15 December 2011

Between sleep and the snooze button...

This morning, I had a dream.

 I walked into someone’s house, which was filled with herbs and flowers and candles and crafts. It was unclear whether it was really an artsy little shop, or a house. I was wearing a second-hand wedding dress with puffy 80’s sleeves.

I looked out at the parking lot, but no one had arrived. So I went back to the bedroom to fix my hair, but without success. It stubbornly refused to take any form other than a vague, poofy mass. I remember growing frustrated and asking for help, but no one could get it right. I decided to let it be.

I walked around the house wondering why no one was there. It was all supposed to start a couple of hours ago. Oh well, they’re just late, that’s all. Only two or three people were there. They helped decorate by tying up small bunches of dried flowers--a rather lousy, dried, dead looking decoration if you ask me.

Finally, people started to arrive. They were mostly from my church, arriving in vans and cars, returning from a long trip. They came in their jeans, old t-shirts, tousled hair, and tired eyes. They filed in and out haphazardly to use the bathroom, sit on the couch, or get a glass of water. They didn’t seem to remember what the occasion was. Or, as it turned out, they knew something I didn't. 

Finally a friend said, Hey, your fiancé should really tell you this himself, but he asked me to do it, so here goes: he’s calling it all off.

The friend paused to see my reaction. Oh, okay. I said. It’s okay, I said matter-of-factly—completely emotionless. I didn’t feel any tinge of disappointment. It’s better that way, I thought, no one was really ready anyway. I looked back at my friend. Where is he? I’m not mad at him, and I don’t want him to change his mind, but I just want to talk to him. So he knows it’s alright. I don’t want him to feel bad.

OK, find him, she said. I did. He was tired from the trip. I told him it was okay. He said he was glad he hadn’t broken my heart. He hadn’t. We both agreed it was better this way.

I changed out of the dress, that ugly last-minute thrift-store find. Next time I would take the time to find something better.

Then I woke up. 

28 November 2011

Do you know what I mean when I say I don't wanna be alone?!!!

In every man there is a loneliness, an inner chamber of peculiar life into which God only can enter.
 –George MacDonald

I learned that if you TEACH what you just learned, you retain 90% of it, as opposed to only 5% from just hearing a lecture, or 50% from a discussion group. Since a biblical response to my own LONELINESS is something I really need to learn & retain right now, I wanted to teach you all what I just studied. I hope it’s a blessing.

What NOT to do when you feel alone:
1) Keep it to yourself. The devil might trick you into pretending you’re okay. When you hide, you’re feeding your own pride, trying to protect yourself, and only feeling more and more miserable by the minute.

2) Listen to love songs/watch romantic movies/read romance novels/WHATEVER you do to distract yourself or fill up the void. This creates what my friend Karissa calls “false saviors” (little “s” because, like U2, you won’t find what you’re looking for). I have a few songs I really like to listen to, but I know they don’t make me look to God.
  • “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, And rely on horses, Who trust in chariots because they are many, And in horsemen because they are very strong, But who do not look to the Holy One of Israel, Nor seek YHWH!” (Isa. 31:1)
  • “Promise me, O women of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and wild deer, not to awaken love until the time is right.” (Song of Solomon 2:7)
3) Surf the internet so you can see how everyone else’s life is more interesting/ happier/ busier/ more fulfilling  than your own.  (Preaching to myself here…)
  • “I who am Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If I live in the Spirit, let me also walk in the Spirit. Let me not be conceited, provoking others, envying others” (Gal. 5:24-26).
4) Complain.
  • “And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death. These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age”(1 Cor. 10:20-11).

What TO DO when you feel alone:
1) Tell God!
  • “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).
2) Ask God to keep you company. Ask Him to make His presence very real to you. He will! I started praying this recently; and He is definitely coming through. Just ask in faith and God WILL come.
  • “Look, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and will eat with him and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20).
  • “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe” (Prov. 18:10).
"Your presence is all I'm longing for here in the secret place. Your nearness is all I'm waiting for here in the quiet place. Here in the secret place...Here in Your presence God, I find my rest." 

3) Praise Him! He inhabits the praises of His people! (Psalm 22:3, KJV) Praise --> God’s presence --> You’re not alone anymore! And you’re not thinking about your pitiful little lonely self anymore!
  • "The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether." –C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
4) Get a Bible and read it!
  • “ For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
You gotta replace those lies with some Truth!
  • You are not alone: Jesus says, “I am with you always, even until the end of the world” (Mat. 28:30).
  • You are not forsaken—God will never leave you nor forsake you! (Heb. 13:5)
  • You DO have what you need! “Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust” (2 Pet. 1:3-4, The Message).
  • You are not rejected—you are CHOSEN! “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet. 2:9-10, also see Isaiah 43!!!)
  • You are not weak, you are strong in YHWH! “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” .  . . For when I am weak, then I am strong” (1 Cor. 12:9-10).  
  • You will never be fulfilled with more approval, respect, affection, money, or success. You will only be fulfilled in God. “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You…My soul will be satisfied as with the best foods; and my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips” (Psa. 63:3,5).
5) Find families who are living for God. You can learn so much by being around them.
  • “You set the solitary in families” (Psa. 68:5-6).
6) Seek God with other people.
  • “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Mat. 18:20).
7) Find someone else who feels alone or sad, and spend time with them. Tell them about how God has helped you and will help them! Let them picture God’s love for you in the way you show it to them!
  • God’s cosmic plan expressed through Abrahamic promise was to bless the whole world through God’s chosen people! We fulfill that now, since we are His chosen people, grafted in by the blood of Christ in the New Covenant. “This people I have formed for Myself; They shall declare My praise” (Isa. 43:21).
  • We (the Church) are the body of Christ, so we have the same mission (bringing reconciliation between God and man) that Jesus did! He accomplished it on the cross, but we have to spread the news and do what Jesus did! The Messiah was anointed “to preach good tidings to the poor, … to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion,To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified”(Isa. 61:1-3). 
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit." --Jeremiah 17:17-8

24 November 2011

My cup runneth over.

This Thanksgiving, tengo muchos motivos para agradecer a Dios… I have a lot of reasons to thank God.

I am thankful to be home, after being away from my family for two Easters, two Fourths of July, one Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Day, and birthday.

I am thankful for all the awesome friends that celebrated those days with me. Who am I to complain that I spent January 1, 2011 relaxing on a tiny island in the Pacific? Or that I celebrated my birthday with Spanish food in a restaurant in Panama, surrounded by good friends from my Bible Study? Or that I visited the mountains in Chiriqui, Panama on the Fourth of July? Or that I got to share our mashed potato recipe with my coworkers on Thanksgiving? Or that I got a glimpse of Jesus’ suffering and love for humanity, portrayed through the Holy Week pasos on the streets of Seville, Spain? If you were one of those people God put in my path while so far from everything I knew, “Bendito Dios por encontrarnos en el mismo camino…”

“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:3-6).

I am thankful for my church. Where else could you go for 8 months, disappear for 7, come back for 2, and then disappear for another 11… and still be welcomed with open arms when you come back? Where else do you hear the Word of God clearly spoken, praise God and pray with your brothers and sisters, and get a lifetime’s worth of hugs in one morning? (Hopefully a lot of places! But this one is God’s gift to me so I think it’s pretty special!)

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity!” 
(Psalm 133:1)

I am thankful for my family. They are 7 people + 2 brothers –in-law who have to love me no matter what…and they do a pretty good job at it. We are broken, but still held together by a love greater than ours. We make mistakes, but grace covers all. We fall down, He gets us up. We are a testimony to what Jesus can do. And we are a work in progress.

“And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 20:31-32).

I am thankful for God. He keeps me company when I feel lonely. He is my Sustainer. He surrounds me with songs of deliverance. He is my Savior. I know that He is for me—and if God is for us, who can be against us? I am His child, and He delights in me! He also protects me from my own stupidity. He does not lead me into temptation, but delivers me from evil. He knows exactly what I need—which is not always what I want—and He always gives it to me. He answers prayers in some pretty nifty, specific, and jaw-dropping ways. Try Him. He is my Provider—my Jehovah Jireh.

YHWH is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving” (Psalm 28:7).

20 November 2011

Women in the church?

The complementarian view of women in church ministry states that women can teach men unofficially. They cannot teach men as ordained leaders, or have official authority over men. This is my own explanation of my views on the subject, written for my Christian Worldview Development class at Cedarville University.

The most-disputed Scripture references on this topic are 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. While these both seem to say women cannot teach in the Church, Paul elsewhere recommends that women cover their heads when they pray or prophesy in the church (1 Cor 11:5, 13), and Galatians 3:26-29 says “there is neither…male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 12 speaks of spiritual gifts and notes that “the same God works all things in all persons” (NASB, vs 6). The historical context of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 could be that there was chaotic worship and a need for organization and order within the Church.

In the 1 Timothy passage, the original Greek words used for man and woman are aner and gune. Aner is found in the New Testament around 150 times, and is translated as “husband” 40 times. Whenever “it wasn't absolutely clear that the woman with the man in the context was his wife, it is almost always translated "husband" and "wife." If this translation is applied 1 Timothy, it could be concluded this is talking about marriage roles—“the woman is actually under the teaching authority of her husband. He is the head of the household, spiritually speaking” (from transcript of the radio show "Stand to Reason," with Gregory Koukl). Further difficulties with verses 9-15 make this passage’s interpretation highly debatable.

Traditionally, women have not been allowed to hold official authority in the Church—and their service has at times been restricted to a mere presence in the Church. But Jesus’ radical ministry to women—and the examples of women in both the Old and New testament who served and taught the people of God—should be the standard—not fallen cultural norms. Examples include the judge and ruler Deborah (Judges 4-5); Phoebe, the female servant or deacon (diakon) and patron (prosta = protector, helper, patron) of the church (Rom 16:1-2); Priscilla, who taught another man alongside her husband (Acts 18:24-26), and Junia, who is called “notable among the apostles” (Rom. 16:7).

If women can and do serve in the Church, the passages left include those which give qualifications for church leaders: Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Timothy 3:1-13. The first uses masculine language for the elders and bishops, which implies women do not fulfill those roles. This is one reason why I do not believe churches should advocate women serving as ordained pastors or official teachers over adult men.

But the latter passage describes the office of episkopo or bishop/overseer and then that of diakono or deacon. Both leaders must be the husband of one wife. But women are introduced in verse 11, using “likewise”—the same word used in verse 8 to transition from speaking about bishops to deacons. Rather than merely referring to the wives of deacons, “this Greek preposition refers the women to the deacons in 3:11, just as it refers the deacons to the elders in 3:8… [and] in Rom. 16:1, Phoebe is referred to as a "deacon", in the masculine (technical) sense” (1996, Graeme Codrington). John MacArthur posits that since qualifications parallel those of male deacons, gender is the only distinction—and “they are thus equal in their status, function and authority. If Paul had intended these women to be distinguished, would he not have specifically stated this fact at this point in his instructions regarding qualifications for service?” (ibid).

                In the church, women may serve as deacons, and official teachers over children and youth. We can encourage them in this by public teaching and prayerfully approaching women who seem to fit biblical qualifications for these positions. Women can also be encouraged to work with and under the spiritual leadership of their husbands, where applicable, to teach both men and women in a God-honoring, orderly way. Women who are unmarried or with unbelieving husbands should be permitted to teach from time to time. In all of these positions and opportunities, women are held to the same standards as all believers—they must exercise their gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:11), study and prepare diligently (2 Tim 2:15), and be led by God (1 Cor 12:4-6). (Dr. Robert D. Luginbill). Opportunities for women to teach include writing devotionals and books, occasional Sunday morning messages from missionaries, evangelists, authors, or teachers; adult and older youth Sunday school teachers in husband-wife teams; and teachers for younger youth and children. “Yet the distinction remains: those not called as authoritative teachers of the church, men or women, serve the church in a different capacity from those who are so called. Rule in the church always aims at encouraging all Christians to grow in the use of the gifts the Lord provides” (Clowney, The Church, ch. 15 p. 230).

22 May 2011

Saturday: He makes all things new

Today I saw a friend I haven’t seen in 4 months, due to a less than desirable “break up” of our relationship. It’s a long story, but the separation was her choice, and pretty unexpected on my part. Not hearing from her for 4 months was hard, because we are close friends, and have talked about some really deep struggles she has been through.

Seeing her today was one of those surreal moments when you realize God really does answer prayers. During all the times I asked God to change the situation, I really, really believed He would. God just gave me a kind of secure, inexplicable faith—so it wasn’t exactly surprising when He came through. But it still makes me want to cry for joy. It’s like I’m the little girl that never really doubted her daddy would keep his promise and take her to the park, but when he does it does something to strengthen that daughter-father intimacy.

But it gets better than that—because when the little girl is crying about little girl troubles and about how her own naughtiness that has gotten her into a mess—there really couldn’t be a better time for Daddy to wipe her tears away and make good on his promise, right then and there.

My Daddy did make good on His promise. I waited so long for this moment. Not only did my friend and I see each other again, but we had a great time. She has changed, learned, and matured so much. She has reconciled with the person I prayed for her to reconcile with. Her attitude is completely different than it was four months ago. In place of her former desperation and negativity, she had only good things to say about the situations she has been through and what God has taught her. God has expanded her ministry and she is teaching a Bible Study in her house. In essence, one after another of my prayers for restoration and transformation have been answered. It seems almost too good to be true. But it is. He is SO faithful.

Before I met with her, I was sitting around wondering how I was going to give her some word of encouragement or exhortation like I always did before. I didn’t feel up to it, because I’ve had a weird kind of week. But I prayed for God to give me peace in all my relationships—even though I feel so undeserving of His grace right now.  (That’s what makes it grace—it’s undeserved favor.)

What actually happened, though, is that my friend was the one who encouraged me. I think it happened that way to remind me that I can’t take credit for what God has done in her. He’s just given me the privilege of an inside look in His work. The Word of God is the living water that fills me and pours out of me into the lives of others, but only when I am receiving from the fountain of life. That stuff doesn’t return void—but the vessel itself is not the important part.

What has happened now is not my doing. That’s God. Only God paints masterpieces like that. He’s the one that gives beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. It’s just breathtaking and humbling to see Him work like that.  

14 April 2011

Trash: A True Story

I keep two plastic bags hanging on my bed post. One is for dirty clothes, and one is for paper trash.

Last night, I closed a chat with a friend by saying I was going to bed. Sweet dreams, he said. I thought briefly to myself about how I almost never have any dreams I can remember. 

I very, very rarely have trouble sleeping or wake up at night. But last night, I woke up suddenly at 3 or 4AM. Naturally, I thought,

“Well, this is dumb. I’m awake in the middle of the night. I guess I’ll go back to sleep.”

I reached for the sheet to curl up against the night breeze. But then I realized there was something in my hand, something by my pillow, something scattered on the mattress. It was trash from my plastic bag. Somehow, I had reached over the edge and down into the bag, and put trash in my bed. Basura.

Weird, right? That’s what I said. In my half awake state, I gathered it up and stuffed it back in the bag.

Out of nowhere, a couple of verses came to my mind. Verses that talk about trash, or basura. It says “Aun estimo todas las cosas como perdida por causa de Cristo, por amor del cual lo he perdido todo, y lo tengo por basura, para ganar a Cristo, y ser hallado en El…”

It was nice to have a Bible verse to go with things, but I wondered if it wasn’t a sign that I am treasuring earthly things more than knowing Jesus--or a warning against that tendency. Slightly disturbed by the gravity of that possibility, I went back to sleep.

In the morning, there was still some trash on the floor next to my bed. I was reminded right away of what happened, and of the verse, which I’ll put here in English for you guys:

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him” (Philippians 3:7-9, NLT). 

God never ceases to amaze me in the ways He chooses to speak to me, just when I need it.

05 April 2011

Costa Rica: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I really saw the hand of God in so many ways during my recent trip to renew my visa. I had been feeling pretty homesick and worn out, so it came just when I needed it.  I took an 8 hour bus ride through the breathtaking mountains to get to the capital, San Jose, where I stayed with family of a coworker for 3 days. Thanks for praying about the visa issue—praise God that I was given the maximum stay, enough to last me until I come home on August 9.

The border crossing town of Pasacanoas was a bit of a mess, with no clearly marked signs of where to get the stamps in your passport, and lots of people offering to change your Panamanian dollars for Costa Rican Colones, at dishonest rates. But God brought a random gringo who spoke Spanish with a horrible accent to all the officials, which he knew by their first names. He let me know just where I needed to go. He said he learned English in Florida growing up, when he was the only white kid on a baseball team of Cubans. I thanked him for his help.

My Panamanian phone didn’t work once I crossed the border, but I met an ethno-biologist from Barcelona with a sweet Andalusian accent who let me use his phone and later helped me get a taxi from the terminal to the church where I met the family I was staying with. He made sure the taxista knew he couldn’t over-charge me just for being a blonde, blue-eyed foreigner (“macha” in Costa Rican Spanish, “fula” here in Panama). Oh, and he also shared his vegetarian supper of eggs, beans, and rice wrapped in a huge leaf and cooked over an open fire by the indigenous people he does his research with. How cool is that?!?

Zila (the sister of a coworker), her husband Orlando, and their daughter Melody were my very friendly hosts. We went to “el puro campo” (the pure country, as in very rural area) for a day and a half, where I ate fresh guava. I never knew this before, but guava looks like a three-foot-long green bean. The fruit is white and surrounds several pits inside.

Although I loved Costa Rica, I was reminded during several parts of the trip of the sad reality of sex trafficking. At the border, there is a huge sign from UNICEF warning travelers to be careful and report suspicious activity. In a five minute taxi ride in San Jose at 8PM, I saw at least 3 prostitutes on street corners. When I told the taxista I was going to the area near a certain motel, he seemed a little alarmed. I explained that I was going to the church right next to the motel, and he laughed and said that there is a difference between motel and hotel in Costa Rica… motels are for stays less than one hour. O sea… (whatever…).  
This all makes more sense now that I learned that prostitution is legal in Costa Rica. (But pimping is not, apparently. Interesting.) In church on Sunday morning, the pastor said Costa Rica is the second in the world when it comes to sex tourism. The U.S. Embassy says, “ Costa Rica is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked into forced labor. Costa Rican women and children are trafficked within the country and to neighboring Central American countries, Mexico, and Japan, for commercial sexual exploitation. ” (http://costarica.usembassy.gov/tipcostarica.html).

Personally, I didn’t see any clear evidence of child sex trafficking during my short stay. Of course, it’s illegal—but in a culture with motels on so many street corners—with a  population and tourists already obsessed with instant gratification and turning people into goods—it doesn’t surprise me that it is such a problem. It doesn’t surprise me, but it digs and cuts at my heart to know innocent children are being exploited like that.
On the morning I left, I picked up an innocent-looking newspaper in a mom-and-dad’s café. Between the celebrity gossip and local crime reports was ad after ad for the sex business. In the classifieds section, the “massage” section was the largest, with only a couple ads declaring the legitimacy of their services with the disclaimer “NO SEXO.”

After all of these glances into the not-so-underground world of the sex business in Costa Rica, I got a closer encounter with someone who is probably involved in it. On the way back to David, Panama during a 30 minute food stop, I was approached by a fellow passenger wearing a baseball cap. He appeared to be around 30 years old, and was smoking a cigarette. He introduced himself and I asked him where he worked. After having just read what I did that morning, I must have raised my eyebrows a little when he said he was a “masseuse.” Seeing my reaction, he said suddenly, “Oh no, actually I work in security for special events.” He proceeded to talk about how he has visited practically every country in Central America. “With your job?” I asked him. He said yes. So now he’s a masseuse-turned-security-guard who travels the world? Likely story. He asked me where I was sitting in the bus, but thankfully the bus was completely full. That was enough for me. I told him well, nice to meet you, it looks like the bus is re-boarding. I coldly shook his hand, but then withdrew mine after he fingered it sensually. I boarded the bus without looking back. That was the last I heard of him.

I had a lot of time in that bus ride to think. I didn’t have a window seat to enjoy the beautiful mountain views, my seat-partner was sleeping the whole time, I couldn’t sleep, and the curved, uneven roads would have made me sick if I had tried to read.

Although I have no proof the guy I had met is involved in the sex trade, it wasn’t the point. What if he was? Then I had shaken hands with hell. And if he wasn’t? It didn’t matter. He could have been. He could have been, and that encounter could have happened to any other girl traveling alone. The rest could be history.
It wasn’t that I was thinking these thoughts in an attempt to exaggerate the danger I was in. In reality, I never felt in any real danger. I had been praying for the whole trip, and I knew God was with me. A verse I’ve memorized in Spanish echoed in my head: “YHWH shall preserve your going out and your coming in—from this time forth and forevermore.”

But I did let my mind go there, because I did want to put myself in the shoes of women who are trapped in the sex trade. Why? Because for a long time, God has put a burden on my heart for their situation. Jesus stood up in the temple and said, “He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives,” and now we are the body of Christ, sent to heal the brokenhearted and proclaim liberty to the captives.

God has given me a lot of ideas about how I can use business and missions to reach out to victims of the sex trade. But Costa Rica reminded me of the gravity of the whole situation. It’s gonna require a lot of grace and power from the Holy Spirit to enter that battlefield. It’s a good thing that if God is for us, who will stand against us?

I want to close with something I wrote awhile ago:

 “But what about now? It's so easy for me to dream about the future, but what about now? [God has given me ample opportunities to live out my calling now.]
Unless you live in a hole, you have a friend who has been sexually abused. Trust me, you do. . . If you happen to find out which ones, don't freak out. Don't express your concern, and then emotionally keel over and start spending time with other friends. This IS your time. This IS the moment. You MUST use it. Just love, and love out loud. Love consistently. Love tangibly.

And if you have a (girl)friend, Christian or not, who has fallen sexually, the same holds true. Remind me of who Jesus ate dinner with that one time? And that other time? Oh, and that other time... Prostitutes. Remind me of who He defended from ruthless men? Oh, a prostitute. Remind me WHY Christ came to this earth? Not to condemn, but to save. 

Show that broken woman that her life is worth living, that she is worth loving. Then, maybe, she can begin to let go of the guilt and pain she harbors from years of mistreatment. Then, maybe, she will know how to love the life inside their womb. Then, maybe, she will see what true redemption looks like.”

06 February 2011

Machismo and the Kingdom of God

What is machismo?

Is it heard in the hissing, shouts, and car horns I ignore every morning on the walk to work? Is it the alarming portion of men, even Christian men, who don’t seem to take fidelity seriously? Is it in the use of packaged, photo-shopped sex appeal in such a large portion of advertisements for everything from cell phones to real estate? Is it in the lunchroom comments that in Latin America, male-to-female attraction is “all about your body” and not so much about your character or even your face? Is it hidden in the Costa Rican pastor’s comment that we should be concerned that for the first time, women are catching up with men in marital infidelity? (In other words, men have always been unfaithful, but now—gasp—women are, too!)

Urban Dictionary defines it as:
Having an unusually high or exaggerated sense of masculinity. Including an attitude that aggression, strength, sexual prowess, power and control is the measure of someone's manliness. Also, a machismo man feels having these traits entitles him to respect and obedience from men and women around him.
Machismo is all this and more. For me, it has been the uncomfortable consciousness that what it means to be a woman in Latin America is something very different than what I grew up with. (Although it can be argued I grew up in a very sheltered environment. Furthermore, these observations are not unique to Latin America—they are merely re-packaged and re-labeled in various cultures around the world.) On a more theoretical level, it is the friction of our feminine and masculine insecurities and pride. It is the desperate awareness of the curse on Eve, “your desire shall be for him, but he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:17). In this sense, it is not a Latin American problem—it is a human problem.

Machismo is found in the sad complexity that men and women need each other, but we can never fulfill one another on our own. In our fallen attempts to be fulfilled, we are selfish and controlling. On the outside, the man often seems to be in control. But the woman resents his selfish leadership, and because he does not show love to her, therefore she does not respect him. In response to this lack of respect, the man seeks to preserve his pride through control tactics instead of love. Thus continues the bitter cycle—which, unfortunately, is not limited to marriage relationships.

But the cycle of machismo not something I can just sit here and research and talk about in a withdrawn, academic manner. It’s something I have seen firsthand, and it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. It’s inescapable; I am immersed in it. I guess we all are, since it is a worldwide phenomenon—and we live in the world.

The challenge, then, is how to keep living in this world, but not being of or pertaining to this world. If Jesus came to take away the curse, then why do we still feel it? What is this now and not yet of liberty in Christ? The “now” is Christ living in us, creating the kingdom of God in our hearts and among his people, the Church. The “not yet” is the final restoration of all things to Christ at His second coming. The “now” is the “to live is Christ.” The “not yet” is the “to die is gain.”

I picked up a book on the sales table a few weeks ago. It’s called La Restauración de las Cosas Rotas (The Restoration of the Broken Things.) The title struck me because it seems to capture the essence of the Gospel, and of one of my favorite passages—Isaiah 61. “The Spirit of the Lord GOD (YHWH) is upon Me, because the LORD (YHWH) has anointed Me … He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted … To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD (YHWH), that He may be glorified. And they shall rebuild the old ruins, They shall raise up the former desolations, And they shall repair the ruined cities, The desolations of many generations.”

Jesus came to restore the broken things. He came to repair the desolations of many generations of machismo in our societies; to heal the broken-hearted lovers that have lost hope in their quest for true love and fulfillment; to give us the beauty of passionate, self-sacrificial love for the ashes of pride, lust, and control; to give the oil of joy to those who are left mourning infidelity and abuse; that our relationships and marriages would be like nourishing trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD (YHWH) and not of any human manipulation or impatient control—that He alone may be glorified.

I long for that restoration. I long for the harmony God designed for men and women to enjoy. I long to one day have the honor and privilege of reflecting the relationship of Christ and the Church through holy matrimony. But I don’t just want these things for myself. I see the pain and suffering that the curse of machismo causes in our society, and my heart longs for a peaceful love that will humbly serve, honor, and cherish its fellow humans. I want things to be different. For that, I am blessed. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [or justice, in some translations], for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). In the not yet, I long for—in the now, I strive for.

Maranatha. (Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!)

04 February 2011

2010: My City Year

2010: My City Year

I was born, raised, and went to college in suburbs in the Dayton, Ohio area.
In 2010, I spent only 1/5 my time living there. 2010 was my City Year. Sevilla, Spain until May. Indianapolis, Indiana until August. Then, Panama City, Panama.

I have always been the majority. I am a white, middle-class, native English-speaking Christian who almost exclusively hung out with white, middle-class, native English speaking Christians.

In 2010, I spent 42 weeks as a minority—whether by race, class, language, and/or religion. I spent 32 of those weeks communicating almost exclusively in a language not my own.

Needless to say, it was a year of a lot of adjustment, learning, and growth that continues as I live in Panama until August 2011.

On my second-to-last Sunday in Spain, I shared with my church family in Sevilla. I shared how God had proven His faithfulness to me there. I had asked Him for meaningful relationships there, both with followers of Christ and others. He had answered above and beyond my wildest expectations, and now it was difficult to say goodbye. I quoted Ephesians 2:19, which says, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” I told them that thanks to their hospitality and love, although I was the only North American in the church, I did not feel like an outsider—but rather a loved and accepted member of their community.

On my last Sunday in Ohio before going off to Panama, in September, my family prayed that God would send me mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers in the faith. Since I stepped off the plane, God has overwhelmingly answered that prayer.

My host parents Milton and Marisol have quiet and reserved personalities that I cannot claim to understand very well. But with time we have determined to talk through our issues with patience and grace, and have grown very close. They have taught me a lot about submission, authority, prayer, fasting, and trusting in God. When I wake up in the mornings, I see them kneeling at their bed together with their 5 year-old daughter Aby. Aby is a treasure, a child with Down’s Syndrome who is remarkably intelligent, articulate and affectionate. She loves giving big hugs, and going to the park with me.

I am also enormously thankful to my friend Sara—who took me to both the Atlantic and Pacific shores on my first weekend here. She invited me to her Bible Study, where I quickly became a part of her group of friends. We have talked, shopped, eaten, prayed, and laughed together. I spent the Panamanian national holidays, Christmas, and New Years with her big family in the interior of the country. She is like another sister to me, and just one of the many good friends God has brought me.

But for the first few months in Panama, I still felt very lonely at times. I felt lonely because I did not calculate exactly how hard it would be to leave my family again after living away from them for 6 months. But I also felt lonely because I did not have, and still do not have, any friends from the United States who are living here. How narrow-minded, petty, and selfish of me: the value of living abroad is in being the minority and learning from those who are different than you, right? Of course.

That’s why in Spain, I sought out and found opportunities to spend time with Spaniards and other international students. But as I think back on my memories with my amigos Sevillanos, I realize I was rarely without a North American friend at my side. I came to Sevilla with a group of 11 students, and some of them became close friends as we enjoyed the new culture and experiences together. We confided our adjustments, difficulties and little delights. We explored the streets together, returning in the “madrugada” (wee hours of the morning). We complained and cried and prayed and sang and ate together. We tried to speak Spanish, but often reverted to English when we were overwhelmed.

I don’t have that in Panama.

I posted the Spanish version of the famous Prayer of St. Francis Assisi (http://www.prayerguide.org.uk/stfrancis.htm) on my wall above my bed. I love all of it, but the part that resonates with me the most as I live abroad is “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek…to be understood as to understand.”
I have to read this prayer to myself a lot. I read it on the days my otherwise advanced Spanish fails to express my heart on a subject, or when cultural misunderstandings create barriers between me and other people. I read it on the days I selfishly wish to be understood better. I read it on the days I get frustrated by the speck in another’s eye and ignore the log in my own eye.

Just as I felt led to pray for meaningful relationships in Sevilla, God gave me a verse as I prepared for Panama: “This one thing I do: forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). I think there is a reason the purpose of the trip changed between Sevilla and Panama. It is not because I’m not supposed to make good friends. It’s because Panama is not like, and not going to be like Sevilla. Now is not the time to think about how things were before. Now is the time to narrow my gaze on Christ, pressing in to Him in the difficult times when I feel misunderstood. Now is the time to live with my eyes wide open, learning as much as I can.

God, in His great faithfulness, is constantly hiding me under the shadow of His wings. Nothing can separate me from His love. Instead, God uses the times of loneliness to cause me to hide myself in Him. He is answering my prayer to “cleanse me from secret faults,” and teach me submission; and He is fulfilling a mentor’s prophecy that God would prune me so that I can bear more fruit (circa John 15). That is my vision for 2011: to bear much fruit, by abiding in Christ and His words abiding in me. Without Christ, I can do nothing. 

04 January 2011

Atheist On a Street Corner at Midnight, Part II

I couldn’t get that man out of my head. The profundity of his objections to an easy faith echoed in my soul:
“You say your God is your life, because your life is good. Look at us. We are here in one of the poorest and most dangerous areas of the capital, homeless here on the street at 11pm, accepting hot soup from complete strangers. We have lived lives of suffering. Who are you to talk to us about a God that heals? About a God that saves? What do you know of such things?”

A few weeks later, in the comfort of my third floor apartment, I sat down to listen to a John Piper sermon on YouTube (“How Our Suffering Glorifies God” watch it, read it, or both—it’s worth every word.) I couldn't help but think of how relevant it was to that conversation on the street.

Think back to the times when you have hidden most under the shelter of the Almighty God, YHWH. Do you think of happy times, or do you think of the times when the peace you felt was unreasonable—a peace that passes all understanding? The times I have felt God’s presence most in my life have been in times of utter darkness, desperate pleas, and intense suffering. On the other hand, the times I feel farthest from God are the times when I am trying to shield my heart from suffering and pain, both in my own life and in the lives of those around me. This is how it is meant to be. If you question that, read the Bible. Jesus never guarantees us prosperity. He guarantees us suffering.

If we are living as if it’s about this life, Paul says “we are of all men most to be pitied.” What does our prosperity say to the weary multitudes? That our God is a God for the happy, the rich, the carefree? Or that the Kingdom of God belongs to the poor in spirit? That our treasure is on earth? Or that we count everything else as rubbish, that we may gain Christ?

If you are not experiencing any suffering at all, ask God to awaken your heart to the suffering of the atheist on the street corner. Plead that you might really understand what he is suffering, and really mourn with them. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

OK, so we suffer. Can we therefore boast in our suffering? Do I tell you all my sad stories so that you can feel like you’re not the only one? Is that the answer? No.

No, because  we will always find someone whose suffering is greater than ours. We can’t sit around comparing our sufferings to demonstrate that the Christian walk is valid.

To the itinerant in Panama City: I’m 99% sure I’ve suffered less than you have. But the suffering I have experienced has meaning, because there is One who gave it meaning through the ultimate sacrifice.
In the beginning, and in the end, we must turn to the CROSS. We must IDENTIFY with the cross in the deepest part of our souls. We must not boast in anything, no riches nor treasure nor earthly gain, nothing except the cross of Christ. We must pursue Christ, that we may know Him and the fellowship of His suffering, being made like Him in His death. We must remember that it isn’t about us: we have died, and our lives our hidden with Christ in God.

God’s supreme purpose in creating the universe is to display the greatness of the glory of his grace supremely through the suffering of His Son. That’s yesterday. Today, the summons: will you join the Son in displaying the supreme satisfaction of the glory of the grace, in joining Him in the Calvary Road of suffering… because there’s no other way the world is going to see the supreme glory Christ until we break free from the Disneyland of America and begin to live lifestyles of missionary sacrifice, that looks to the world like our treasure is on heaven and not on the earth. –John Piper

Acts 5:41: “They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer.”

03 January 2011

Atheist On a Street Corner at Midnight, Part I

In September, my friend Sara took me to “Sopa Caliente” (hot soup) with the “jovenes” (young people) from her church. At 9PM, we all piled into two full-size church buses and pulled out of the church parking lot. Destination: I still have no idea. All I know is that it was a hidden corner of this bustling metropolis—a place filled with poor people. Some homeless, some not, almost all with need in their eyes. We went out in groups of about 8, guys and girls, handing out hot soup and inviting them to the car wash where we had set up showers, and were offering free haircuts, shaving, and clothes—as well as more food for those who wanted it. There were so many people—both from the church and the streets.

The whole thing was bustling all night until after midnight. Groups passed out soup, invited people, returned for more soup, and marched out into the streets again.

I was in observer mode—just trying to witness this grand project and everyone involved in it. Of course, I participated, too. It’s not like I’ve never worked in the inner city before, or that I am a naturally quiet or introverted person—just that with a different culture and language and with people I don’t know very well, I tend to look and listen before I share my ideas and opinions. So I just followed my group, as we passed out soup and talked with those willing to talk. We would return to the car wash “base” with our new “recruits” and “march” off into the streets, “armed” with soup for anyone and everyone. It seemed a bit like a military operation.

But, there were a faithful few who would sit down and talk—really talk with these people. They treated them with dignity and compassion at the same time, making eye contact and really showing an interested in their lives. These few, unassuming, humble servants shone like “little Christs” on that dark night.

On our 3rd or 4th set of soup, we stopped at a curb where three men were seated. My friend Sara said “God bless you”, thereby instantly provoking a debate. Soon all three men were shouting over one another. I just stood there, not really picking out coherent ideas over the ruckus—until the third man addressed me.

“What does God mean to you?” he asked me in his rapid, slurred, probably intoxicated Spanish. The third time he asked, I finally understood. But I felt a little bit put on the spot—not everyone asks you to define something as big as God, just out of the blue like this. Slowly, I began.

“Well, God is everything to me… God is my life. God is…” but he didn’t let me continue. All this man had time for was my simple answer.

“See,” he said. “you are pretty.” He paused for a few seconds, waving his hand through the air between us. His angry face changed a little, and I nervously shifted my feet. Like any woman, I know when I am being looked up and down. Awaking from his reverie, he continued.

“You are pretty. You are rich. You have what you need. You have opportunities. I, on the other hand, have little left to live for.”

At least, I think that’s what he said. In that moment, it no longer seemed possible—or even necessary—to discern his exact words above the other two men, both engaged in their own shouting matches. But it didn’t matter—I was already hit in the gut by the impact of what I knew he was saying.

“God is my life.” Now, that was not a terrible answer, but for a man with no roof over his head,  intent on proving my God is irrelevant to the sufferings of the world, it fell flat. I could have said, God is the Great I AM, the Alpha and Omega, the Creator of the world, the suffering Savior, the strength for the weak. Who can really know how to describe this great God of ours?

But I didn’t get the chance to elaborate. The man kept talking, and my mind filled in the blanks where I didn’t catch the exact words: “You say your God is your life, because your life is good. Look at us. We are here in one of the poorest and most dangerous areas of the capital, homeless here on the street at 11pm, accepting hot soup from complete strangers. We have lived lives of suffering. Who are you to talk to us about a God that heals? About a God that saves? What do you know of such things?”

I just stood there. The weight of his suffering echoed within me. I felt a little sick to my stomach—perhaps a little like Jesus when He saw the multitudes and was “filled with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). 

Sara interrupted my thoughts by grabbing my arm.


The rest of the group was already leaving. I stayed back for a few seconds—not wanting to run from this moment if it really was an opportunity, but not being sure what I would say if he ever did stop talking—wishing I could understand more of his objections, but not wanting to be left alone. Finally, I had to interrupt him. My eyes filled with concern and reluctance, I simply said,