Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Two Special Gifts

When I was twelve years old, my dad gave me a Bible. In the front pages, he wrote me a letter.

"...I am your father and love you very much. There is nothing I would not do for you. I only want your welfare and good fortune. But this book contains the greatest gift I could ever give you. I hope you can see the impact it has had on my life. Through the pages of this book we learn about the greatest gift of all...God gave His son Jesus Christ so that we can have life. I hope you realize the intensity of my love; God's love is even greater than mine. I pray that you continue all the days of your life to walk in His magnificent light."

My dad preached the Gospel to me, but he also modeled it for me. He was not a perfect man, but I saw his personal relationship with the Word of God, and I saw it change him.

Years later, I am reminded of my father's gift and his prayer for me as I hold my new Bible, a birthday gift from my husband. His also had a note.

"...On this your 23rd birthday, I can think of nothing better to give you than God's Word. Your constant desire to draw everything back through the lines of Scripture is nothing short of inspiring to me. My prayer is that this desire would grow in both intensity and knowledge."

What is so meaningful to me about these memoirs is that both my father and my husband realized something: that the truth of God's Word is the greatest treasure they can offer me. Their prayer for me is not that I'll have every happiness, that I'll conquer the world, that I'll go out and make my dreams come true- they both prayed for me that my relationship with the Word of God would shape and define my life.

And what is the Word of God?

"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Every page of Scripture leads me to Him. Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, the Word made flesh. He's the One who met my father in the pages of Scripture and transformed his life. He's the One who prepared him to die well- to see glory- and He's the salvation I find from Genesis to Revelation. God's Word tells me The Story so that I can meet the hero, Jesus Christ- God's Living Word to me.

Monday, August 29, 2011

David and Goliath

Ok. So the more I've been thinking about the difference between description and prescription (like here), the more I can see how confused even we Christians are about what this life with Jesus is all about. Let me give you an example.

Ever go to Sunday School? I wonder if you learned about Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Or maybe you got to help pin Mommy and Daddy Giraffe on a felt board climbing onto Noah's Ark. Or maybe you learned about how David killed Goliath. I certainly did. I'll tell you what else I learned. I thought the "moral of the story" (ironically) is that I'm supposed to be brave like Moses, obedient like Noah, and strong like David. Moral lessons. I thought they were a bunch of isolated stories that terminated on themselves, but could teach me a thing or two about being a good girl. In fact, I used to wonder if I was "good" enough to be in a Bible story!

But here's why that complicates things. Intellectually, I believe the Gospel: I'm not god- I can't save myself. I can't "earn" a good standing before God, but Jesus Christ earned it for me by living a perfect life and taking my sin to the Cross- and it is through trusting in His work alone that I am made alive, adopted as God's child, and sealed for eternity. Look at all those fancy terms even! Justified, sanctified, sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise as a guarantee of my inheritance...I could rattle off lots of Scripture references and fill out a mean mission-trip application.

But all of those fancy terms and all of that intellectual knowledge about God being Savior can still fall on a "self-saving" heart. I can preach "the Gospel of grace" all day long, and secretly live the "moral lesson" kind of life. I can still read the story of David and Goliath and think, "OK- how can I impress God today by fighting my own personal Goliath?" I can claim that I am saved by Christ alone and then put my "to-do" list on the scale, measure my spiritual muscles, and once again believe that a description of life with God- being rich in good works- is the prescription for life with God.

So anyway, back to David and Goliath. If God is truly Savior, not me, then am I really David in the story? Or am I Israel, cowering on the sidelines while an Anointed One defeats Goliath on my behalf? Am I really Noah, blameless and upright before God and preserved because of my good works? Or am I helpless Mommy Giraffe, saved from destruction purely through of the blameless work of Another? Am I to see myself as Moses, hoping to go down in history for my impressive deeds, or am I a little slave girl following Jesus- My Deliverer- out from under the bondage of Pharaoh?

Being made strong like David, obedient like Noah, and brave like Moses are happening. But those things are happening because of Another who has been my David, my Noah, my Moses. They are descriptions of the life that has been won for me by Christ Jesus, not the means by which I received it in the first place.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Only Prescription: Come!

I've been blogging about contentment and "living in the now" lately, in part because that's where God has been meeting me (He's good at meeting us where we are!) And I realize that just reading my last few posts, in a vacuum, might lead to some confusion about what it means to be a Christian!

Here's what I mean. Moral lessons or positive anecdotes can never bring us life. Being a Christian is not about thinking positively or being morally upright. It's not about "keeping family first," "remembering what's important," or "enjoying the little moments" life has to offer. It's about being totally rescued and completely redefined by Jesus Christ.

Why does that matter? Why do I need to bring that up? Surely a lesson on "learning to be content in the now" could stand on its own without dragging Jesus into it! Well, it matters to me more than anything- because if I'm influencing anyone out there and they walk away thinking "to be fulfilled, I just need to learn to live in the now" then I believe my words have done a disservice.

God describes my natural state before Him apart from Christ as "dead." But because of Christ's death on the Cross (taking my "death" for me) and His Resurrection (accomplishing new life for me), I am now "raised to life" with Christ and am now "alive" to God (Ephesians 2, Colossians 2). So when I talk about all these other things- learning to be content, doing such and such good deed, trusting God for provision, etc.- I am describing the life God has given me, not prescribing the way to find life.

I don't want to promote a description of life as the prescription for life. If you are thirsty for life with Jesus please don't think I'm offering moral lessons as a way to get there. All I can give you is the same invitation that was given to me: "Come!"

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,

and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,

and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live!"

-Isaiah 55

Monday, August 22, 2011

Brain Tumor: A True Story of Wreckage and Redemption

July 13th, 2011. JD and Kacy Neinast heard life-changing news, the kind that turns the world upside down. Brain tumor. Here's what they heard from the Doctor after his MRI:

"He went in last Thursday for the results and was told he has a large tumor on the left side of his
brain. His doctor, Dr. Daniel, at Medical City Dallas, said he has not ever seen one this size that was not cancerous and it looks to be a stage three or four glioblastoma tumor."

Here was what they asked church members to pray for from day one:

"Healing. We have been praying and will continue to pray that God heal and remove this tumor in a way that can only be credited to Him. We fully believe that He can heal Jd without medical intervention and are praying for that."

Here is their latest blog post- please read it! Skilled, experienced members of the medical community confirmed that scans at one point showed an enormous tumor and now show nothing at all.

This is a great story, but what awes me more is how it fits into the larger meta-narrative of God and His people- how it relates to The Story. A long time ago, sin entered a world that was not made for it. Sin broke things, from the eco-system to the human heart. This is evidenced from the rain that refuses to fall in Somalia all the way down to the cancers that rip families apart from the inside. Sin- the curse- broke the world.

...But God. God intervened. He decided to take the curse- that we earned- onto Himself. He took the curse onto His own body on the Cross and bought redemption for this broken world. That means He is going to redeem everything from the eco-system to the human heart. And that is why people like JD Neinast have brain tumors that disappear: because Jesus is showing His authority over all things, and His power to redeem. JD's healing is a blessing, but it's not just about him. The blessing is about Jesus and what Jesus means for a broken world.

Too disillusioned to believe? I can relate. This is all coming from a girl who's father didn't get healed. But I still got the same blessing as JD's family- a deeper, more breathtaking view of Jesus Christ, who took my curse for me. The healing we receive now is still temporary. JD still has a mortal body that will decay in the grave. But all of it- glory in healing and glory in dying well- speak of the One who conquered death for His redeemed.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Who Are the Poor?

Last night, Michael and I watched a movie called Pursuit of Happiness, starring Will Smith. It was a true story about a man who struggles to provide for his son, and even though the movie has a happy (obviously) ending, much of the film depicts the plight of hard working men and women who can't seem to get a break. It sort of flies in the face of the cliche that "people who work hard don't end up in poverty."

I'm not referencing the movie to make a political statement or to announce I've figured out the cause of poverty. (Bummer, right?) I'm bringing it up because I was surprised by my own reaction to the film. Instead of just being happy that the main character found better circumstances, I felt a visceral awareness of my own fear and anxiety regarding the poor.

One scene in the movie shows the main character and his son sleeping in a public bathroom in the subway. Another part of the movie shows them line up day after day at a local homeless shelter in hopes of finding a bed. The film was so well done that I actually felt like I was in the story- and my reaction was not just respect for a dedicated father falling on hard times; it was fear and shame.

I would be overcome with shame if the best I could provide for my son is the floor of a public bathroom. I'd be scared to stand in line at a homeless shelter, to actually sleep next to "dangerous" street people. I 'd be filled with self-pity and resentment if I had to face a season of life like that. What's more, I can't imagine sleeping on the floor of a public bathroom because it is the best option available to me. I can't imagine standing in line at a homeless shelter desperately hoping to get to spend the night there. I can't imagine being truly in need, truly without, and truly stuck in the debilitating cycle of poverty.

I heard once that most people lost in the wilderness don't die of hunger- they die of shame. After watching this movie, I can understand that a little better. But what shame is there in circumstances that are beyond our control? That's when I realized that we Westerners- at least this Westerner- inextricably links human dignity to material possessions. That's what gave me the most shame of all. My cover was blown- a fearless extrovert in most situations, I would be afraid of a homeless person simply because he lacks what I think he needs in order to be considered a "decent" (or at least a "safe") person.

I was talking about this with Michael on the way to work today and asking "why does our society fear the poor?" He said, "Maybe because people who are destitute having nothing to lose, so they're less inhibited." (Side note: watching this movie last night, there were times when I was actually hoping he'd just steal stuff! I'm just as guilty as any "thief" because entitlement and stealing are in my heart. Just take away some of my nice things and it would probably be more visible.)

So what I realized is that I'm only comfortable relating with people when they are "people" by my standards. I've taken what is actually human- a soul created by God- which contains all the worth and dignity required to make someone worthy of love and community- and I've said, "that's not enough. In order for me to feel safe or comfortable talking to that person- much less hug them- they need to be clean and "normal" looking- not a threat to me (and by me, I really mean my stuff.)

When those things that I think make a person approachable are stripped away, that's when I'm really having human-to-human contact. That's really community with others. I realized I'm actually afraid of this. In Africa, I was surprised that I was a little scared to hold a baby that had no diaper. What if I got wet or dirty? I was amazed to find all my qualifications for love. It showed me that my real attitude towards others- whether it's an orphan in Africa or the weird guy at school- is, "I'll love you, only if you're not messy. Only if my relationship with you can be nice and neat and clean. I'll love you as long as you don't threaten this comfort that I've worked to hard to keep."

Good thing Jesus didn't have that attitude. He definitely wouldn't have hung out with the crowds He did if He were worried about getting dirty. He wouldn't have inaugurated His own ministry with "good news for the poor" and He would have been a lot more sensitive about turning away rich people who could have been "big supporters." He was not a respecter of persons! And He was homeless! Yet He felt no shame about it, because He knew that at the heart of being human is not having property or being clean. It's about being made in the image of God- and because of that, He could see all people as the same. We're the ones with the problem of perception.

I'm the one who thinks that poor people are "different" from me because they steal or eat out of dumpsters or any other thing I think I'd never do. All it took was watching a movie for me to realize I would do the exact same things, or worse. Maybe my material status mainly serves to blind me from my spiritual status- just as destitute, messy, and dirty as the homeless guy stealing food. I might have fooled myself, but Jesus isn't fooled. And He still died for me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Now or Never

Ironically, less than a week after I posted about contentment and life being here and now, my thesis was tested. (People like me are the reason that "practice what you preach!" is such a common expression.) Just yesterday we began seriously praying about whether I should expand my degree from a 50 credit Masters to a 73 credit Masters. This would involve a few changes in our schedule (which I can handle), some extra juggling of commitments (which I can handle), and more organized free time (which I can handle.) But it may also mean one more year in Dallas- which I'm not sure I can handle!

Here's what's silly about this. The thing that upsets me about staying in Dallas one more year than originally planned is nothing more than me being in a hurry to get to "the next thing." (Which, I should remind myself, is still totally undefined!) So I'm in a hurry to move on to something, even though we've been given no confirmation of what that something is or when it is. I claim to be OK with God's plan and God's time-line, yet when He challenges my "loosely held" idea of when we might be leaving Dallas, I balk.

This morning I was reminded of my poetic declaration to live fully where God has me now and not to buy the lie that "life will begin when..." How kind of God to use my own "lessons" to teach me lessons- and to reveal how much more learning He has in store for me. Mainly what the past 48 hours have shown me is that my foundation for contentment is still far from unshakable. My heart is still grasping for some nameless void- some phantom job, location, family status, or account balance- some future thing just beyond my reach in order for me to say "OK, now I'm content."

Here's for another day of realizing the truth: that contentment and fulfillment are now or never. Either I will be content now in Christ alone, or I will continue to look for fulfillment in something else and be disappointed.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Waiting for Life to Start

Right now we are in a season of preparation, of study, of expectation. We know we're in seminary to prepare for our "calling" and to become equipped for the future. It would be easy to believe that we are "waiting for life to begin" when Michael graduates with his MDiv or when we have a baby or move to a new place to "start" ministry. It would be easy to believe that lie.

But I remember that same lie surfacing in numerous life stages. It was just as easy to think "my life will begin when I get married." Or before that, "when I get engaged." Or before that, "when I start college." It's easy for me to think,
"I'll finally be living the life God has for me when...." Or in other words, "I'll finally be in the present when....." "I'll finally be content when...."

Sometimes I really believe that sitting in a classroom (or in an office, for that matter) has nothing to do with now- that I'm only here for the dividends this will pay in the future. "If I can just grit my teeth and tolerate this city and its horrible heat for two more years, if I can get through two more years of classes and working in an office, then my life can start. Then I'll finally be living the life God has planned for me." If I hadn't had this thought so many times before, I probably wouldn't have noticed the problem with it.

What I've realized is that sometimes I look to the future as a way out of being faithful in the present. If I think I'm not called to use my gifts diligently now, I won't feel convicted about just using Dallas and leaving in two years. If I think I need to wait for a title (like "missionary" or "pastor's wife") in order for my relationships to truly be ministry, I won't feel convicted when I give the bare minimum to the kids I babysit or to the inner city girl I shepherd. If I think I need to wait for a more "spiritual" job than office assistant in order to give my best, I won't be as convicted when I sit on facebook all day and complain about the copier not working. If I think I'll share the Gospel and intercede more when I'm on the "front lines" of "the mission field" I won't feel convicted when I avoid difficult relationships that require prayer and awkward conversations.

So here's what I've been learning lately: If I think I'm going to start seeking first the Kingdom of God someday in the future when it's in my job description, then I am going to miss it. Why? Because seeking the Kingdom is not a 9 to 5 thing! It's a way of life. It's a position of the heart. Sometimes I want to make calling all about what God wants me to do in the future, and I completely ignore what He is calling me to now. He's calling me to love and pray for my husband. He's calling me to shepherd the souls of young people. He's calling me to serve the glorious body of Christ by sending emails and making copies, and He isn't calling me to do it half-heartedly in the name of pursuing "real" ministry!

Shame on me for thinking that hanging out with eight-year-olds (and eighty-year-olds, for that matter!)- is anything other than the "front lines." Shame on me for thinking that the time for seeking God's Kingdom is any time other than right now, in my home, in my office, and in my city.

Monday, August 8, 2011

King Family Update

So, it feels like we're in a season of transition again. No epic changes are coming up, but our summer commitments have come and gone and things are moving quickly toward the fall season. I'm not exactly ready to "reflect" on the summer, but I will answer a few frequently asked questions.

We spent two weeks in Sudan ministering to a brand new church in the bush (and holding beautiful babies, eating goat, sleeping under a mosquito net, and riding in a huge land cruiser. I wrote about it here and here)

We spent two weeks in Pennsylvania where Michael was "interim" pastor at a friend's church. He officiated a wedding, gave a funeral, and preached two sermons in addition to doing hospital and home visits. (I wrote about it here)

One question we've gotten a lot is "so, are you going to move back to Africa?" or, "So, does Michael want to be a pastor?" Well, here's the news: we don't know yet! What we do know is that we want to be in ministry together, and we want to be where the church is not. (Side note: obviously that can carry different meanings with it. When we say "where the church is not", we're contrasting that with Dallas- where almost every church in town numbers in the thousands, where it's hard to find a co-worker that isn't a believer or who hasn't heard of Jesus, where the number of Christian book stores rivals the number of Chic-fil-A's, etc.) We know many people serving in Dallas who are truly making a difference and honoring a holy calling, and we absolutely respect them. We are just learning that our ""function in the body" is different, and we are ok with that!

So, in other words, we could end up back in certain parts of Africa, or in T-rkey, or in New Jersey or Oregon- because what matters to us is not the weather or the culture but God's heart for those who do not yet know Him. We want to pursue relationships with those who have not yet heard or seen the Good News in their communities. And here's what going to Africa helped me realize: this has nothing to do with the color of people's skin or their geographical location. It has nothing to do with being somewhere exotic or having a job description that impresses church people. It's not about trying to gain "Varsity" Christian status or going abroad because people "out there" have more needs, or are somehow more deserving, than people here. It's about making much of Jesus and sharing what He has done- whether it's with a co-worker at Starbucks or with a witchdoctor in the bush. So, we are seriously considering moving to another country after graduation. But we're also totally open to moving back to Princeton and picking up a job at Starbucks! Where the paycheck comes from really doesn't matter at this point. All that matters is that we get to open our mouths about who Jesus Christ is.

So, there's our answer, sorry if it's frustratingly unclear! It's funny how as God has given us more clarity about calling, it has caused our "future plan" to look less and less clear. I think that might be how He wants it, though, because I'm learning that peace and clarity about the future don't always go hand in hand! And that's a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Suffering and Joy

In the past month I've shared my "life story" a few times, and it's brought more reflection on what it has been to see suffering and death at a young age, and to grow up without a father. I certainly couldn't summarize my experience- or the impact those events have had on me- with words "negative" or "positive." That would be far too simplistic. How can I express what it is to be destroyed yet saved, broken yet healed, lost and yet found? How can I put to words that out of the same fountain came suffering and joy? But as I've continued to grow, I've realized that my experience is not unique. This is what it is to do life with Jesus- to experience suffering and find joy. He Himself brought victory out of defeat, life from death. He Himself chose the terror of the cross "for the joy set before Him."

In the third book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Frodo and Sam are finally reunited with their companions and celebrate their victory over the power of the Ring. But they are not without wounds, and their rejoicing is deeply mingled with inexpressible pain:

"And all the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them...until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness."

That is how I'd summarize my experience with suffering.
The pain of losing my father will never cease to flow in this life. But because of Jesus, pain and delight can flow together. Because I have been united with Him, the sword that pierced me can also turn to joy. Because of Jesus, the very wounds that lead to death are also what accomplish new life in me.