“This is my body broken…”

A couple months ago, I was reading in Oswald Chambers’s, My Utmost for His Highest, that a true saint “becomes broken bread and poured out wine in the hands of Jesus Christ for other lives.”  Although I have pondered communion quite a bit over the years, particularly in my theology classes, this statement by Chambers triggered a sequence of reflections I had never previously considered.

As believers, we are Christ’s body.  In instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said, “This is my body broken for you; this is my blood split for you.”  Putting these two truths together illustrates the calling of the believer.  If Christ’s physical body was broken for sinners; how much more his spiritual body–the Church.  Our souls are saved, but our bodies and lives will be broken.  It is a sobering reminder; one we participate in regularly.

BreadEvery month or week, this ordinance of communion calls us to reorient our lives from worldliness to the imitation of Christ.  Communion not only draws us together regularly as a community to embrace Christ’s working of salvation in and for us, but also its working through us.  It is a physical manifestation of what our lives will be.  In eating the bread and drinking the cup, we’re recognizing that we participate in brokenness for the sake of others.  We are volunteering ourselves to suffer for Christ’s mission.

Therefore communion isn’t just about what we receive, but what we give.  Are we willing to take the gift that asks us to reciprocate in giving up our lives?  That’s the beauty and struggle of being a believer.  Suffering is integral to the life of the Church.  It is only through suffering that Christ brought salvation.  The suffering will end–when salvation is complete.  But right now, we are still participating in God’s working out of salvation, and thus, as his body, we should expect to be called to the same suffering and life he lived.

In pondering how the Church spreads the gospel message by participation in Christ’s suffering, the image of the feeding of the five thousand came to mind.  As Christ fed the many by multiplying the loaves and fish, so also he multiplies the message of communion through his Church.  It’s a sobering call to take up our crosses and follow him; but’s a joyful one.  For this suffering bears out into gospel, good news–from Christ’s suffering springs eternal life for the many!

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Joy springing

Today was one of those special gifts from God. The smell of spring in the warm air blowing in through my office windows. Sunlight warming my face. Mingling sounds of brass instruments and children’s laughter wafting to my ears. Somehow this combination transports me back to childhood, and with it the lightness of life then—unburdened by to-do lists, stress, and obligations. For a day, I remember that I was once carefree. What a sweet sensation it is—worry-free happiness. My eyes crescent into smiles even now remembering. In a week filled with frustrations and stresses, this day is one I’ll treasure.  God does give good gifts, and sometimes they are the simplest little pleasures. Though this is but a premature taste of spring, it brings new life, new joy, and new hope. Happy Weekend!

When Feelings Lie

It’s been a gloomy January here in Illinois.  I can count the number of times I’ve seen the sun on one hand.  Everything is wet and muddy and chilly.  Pretty much it’s been the worst weather, in my opinion.  This gloom has been mirrored in my heart this January too.  I don’t mean seasonal depression so much as an inward battle with my feelings muddying the truth I know to be true.

I haven’t written in a while as I haven’t felt like it.  In fact, I don’t really feel like it right now either.  Rather, in recent conversations, I’ve been reminded that “nothing is new under the sun.”  Similar struggles are met by others, not solely me.  Therefore, I’m writing not just for me but for others and you that also may be waging war between fleshly feelings and the truth from God.

I’m not proud to admit that most of the time my spiritual life is dictated by my feelings.  Hence, it has often ebbed and flowed according to the fickleness of my emotions.  However, as of late, my feelings have become such that are incompatible with my faith in God.  This time, I can’t just ride them out.  I am required to take deliberate action against my emotions and “take every thought captive.”  When you’ve been accustomed to being guided by your feelings like I have, this is no fun thing nor is it easy.

Feeling Betrayed

If you’ve experienced unexpected loss or a jarring halt in life plans, you may relate to the feeling I’ve been living under this month, and that is of betrayal.  Betrayal by God that is.  Even in typing those words, I know them to be false!  However, that sense is so powerful and destructive.  It’s easy to look at circumstances in life and assess that God is not acting like the good father who gives his child bread when she asks but rather the one who gives a stone.  This is where another lie is propagated as well.  It is the lie that I can discern truth by observation of my life.  While there may be times this has some merit, it is by no means the norm.  We are but seeing “through a glass darkly” right now.

In my head, I know that God does not betray. I know that he is the Good Father. I know that he sacrificed so much for us sinners.  Thus, I speak these truths to myself when the feeling of betrayal mounts within my heart.  I still pray, practicing my faith even thought I don’t sense its power.  This is good, but I want more.  I want my feelings to change!

Looking to Scripture

I have found turning to examples in the Bible to be the greatest corrective balm to my divergent emotions.  Thank you, God, for including the life stories of so many who have gone before us!  The story that immediately comes to mind is that of Joseph—Old Testament Joseph.  This is the boy who had the dreams—dreams from God!  This is the boy who was sold into slavery and separated from his father and family.  This is the young man falsely accused of rape and thrown into jail.  This is the young man who sat in that dark jail in a foreign land for years!  Years of isolation. Years of silence from God. Years promising a hopeless future.  Then, when he illustrated his faithfulness to God in interpreting the baker’s and cupbearer’s dreams, he was once again forgotten and left in jail for a couple more years.

I expect Joseph must have felt the feeling of betrayal not just from his brothers, not just from Potiphar’s wife, but also from God.  If he had interpreted the merit of his life solely upon his present circumstances, he could have easily assumed God did not have his good in mind.  As the story unfolds, we see how God had not forgotten Joseph nor had he forgotten the dreams he gave Joseph.  God was waiting until the timing was right for Joseph to save his family and all of Egypt from famine.  God exalted Joseph from the humble jail to the glorious palace.  God knew the greater plan at work.  No matter what he may have felt, Joseph remained faithful in the dark and was able to see God’s plan unfold later in the light.

The next account I turn to in Scripture is in the New Testament, and for me in combating my feelings, this story is even more powerful than Joseph’s.  This account centers on Jesus.  Jesus, God’s Son, the perfect one, experienced the feeling of betrayal too.  He was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, betrayed by his people who had only days earlier exalted his entry into Jerusalem, and forsaken by God.  In the garden before his arrest, Jesus prayed for his cup to pass.  He did not want to suffer on the cross, and he begged his Father for another way.  However, there was no other way.

Jesus’ human will did not want to suffer, but he submitted it to his divine will which required the impending suffering.  Despite being God and being obedient, Jesus still felt the human feelings.  He still experienced the pain, the anguish, the sorrow, the betrayal, the isolation.  We see this on the cross when he exclaims, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”  In the end, God exalted him from the humble death on the cross to the glorious resurrection and return to the heavenly throne.  God had a greater plan at work. Jesus did not let his feelings prevent him from accomplishing the saving work on the cross for all those sinners who believe in his name.

Back to 2017

In our times of feeling betrayed by God, we need to remember we do not see the whole picture.  We do not know how God is working in the world around us.  I don’t have a dream like Joseph, nor a promise like Sarah, nor a prophecy like John the Baptist for anything temporal, but I do have an eternal promise.  I have the promise that God which “began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus,” and I have the promise that God is with me always.  This, together with the reminder that so many before me felt similar feelings and yet remained faithful to see God’s plan unfold in their lives, gives me the ammo to fight my deceptive emotions.  Ultimately, these lies come from the devil.  In James and I Peter, the Word of God promises us that when we resist the devil, he will flee from us.  God is the victor, and to him be all the glory as we do battle.

Turning from Condemnation to Confession: Voicing the Gospel

cross.pngHateful words pour from all forms of media. I cringe.  Judgments pronounced; allegations made; fingers pointed, and sourced by many Christian voices. Why? Why do we let pride control us–prompting us to defend ourselves from the same judgments we’re so quick to cast on others?

This ugliness is a fraud.  Our defenses were useless long before now.  We’re trying to hide the fact that we’re in the wrong.  Well, let’s be honest, we are.  All of us contribute to the messes in this world.  None of us can innocently point the finger and cast the first stone.  Have we deceived ourselves so much that we can’t acknowledge our sinful state? Even that crowd long ago recognized their inadequacies when Jesus spoke regarding the adulterous woman’s condemnation.

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her…At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time…” John 8:7b, 9a NIV

Such a sorrow this is.  We can’t get anywhere with judgement and name-calling.  That’s not the Gospel.  Christians, we know that!  We know that healing only comes when we confess our wrongdoings.  This comes from repentance and reconciliation. It leads to growth and restoration.  We’re saved by grace, because we are in fact in the wrong and can’t ever be or look good enough to change that state ourselves.  It’s only by confession and forgiveness in the work of Jesus Christ that we’re saved.

We need more confessional voices.  Honest humility.  I’ll start!  I am so quick to judge, compare, and evaluate.  I am more concerned for my interest–not others’.  I am more jealous than joyful for others.  I do not love well.  I am so easily distracted from pursuing God’s kingdom work.  But these sins don’t have victory; don’t have the final say.  I stand condemned but for Jesus!  He forgives me, and His Spirit enables me to grow in love and right conduct.  Daily humility and confession are the practices that make the way for transformation.  Let our voices be confessional not condemning.

When reason runs out

Fragments.jpgSince my move from New York a few months ago, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.  Big surprise to those who know me, I know…  I won’t go into all the details, but in summation, my pondering has dwelt mostly on trying to make sense of my present–and failing–so instead, thinking of my future and what I want it to look like.  Yes, I’ve prayed for God to have his will in these hopes and dreams.  However, that’s just a part of the good familiar Proverb.  Ironically (or rather, sovereignly), as of late, Proverbs 3:5-6 as well as other verses are echoing in my head, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight,” “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet,” “Take up your cross and follow me,” and my grandma’s favorite, “But the Lord knows the way that I take and when he has tried me I shall come forth as gold.”* Together these verses have grounded me and reproofed me.  Perhaps, not always tied together, let me explain the dialogue these verses are making in my heart.

I am all too good at trusting in my own understanding.  Folks, that’s what getting good grades enables—self-assurance in my own ability to reason, analyze, and process through things.  Yes, sometimes my interpretations prove right, but when it comes to much of life, the reasoning is beyond my grasp.  This move for instance: I felt God’s direction in going, but I haven’t fully been able to see the reason for it.  So much of it screams, “why?”

In struggling to make sense of the present purpose, I switch to making plans for the future, the next chapter.  My way.  This move I did God’s way.  It doesn’t make sense to me, but thinking of a “better” alternative “my way” fails to follow that exhortation in Proverbs.  The proverb doesn’t claim that by forsaking my understanding, I will get God’s.  No, it just says, “trust” and watch.  God will guide step by step.  The Word guides as a lamp, little illuminations in the present, not floodlights to the future.

Living in the present is living in the unknown with acceptance but trust in the One who knows and who is supremely good.

I am called to trust and follow Jesus in His way.  His way wasn’t easy; it was filled with pain, isolation, rejection, loss, and ultimately, a cross.  But his way is also filled with restoration, healing, hope, new life, and ultimately, salvation.  What temporally is inexplicable and nonsensical—just ask Peter—is the eternal best for all humankind.  I will go through the fire in this life, but I will come out as gold—pure and holy.

God’s way is in the today.  It’s in the daily routine and unexpected interruptions to our plans.  It’s when and where he works to refine us and bring about the working of salvation.  Living in the present is living in the unknown with acceptance but trust in the One who knows and who is supremely good.  We’re just people—creatures—our knowing is nothing next to God’s.  Let’s trust him and let go of needing to know. (That’s what got us in this mess anyway–right, Adam and Eve?)

 *These verses are my memorized paraphrase of actual translations, not verbatim.

My prayer for a single believer

This is my prayer for you, girls, boys, single women and men, followers of Jesus.  I pray that as you look ahead with anticipation for a future with marriage that you may know that God equips you for every good work.  He will, and he has.  If marriage will further your ministries in the future, fear not, God will provide.  But right now, right now in your singleness, God has fully prepared you for the ministries of today.

IMG_20160420_080846You’re part of God’s best plan for your life, not his second best; you’re not living a shadow life second to a married one. No God has given you the gift of being able to serve today in the way he designed. Remember we do not measure our life on the things of this world; the way the world does–looking at it as missed opportunities or what-ifs. Rather, we measure our life by our service to Christ Jesus.  Your singleness is part of the equipping God has given you to perform the tasks he presently has for you.

I pray that you will hold onto the glorious hope of eternity when we will be with Jesus Christ, where all loneliness and wrongdoing will be gone. Yet, that you would bring that hope to bear not just on the future but on your life right now. Today, you can bring that hope of eternity to your friend or neighbor.  I pray that even today you will be a beacon of hope, a bearer of justice and kindness, a vessel of love, and messenger of the gospel to the individuals God has placed in your life.  I pray that you will not despair for the future, but rejoice in the gifting of the Lord today.

Rejoice that you are a part of his perfect plan for redemption.  Rejoice that you are not a forgotten one but a chosen and redeemed one.  Rejoice that you can partake in the glorious riches of God, and rejoice because he chooses to use you to bring about his kingdom on this earth.  This is my prayer for you.  This is my prayer for me.  Thank you, Father, for hearing and answering according to your will.

Hope for the Best

The last few months have been a whirl.  Packing up my life and moving temporarily in with my parents before permanently moving halfway across the country, it’s been a season of transition and change.  With that always comes the bitter and the sweet.  In my experience, more often than not the bitter is the temporal pains and the sweet the spiritual lessons gleaned along the way.  Springing from this season, eternal hope in glory is a sweet theme playing over and over in my heart.

13774350_1109086805796963_717508180_n(1)Hope is a touchstone word for me.  For so much of my life, hope was wrapped up in the earthly longings—hope for a husband, family, child; hope of a fulfilling vocation and career; hope for a home.  These hopes were no guarantees and nothing to depend upon.  In my reaction to crushed dreams, I tended toward eliminating hope.  “Prepare for the worst, and don’t hope for the best” was my mantra. It prohibited crushed expectations which soured life.  However, reading Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope,” or Romans 15:12, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit,” or Romans 5:3-5, “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame,” or Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for,” filled me with shame for my lack of hope.  Although, I “knew” our hope was not founded on things of this earth but rather in things of heaven, I couldn’t claim it.  It wasn’t overflowing into my life.

My understanding of this hope eternal has grown through this move. In leaving my family—moving almost a thousand miles away—I gave up special times together, memories to be made, conversations to be had, baby cuddles, and hugs.  Besides the comforting confidence in following God’s will, the greater solace came in the knowledge that though I gave up time on earth with them, we will have all of eternity together.  Additionally, upon my arrival, I learned that a dear friend just received a diagnosis of cancer—terminal apart from the healing work of God.  The potential for a shortened time together here on earth, rallied this growing eternal hope within me.  For though I sorrow at the thought of not sharing more of my life with her, I am encouraged in the knowledge that any separation will be for a little while.  Eternity will be forever.

Of course, our hope eternal in glory is not only about the reunion of loved ones, but so much more.  It is the removal of sin and its wretched curse.  It’s the full satiation of all our longings in Christ Jesus our Savior.  It’s being at complete peace with God.  It’s the right ordering of all things.  Rather than shaming ourselves for longings, we can yearn for those things to be fulfilled in heaven–the rightful fulfillment.  In so doing, we follow Paul’s exhortation in Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

In the removal of the temporal, dearly loved ones and things in my life, God is breaking me free from the bounds of the earth and making way for me to follow faithfully with a view toward glory rather than merely five or ten years on earth.  Freedom comes in that outlook.  Hope overflows for that future when things will be made right and filled with all goodness.  “Hallelujah what a Savior,” we have for bringing about our salvation to this glorious end!