Friday, April 18, 2014

The day Death died



I walked among the gravestones, mindful that the soil under my feet was rich with history. I wept, not for any one person past, but for the ache in my soul. For a few fleeting moments, I felt like I could reach out and part the curtains of eternity.

As I walked, my eyes scanned epitaphs while my heart filled in untold stories….

Two toddlers, taken just months apart.
A beloved mother.
A faithful brother.

The wealthy were marked by ornate and gaudy monuments; the poor with simple gravestones and few words.

But they were all dead. The rich, the famous, the poor, the uneducated, the celebrated, the beautiful, the ugly—they all shared the same end. Only their names etched in stone and a small plot on a grassy knoll proved that they’d once lived and breathed.

True, a handful of historical figures have defied death’s amnesia—their names have out-sung grass and gravestone. Their achievements are remembered in history book, holiday, and song.

But only one man defeated death. Only One stared Death in the face and said, “Game over.”

When God came to earth as man, in the form of His Son Jesus, He came to die—and by dying, to kill Death. He was the only one who could do it. The rest of us were powerless, at Death’s mercy from the moment we drew our first breath.

I’ve stood at many a graveside in my short 38 years, attended too many funerals to count. I’ve gathered under the black canopy, watched the closed casket descend into the ground, then walked the long silent walk back to my car, through grass checkered with stone.

But that’s not the end. It’s not the final word.

While man spends his life trying to outsmart death, Christ walked straight into it. While His closest friends were dozing off, drawing swords, and denying they ever knew Him—while His enemies were taunting and torturing Him—He resolutely gave Himself over to the cruelest agony ever known to man.

It wasn’t just the cruelty of crucifixion.
Christ took the full measure of our sin upon His body… and became sin.
He bore, in both body and spirit, the full wrath of God that we deserved.

And the earth shook, the sky went black, the curtain was torn in two.

The Son of God gasped for three final words, “It is finished,” and surrendered Himself to death.

…that He might defeat it once and for all.

Death could not keep Life in the grave. A large immovable stone and highly trained soldiers could not silence the Son.

Critics and naysayers and atheists have spent lifetimes trying to rewrite history, trying with all their might to force Jesus back into that tomb.

But He would not stay there. He could not.

Like the dawn brushes off the night, Christ brushed off death and walked out of the grave. And Death, with all its sting and despair, no longer had the final word.

“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Cemetery walks remind me that death (with all its grievous pain on this side of eternity) is not ultimate reality. Stone slabs compel me to live more fully the Life that is in me…

…the Life that Christ gave me because He died for me… and rose again.





Scriptures referenced: John 1, 1 Corinthians 15, and the crucifixion accounts from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John

Photo credit: Jessica Nunemaker. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Your greatest ministry flows from brokenness


Dear sister....
  • Have you been pushed beyond what you feel you can handle?
  • Are you experiencing life-altering illness or physical pain?
  • Has your wait for a godly husband or precious child felt too long? Far, far too long?
  • Do you feel insignificant and unskilled when you see the people in ministry around you?
  • Is your heart weary and numb? Are you in a spiritually dry land?
  • Have you failed miserably?
  • Are you hurting deeply, unspeakably?
Join me over at the True Woman blog today as I share how I'm learning to turn my brokenness, my sins and weaknesses, into ministry for the kingdom of God....

Friday, April 4, 2014

Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl {book review and giveaway}



This is the book I’ve wanted to write for the past decade, but Paula Hendricks beat me to it. And I’m so glad she did. I could not have penned a more beautiful celebration of God’s love.

In Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl, Paula writes candidly of how her former obsession with boys drove her to find her heart’s desires in Christ alone. Although her target audience is probably teenage girls, every woman I know would be deeply encouraged by reading this book. Paula shares biblical principles that apply to every season of a woman’s life, speaking to issues such as contentment, forgiveness, beauty, value, and love.

With that said, Paula digs down deep into issues specific to unmarried girls. She’s unreservedly honest and pleasantly conversational as she tackles intimate topics, forcing the reader to ask herself questions like: 

How’s my relationship with my dad? 
Am I addicted to romance novels? 
Do I have a problem with lust? 
Do I feel angry, jealous, and insecure when a guy I like ends up liking my friend instead? 
Do I want a boyfriend more than I want God?

If you’re in your teens or early twenties, you’ll feel like a big sister has just plopped down on your bed and chatted with you for hours about life, love, and other mysteries.

Paula describes her book as “a love story—the story of a sweet, patient, pursuing Love,” and that is exactly what it is. While I read with bated breath to find out what happened in her relationships with Edward, Neil, and Jim, every page was ultimately pointing to her True Love, to the God who wooed her to Himself and began freeing her from her bondage to boys. She writes,

“Here’s the thing it took me years to learn: boy craziness is really just girl neediness. Boys will never do the trick; only God can fill those empty, needy places.”

Paula describes her many attempts to break free from her boy craziness, as well as her miserable failures to live up to God’s standards of purity and contentment. Exhausted from years of pain and disappointment, Paula finally came to understand that God hadn’t called her to an unattainable standard, but rather to Himself:

“Suddenly I realized I didn’t have to be jealous of that pretty girl. I didn’t have to covet every guy I saw. I didn’t have to hate that guy for not liking me. I wasn’t powerless anymore. In fact, in Christ I was no longer that helpless, hopeless, boy-crazy girl. I had a new identity now: I was dead to sin, alive to God, and in Christ Jesus.”

Paula constantly turns the reader’s attention to Scripture, to the character of God. Rich theology (such as the doctrine of the sovereignty of God) is fleshed out in practical ways that every girl can apply to her life. In the margin of one page I wrote, “Excellent discipleship material!” I wish I’d had this book in my hands when I was mentoring high school- and college-age girls in years past. If you work with young women or you have a teenage daughter, you’ll want this book.

The book is an easy read—I finished it in three short sittings. Paula does a fabulous job of constantly engaging her readers with excerpts from her journals, stories of her failed attempts at love, as well as quizzes and questions like, “How can an invisible God satisfy when all I want is a pair of strong arms to hold me close?” 

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from Paula’s book that beautifully sums up her purpose for writing:

“Are you, like I was, deathly afraid of being rejected? Of being hurt? We live in a world affected by sin, with people who have all been born with a sin nature. This means we will be hurt and disappointed by every single human being we meet. It’s only a matter of time.

“But there is one who knows what it is to be wounded, who was scarred in our place. I pray that if you don’t already, you come to know and believe the great love He has for you. Then you will be able to live unafraid.

“God’s into the business of miracles, and He sure worked one when He changed me from the inside out. And He can do it in you too, you know!”


Book giveaway
Due to Paula's generosity, I have two author-signed copies of Confessions to give away! Please email me at becomingchao@gmail.com with your full name and mailing address. The first two people to email will receive this super-encouraging book!


Paula Hendricks. Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl: On her journey from neediness to freedom. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013. 147 pp. $10.99.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Unseen



I’ll admit, there were a few things this past week I really wanted you to know about. I wanted to take a selfie that day (that one single day) when I looked really cute and had a super hip outfit on. And then there was Jeremy’s amazing skill I wanted to boast in, and it wouldn’t have hurt to have you see the list of daily tasks I accomplished either.

This limelight-lovin’ girl would have appreciated your applause and affirmation. “Like” my picture, comment on my post… make my day. I don’t think I’m alone in this, am I? In a culture that exposes all and leaves no secret unturned, we flaunt our bodies, our babies, and our busyness—on a daily basis.

I’m so hot.
My child’s so smart.
My life is so busy and exciting.

We feel uncomfortable with smallness and stillness, don’t we? What goes unnoticed feels wasted. So our lives have become loud and large, till everyone can hear the din of our days.

But God’s kingdom turns ours upside-down. God is not wowed by numbers, appearances, and skills. But that small act of self-denial and service I was tempted to grouse about a few hours ago? That may have been the most significant moment of my day. My public displays for attention (PDA of a different kind) may win me some quick praise, but it is the hidden ways I serve God that are laced with greatness and lasting reward. Matthew 6:1-6 gives us just one of the many examples of this in Scripture:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward in full.

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

When we finally step into eternity, all hidden things will be brought to light. Your quiet, faithful, selfless acts will not go unnoticed forever, dear one. They will count, and when they do, you will joyfully lay your rewards at the feet of the One who is our Very Great Reward (see Revelation 4:10-11 and Genesis 15:1).

What if, instead of sharing our sassy selfie with the world, we looked in the mirror on a “cute day” and said, “God, my beauty is for Your glory alone, not mine.” What if we saw our child’s accomplishment and prayed, “O Lord, I’m in awe of what You’re doing in my son! Use this skill for Your glory!” What if we got more excited about what happened in secret, before God, than what was put on display for all to see?

This week, when I’m tempted to give my attention to the “impressive stuff” that earns me praise, instead of finding joy in sweet, unseen sacrifices—may I remember that Jesus Himself came to serve, not to be served. He was afflicted, acquainted with grief, despised, and rejected. Yet He was the greatest figure in the history of the world and accomplished the greatest feat of all time. 


Scriptures referenced: Mark 12:41-44; Isaiah 53; John 3:30-31; Colossians 3; Revelation 4:10-11; Genesis 15:1; Matthew 6.

Photo credit: originally appeared on huffingtonpost.com.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Jealousy and the leper



Tucked into the Old Testament book of Numbers, is a gripping story of family, jealousy, humility, and holiness. May it capture your heart as it did mine...

Miriam was Moses’ older sister, and from the few verses written about her in the Bible, we know she had some typical “big sister” qualities: she took responsibility for her brother’s welfare, she was conscientious, and she was a natural leader. (And, if she was anything like me, she was at times bossy, overly involved, and controlling. Precious.)

Miriam’s life could not have been an easy one: her people groaned under their slavery to the Egyptians, but her own brother (whom she’d helped save) enjoyed the privileged life of an Egyptian prince. Then there was that little kafuffle over Moses murdering a man, which caused him to flee to Midian, a three-day journey from Egypt, where he spent the next 40 years of his life. He married, had kids, and then returned to Egypt with a calling from God to set his people free.

What must that family reunion have been like?

Miriam’s brother was Basket Boy turned Prince turned Nomad turned Savior—and suddenly she’s back at his side, this time as prophetess and part of a sibling trio (she, along with Moses and Aaron) to lead the Israelites out of captivity.*

So maybe that gives a little context for what happens in Numbers 12.

The second year into their exodus from Egypt, Aaron and Miriam grew jealous of Moses, so they did what any decent person of envy does—they nitpicked at a banal issue in Moses’ life: his marriage to an Egyptian woman. (Did they so quickly forget where he came from?!) Jealousy always feeds on embellishment, turning miniscule matters into monsters, so Aaron and Miriam “spoke against Moses” and his marriage as if it were a really big deal. But they betrayed their real issue when they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?”

Hey, everyone! Look at us! God’s revealed to us some sin in our brother, which proves that we’re just as holy and important as Moses!

“And the Lord heard it.”

The Lord heard their jealous, bickering, self-promoting words, and He called them out on it. In fact, not only did He defend Moses, but He was also so angry that He turned Miriam into a leper, “leprous like snow.”

Just as jealousy begets strife, humility begets restoration. Right when you think Moses is going to gloat a bit and enjoy the sweetness of his vindication from God, he shocks us by crying out,

“O God, please heal her—please.”

I don’t know about you, but I have a loooong way to go to experience that kind of humility. If someone has publicly embarrassed me or even privately rubbed my sin in my face, I’m not so quick to intercede for God’s blessing in their life. I’m usually crying out for justice, not mercy. (Which is why I need to stay in the Word and study passages like this one.)

In response to Moses’ plea for Miriam, God doesn’t let the leprosy kill her. (Remember, she was “white as snow” with leprosy, which indicates advanced incurable stages of the disease.) Instead, God exiles Miriam the Leper for seven days. She has to spend one very long week by herself outside the Israelite camp. In fact, the entire nation waited for her to return to camp before setting out on the next leg of their journey.

Hello, mortification.

What did that week do to Miriam? Did she return to camp a humble, gracious woman? Did she struggle with the fact that Aaron got by unscathed? Did she rush to apologize to Moses when she got back? Did she feel the mercy of God even in her punishment?

Although Moses interceded for Miriam, it was God who had made Moses into a humble intercessor. (This wasn’t the first time nor would it be the last time he interceded on behalf of undeserving people!) In Moses we see a foreshadowing of Christ Jesus himself, the Perfect Intercessor who humbled himself to death on a cross—to take upon Himself God's wrath for our sin, to set us free from soul-suffocating conditions like jealousy.

And although Christ has set me free from jealousy’s power, sadly I often live as if I’m a leper in exile, harboring envy that results in ugly consequences. Proverbs 14:30 says, “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy rots the bones.” I could give you a couple dozen examples of how jealousy has been rot to my bones over the years. It eats away at you, doesn’t it? It robs you of joy and energy and beauty.

Miriam’s story reminds me to diligently root out my smallest thoughts of jealousy, to make war on envy, so that I can experience a heart at peace. And how do I do this? By turning to the One who lives to make intercession for me—the One who took my leprous death sentence upon Himself so I could live.


*(see Exodus 15:20-21 and Micah 6:4)