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 

I have had conversations with people about righteous anger verse emotional anger in response to Jesus’ anger in John 2, all leading to where your anger and hate is directed. Would anyone argue with what we see from Jesus here? Of course not. He is overflowing with righteous anger…who in their right mind argues that?

Which leads me to my own righteous anger…I hate evil, with a passion. I hate what it does to the Kingdom. I hate what it does to all God’s people, believers and unbelievers. I hate the influence it has over us without us taking time to even realizing it. I hate how it rips communities apart.

But, oh, how I love that it loses in the end.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. [Ephesians 6:10-13]

I have seen a lot of places in this world. I’ve prayed a lot of prayers at many places in this world. I’ve felt the power of the Holy Spirit and the movement of God to make things right. I know where our struggle is and it ignites my righteous anger.

I was with a group [Fondue Crew shout-out!] this week that is reading ‘Serving with Eyes Wide Open’ by David Livermore. I read it about 6 years ago, and its second edition had caught the eye of a few in our group. Our discussion was phenomenal this week, but it was a question, off this excerpt, directed toward me that has me basking in the memories of those I have joined my prayers with to pray against the evil in this world.

Believing in a dynamic universe with supernatural powers all around compels majority world Christians to pray with a greater sense of urgency and dependency. A member in a majority world church is much more likely to expect immediate and direct provision from God that a ‘typical’ North American believer. You haven’t experienced prayer until you’ve prayed with a group of Christians in the majority world church whose very lives are dependent upon God. [p40]

I’ve prayed with a Chinese believer from a house church in China. I’ve prayed over a Guatemalan pastor who was ministering to families in a Guatemalan slum. I’ve experienced the intense prayer of Haitians who give thanks to God for safety. I’ve felt the elation of Liberians as they give all they have to the Lord.

The common denominator of all those places is that they all know intimately the fight against evil, and even more intimately know the power of the Holy Spirit joined with their belief in God conquering evil. And each one of them has changed my prayer life exponentially.

I may hate evil, but I also know what it means to fight on the winning side. What are you fighting for today? Are you aware of what is going on in your sphere of the world? What is really going on? How are you praying for those that have an everyday struggle against evil in our world? From civil wars to sex-trafficking to believers that are being martyred to children that are dying from preventable diseases to orphans that have no home…how does that stack up to our suburb mentalities? I say that not to make you feel guilty, but to make you feel like there is something real to fight for in our world.

Evil is not right. Hate is not right. And God will conquer both. Love wins.

*This post was written as a part of a blogging community among my friends using the Twitter hashtag #1word5voices inspired by RethinkChurch. It should have been posted in July…but I was a bit busy! Better late than never! Also, I normally put in photos…but it’s hard to settle on a photo for hate. So go meditate on some of the scripture instead.*

acts

IMG_9355

A photo I snapped March 21 in Utah.

I can’t help it. It has been rattling around my brain all day. I wish I could shut it off, because it would be easier. But no…

I am addicted to Lent.

There I said it. Now what?

This Lent season I committed to writing a blog every day and today all I can think about is…I don’t HAVE to write anything. I can let it go.

Maybe I just found a good outlet for my thoughts here and I don’t want to lose that freedom. But I sense there is more going on…

I can’t let the practices I picked up during Lent go. I loved meditating on scripture, or the word of the day or mulling over what angle I would take on something. Or what everyone else would write. I’ve never had this problem before, and am at a loss to explain it. Maybe there is something God wanted me to learn from this Lenten season I haven’t learned yet. Maybe he was just trying to change me…mold me.

However, I also can’t bring myself to hit up Mumford & Sons, Lumineers or Imagine Dragons. I really want to…really want to…but even as I type, I’m still worshipping.

I’m going to waste it all on you, I’m going to pour my hearts’ perfume, I don’t care if I’m called a fool, I’m wasting it all on you… [Kim Walker, ‘Waste It All’]

As I reflect on the Bible story after Jesus was risen…I have always been intoxicated by the disciples and how they spread the Gospel.

After I became a Christian in college God ignited a thirst for scripture in me, but I’d never hit Acts. I’ll never forget the first time I read it. I started it about a week after I got back from spending a summer doing mission work in China, and it just felt like the right time. Once I got to the end, my friends and I were at a fall conference with Intervarsity so I asked one of the staff there why Acts just stopped so suddenly.

I’d written this in my Bible: ’10-21-01, I finished this book today and it is the first book I’ve read that I turned the page and was HUGELY disappointed that there was no more. I do not want to move on to another book – I want this one…I love Paul!’  Needless to say, Acts is my favorite book of the Bible…but that’s about 5 different blog posts.

Next to my notes I’d also written the IV staffer’s response: ‘Steve Lind says this book is still being written.’

Mind blown. Fireworks exploding in the sky. Mouth dropped open.

And I’ve held onto that thought ever since.

Last night as I was watching The Bible series, I was remembering this coupled with a new thought. What if Paul, or any of the other disciples, hadn’t written it all down? What if I’d never had a book of Acts to read?

God would have figured it out, but in the moment my brain was digesting that thought, I was incredibly grateful for their courage to write things down in times of severe persecution. I’m sure I wouldn’t have made writing it down a priority while my brothers and sisters were getting beheaded, crucified and exiled. But they knew what was at stake. They knew they had to tell the story of the death, the resurrection and the large fact that Jesus would never die again to everyone.

As we sink into the week after Easter, and as I fumble with how to merge my Lent experience with the rest of the year, my sincere prayer is that people will ask themselves how they are living out Acts. What are they doing to proclaim that Jesus reigns? How are they spreading the Gospel message of love, hope, grace and compassion? Because the book is still being written…but will we participate in the rest of the story?

evil

Evil.

Easy to despise. Easy to be put yourself on the opposing side. Easy to speak out against. Easy to hate the villain.

Also…easy to find yourself slipping into…

How many times have I said something hateful?

How many times have I done something mean?

So often I find myself amidst the struggle of more God verses more…not God.

It is easy to try and explain away…we are human and that struggle is real. It is sin, ask for forgiveness.

And the alternative gives credence to there being powers that work against us. That darkness exists in very real forms. And worse of all…that there is real evil in our world.

We want to believe everything is sunshine, rainbows and white puffy clouds.

And just to be clear, I’m not referring to the pessimists and optimists. I am talking about the guy who tempted Jesus in the desert. The one who possessed people and the disciples had to drive out. The one who convinced a disciple to betray Jesus. I hate even saying the name, but most have sensed the reality in some way.

Discernment…knowing the difference between good and evil. It is one of those gifts that is hard to explain, because if you have that gift it registers different for each person. But you sense there is something dark and ominous. Or maybe in your brightest most Holy Spirit moment…you know there is something that is working against you. To break you, and break your hold on God’s truth.

Because evil is not truth. Evil is lies.

Because evil is not good. Evil is bad.

Because evil does not want happiness for you.

It wants to destroy you simply because you love Jesus.

Paul even writes in several of his letters instructing and encouraging the believers to arm themselves. To be ready and not to give in to temptation that would tear them away from the light of God.

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. [Ephesians 6:11-13]

TS2I have never felt so profoundly that I was walking with God, and there was an extreme power working against me than when I was in China for a summer. In a place than can have so much hospitality, beauty and beautiful people, we were most definitely making waves with good vs. evil. And when you think about it, God has been doing something incredible in China for many years. Missionaries have risked their lives to bring the message of truth to the Chinese who want to believe. When you look at it that way, of course the scale tips for good and evil wants to fight it.

So, how do you fight? How do you stand? Well, first you have to get seriously pissed off. Get mad that something is working so hard against the God we serve and loves us unconditionally, even when we slip and give evil a helping hand.

002_2

Then…get on your knees. I know for a fact that prayer warriors get the job done. I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve seen change through prayer.

Then…get in God’s word. I know the power of God’s word when you are grounded in it. I just wish I was all-around good at staying in scripture without some pissed-off motivation to send me back to it.

Then…get accountability. I know for a fact that I am stronger with others fighting beside me, and holding me accountable to the Christian life I have chosen to live. God’s word says that the devil prowls around like a lion waiting to devour us. Jesus said he was sending them out like sheep amongst the wolves. When we are separated from each other, we are weak. It is a really bad choice to be alone.

Then…have faith and hope, because God wins in the end. We just have to help him fight along the way.

Here’s to you winning a battle today.

transported

Incredible are the moments that everything stands still and a memory fights its’ way to the surface of your mind…and instantly you are transported to that exact moment in time as if it was just yesterday.

Some moments can be painful. The never ending cycle of memories after a loved one passes away is particularly brutal in my experience. Or even the pain of something someone has said that plays over and over like my version of a self-inflicted horror film.  It is so true that you cannot take back words once they are out…and people live with that pain for a very long time.

But then there are the warm fuzzy moments that fight their way through. Filling you with that beautiful feeling of being loved, and at peace…content…I also have a fondness for the humorous memories. I’ve been known to make myself laugh just thinking about them!

Then there are the moments that are in seasons of your life that define you. Those are my God-memories. The moments that are linked to times in my life that God was sculpting me into the woman he needed me to be in this world. That’s where I was transported last week in a split second during lunch with a friend.

We’d been talking about everything under the moon at a new Chinese restaurant we’d wanted to try for over a year. I’m always on the search for Chinese traditional dumplings that actually taste like Chinese dumplings. And this new place was a delicious symphony of flavor and styles of dumpling…literally, I was in heaven.

I was holding my chicken dumpling in my chopsticks, raising it to my mouth…when Mandarin floated to my ears. In my brain, time stood still as I was instantly transported back into the kitchen of my Chinese roommate…

It was the first weekend of 3 ‘home’ visits with our roommates, and honestly…I was apprehensive. For an entire weekend I would have no Americans around me, meet an endless stream of relatives, and the only person able to speak English would be my roommate.

Outside of my comfort zone? I was so far outside my comfort zone that I felt like God had picked me up like a cat toy and was tossing me around for fun.

But in that kitchen, with an incredibly hospitable family…cultures merged, barriers were demolished and I caught a glimpse of myself that I’d never seen before. Last week the smells filled my nose, and the memory of Yan Ruting’s mom walking around the tiny kitchen making sure everything was perfect filled my vision. Her dad was standing by the stove with the steam pouring out of the pot the dumplings they were in…her parents were a well-organized dumpling machine. I’d never had steamed dumplings before I was in China, and homemade is the way to go!

One of the best things about this seemingly beautiful memory is…it marks a time when God started teaching me that loving God with everything you have means living it out being exactly who God created you to be. Over the 3 weekends I was in their home I couldn’t ‘preach’ to her or her family. I couldn’t even talk to them…but I could be an excellent guest, smile a lot and love them with ever fiber of my being. Being a part of God’s kingdom is knowing that you are participating in it wherever you are…international missionaries are no different from stay-at-home moms pouring into their kids. It’s about the simplest things you can do, and throwing expectations out the window. It’s about loving God enough to love others well. It’s about letting God be your comfort zone, and the freedom that comes with surrendering control. It’s about being a part of someone’s life…not because you have to, but because you want to be in their life.

Several months after our summer team left, Yan Ruting started really reading the Bible…and while God had been moving in her while we were there…she started truly believing what the Bible said. Many times while we were there, she would comment about there was something different about us…joy, love and community. She was right, we had a common thread of belief in Jesus and believing that he is still alive and active around us.

I haven’t heard from her in years, but for 7 years afterwards we wrote back and forth. In those years, she got married…had a baby…her mom got sick, then healthy. And every time I think about her I remember her family who welcomed a complete stranger into their home, and showed her what being a part of a Chinese family felt like.

And imagine…all that in 10 seconds while holding a dumpling and hearing Mandarin chatter in a restaurant. God moments are beautiful, and when he transports you back to that memory…it’s a perfect reminder that he still calls us his own.