Thursday, July 15, 2010

Needing Christ

Scripture tells of the blind and dead
The sick and helpless whom Jesus said
He came to heal
Oh! I need Him to touch my eyes
Pierce this heart and make it alive
So it can feel

Show me that I need you, Lord
More than anything else
Teach me, Lord, to want you
And to give up myself
Because I’m holding on to everything
Everything, and nothing
When I should be clinging to the cross

This battle never seems to end
My heart you always need to rend
So I can see
That though I know that I am yours
I’m quick to run from the grace that pours
On me from Calvary

I beg the Christ who begs for me
Make this heart that you have freed
Deeply love you
Take my affections, let me know
With thankful heart, my Savior’s blood did flow
To make me new

So filthy, wretched, here I come
And though my heart feels all too numb
To your mercy
I am clean through Christ the Son
Bearing my sin, on the cross He hung—
I am curse free!

Show me that I need you, Lord
More than anything else
Teach me, Lord, to want you
And to give up myself
Because I’m holding on to everything
Everything, and nothing
When I should be clinging to the cross

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Butterfly Story

How many children’s books exist that tell the story of a sad (or hungry) caterpillar who is one day transformed into a beautiful butterfly, ready to grace the world with his lovely and happy state? I have yet to read a story about a butterfly who doesn’t believe he’s a butterfly. Why isn’t there a story about a butterfly who, though transformed, looks at himself in the mirror and only sees a fat, green little caterpillar? Maybe that just sounds too depressing. Too unrealistic. People don’t look at their beauty and see only ugliness…oh wait. Forget “Crawford the Caterpillar,” this is the story of my life.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17). I guess that’s what conjured up the butterfly image for me – all the posters and cards I had as a kid always pasted that verse on top of a colorful (sometimes psychedelic) butterfly. This was always used as a super encouraging verse to boost your Christian walk. And it should be encouraging. The truth in this verse should be a comfort and a joy. But to be perfectly honest with you, it’s often more confusing and frustrating for me than anything else.

I feel that the deeper into my Christian walk I get, the more oppressed I am by my sin. Shouldn’t I be freer? Haven’t the chains been cast off? Why do I feel as though I am still writhing in the grubby, green body of a caterpillar? Where are my wings, that I might leave this sin behind me? I cannot tell you how many times I have repeated these words to myself: “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). The problem is that this spiritual reality appears discordant with the physical reality. United with Christ in His resurrection… Slaves to the one we obey…Freed from sin. These words seem like foreign concepts. I cannot comprehend the full, wonderful meaning in them.

Last week, I was reading the story of a man who expressed a struggle so similar sounding to my own, his words seemed to echo the cry of my own soul. Hudson Taylor wrote to his sister:
I felt the ingratitude, the danger, the sin of not living nearer to God… Every day, almost every hour, the consciousness of sin oppressed me.
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 the pressure of duties, sometimes very trying, and constant interruptions apt to be so wearing, caused me to forget Him. Then one's nerves get so fretted in this climate that temptations to irritability, hard thoughts and sometimes unkind words are all the more difficult to control. Each day brought its register of sin and failure, of lack of power.
Then came the question, is there no rescue? Must it be thus to the end – constant conflict, and too often defeat?...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.

Taylor’s ultimate peace, the truth he was able to understand after many years as a Christian that put this struggle to rest was this:
But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One…"If we believe not, he abideth faithful." "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?"

Taylor said,
I am no better than before. In a sense, I do not wish to be, nor am I striving to be. 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." I now believe I am dead to sin. God reckons me so, and tells me to reckon myself so. He knows best. All my past experience may have shown that it was not so; but I dare not say it is not now, when He says it is. I feel and know that old things have passed away. I am as capable of sinning as ever, but Christ is realized as present as never before. He cannot sin; and He can keep me from sinning.

I think perhaps my problem is that I let myself strive to be, and despair when I am not, sinless. I mistakenly believe that is what God promises when he says “dead to sin.” I so feebly understand that I have been freed from the power of sin and given Christ. This does not mean I have no sin; rather, I have been drenched in an everlasting love – a love which encompasses me and dwells within me. What despair is there to be in union with a Savior like the Christ? As Hudson wrote, “The only power of deliverance from sin or true service is Christ.”

As I write this, I think I have discovered the fault of my butterfly analogy. You can’t expect the butterfly to see a butterfly’s body in the mirror because there really isn’t one. It’s not a physical, outward, apparent transformation. The butterfly has to read the book that says, “You’re a butterfly, so act like one! Even though you look like a nasty grub…” And he crawls around, leaving a perfectly disgusting trail of slime behind him, telling people quietly, “I’m a butterfly.”

My pastor said on Sunday that the guilt you feel beyond the conviction of the Holy Spirit is your own way of suffering for your sin – of saying that what Christ did is not enough. We must, by the grace of God, realize that there is nothing in us that can keep the Father from loving us fully and everlastingly. And there is no outward appearance that can ultimately change the spiritual reality that we have been united with Christ. Entwined for all eternity, He is ours and we are His. We must take our eyes off our wretchedness and fix them on Christ – faithfulness for the adulterous, fountain for the parched, and rest for the weary. His blood covers our sin; His robes cover our “righteousness.”

My friends, I do not see it, and I do not understand it, but the truth has been written for me that I might believe it. I am a butterfly.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Song 2

Do you see what I’ve done?
Who I am?
It was I who slew the Lamb

Against you have I sinned
To you alone
Are the depths of my heart shown

You are right, You are just
When you judge me
For sin is all that I see

But keep me near and do not cast
Me away
Oh God please hear me pray

Let your grace wash me clean
Make me new
That I might stand before you

I do not know how to come
But by the blood
And the body that is my food

Let all see you are righteous
Let us turn
From our sin and for you yearn

Restore the joy of your salvation
Let me sing
And give my heart as an offering

Song 1 (sorry the tunes are in my head)

Never have I met your law
For this I cannot do
My greatest efforts are but sin
Filthy I crawl before you
But I’m…

Covered with the blood of Christ
And dressed in His robes
By the love and the prayers that intercede
This is how I come
Before Your Holy throne
It is not my own righteousness I plead

No good is there in me O Lord
I can choose naught but sin
I must cling to Christ’s life and death
And the grace I’ve been washed in
For I’m…


Lord, you have justified me
And no longer see my stain
All you see is Christ in me
And His inheritance I gain
For I’m….


Friday, May 15, 2009

Just Keep Swimming

I relate a lot to Dory from Finding Nemo – the fish with the two second memory. Whenever I think of things I have to do, but am not able to access a pen and paper, I repeat them over and over and over again in my head, trying not to forget anything, but growing desperately frustrated with myself when I inevitably do. I wish the most important things I forgot were calling someone back, getting my laundry out of the dryer, or reading a chapter of homework. But my forgetfulness runs so much deeper; it seems I often do not remember the very truths that keep me alive.

Psalm 103 says, “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

It’s amazing how renewed we can feel one minute, how blessed and full of praise, and then how quickly our worries and daily tasks can drive these thoughts away. I think it’s more amazing how forgiven we can know we are, only to find ourselves plagued by guilt and burdened down by sin. We just…forget. We forget the truth ingrained upon our very hearts; we forget the God who has shown himself to be more glorious that anything else we can imagine; we forget the joy that should at all times be welled up in our souls, waiting to bubble over. We walk into church and we walk out. We pick up our Bibles and we put them down. We are cleansed and, once again, we sin. We find ourselves humming a happy little tune: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” and then all of the sudden we stop and ask, “What are we doing again?”

I think this is why these first few verses of Psalm 103 are so important. Because we do forget. Our minds go blank, and in our sin, we panic. But the psalmist paints an example for us: When you forget, don’t forget. In other words, when the truth seems the farthest from your memory and the words hold the smallest amount of meaning for you, preach to yourself.

For some reason, in our minds we reserve the job of preaching for the pastor. He’s the one who studies the Scripture, comes up with the points, and lays it all out there to convict us each Sunday. Terrific. But that’s where we run up against this wall. The wall I’ve been talking about here – short term memory loss. As vital as it is for our pastors to preach to us each week, it is just as vital that we, in turn, continually preach to ourselves. We have to make it a habit to tell ourselves what we don’t want to hear and to say it over and over and over again. We have to command our souls “Praise the LORD.” You don’t want to, but do it anyways. We have to shake ourselves good and hard and say, “Forget not all his benefits. He forgives you, and heals you, and redeems you, and loves you, and satisfies you. Do NOT forget. You have forgotten, but do NOT forget.”

The Israelites did forget. They forgot over and over and over again. That’s why there’s a whole chapter in Deuteronomy titled “Do Not Forget the LORD.” It tells God’s people to remember all He has done for them – the way he delivered them, humbled them, and provided for them. “Be careful,” it says, “that you do not forget the Lord your God” (8:11). It cautions that when the Israelites prosper, “then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God” (8:14). God only spoke about what He knew to be true. He wasn’t cautioning just for fun. He knew the conditions of the Israelites’ hearts, just as He knows the conditions of our hearts.

The Dory-syndrome is nothing new. But the remedy is still the same. Tell yourself the sweet story of the Gospel. Grab at each word separately until they mean something to you. Thunder in your own ears. Wrestle with the truth that you know but have forgotten. Wrestle until you have not forgotten. And do this each week, each day, each minute. Hopefully the frequency of our preaching will increase over time, until it becomes such a habit that no doubt crosses the threshold of our mind and no sin peeps its head out without being quickly and firmly told of the faithful God, the unchangeable I AM, who has shown and proven Himself to us time and time again.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Man's Best Friend

What is it about dogs? I grew up with a veterinarian for a mother, but I have honestly never understood the “man’s best friend” thing. There are times when I am so blown away by the fawning that takes place over these hairy bone-chompers that I begin to suspect some sort of fairy dust was sprinkled over them.

This morning I walked into the office of the company my dad works for, back for the summer and ready to hit the stacks of numbers that needed to be entered into the computer. As the door swung shut behind me, a tiny white mop flew at my legs. Then this fluffy hairball seemed to decide it should climb up my legs – madly scratching my knees and then flinging itself in a sort of a flurry against my shins. I finally realized this little explosion was a dog, so I shook it off as I headed to get my assignment and maybe inquire after the presence of a creature in an office.

“Isn’t she cute?” I was asked.

Ah yes, exactly the word I was looking for.

I examined the shaking, jumping mass at my feet and noticed it had a little ponytail on top of its head. A little lopsided perhaps, but it kept the hair out of its face and helped expose those pitiful eyes.


“Oh, yeah…whose dog is this?”

The boss’s son’s dog. Of course.

“But why do you have it in here?”

She has separation anxiety.

I laugh. “A needy dog.”

The laugh is returned. Then a more serious, “She’s afraid to be alone.”

I wouldn’t mind being left alone.

“Lily” is now licking my feet around my shoes as though they were melting rainbow popsicles in the middle of a hot August day. It tickles and I can’t really help but smile.
Just as I can’t help but smile an hour later when the boss’s adult son, who works in real estate next door, walks in carefully cupping a little paper with some sort of food in it. I watch him walk to the back room, eagerly looking for the furball.
Another hour later, and the woman who works in that back room is on the floor throwing toys around for “Lily” and at some other point in the day she goes next door to get “Lily” a bone.

“Isn’t it just so cute how she lies to chew her bone?” I am questioned.

What a weird question. Can a dog lie cutely?

I obligingly peek my head around the counter. I have work pretty hard not to laugh. If lying cutely involves flattening oneself to look like a rug, then Lily wins the award. I wonder how you can even tell she is eating her bone – Lily’s head is so hidden in a mass of hair and her entire body looks so devoid of any shape, I simply have to trust that someone with better vision than I would notice the chomping and avoid stepping on her.

As I contemplate this little Maltese later in the day, I find myself at the question I began with: What is it about dogs? So I turn to my ever trusty Google and soak in words of wisdom.

The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too. ~Samuel Butler


Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful. ~Ann Landers


I've seen a look in dogs' eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts. ~John Steinbeck

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Suffering: 1 Peter

(Note: This is a paper I wrote for my Bible class that very strongly affected me. I have never posted a paper before, but I am doing it only in the hope that it may encourage you as much as it has encouraged me.)

George MacDonald said, 'The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.” It is easy to find ourselves believing that because Christ endured the shame of the cross, our lives as Christians should be pain-free. But our worlds come crashing down when difficulties overwhelm us and we find ourselves crying out, “Why?! If Christ has redeemed us, why is life so painful?” In his first letter, Peter writes of Christ’s sufferings and reminds Christians that, not in spite of, but because of redemption, we are to partake in these sufferings. As difficult as it may be, we can see our suffering in light of God’s plan for humans in history, and can cling to the knowledge that God’s faithfulness will allow us to persevere to the end.

Peter begins by saying that Christ’s sufferings were not a surprise; they were prophesied of long before he was born into this world. His sufferings were planned and they were necessary as a means of grace (1:10-11). In chapter two, Peter expands on this idea saying, “Christ suffered for you” (vs. 21) and then refers to Isaiah 53 to show what this suffering looked like. It was foretold by the prophet Isaiah that Christ would be a “man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (53:3). Christ was purposed to suffer for our sake, it says. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.” Not only this, but Christ suffered in silence, patiently enduring the cup that had been given to him. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth” (53:7). This was done that we might be saved and so we might have an example.

Christ’s suffering is to be a picture for Christians, “that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pt. 2:21). Peter’s encouragement to Christians about how they should suffer makes it clear how this is so. Just as Christ endured suffering in silence, so we too should bear suffering knowing it pleases God (2:19). Christ suffered “though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Is. 53:9), and so too should Christians be willing to suffer for righteousness. Peter says that it is not worth anything to suffer for doing what is wrong (2:20), but “if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (3:14). Christ shows us that suffering will seem unjust; in fact, that very nature of true suffering is a seeming unfairness. We should not be “a murder or thief” in order to suffer (4:15-16).

Isaiah 53 also says that “it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,” which is echoed in 1 Peter 4:19 when Peter speaks of “those who suffer according to God's will.” We are to bear up under suffering because God wills it for our good. It is never an accident or something that “just happens.” It is something we are called to (1 Pt. 2:21) and something we should expect (4:12). This is because suffering, although usually afflicting our body, has spiritual effects. Christ’s suffering was a means of our salvation; our suffering is a means of our sanctification. “[H]e who suffered in his body is done with sin” (4:1).

This is why Peter also reminds Christians that their sufferings are temporary. Suffering is just “for a little while” (1:6,10). These earthly sufferings do not last forever, and we have something much better, something eternal, that we hope for. This reflects Christ’s example, for Isaiah said, “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied” (53:11). Our present, fleeting suffering promises a greater reward. Not only this, but we suffer for the glory of God. Peter commands Christians to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (4:13). We should be glad to suffer as our Savior did. He suffered for us; now we suffer for Him – for His sake and for His glory. And we know that, by the grace of God alone, we too “will share in the glorification to be revealed” (5:11). Our sufferings are not forever and they are not in vain. We suffer as the body of Christ: in union with Him and with Christians around the world (5:9), clinging to an everlasting hope.

This hope that we have pushes us to persevere. Peter says those who are suffering “should commit themselves to their faithful Creator” (4:19). In the midst of our suffering, we turn ourselves over to the One who is faithful, and are comforted knowing that He will see us through to the end. Oftentimes, we see suffering break people’s faith, and it is frightening. But we can trust that God knows those who are His, and those who have been saved by the blood of Christ will ultimately be saved from the trials of this world. If we are truly saved, our suffering will be a proving and refining of faith, and we will persevere. God will not let anyone slip out of His hands. Even when it seems like our lives are in shambles, we are His, and we will always be His. Though we suffer, “through faith [we] are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:5).

For these truths of Scripture, I am overwhelmingly grateful. These past two years, I have felt a greater awareness of suffering than I ever have before, and I am confident this awareness will be ever-increasing. I feel as though my life has been sheltered from any real suffering, but I am forced to watch those around me lose loved ones to drugs, to death, to atheism. I ache with those who are in pain, and it is hard to trust that this pain is somehow for their good. I long to see my brothers and sisters in Christ sanctified, but it is so difficult to watch them live out the Christian’s calling and “participate in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Pt. 4:13). And all the while I know that this is my calling also. I do not feel as though I am suffering now, but Scripture clearly says I will. I pray that God will make me willing to suffer. Right now, I am scared to undergo persecution or pain, but I know that it will not be my strength that will enable me to endure.

This past fall, my Resident Director, Jennifer Uwarow, told me she believed God had been preparing her as she grew up, through her mom and the things she read, to suffer. A week and a half later, Jen was told that cancer had come back into her body for the third time, and three months later, she died. I wept for Jen and I ached for her husband Pete, but the truths of 1 Peter have never been more visible to me. I saw very real suffering in their lives, but still they clung to Christ. And I knew when Jen died that her temporary suffering was over; she was with her Savior and filled with everlasting joy in His presence. I know God preserves those who are His, and I trust that He will carry me, as He did Jen, over whatever He has in store for this life. All the while, I will sing, as Jeremy Camp does, “There will be a day with no more tears, and no more pain, and no more fears/ There will be a day when the burdens of this place will be no more; we’ll see Jesus face to face.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thoughts of the Week

He was despised and rejected by men
He carried the burden of my sin
He was pierced and crushed for all to see
His suffering was done for me

Silently, He was led like a lamb
Before the slaughter – the great I AM
The perfect sacrifice was He
Chosen, revealed, unblemished for me

The wrath of God poured out that day
Smitten by Him, my debt to pay
My iniquity borne on the tree
He was forsaken – forsaken for me

And for a glory which will never fade
He emptied Himself and me He made
A new creation – unchained and free
That exalted on high forever He might be

And so in suffering we now partake
The earth and all it holds, forsake
In light of His glory it grows dim
And we offer ourselves up now for Him

Who’s speaking? The fog sets in
As the decibels increase. The pores
Of the receiver contract in agony of
Ambiguity (listen to me) longing
For middle ground (or a bridge) –
Something solid in the midst of a
Chasm. Two different worlds, sound
Waves jabbing between, opinions like
Foils. Each is parried, more strongly,
Forcibly than before, with more
Misconstruction. Knowledge is
Knowledge: adult women who take
Dim outlines and cry “Fact! Fact!” but
Only flip the pages posthumously.
Is it…for the sake of the tooted horn it
Must be proven. Our ears melt off
And leave us in a world of silence.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Dance, Dance, Dance...and Lunge!

When a dance is approaching, you can tell by the atmosphere in the girls’ hall. Dresses fly back and forth between rooms, jewelry is discussed in detail, and your roommate asks you at 12:30 pm (after you’re already in bed) if you know how you’re going to be doing your hair (and then you laugh when your other roommate replies that she’s just going to shave it all off). It doesn’t matter that Providence dances are small and simple – definitely no high school prom – I enjoy them more than any other dances I’ve ever been to.
This past Saturday afternoon I was diligently trying to discipline my brain into doing homework, but when I ran back to my dorm to get something at about 2, I couldn’t help but notice that some girls were in the room across from me having their nails done by one of the other girls. Far be it from me to abandon such beautification processes – I was sucked in. Before I knew it, my nails were being filed and painted as we watched the end of some super cheesy chick flick on a lap top.
Two hours later, every outlet in the bathroom was overtaken by some sort of hair frying device and girls were brushing their faces and stabbing their hair with bobby pins. It gets a little warm and crowded (Beware: turning around and finding your face engulfed in a stream of hairspray meant for the head next to you) but it’s moments like these that make me happy. And the dance is just a good time. It’s so fun to see everyone just look amazing (not that we don’t usually, but you know…) and it’s awesome when everyone is able to just goof around and show off our stupendous Dutch (or in my case, home school) dance skills.
I kind of thought that my usual lack-of-strenuous-muscle-use would have me waking up pretty sore the morning after the dance, but all was good. I might be a little sore tomorrow though. We’ll see. I just got back from my badminton class. We have to take two PE classes here at Providence, and badminton is my third. This is not only because I typically enjoy PE, but badminton is pretty much the best thing in the universe. I grew up playing it in my backyard with my family and now I can’t help but look forward to reliving my childhood every Thursday night.
Most of us don’t have super badminton skills, and usually stick to lunging like crazy people all over the court, stabbing at little yellow birdies – invisible against the blinding gym lights. And we can’t help but laugh at ourselves (and each other) when we wind up for a really powerful smack and end up swinging at air, with a plastic birdie in our face. Pretty much the best stress reliever of all time. And I must say, I’m just proud I’ve finally learned how to keep score and can actually get the birdie past the service line.
Enough rambling for the night, I guess. All my badminton adrenaline has rushed out of my body and I’m sitting here trying to hold my eyes open at the moment. I should probably go pack – I’m going home for Easter tomorrow! I hope life is simply fantabulous for you right now :o)