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How to Trust

Fear and doubt come naturally to me. I’m well-practiced there. You could say I was born knowing how to fear and doubt. Trust is in a different department, which can’t operate simultaneously. You can only have one or the other, and for me, fear and doubt usually overrules trust after only a short reign. 

This past week, it bothered me that trusting God doesn’t seem to be an attitude that sticks for long. One day, I can be totally devoted to God–fully convinced of his goodness, faithfulness, and love–then I wake up the next morning with fear having crept into my thoughts overnight.

Credit: "Dawn" by dan at freedigitalphotos.net

Credit: “Dawn” by dan at freedigitalphotos.net

When the doubts show their ugly mugs, I have to remind myself to trust God instead. Sometimes this is a minute-by-minute exercise. Doubts say that God is other than the Bible says he is. But if the Bible is right, then I can silence all doubts. The first letter of John says, “God is love” (4:16). “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19).

With my mind focused on God, I have no reason to fear. Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” This verse gives me reassurance when I’m feeling afraid since there’s the promise of “perfect peace” for anyone who is steadfastly trusting in God. Verse 26:4 then gives the guarantee for the promise, the reason why trusting God brings peace: “Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.” God dispels fear, like a lamp illuminating darkness, because he is unchanging and immovable. “I AM WHO I AM,” the Lord said to Moses (Exodus 3:14).

God is worthy of trust. We do not need to fear because we know God loves us and he will never change. He promises it. He says he will never abandon us. He will do anything for those he loves, even sacrifice his son Jesus to rescue us from death.

As you think on where Christmas started, with a baby “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger,” remember that God loves you as much as he did on that night in Bethlehem when he gave the greatest gift the world has ever seen. Then let God silence your fears and doubts.

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Posted by on December 24, 2013 in Other thoughts

 

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Bedtime Reading

Every night before I sleep, I pick up a little book a friend gave me over a year ago for a birthday gift. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young is a year-long devotional, but I’ve continued to read it even after reading all 366 devotions. I have been caught by the mystery that no matter what kind of day I’ve had, the day’s devotion seems to speak directly to me and my circumstances.

I recently found out two friends also read this devotional as part of their daily routines. We read the exact same thing every day, but we never knew until now. But it gets stranger. One of these friends told me that the daily readings always have some application to her day. Even though my friend and I may have completely different days, we both can connect to what we read in Jesus Calling, and it tells us just what we need to hear.

It doesn’t matter what my day is like, this book leaves an impact, calling to those deep achings of the heart. Each devotion is written as if it is a personal message from Jesus, supported by Bible verses listed underneath. This format helps me to realize the Bible as God’s words transcribed for me. Instead of reading dry text, I start to hear his voice coming through, that whisper on the wind.

The devotions also emphasize God first, as the primary priority before my goals, work, and worries. Each day’s passage reminds me to refocus on Jesus and center myself on him, letting everything else weighing me down to fall away. Jesus Calling is about resting in the presence of God, the one who invites you into peace and joy. I cannot imagine a better comfort as I fall asleep.

Tonight’s devotion reads:

“Leave outcomes up to Me. Follow Me wherever I lead, without worrying about how it will all turn out. Think of our life as an adventure, with Me as your Guide and Companion. Live in the now, concentrating on staying in step with Me. When our path leads to a cliff, be willing to climb it with My help. When we come to a resting place, take time to be refreshed in My presence. Enjoy the rhythm of life lived close to Me.

“You already know the ultimate destination of your journey: your entrance into heaven. So keep your focus on the path just before you, leaving outcomes up to Me.”

Which devotionals do you enjoy reading? What time of day do you prefer to read them?

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2013 in Books

 

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“Find Rest for Your Souls”

When you are unemployed and meeting new people, the hardest question to answer is: “So what do you do?” You know what they are expecting to hear: “I’m a teacher/doctor/lawyer/zookeeper.” But a stigma seems to exist against outright stating your unemployment. It’s as if your new acquaintance who knows nothing about you will hear instead: “I do nothing. I’m a lazy bum who can’t keep a job. I am utterly worthless for productivity and am, in fact, a leech upon society.” You are demoted to joining The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.

Being unemployed doesn’t mean I sit on the couch staring at the ceiling every day. I have used the “unexpected vacation” to finally pick up that mental list of things I had wanted to do but had not made time for. The tally continues to grow from invitations I would have declined, opportunities I would have passed up, friends I would have missed seeing, experiences I would have refused–if I still had a full-time job. My time “out of work” has not been wasted.

I have been working, though, even if it isn’t sustainable pay just yet. Every Tuesday morning, I babysit two-year-olds during the women’s Bible study at my church. Caring for small children is a learning experience more valuable for me than the monetary compensation. I’ve also been hired to do freelance work through a couple websites. These jobs are mostly suited for people wanting extra spending money, not anyone who plans on actually living off what they earn. Again, I’m gaining experience more than anything else.

Besides the side jobs, I’ve also decided to pursue my old goal of becoming a published author. I want to write a book and have it read. Up until high school or so, I was convinced that this was my life destiny. J. K. Rowling was my role model. But reality has a habit of destroying dreams. The chances are slim of ever making it on the bestsellers lists, the literary big leagues. Even if I could write eloquent, page-turning books, I had to admit that I lack the stamina and focus to be a full-time author. Talent alone won’t get you far. But with my new free time, I’m giving it a shot, anyway. I’m “living the dream.” NaNoWriMo started yesterday, and with a bit of grace and perseverance, I will have a first draft by the end of the month. It’ll be messy, but it’s a step forward.

“So what do you do?” For now, I’m a freelance writer and editor (even if it doesn’t pay). You could say I’m self-employed and work from home. And the surprising thing is … I like it. You see, it feels like a break. The pressure is off. I don’t have to commute anywhere or spend eight hours in an office. I can focus on other things besides earning a paycheck, things that I would argue are more important.

In professional terms, I am taking a sabbatical. More than anything, I have an insatiable thirst to simply be with God and rest from all the normal concerns of the world. I want to fall into his arms and lie there like a child on her father’s lap. I’ve never been in the habit of having daily time to pray and study the Bible, but the past weeks have helped me start. When I close my bedroom door and have quality time alone with God, I wish I could stay there and ignore the rest of the world. I don’t have to say a word, and neither does he. We just enjoy each other’s company.

Credit: www.pi-e-t.com

I feel a little guilty to admit this desire. I can imagine a jury of peers accusing me of idleness. “Get a real job like the rest of us!” they criticize. If they require scriptural support, Proverbs features plenty of harsh condemnations to “inspire” the slothful.

Yet even Jesus knew the importance of rest. He told his own disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). To the greater masses, he made the famous declaration: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29). God formerly disciplined the Israelites when they wouldn’t listen to him and rest. He told them, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isa. 30:15). Psalm 127:2 says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” And, of course, there’s the well-known Psalm 23, which says of God, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.”

This is all straightforward. God wants us to rest. If we don’t, he will make us. Work is good and necessary, but rest is a gift we’d be ridiculous to refuse. Without physical rest, our bodies crumble. It’s easy to see the effects. Our minds and spirits need rest as well, and God tells us to find it in him.

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2013 in Publishers

 

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“Here I Am”

After my boss told me about the company layoffs, I realized that I have the time to write this post. For one reason or another, I made other priorities. But now that excuse is no longer valid.

My job required frequent reading and study of the Bible. Some months back, I can’t remember exactly when, I came across Isaiah’s call to be a prophet. Recorded in Isaiah 6, the prophet has a vision of God’s throne. Isaiah is overwhelmed by his unworthiness to be in the presence of God. One of the creatures worshiping the Lord purifies Isaiah with a coal from God’s altar, thus making the prophet able to stand before God’s throne without guilt. Then in verse 8, God speaks from his throne, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

Isaiah volunteers without hesitation, like a child eager to please his father. “Here I am! Send me.”

For the child, any opportunity to work with his father feels like a special mission just for him. It is an honor. Isaiah doesn’t know the job description yet. All he knows is that God has accepted him, and now he will take any task from his Father.

As I read this scene, it reminded me of God’s call to Samuel. He responded in a similar way even before he realized he had heard God’s voice. In 1 Samuel 3, the boy runs to his guardian, Eli, crying, “Here I am!” Confused, Eli sends the boy away. This happens twice more before Eli guesses that the Lord is the one speaking. Samuel had mistaken the voice, but he still had the right response. He got up from bed every time to obey the call. He came to Eli ready for whatever the priest had to tell him.

“Here I am.” These three words stuck with me ever since. Recently, I decided to see where else it appears in the Bible. It turns out that Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and lesser-known Ananias all used this simple prayer. In each case, these words mean more than, “I’m listening.” Three short words succinctly express a willingness to hear God and a submission to his direction. These are words of obedience and service. The longer version would be: “Here I am, ready and willing. What do you desire or request? Say the word. Everything I am is yours.”

This prayer is not for the faint of heart. Abraham was told to sacrifice his heir and beloved son (Gen. 22:1-2).

Jacob was sent to his homeland, which he had fled in order to escape his brother’s vengeance (Gen. 31:11, 13). Later in his life, Jacob prayed this after hearing that his son Joseph was alive and a ruler of Egypt. God tells him to not be afraid to go to Egypt, where he would die and his descendants later became a nation in slavery (Gen. 46:2-3). Several generations later, Moses prays the same way when God calls to him out of a burning bush, and God sends him into Egypt to free his people. When David’s son Absalom rebels against him, David is forced to

A reminder I made for myself

A reminder I made for myself

retreat from Jerusalem. But he trusts God’s judgment and tells his priest, “If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place. But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him” (2 Sam. 15:25-26, emphasis added). Finally, there’s Ananias: the disciple in Damascus whom God chose to visit Saul of Tarsus, the Jewish militant arresting Christians (Acts 9:10-12). Ananias essentially says to God, “Are you kidding me?”

With these “encouraging” stories to guide me, I decided to take up the challenge. I re-evaluated my life and asked where God wanted me to go next. I prayed, “Here I am.” Pretty soon, God presented me with the opportunity to be a small group leader with students at my alma mater. The offer took me by surprise, and I had to stop and ask if it was really God’s voice. Sure, I had said the prayer, but this wasn’t the response I had expected.

Then this past week, my boss told me the bad news. Another surprise. Several positions, including mine, had to be cut from the company budget. Suddenly, I didn’t have work the next day. One phone call, and I had 40 extra hours of free time each week.

So here I am, Lord. Say the word.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2013 in Other thoughts

 

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How to Lose Everything

Levi was an ordinary man with an ordinary desk-job. He worked for the government in taxes. He wasn’t well-liked, but it was a position that allowed for affluent living, especially if he exacted a little extra than the law required.

One day while at work, a man walked by Levi’s tax booth with a large crowd following after him. The man spotted Levi and simply said, “Follow me.” Levi stood up and left his work behind. He took the man to his house and invited others in his field of work as well as the people following the man to join them for a big dinner. Even though the community leaders criticized his choice of company, the man defended meeting with the corrupt government workers. After that night, Levi left his town to follow this man around the country as he continued gathering and teaching the ignored, shunned, and disadvantaged. Levi left everything he had and became known as the apostle Matthew.

Jesus repeated this scene several times, calling different people to join his disciples (Mark 2:14-17). What catches me, though, are his requirements. In one way or another, he says each time that his disciples have to abandon everything to follow him.

Luke 9:57-62 shows how Jesus calls three men. The first eagerly volunteers to follow him, no matter where Jesus travels. What is Jesus’ response? “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Translation? “Even animals have their homes, but I have no home. If you follow me, you won’t have a home either.”

He then turns and tells someone else to follow him. This man asks for some more time before going with Jesus. I once heard someone say that by asking to wait to bury his father, this man’s father was probably still alive. He wanted to wait until he fulfilled the duty of burying his father after he eventually died. Who knows how long that might take? This second man didn’t want an extension for a day or two; he was stalling indefinitely.

The third man in this story has a much smaller request. He promises to follow Jesus, but he just wants to say goodbye to his family before taking off. There is no knowing when he may return, if at all, so he asks to first visit the people he loves most. Jesus takes a different perspective. He tells the man, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Or in other words, “Either you are all in, without any doubts, or else you’re useless to me.”

These may sound like harsh words, but Jesus never said that the truth would be easy to swallow. He only wanted fully dedicated followers in his company, and even those still would doubt until his resurrection from the dead. Jesus chose one, Judas Iscariot, that would fall away in order to fulfill the Scripture (John 17:12). All the rest, Jesus kept close to him and prepared them to continue his work after he ascended to heaven. In his prayer the night before his crucifixion, Jesus says to God the Father, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). And going into the world turned out to be a tough job only suited for those who would exchange everything to work in the service of Jesus.

In my Perspectives class, we studied the many missionary eras and the inspiring people God called to his work. Hundreds of years ago, missionaries used to go off to foreign lands they had never seen and barely knew. They would pack up a few personal belongings and board a ship to who knows where, fully expecting to never return home. There were many who died of disease within a year or two. These faithful people believed that Jesus addressed the Great Commission to every one of his followers, including themselves, and they obeyed his call even while aware of the costs (Matt. 28:16-20).

Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission

Hudson Taylor, an 18th-century Englishman, knew God wanted him in China. He ended up spending 51 years there, starting the China Inland Mission and setting new precedents for future missionaries to follow. Taylor was strongly convicted by the lost souls in China and God’s call for Christians to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. He is quoted as saying, “It will not do to say that you have no special call to go to China. With these facts before you and with the command of the Lord Jesus to go and preach the gospel to every creature, you need rather to ascertain whether you have a special call to stay at home.”

According to Taylor’s thinking, missionaries are not the Christian exceptions, the rarities of the flock. Instead, missionaries such as the apostles are meant to be the norm. In the Christian life, staying at home should be unusual. Staying at home should be the “special call” or Plan B when God prevents you from otherwise going. The Christian life means to lose everything. When Jesus says, “Follow me,” we get up and leave behind our work, our homes, our families, and everything we know. We lose it all to gain life with him–true, fulfilling life that never ends.

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Other thoughts

 

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Do Not Fear… God is with You

“Fear not; the things that you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of.”

This morning, my pastor quoted this maxim of “real religion” from the Scottish philosopher and theologian John Macmurray. In contrast, Macmurray describes “illusory religion” as, “Fear not; trust in God and he will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you.” The illusory religion is a lie. Real religion, by Macmurray’s definition, recognizes that God does not spare his children from what scares them. Instead, God shows them that they do not need to be afraid.

Today, churches celebrated Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem in order to sacrifice himself on the cross (John 12:12-16). His sacrifice means our salvation from the judgment of our sins, namely, eternal hell separated from God. He gave himself to die so that we could be reunited with God–not to be saved from our temporal fears. Being a Christian does not mean salvation from suffering in this world. On the contrary, Jesus guarantees it. The night before he died, Jesus told his disciples that he would soon return to God the Father. He said to them, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble.” He warned them right there of the trouble to come, despite also promising them peace. “But take heart!” he continued. “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Yes, there will be trouble in this world, but Jesus has “overcome the world.” He has already won the war, and he has all power. The victory is his alone.

So even though our fears are “quite likely to happen,” what reason do we have to fear them? Why do we fear when the victor is on our side? The things we fear are not worth our worry. In Luke 12, Jesus teaches his disciples to trust in God and his goodness rather than to be afraid for their lives. He goes on to explain the provision of God and the uselessness of worrying about clothes or food. Rather than setting our hearts on these material things, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). Why do we grasp for petty goods when God has given us his kingdom?

In my Perspectives class, we are learning about God’s kingdom and how he has called us to spread his kingdom throughout the world. Unlike human kingdoms, the kingdom Jesus meant isn’t a geographic-bound, royal state. It’s actually more about God’s glory and authority. This is more easily understood as a kingship rather than kingdom. When Jesus says God gave us his kingdom, it means we have been adopted into his family and have inherited his salvation and power. In other words, we are royalty. What do we have to fear when we have God’s kingship?

We get all the royal benefits–and responsibilities. Part of our inheritance is to carry on the kingship and spread the kingdom. Again and again in the Bible, God tells us to serve in his great work of extending the kingdom to all corners of the earth. God chooses to use his children in his plans, and the Bible shows many such examples. From one story to the next, God calls people to follow his instructions. To Moses, these marching orders were to rescue the Israelites from slavery and lead them into their promised homeland. To King David, God established a commitment to an earthly kingdom that would make his name known. To the prophets of Israel and Judah, God’s call told them to rebuke his people’s sins, exhort his people to return to him, and comfort them in his discipline. To the apostles, Jesus sent them into the world to announce the good news of God’s kingdom.

God has been in recent months calling me to his work with a stronger voice. The call gains more clarity as time goes on. Lately, I’ve been reading the prophets in the Bible and came to Jeremiah. As soon as I read his call from God, I knew God and I were in the same conversation. Jeremiah 1:4-8 reads:

The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD. Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.”

God leaves no room for excuse. Especially our fears, whether of rejection, failure, poverty, or even death. None of it matters compared to fulfilling our instructions from God. He already knows what scares us, but he promises that he is big enough and strong enough to be worthy of our trust. He says, “I am with you and will rescue you.” Yes, there is trouble in this world. There is pain and death. But we have the privilege to participate in our Father’s work here on earth, and in the end, God will still be with us to bring us home.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2013 in Other thoughts

 

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The One-Year Anniversary

Happy anniversary!

Dear readers, what started out as a three-week, required class project has turned into a one-year old blog. Thank you if you are one of the few who have been with me from the beginning. Knowing that you were there to see each new post motivated me to keep sharing my thoughts with you and the rest of the world. More importantly, this blog has spurred me on in studying the Bible, reading Christian-themed books, and reflecting on my faith.

The last year impacted me in many ways, and as a friend recently told me, the coming months look to hold more “formative” moments. I feel as if I stand on the brink of a freefall. When I lose my balance and tip over the edge, I will have to trust that God will either bless me with wings or be there at the bottom to catch me. The changes, as well as challenges, ahead resonate in my bones like the sense animals feel of a coming storm. I tense for the impact without knowing what to expect.

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Ecclesiastes because of its strangely contrasting tone of voice next to other books of the Bible. Most of the book sounds like the author, King Solomon, is depressed. He talks about how everything in life is useless, because everyone dies eventually and everything is destroyed. He leaves little hope. Yet, one passage from chapter 3 is well-known and often quoted:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

There’s no divining the future. All we can do is wait to see what the present brings. It’s ridiculous to think we could do anything better. Who can comprehend the thoughts and plans of God? The finite cannot hold the infinite. So we must trust and listen.

My own plans can fall at any moment like a pyramid of cards, because my “times” do not always match God’s. I may think it is the time or season for something, but planning is best left to God’s omniscience. I do not know what God has planned for me. I do not know where he may lead me next or what he may tell me to do. The best I can do is be ready and listening when he calls. 

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Posted by on January 10, 2013 in Other thoughts

 

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