Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Tribute to My Daughter

It was the perfect dress.   It was elegant and could even be worn with a black shirt underneath to make it more Central Asian appropriate.  We had been looking at the different stores for a potential banquet dress for W.   It was July, and the banquet would not be until May.   We knew it would be our best opportunity to find what we wanted since we would be leaving in a few weeks to go back to Central Asia.  An hour or so later, we found a pair of black sandals to match the ensemble.

It is now past the date of when the banquet was suppose to be, and the dress is still hanging in the closet unworn.  There was no banquet.  There was no closure or even graduation.  W now has a diploma saying she graduated but there was no ceremony.   This is W's life.

We moved overseas when W was in 7th grade.  According to the experts, it could be a rough transition.  Instead, we saw our daughter blossom as she found her style with a mix of Western and Central Asian clothes.  She was still quiet but came out out of her shell as she found her place at the international school where she attended.  Who would have known she would one day take dance and love it?  Who would have known that her basketball team would take a trip to China, or that she would love helping with the costumes and sets for the school's next production?  W was her own unique lady finding her way in a culture that was not her own.

Life was not always easy.  Friends would come and go.  It seemed like she always had to say good bye to a friend who was leaving to go to another place.  She never complained, but I know it was hard.   In each season, God provided a friend but making new friends can be challenging.  She gracefully wore the required modest clothing, giving it her own touch.    Even when it was hot, she did not complain.   In our time here, we have known at least 5 people who have been killed.  One of those was a good friend of hers.   Tears flowed freely at our house.  We asked if it was time to go back to the states.  She said, "No.  We should stay. " In January, our school closed just as she had one semester left until graduation.  It was stressful, but she sought with us the best option to finish her out well.   She did not complain about what might have been.   It was just part of this life our family had chosen.

W is not perfect.  In many ways, she is an ordinary teenager who loves watching movies, wearing fun clothes and often fights with her brother, but she is her own unique person.  In her, I see Jesus.  She has made our family's calling her own.  She loves this land just as much as we do.  With Jesus, she has weathered many storms.  Many days you can hear sweet hymns coming from her room as she sings her praise.  With Jesus, she stepped out of her comfort zone this year and helped lead her youth group.  We see God working in her as she makes decisions about her future.  Her father and I can not take credit for the lady she is becoming.  God is working in her, and I can't wait to see how He will continue to use her in the coming years.

We can look back and mourn that our school closed or that there was no banquet.  We could even complain that life was hard but then we would miss the blessings- the blessings of a close family, a strong faith, and the opportunity to serve faithfully.   We would have missed out on the adventure God has for us here in this place and this time. Life was not easy or predictable but God was good and faithful.  I as a mom am thankful for God's work in my daughter as He as worked in her, protected her, and allowed her to blossom here in this land.

This tribute is not to say how great my daughter is, even though I think she is pretty great.  It is to say that God works, loves, and is there even when things are hard.  On a side note, this next week we will have a graduation party with the other family we have been doing school with, and she will get to wear her dress.    Blessings, TJ

Monday, May 11, 2015

Where are Your Desires Leading You: (James 2 Verses at a Time)

What do you desire?  Cain desired God's acceptance but his sacrifice was rejected.   This made Cain angry.  God confronted Cain about his anger and warned him that sin was crouching at his door.  He must subdue it or it would become his master.  Instead of listening to God's wisdom, Cain killed his brother.  Somehow he thought that would give him what he wanted.  Moses desired a people who would listen to him and God.  In his anger over their unbelief, he struck the rock and canceled his ticket to the promised land.  David was lonely and desired companionship.  This desire led to adultery, murder, and the death of a son.  In James 1: 14-15, it says..
Temptation comes from our own desires which entice us and drag us away.  These desires give birth to sinful actions.  And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.
In the proceeding verses, we are told that temptation does not come from God.  Where does it come from?  It comes for our own desires which entice us and drag us away.   We know desires are not all bad.  In Psalm 37: 4 it tells us if we delight in the Lord that he will give us our heart's desires.   But then again in Jeremiah, we are told that the heart is deceitful so how can our desires be good?   In week two of her James study, Beth Moore points out the correlation between verses 3-4 with verses 14-15.  In the first we have testing which leads to patiently enduring which leads to being mature and fully developed.  In the second, we have temptation which leads to desire which leads to sin.  The first leads to life while the second leads to death.  Temptation will come.  Some days I will give in.  Other days I will endure and make the right choices.   Here are some observations.

1. I need to take every thought captive.  (II Cor. 10:5)

I don't know about you but my mind can come up with some crazy things.  I think one thing which leads to another and then all of a sudden I am mad or sad or frustrated.   I let my desire for control or acceptance lead me down a path towards saying things I should not say or doing things I will regret later.   What a difference it makes when I take a thought captive and put it up next to God's word which leads to my next point.  This is one way I can patiently endure.

2. I need to be in God's word.  

When I am daily in God's word, it is much easier to recognize the lies that my heart is telling me.  I can clearly see the truth.   God's word gives me the strength and wisdom to patiently endure the temptation.    This is one thing I love about memorizing scripture.  The Holy Spirit can bring those verse to our mind just when we need them.

3. I need to remember that only God can give me the desires of my heart.

When I look to the world for desires like acceptance or love, I am going to come up lacking.  These are things that only God can give.   I may find a form of acceptance or love but inside I will know that something is still missing.   Have you ever been in a situation where you tried to control the circumstance to come out the way you wanted it to?  Did it work out your way or did  you make things worse?  I usually make it worse.  The times when I step back, pray, and trust God's leading are the times when the results are so much better than I could have imagined.  We want things now but sometimes we are not ready.  We want things our way but we do not see the big picture.  God knows that desires of our heart.  He knows which are good and right, but he also knows the best way to give us these desires.

4. Sometimes I need to run from temptation.

There are times to stand up and say no.  Other times like Joseph, we need to run from our temptation. This might be literally walking away before we say or do something that we will regret.  It may be having boundaries such as no sweets in the house, not watching tv, or having the computer in a central room.  One boundary that helps me when I use it is not wanting to know everything about everything.   A good example is prayer requests.  Sometimes we share too much which leads to gossip.  Keep it simple and sweet and use the extra time to pray.    For me, it sometimes means staying away from a conversation where I will find out things I don't need to know or be tempted to add things I don't need to be adding.  

5.  I Do Have a Choice to NOT Sin

I love yet hate  I Cor. 10:13.  It says...
The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience.  And God is faithful.  He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand.  When you are tempted, he will show a way out so that you can endure.
I love that God will not allow us to be tempted more than we can handle.  He wants us to succeed.  He wants us to endure.  I have a choice not to sin.  Sometimes seeing this choice is hard.  Sometimes I don't see it because I am not looking.  I also hate this verse because I do not have an excuse.  I can't blame it on the the circumstance, someone else or even the devil. God has set before us life and death.  I pray we can choose the way that leads to life.  

Dear God, Thank you that you give us the strength to endure.  Help me to see the desires of my heart that are enticing me and dragging me away from you.  Show me a better way.  Help me set good boundaries and see the way out.  May I know when to stand and fight and when to run.  God, I want my life to be a shining light for you here in this land.  May I cling to you and your word in the good times and the bad.  Amen. 

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Endure Patiently (James Two Verses at a Time)

Even though some seasons are harder than others, each season has its challenges.   The challenge may be children who are sick or unruly.  It could even be conflict at work or health problems.  On the other hand, your challenge could be too much time on your hands or being too busy.  Our season is full of finishing school and figuring out what life looks like here without me working at the international school.   Life here is always a challenge whether it is a security issue, no electricity, or being short staffed.  It can feel like you are in an endurance race.  Sometimes you are running well, and other times you just want to curl up by the side of the road and take a nap.   Our verses from James this week talk about enduring patiently the testing and temptation that come our way.   They are taken from James 1:12-13 NLT.
God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation.  Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.  And remember when you are being tempted do not say, "God is tempting me."  God is never tempted to do wrong and he never tempts anyone else.
The phrase "patiently endure" occurs many times in the New Testament.  In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells his readers to patiently endure troubles and hardship because it shows you are ministers of God. (2:6)  Paul later reminds the Thessalonica church that patient endurance comes from Christ. (2 Thess 3:5).  Peter in his second letter puts patient endurance between self control and godliness in the path to maturity.  (2 Pet. 1:6) Lastly in Revelation, the churches of Ephesus and Thyatira were commended for their patient endurance. (Rev 2:19)  Many times in Revelation, John reminds believers to patiently endure.  (Rev. 1:9,13:19,14:12) Patiently enduring is a part of our lives as believers.  The problem is what does it mean to patiently endure, and are we patiently enduring the testings and temptations that come our way?

I think we can all agree that the Israelites wandering in the wilderness are not a good example of enduring patiently.  They were quick to whine, complain, and rebel against the authority that God had put in place for them.  In contrast, David and his men endured patiently as Saul sought to kill David.  In the Psalms, we see David in the wilderness crying out to God.  His focus was on God and what God could do.  The Israelites were focused on themselves and what God was not doing for them.  David was not perfect.  When he was king, he gave into temptation, slept with Bathsheba, and had her husband killed.  But he would be the first to admit that he would have been able to resist the temptation if his focus would have been on God and not himself and his supposed needs.  

The other day I came across this quote by Elif Shafak, the author of 40 Rules of Love.  I have never read his book and don't know anything about the author but this quote does a great job of defining "patient endurance."
Patience does not mean to passively endure.  It means to be farsighted enough to trust the end result of a process.  What does patience mean?  It means to look at the thorn and see the rose, to look at the night and see the dawn.

As followers of Jesus, patiently enduring means not trusting the end result but trusting in the God who will make all things new.  Our focus is on God and who He is and not on ourselves and our circumstances.  It requires being content in all circumstances as we take daily steps of faith.  Testing and temptation make life challenging.  There will be tears.  There will be times on our knees asking why.

As many of you know, last year was a hard year for our family.  People that we knew died here in senseless acts of violence.  Many of us were evacuated for the summer and in the fall, we returned to a much smaller team.  Then in January, our school closed.  It has been a year filled with tears but also great joy.  I don't know if we have patiently endured but we do feel stronger in our faith.  God has been more real to us in the last year, and we can see him working all around us.  This next year doesn't look to be any easier.  There will be times we will be tempted to give up.  Other times we will wonder if it is all worth it.  My prayer is that we will keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.  I pray that the seeds that have been planted by those who have gone before us will grow and that we will continue to water them until they fully developed.

What is hard for you right now?  How are you being tempted or tested?  What does enduring patiently look like for you?  I would love to hear how God is working in your life.