If God is so good, why did He allow my little girl to be murdered? That was the question that haunted Mack and kept him stuck in The Great Sadness. How many of us are stuck in a great sadness of our own, brought on by one tragedy after another, day after day? Would we jump at an opportunity to have our questions answered by God Himself? One day, Mack received an invitation to meet God at “The Shack” to do just that. I would like to invite you to do the same.
Have you ever invested hours and hours of your life in great book, only to go to the movie theater and be completely devastated by how a wonderful book could be turned into such a disappointing use of two hours? This is not the case with the movie “The Shack”.
I spent much of the summer of 2013 listening to “The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity” by William P. Young on CD in my car. I listened to it a full three times before the library insisted that I give it back. And when I found out that the movie of “The Shack” was going to be released on Friday, March 3, 2017, I grabbed my print version, which I had never actually read, and dove in. I’ve invested a good 25 hours of my life in this book, and the 2 hours and 12 minutes that I spent on Saturday, March 4th watching it unfold on the big screen did not disappoint.
Actually, the only criticism I’ve heard about the movie is that “Father God”, also known as “Papa”, is played, for most of the movie, by a an African American female actress. If God is our Father in Heaven, why is He portrayed as a woman in a dress? That’s another question Mack wanted answered. Papa responded:
“To reveal myself to you as a very large, white grandfather figure, with a flowing beard like Gandalf, would simply reinforce your religious stereotypes, and this weekend is not about reinforcing your religious stereotypes.”
I would say this entire book (and movie) is all about challenging our religious stereotypes. How many of us struggle with God as a Good Father simply because we have no earthly example of a good father? Might it be freeing to see God through fresh eyes?
Consider Genesis 1:27:
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
If God made us male and female in His image, then His image contains both male and female attributes. God demonstrates this throughout the Bible by referring to Himself not only in “fatherly” terms, but also in “motherly” terms. Here’s just one example. The Apostle Matthew records Jesus lamenting over His children with a Mother Hen analogy:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” – Matt. 23:37 (NIV)
Papa has full knowledge of Mack’s “father wounds” that keep him far from a Fatherly God, and so He presents Himself as Mother. And this is just one example of God’s goodness and kindness portrayed in “The Shack”.
Another example has to do with the rest of the Holy Trinity and another character known as “Wisdom”. Papa is an African American woman and, later in the movie, a Native American man. Jesus is a Middle Eastern Hebrew man. The Holy Spirit is an Asian woman. And Lady Wisdom is a Hispanic woman. What a beautiful picture of God’s Kingdom:
“Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
– Clare Herbert Woolston
So, if you’re red or yellow or black or white or purple, if you have questions for God about good and evil and why He allows such things, I urge you to go see “The Shack”. And if you want to know more, read “The Shack” (or take it out of your library on CD and have it read to you). Eugene Peterson, who wrote “The Message” paraphrase of the Bible, is quoted on the front of my print copy of “The Shack”:
“This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!”
I haven’t written a lot in the last year. Why not? Well, I’ve been medicated, which is a beautiful thing (thank you, Jesus, for good meds!), but the same mechanism that stops the downward-spiral of anxious thoughts also stops the creative process of writing. So, you could say, my muse has gone on vacation.
But it’s my birthday and I always post a blog on my birthday. Sharing these posts has become a daily joy and I can’t imagine 2016/2017 without sharing a new one with you.
And for 2016, I’d like to take a little deeper dive. Let’s start here. This fall, my best buds and I joined a Bible study by Angela Thomas-Pharr called “Redeemed: Grace to Live Every Day Better than Before”. That title intrigued me. Can we really live every day better than before? Really? What if this is as good as it gets?
I’ve been a Christian for 22 1/2 years and today is my 45th birthday, so I’ve been a follower of Christ for exactly half of my life. After all of these years, why don’t I have this down yet? Why am I medicated? What is there to be anxious about? I know my identity: I am in Christ and Christ is in me. “If God is for me, who can be against me?” (Rom. 8:31) So, why can’t I just calm down and enjoy my life? What am I missing?
CS Lewis once said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) said it this way:
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and unchangeable object; in other words by God himself.” (Pensees 10.148)
Pascal’s quote has been summarized/ paraphrased as, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator.”
That’s actually the quote that Dave Wilson used in his message in April of 1994, during my first visit to Kensington Church. That’s what got my attention. Yes, I had been trying to fill that God-shaped vacuum with all kinds of created things and none of them were working. And for the past 22 1/2 years, my focus has changed, but I’m still searching for something. What am I searching for?
Angela Thomas-Pharr took a considerable amount of time in her study to teach about the three unique stages of redemption. I’m so glad she did, so I could share them with you:
The day you accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are redeemed, “changed from an unbeliever to a believer” (salvation/justification).
As you live out your life from that day forward, you are being redeemed, “being changed into the image of Christ” (sanctification).
When you leave this earth and go to be with God in Heaven, you are finally and completely redeemed, “eternally changed into the likeness of Christ” (glorification).
The writer of the Book of Hebrews defines Jesus’s sacrifice this way: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” -Hebrews 10:14 (ESV)
We are being perfected (sanctified) every day we’re alive, but we won’t be completely perfected (glorified) until we get to Heaven. It’s crazy that I spend so much time and effort trying to reach perfection (or at least perfect contentment) here on earth, because I’ll never get there this side of Heaven. And why would I want to? Adam and Eve had perfection in the Garden of Eden and they must have found it so boring that they chose to disobey God. Hmmm, maybe that’s a big part of the deception.
Deception? Yes, there is an enemy of our souls, the deceiver, the “father of lies” (John 8:44), and his job is to keep us from God, the Father of Truth. But if we’ve already accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, what’s our enemy to do? If he can convince us that we need perfection on earth, we’ll keep striving for it, wasting our time, wearing ourselves out, running in circles, looking in all the wrong places.
Do that for long enough and a new lie begins to surface. Beth Moore has said that we can be so paralyzed in our pursuit of greatness that we do nothing good. If the enemy can keep us busy, distracted, beaten down, ineffective and exhausted, we just might stop trying all together. Angela Thomas-Pharr describes this way:
“Maybe you know this. When you are tired and your spirit is heavy, the heart begins to mumble the saddest word: Whatever.”
Yes, we are being lied to. If we believe the lie, we’ll get stuck. It’s an effective tactic. It works. And our job is to fight against it with truth. The truth is, whether we “feel” it or not, we are actively being redeemed by the God who perfects us as we live and breathe. The Apostle Paul knew this truth and he explained to the philosophers in Athens, ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ … ‘We are his offspring.’ -Acts 17:28 (NIV)
Offspring. Yes. We are not children of the enemy, that we should obey him. We are children of God. Living “every day better than before” is about knowing who we are and Whose we are, growing closer to our Father until we get to Heaven. And isn’t that what Heaven is: the place where we are completely and eternally redeemed, fully in the presence of God?
Isn’t that how Jesus brought Heaven to earth, perfectly connected to the Father? That’s what he wants for us. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” -Matt. 6:10 (ESV) If we allow Jesus to live through us, connecting us to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can bring a little bit of Heaven to earth. And as children of God, we need the encouragement of our brothers and sisters to keep our focus.
The Apostle Paul taught about this spiritual battle and he encouraged the church of Galatia: “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” -Galatians 6:9 (NLT)
Don’t give up. Don’t quit. Stay connected. Stay awake and pay attention to every little miracle. Be a treasure hunter, hunting for every scrap of joy, every gift, every moment, fully engaged. And be a treasure hunter for others too. Help them to see the gifts all around them. Life is hard and we need each other.
That’s why it’s so important that we stay connected to a community of believers; other people who can point us to the truth. No church is perfect. How can it be? The church is made up of imperfect people. But if all of us, in our imperfection, can point each other to our Perfect Heavenly Father, then we have hope. And that’s why I love my church. That’s why I go every week. Not because I’m a “super Christian”, but because I’m not. None of us are and we need all of the encouragement we can get.
A few weeks back, my church started a new series called “Heart & Soul”, exploring seven core values that can define our lives. If you missed the message on the first core value, check it out here: Heart & Soul: Identity
I was a different person
This person was my old nature
My old self
But that person died
And my life is now hidden
I am in
And He is in me
I am a new creation
This doesn’t mean that I will never stumble
Or fall back into old patterns
But I will call them what they are
Old habits of the old person
I will confess them
I will thank God for his forgiveness
I will make amends
Not because I am taking sin lightly
But because I am taking seriously
Who God says I am
Not because of anything I’ve done
But because of what God has done
He has wiped my slate clean
I am blameless before God
Has no place in my life
Because I am
A new creation
And all of the ugly parts of my story
The parts I want to pretend never happened
Have been redeemed
And they have become
The moments in my life
When God’s grace is most on display
Thank you God
My mistakes do not define me
My past does not define me
Because God has defined my identity
I am his beloved child
In whom He is
This is my identity
In Angela Thomas-Pharr’s study, she tells of a man who was asked, “How long have you been redeemed?” He answered:
“I was redeemed by Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago when He gave His life to atone for my sin. But I only found out about a year ago.”
Comedian Jeff Allen was on Smile FM a couple weeks ago. He said he spent a lot of his life waiting for an explanation from God, but what he really needed was a revelation from God. I think that’s what the man in the quote above received: a revelation from God. He is redeemed. I am redeemed. And if you’ve received the gift of Jesus’s forgiveness, you too are redeemed.
I pray that today we might receive a revelation from God. A revelation that we are redeemed and our identity is in Christ, but it’s going to take a lifetime of “day in and day out” to walk this thing out, together. Grab your best buds, the ones who point you to the Truth, and hang on tight. We are brothers and sisters and we need to keep reminding each other:
keep going keep treasure-hunting and keep focusing on Dad, our Abba Father.
We are His beloved children and He is well pleased with us.
Want to know more about my “revelation day” back in 1994? Here’s my story told through the story of my son: Joshua The Prophet
And those meds, why do I take them? Well, they help me to drown out the voice of the enemy and to focus on the One and Only voice that matters. They help me “come out of hiding” and connect with others who can encourage me, so that I can encourage them, and we can treasure hunt together. We’re blessed to be a blessing.
“Baby, you’re almost home now
Please don’t quit now
You’re almost home to me”
–Out of Hiding, Father’s Song by Steffany Gretzinger and Amanda Cook
In 2013, when Joshua was 11, he and I were blessed to be able to go on a mission trip to Costa Rica with Joshua Expeditions through Kensington Church. I brought my iPad with me and sent email updates home every day to keep all of our trip supporters “in the loop”. Once I got home, I compiled all of the emails into a sort of “blog”, added pictures and sent out the PDF to all of the friends and family who had supported us on our trip through their prayers and financial gifts. I’ve always thought about sharing that “blog” here, but I’ve never really felt the push to put the work into doing so. Until now.
You see, I’m still shocked that I went on the trip in the first place. Looking back, it was an amazing trip, but it was also full of new experiences and uncertainty, which would normally put a person with my anxiety issues over the edge. When I first heard about the trip and read that it was “ideal for first-timers” and for those “11 and up” and realized that Joshua would be turning 11 a couple weeks before the trip, I knew we had to go. And it was that certainty that pushed me through all of the uncertainty.
But when we returned home and I thought about all that we had done, I couldn’t see myself going back. What if it didn’t turn out as well? What if I did completely fall apart? What if I didn’t have the energy to push through the challenges? So many “what if’s” (from the enemy, of course, as that’s where most “what if’s” come from), that I thought the only way I would go back was if John would come with us. So, for the past 3 years, we’ve casually talked about John and I taking Joshua and Jordan in 2017 when Jordan turns 11. But John really doesn’t have an interest in going, so it remained casual talk. Safe distance. No commitment.
Something changed last week. I had dropped Joshua and Jordan off at SpringHill Day Camp in Troy and was driving home. As I drove, I had this vision of taking Jordan to Costa Rica, just the two of us, or maybe the two of us with another mother-daughter team. And I knew exactly who that mother-daughter team was, I just didn’t know if God would give them the same vision, or if the vision was just to encourage me to take Jordan. A gift from God to light a fire under me. So, I came home, asked John what he thought of the idea, he loved it, and I sent an informative email off to my friend. Included in that email was this blog. I thought I would share it with you as well. It’s about time. 🙂
Friday 7-5-13 @ 10:24pm
We’re at the Marriott by the airport, getting up at 2:45am to catch our 6am flight to Costa Rica.
Night-night! Love, Beth & Joshua
Saturday 7-6-13 @ 2:30am
Got 2 hours of sleep, woke up, got ready and now I’m sitting here drinking coffee waiting for time for Joshua to get up.
Blessings to you! Love, Beth
Saturday 7-6-13 @ 9:42am
Feels like afternoon, but it’s 8:25 in Houston CDT. Costa Rica is on CST, so we will be 2 hours behind you. Our flight doesn’t leave until 11:30 (about 3 hours from now). We just found bacon and eggs for $14 for the 2 of us. Yikesters!
Love this Logitech keyboard. 🙂 Happy Mother’s Day to me.
Love you and talk to you soon! -Beth & Joshua
Saturday 7-6-13 @ 10:31pm
We are home from a lovely dinner and settling into our rooms for what will hopefully be a much longer night sleep than last night. 🙂 Two hours was not nearly long enough (nor was Joshua’s 3 hours), but I did manage to sleep on both planes (Joshua didn’t – he was too busy visiting with friends – can you imagine?).
We are at the Country Inns & Suites, so any contact info you had for the Radisson is not correct. That was a mix-up of dates. They had plenty of room at this hotel for this week and it’s the hotel they’ve stayed at all 7 years, so it is the natural choice.
You are all on the blog list, so you should be receiving a blog update each night. Now that we’re here, Joshua and I plan on putting our electronics away for a few days. It was great to talk to Ma, Papa, Jordan and John on Facetime tonight and also to Rick on iMessage. I’m glad we got to connect with you. But don’t be concerned if you don’t hear from us for a few days (other than the blog). I’m so glad that Rick was able to help Ma & Papa get Facetime working. Great job, Uncle Rick!! 🙂
Have a good couple days. Much love to you all! -Beth & Joshua
Monday 7-8-13 @ 12:42am
Or really good morning, as I think it’s 12:30 am your time. Getting out my iPad to set the alarm for the morning, and thought I’d send you and update. I don’t think a blog post went out last night and we just got home from dinner, so I don’t know what their plans are tonight.
Today was a great day. Long, but wonderful. The food here is so fresh and delicious and I had no idea that rice, black beans and scrambled eggs taste good together, but they’re fab! Joshua mixed his together too and agreed with me – yum!
We went to church where we’ll be working this week, they fed us lunch (delicious again!) and we started getting ready for the medical clinic tomorrow. SOOOO many medicines to unpack and repack (we could only take sealed containers through customs), but we got a big chunk of it done before it was time to go. We traveled all around San Jose in our 2 tour buses, briefly stopped at an open air market and road the buses up the steepest hills I’ve ever seen to get to our dinner destination. The view of San Jose was incredible – so many lights going on and on, twinkling and dancing in the distance. There was beautiful dancing at this restaurant and we didn’t leave until about 9:30.
We’re up at 6am tomorrow to meet with everyone at 7am, 7:30 breakfast and on the bus by 8:15, so I better sign off. It will be a busy day getting everything finished and ready to see 400 patients this week.
Love you all! Beth & Joshua
Monday 7-8-13 @ 11:47pm
I got to Facetime with Dad and Jordan for a few minutes before we left for dinner tonight. I tried John, but he had already left the store (it was 8pm your time). Jordan got to say hi to lots of people on our team of 57.
Started out the morning with a small stomach ache (I’m sure I ate some hidden gluten yesterday, but not much), running a few minutes behind (really tired still from getting home so late last night and not getting enough sleep), and a bit unsure of what our day would look like.
Our day turned out to be wonderful. I am on the welcome team for the medical team and our plan was to wash people’s feet and offer them a pair of flip-flops and maybe paint their nails if they wanted while they waited to see the doctor. We weren’t sure if anyone would let us wash their feet, but out of the approx. 50 people we saw (34 adults plus children), all except about 4 let us wash their feet. A couple women cried and I got to hug almost everyone. They don’t just give you a hug and a pat. They REALLY hug you and squeeze you. Really, I was the one who got to receive the hugs. It was just beautiful. I told them “Christo te ama” which means “Jesus loves you” and they all said “Amen, amen”. They were so sweet.
We spent the morning finishing up our 400 first aid packets, counting out pills and putting Spanish labels on everything. The first patients started coming around lunch time, so we stopped for lunch so that we could see them at their 1pm appt times (they were an hour early for the appts). Our original plan was to wrap up around 3:30pm, but it was just after 5pm before we were done with the last patients. Off to the hotel to freshen up quick before dinner (that’s when I tried Facetime) and then off to the restaurant. Everything is so fresh and wonderful. And when they say “fruit punch” it’s REAL fruit blended into a punch. Or they serve a wonderful peach tea that everyone loves (especially Joshua).
We arrived home about 8pm and shared together as a group until about 9pm. It was really neat to hear about everyone’s experiences on all of the different teams. The construction team got to meet the family today who is receiving the new house. We all get to go see the finished product on Thursday before we head up the mountain to go ziplining.
I better get to bed. They need us to come earlier tomorrow, so we need to meet at 6:45am. I got up too late this morning (too rushed), so I’m setting my alarm for 5:15.
Love you all! -Beth & Joshua (who is asleep up in his loft bed – hopefully he’ll get a full 9 hours tonight, from 9pm to 6am, as he was REALLY exhausted tonight. He even laid his head down on the dinner table when he was done and almost fell asleep there). 🙂
Wednesday 7-10-13 @ 12:10am
Started out the morning taking pics around the hotel and posting them on Facebook. I told Joshua he should be very proud of me for getting so much done on the iPad so quickly. 🙂 I tried to Facetime Mom & Dad (but I think I was too late – it was already 8:30 your time and I’m sure Jordan was already off to camp) and tried John, but he was probably busy with customers. Tried again tonight, as well as Rose & Mr Dean, but no answers. Thankfully, when we tried Rick & Delia, they were there and we got to chat for a few minutes before leaving for dinner. Tomorrow night we won’t be coming back to the hotel before dinner, so we probably won’t be able to Facetime at all unless we catch you early enough in the morning.
Today was a great day. We saw about 50 patients yesterday and I believe we saw 101 today. I didn’t wash nearly as many feet today, as I wanted to give other people a chance to experience it (VERY emotional for some people), but the couple people whose feet I did wash were very impactful. One dear woman kept crying every time I looked at her. We hugged a lot and one of our team members who spoke some Spanish came just in the perfect timing for me to ask her how to say that I am this woman’s “Sister in Christ”. When she told her, the woman’s face lit up and she grabbed me and hugged me even harder. She was so sweet.
I ended up making number tickets this morning and gave them to each adult as they came in to keep everyone in order better today. So, my job revolved around welcoming people and getting them set up with clipboards to start giving us their medical info. I also picked out a lot of flip-flops (matching up shoe sizes to what we have) and painted some nails.
Oh, Rick, I think the picture you saw of me in the blog was of me helping a woman pick out nail polish after having her feet washed. Our welcome area is a hallway, so it’s a bit crowded, but it works.
Our meals were all great again today and Joshua’s highlight of his dinner was having a lizard of some sort (which was on the ceiling in the restaurant) poop right onto his hand and his plate. 🙂 He laughed so hard that the tears were running down his cheeks. They offered him a new plate of food, but he was already done. And it rather spoiled his appetite too. 🙂 He wasn’t nearly as exhausted today as he was yesterday. He did manage to get about 9 hours of sleep last night, so that was great. My body just really wants to wake up at 4:45 (6:45 your time) and I don’t have time to fall back to sleep again, so I just get up. Makes for a more relaxing morning too having extra time.
We should be able to go see the completed house tomorrow after 4pm. It’s up and the roof is started. Our biggest challenge tomorrow is going to be something we have absolutely no control over – if people come on time for their appts. We are praying that they will come on time or early and that we’ll be able to see everyone before 4pm so that we can head to the construction site. I know we all want to meet the family and see the house. We haven’t finished until after 5pm today and yesterday, so we would appreciate your prayers for tomorrow. Thank you!
Sharing at our debriefing each night has been really special. And spending time with everyone through out the day has really bonded us all together. I really feel like we now have 55 more people in our family (plus Beth and Jimmy from Joshua Expeditions).
Mom – Beth is Beth Andersen, the sister of Don and Dennis Andersen. She looks just like Don when she talks! And Jimmy is from Costa Rica and tells us all about the country. We have decided that Jimmy’s bus (the smaller one) is the best bus and we all try to get on his bus whenever we can. No offense to Beth Andersen. 🙂 She’s great too.
Ok, time to go to sleep. Love you all! -Beth & Joshua
Thursday 7-11-13 @ 12:32am
I feel like these e-mails are getting later and later each night. And we just found out that we might be back REALLY late tomorrow, so don’t be surprised if there is no e-mail at all tomorrow night. Maybe I’ll just write quick to tell you we’re still alive. 🙂
Today was another amazing day. I spent most of the day charting kids’ heights & weights on growth charts. It was more relaxing that doing the welcome/intake/feet washing/flip-flop fittings and a lot of other people still wanted the opportunity to wash feet, so I was good with that. Later in the morning I had a chance to go up to the kids camp to see well over 200 kids in all different activities that our kids’s camp team had planned for them. I also took my camera today, so I got lots of great pictures of the kids and of people back in the medical clinic. I was really happy that I had waited to take pictures, as I really got to capture quite a bit of what I really wanted in a short amount of time.
Later in the afternoon, I got to go help out where the doctors work, filling prescriptions and saying goodbye to people as they left. Some of them had seen me at the beginning and the end and they looked confused – like I had a twin or something. 🙂 The pastor taught me to say “God bless you” (Dios te bendiga) the other day and I got to say that a lot as people were leaving, as well as “Christo te ama” (Jesus loves you). We’re all slowly building our Spanish vocabulary and it’s been really fun.
Sonja (our trip leader) and the camp director (Flory, which means “flower”) were leaving to go to the kids’ camp over in Guarari about 3pm and Nancy, our medical team leader, said I should go with them, as I was done with my job. Thank you Nancy! What a wonderful opportunity to drive over with a small group of women and one little boy from the neighborhood who Flory watches. We also called him Flory’s GPS, as he tells her how to get around that side of the city. 🙂 Joan (pronounced “Joe-an”) was his name and everyone loves him. When we got to Guarari, Joshua said, “Joan!” He was very happy to see him. What a special little boy. We all prayed for him later at the construction site, as Mariela really felt that he is going to make a huge impact in his life. He’s just that kind of kid. It was beautiful to hear Joshua join in on that prayer for Joan too.
We were only at the Guarari kids camp for a few minutes before it was time to head over to the construction site. The kids had been there since about 1pm and their time was up. We did get a few pictures before we left, but I can’t share them until I get home and can download them on the computer. When we got to the construction site, we were all overwhelmed by the fact that people live in these kind of conditions. Susan shared tonight that she’s been in a lot of proverty-stricken places in her life, but that city poverty feels much worse. Being in Africa out in the bush, at least you’re surrounded by nature. But in the city, it’s just filthy.
What a bright spot in the middle of all of this to see the newly constructed home. And we got to completely surprise the family with the furnishings. They had no idea that the house wasn’t empty. After everyone on the construction team had a chance to share, and the pastor prayed for them, they got to go into the house all by themselves. They screamed when they saw the inside. Screams of joy. We let them have some time and then came and knocked on their door as their first visitors. But it had rained through our whole ceremony, so our feet were pretty muddy and we didn’t want to dirty their brand new house, so just the construction team went in and the rest of us took pictures from outside. I’ll share those after we get home. It was just beautiful.
We went directly from the construction site to dinner and arrived back to go directly to our debriefing. Lots of people shared tonight and it was a wonderful meeting. The kids and teenagers commented that these people have so little, yet are filled with so much joy. Joshua agreed – why are they so happy? He concluded that it could only be the love of Jesus that fills their hearts with joy. I completely agree. Our “stuff” weighs us down, but these people are free to be generous with whatever God brings into their lives. It’s really beautiful to see.
Tomorrow is our last morning at the church and Beth Andersen warned us tonight that it will be very emotional saying goodbye and that we need to leave plenty of time to do so. She said “Saying goodbye takes a long time in Costa Rica”. 🙂 We have to leave the church no later than 1pm tomorrow to get to the zip-lining mountain on time. But God completely answered our prayers today and everyone who wanted to see a doctor got to see one and the rest of the medical team was on the bus by 4:05. Whew!! I know He will answer our prayers again tomorrow.
We got to talk to John on Facetime this morning and maybe we’ll have a chance to try Mom & Dad & Jordan again in the morning. We’ll see how it goes.
Love you all! -Beth & Joshua
Friday 7-12-13 @ 12:27am
As promised, I am writing to tell you that we are alive. 🙂 We did all 12 zip lines today and they were AMAZING! We finished up at the church this morning with a very emotional send off from the pastor and were off to the zip lines. Then we went from there to dinner & shopping and this time we managed to buy a few things (no bargaining this time).
We have to be on the bus at 6:30am, so I am going to bed now. Figure I need to get up at 4:45 to be ready on time. We take a tour bus 1.5 hours to the catamaran, then eat breakfast on the dock and then take a 1.5 hour catamaran trip out to Tortuga Island, where Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed. Tortuga means turtle. 🙂 We’ll be on the island for 5 or 6 hours and then we take the 3 hour trip back to the hotel. I’ll try to send another quick “we’re alive” e-mail tomorrow night. 🙂 We have a 6:30am flight on Saturday morning, so we’ll want to head straight to bed tomorrow night.
I just gave my SD card to Sonja for her to use pictures for the blog, so check it out Friday. You may see some of my pics from Thursday (the only day I took pictures). Just go to Sonja’s e-mail from a couple days ago with the link to the blog and then click “home” to get to the home page (which will probably show you today’s blog once it’s done). Please pray for Sonja. She looks exhausted. Too many late nights up working on the blog, thank you cards, and other trip details. No rest for a great leader.
It was great to talk to Mom, Dad & Jordan this morning on Facetime. I don’t think we’ll be Facetiming again until the airport, if I can find a wifi signal.
Love you all! -Beth & Joshua
Friday 7-12-13 @ 11:55pm
What a day! On the bus to Tortuga Island at 6:30, breakfast on the dock at 8:30 and to the island by about 10:30. Took more pictures today on my camera, so I’ll download those when I get home. The camera battery is now dead, so I’ll charge that at home too. It lasted just the perfect amount of time.
We snorkeled in the ocean (lots of beautiful fish!), road on a banana boat being pulled by a fishing boat (with a 75 HP Yamaha, may I add), ate a lovely 4 course meal on the beach (in the shade – very nice), rented a 2 man kayak for an hour so that the boys could paddle around and it ended up being used by about 6 people, which was really cool, played in the water, and watched as 9 people from our group got baptized in the ocean. Wonderful!
Then we got back on the boat for another 1.5 hour ride, which was really nice, and a 1.5 hour bus drive during which most people slept (you guessed it, I was talking the whole time). 🙂
Dinner, shower, packing and now heading to bed. Joshua was so exhausted that he took his shower and went right to bed with no dinner (he wasn’t hungry). I could only eat veggies, as we were having pasta tonight, but it was the perfect night for it. I wasn’t really hungry either.
Joshua fell asleep on my bed, so I’m up in the loft tonight. I just posted a quick pic on Facebook. Bittersweet tonight – happy to be going home, but really sad to leave. It’s been an amazing trip for everyone.
Should be home in about 24 hours if all flights go well. We should get into Detroit about 8:30 tomorrow night.
Dan Kopp’s 4-3-16 message, “The Power of Now” focused on Matthew 22:36-40 where Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment: love God and love others. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a Christian, I’m guessing you’ve heard that commandment before. In his message, Dan put an interesting spin on it: we can’t love someone that we’re not aware of. Just as we can’t love those around us if we’re not paying attention to them, we can’t love God if we’re not aware of God.
Jacob felt that way in Genesis 28. Verse 12 tells us that “As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.” God spoke to Jacob from the top of that stairway, telling him about his future, and reassuring Jacob that He would be with him, protecting him. Jacob woke up saying, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” (v. 16) When Jacob became aware that God was with him, he called that place “Bethel”, the house of God and the gate of heaven.
Guess who else is spoken of as the gate of heaven and as a stairway between heaven and earth? Check out John 1:51 (NLT):
“Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.””
That was Jesus speaking about himself. And in John 10:9, Jesus says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”
In Matthew 1:23 (CEB), an angel appeared to Joseph and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife saying, “Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
And they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means “God with us.”)”
Emmanuel. God with us. Jesus. The gate of heaven. The stairway between heaven and earth. He is with us. And what does this mean for us?
Dan went on in his message to quote what theologians have said about “The Power of Now”:
1) Greg Boyd, in his book Present Perfect, said “Over the last twenty-plus years . . . I’ve become absolutely convinced that remaining aware of God’s presence is the single most important task in the life of every follower of Jesus.”
2) Frank Laubach, known as “the Apostle to the Illiterates” and honored with his own postage stamp in 1984, said this in Practicing His Presence, “One question to be put to the test is this: Can we have contact with God all the time? All the time awake, fall asleep in His arms, and awaken in His presence? Can we attain that? Can we do His will all the time? Can we think His thoughts all the time? Can I bring the Lord back in my mind flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind? I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering that question.”
3) And Brother Lawrence, in his classic book, Practicing The Presence of God, said “If I were a preacher, above everything else I would preach the practice of dwelling in the presence of Christ.”
Dwelling in His presence. Did you know that the name Beth means “dwelling” or “house of God”? I love that. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God.” (1 Corinthians 6:19) My name is Beth, but even if yours is not, you are still a temple of the Holy Spirit, a dwelling place for God’s presence.
I completely agree with Greg Boyd, Frank Laubach and Brother Lawrence, but I didn’t know how to phrase it until now. This is it: “Can I bring the Lord back in my mind flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind? I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering that question.”
So, back to this life of ours. Why are we here? I’ve been messing with an acronym for the word “L.I.F.E.” for quite some time now. Listening to Dan’s message this morning brought it together for me:
Our Legacy (later) and our Impact (now) depend on our Focus on Emamanuel (God with us).
You see, if God is with us, what have we to fear? If God is with us, The Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans:
“The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.” -Romans 8:11 (NLT)
LIFE to your mortal bodies. But that LIFE starts with awareness. Focus on Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. And what’s the best way to keep our focus on Him? Thank Him. Praise Him. Rejoice. Once again, the Apostle Paul comes to our rescue with words that help us put this into action:
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Keep in mind that Paul didn’t instruct us to give thanks FOR all circumstances, but IN all circumstances. No matter how miserable things get, we always have something to thank Him for. This is God’s will for all of us. If you’d like to read more on this subject, please do check out these blog posts: Moment by Moment, Life that Really Matters, The Swivel Chair, Daddy’s Shoulders, to name a few.
And here’s how Dan ended his sermon. Again, the Apostle Paul to the rescue, this time to the church in Ephesus (and to us!). Couldn’t be more appropriate:
“May He grant you out of the riches of His glory, to be strengthened and spiritually energized with power through His Spirit in your inner self, [indwelling your innermost being and personality], so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through your faith. And may you, having been [deeply] rooted and [securely] grounded in love, be fully capable of comprehending with all the saints (God’s people) the width and length and height and depth of His love [fully experiencing that amazing, endless love]; and [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself]. -Ephesians 3:16-19 (AMP)
Take a moment. Breathe. Look at the picture above. Imagine that you’re that tiny person on the shoulders of your Dad. His strong arms have a firm grip on you and you’re heading out along the path. The road ahead is blurry from your perspective, but your Dad knows what’s around every curve. From your vantage point, you can choose to be a nervous wreck, or you can choose to relax and trust your Dad. Relax and thank him every step of the way, knowing that this life is a beautiful adventure with your Dad who loves you more than you could ever imagine. You’re a lovely little princess (or a strong, handsome prince) on the shoulders of the King.
You see, this is how I feel about God, my Heavenly Father. I’m up on His shoulders, His strong arms have a firm grip on me, and we’re heading out along the path. The road ahead is blurry from my perspective, but He knows what’s around every curve. From my vantage point, I can choose to be a nervous wreck, or I can relax and trust Him. Relax and thank Him every step of the way, knowing that this life is a beautiful adventure with my Dad, Who loves me more than I could ever imagine. I’m a lovely little princess on the shoulders of the King. I hope you can picture yourself up on those shoulders too. Your Heavenly Father hopes you can too.
He wants us to relax. Trust Him. Thank Him. Moment by moment, every day. Let Him guide you. Take the next step. This is not about trying harder. This is about trusting and thanking our Heavenly Father.
Yoda says, “There is no try. There is do or do not.”
I say, “There is no try. There is Trust God and Thank God. And then take the next step.”
Trust & Thank. T&T. TNT.
TNT is the abbreviation for the explosive compound used in dynamite: Tri Nitro Toluene.
But the root word of dynamite is from the the Greek “dunamis”, which is used 120 times in the New Testament and is loosely translated as “strength, power, or ability.”
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” – 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)
So, what does this “dunamis power” have to do with that path we’re heading down? The Apostle Paul put it this way in his letter to the Romans (paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in “The Message” version of the Bible):
“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!”
-Romans 8:15-17 (MSG)
It’s true. The path of life isn’t easy. It isn’t all roses and sunshine. It can be incredibly difficult, discouraging and frightening. But it can also be really good. And I believe that God wants every moment. The good, the bad, the exhilarating, the terrifying. Every little thing. Every little decision. Turn to God and say, “Daddy, what’s next? What’s the next step in our adventure together?” In my experience, He doesn’t show me everything that’s coming. He just gives me the next step. The Psalmist said it this way:
“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” -Psalm 11:105 (NLT)
A lamp only lights the next step or two, not the whole pathway. If you want to see more of the path, you need to take another step. God wants to guide every one of those steps. And He gives us the power to take each step, as we trust Him and thank Him. He doesn’t shine a light down the road so that we can see the destination. He’s much more interested in the journey, guiding us step by step, walking with us, calming our fears, enjoying our presence.
Think back to that picture above. We’re up on His shoulders. He’s got us. We have no need to fear. We are His dear children, safe and secure in the arms of the Father. Bethel Music wrote about this so beautifully in their song “No Longer Slaves”. Listen and let the words sink in. Trust Him, Thank Him and live in the Dunamis Power that He provides. May our fears be drowned in His perfect love as we live this adventure called life.
“You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance from my enemies
‘Til all my fears are gone
I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God
I am surrounded
By the arms of the father
I am surrounded
By songs of deliverance
You split the sea
So I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me
And I could stand and sing
I am a child of God…”
On November 1, 2005, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution designating January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I went to the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan on a field trip with my 6th grade class in 1983. I will never forget what I saw there.
When Joshua came home last year with a paper about a Holocaust survivor named Martin Lowenberg, who was going to come to speak to his 7th grade class, I knew I wanted to see him. It was on March 6, 2015 that I met this extraordinary 87 year old man. Here is the write-up that Joshua brought home about him:
“Martin Lowenberg was born in 1928 in the province of Hessen, Germany. In 1933, when the Nazis came into power in Germany, Lowenberg lived with his parents and his siblings. Initially, he attended public school, but in 1936 at the age of eight, he was sent to a Jewish boarding school and then transferred to a segregated school for Jews only in Fulda. All attempts made by the family to leave Germany and remain together were unsuccessful. It was virtually impossible for a large family, without relatives in foreign countries, to obtain the required affidavit of financial support necessary to obtain an immigration visa.
After the beginning of World War II, a decent life in Fulda became even more difficult. Merchants refused to sell food or goods to Jews. Beginning in September 1941, Jews were required to wear a yellow star patch on their clothing. In December 1941, Lowenberg and his family were deported with approximately 1,000 other Jews to Riga, Latvia. The train trip took four days. From the train depot they had to walk in severe cold temperatures several miles on snowy and icy streets to a ghetto, called Moscow Suburb. On August 16, 1943, Lowenberg, now fifteen years old and considered fit for slave labor, was sent to the Kaiserwald concentration camp in Riga. That was the last time he saw his parents and twin brothers who were at the time just nine years old.
The Riga ghetto was closed on November 2, 1943. The remainder of the ghetto’s inhabitants, including Lowenberg’s parents and his brothers, were taken to the freight depot and loaded on cattle cards and boxcars. They were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where they perished.
In the Kaiserwald concentration camp, Lowenberg slept on wooden bunks without mattresses and wore striped prisoners’ clothes. The food rations were barely enough to sustain life, consisting of one slice of bread and two bowls of watery soup per day.
In September 1944, Martin and his sister, Eva, were taken to Hamburg, Germany. In Hamburg they were placed in the Fuhlsbuettel prison. In April 1945, the Jewish prisoners were forced on a death march for four days and nights to the German city of Kiel, about seventy miles away.
Near the end of the war, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler made an agreement to exchange truckloads of Polish women for the safety of his own family into Sweden. Jewish prisoners, however, were substituted for the Polish women and Lowenberg and his sister, Eva, were liberated to Sweden. They spent one year recuperating in three displaced persons’ camps in Sweden. Three more of Martin’s siblings survived the war and they were all reunited in the United States. All of his other close relatives perished during the Holocaust. In 1960, Martin Lowenberg married U.S. born Carol and they have three daughters and fourteen grandchildren.
When Mr. Lowenberg spoke to Joshua’s 7th grade class, he shared all of those details and so many more. He stopped attending public school at eight years old because his teacher falsely accused him of sticking his tongue out at a picture of Hitler. As punishment, his teacher had four boys beat him up and then his teacher pushed him onto a board covered with nails. That’s why his parents took him out of the public school and sent him to a Jewish boarding school 150 miles from home. This house was burned down, his synagogue was burned down, his father had served his country as an officer in World War I, but no one cared. When they were forced to wear the yellow Jewish star with the name Jude (Jew) emblazoned on it, they couldn’t go outside without being accosted. When they were forced out of their homes in 1941 to be “resettled” elsewhere, they were told to pack a bag and that it would be sent later. Of course, the bags were never sent. Yes, the train trip to Latvia took four days, but in old passenger, freight, and cattle cars where he was standing the entire time because there was no room to lie down. Once they arrived in Riga, they had to eat snow for two weeks, as there was no food.
I can barely type these words, my hands are shaking so badly. I urge you to read Mr. Lowenberg’s story on the Holocaust Memorial Center’s website: click here for the full story.
In this interview, he was asked, “What message would you like to leave for future generations?” His answer:
“Be kind to people, be good citizens, vote, be a religious person, and believe in the way you were brought up. We were brought up as good decent people. Love thy neighbor as thyself, this is the basis of everything, that everybody is equal, nobody’s different.
Do not hate. Hate is such a terrible word.
The H stands for humiliation, horror, harassment, hunger. The A stands for atrocities, anger, awful, abolishment. The T stands for torture, torment, and trauma. The E is for extermination, elimination, and evil.
Put a D in front of evil and you get the Devil. That’s what I lived under, the Devil. Hate is a horrible word. Love is the most beautiful word. Hate hurts, love heals. This is my motto when I do my public speaking here in the United States as well as on visits to Germany.”
“Mr. Lowenberg has been a Holocaust educator for more than 25 years. He is a regular speaker at the Holocaust Memorial Center as well as at community functions and schools. Uniquely, Mr. Lowenberg frequently travels outside of the Detroit area to give lectures for Holocaust education. He speaks throughout the state of Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula. In 2006, Mr. Lowenberg was honored by the Program for Holocaust Survivors and Families for his dedication to Holocaust education and remembrance.”
Here is brief video clip of Mr. Lowenberg recorded on April 24, 2014 at 86 years old:
If you ever have a chance to see Mr. Lowenberg, or any other Holocaust survivor, speak, please go. Please listen. Please remember. Let us never forget.
In memory of the eleven million victims of the Holocaust, the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan has waived museum admission on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day. If you’re in the area, please stop by today or any day, Sunday through Friday. There are public tours at 1:00 pm each day, usually followed by a Holocaust Survivor Speaker.
It’s official. Our $1.5 Billion PowerBall lottery dreams are gone. All of the hopes and plans for that money, or even just a small part of it, are no longer. But it sure created a buzz while it lasted. What would you do with all of that money?
Did you know that Jesus taught more on money than on any other subject? There are more than 2000 verses in the Bible about money. That’s more than prayer, more than faith, more than forgiveness, heaven, hell and the Kingdom of God. Check out some of the “financial” words that God uses to describe His relationship with us:
1) we are redeemed (Is. 44:22, Lam. 3:58, Gal. 3:13),
2) we are reconciled (Rom. 5:10, 2 Cor. 5:18-20, Col. 1:22),
3) our debt is cancelled (Luke 7:41-43, Col. 2:14),
4) Jesus became poor so that we might become rich (2 Cor. 6:10 & 8:9),
5) we cannot serve two masters, both God and money (Matt. 6:24, Luke 16:13).
And that’s just a small sampling.
There’s a hymn that describes the gospel of Jesus this way:
“He paid a debt He did not owe,
I owed a debt I could not pay”
–He Paid a Debt by Ellis J. Crum
Let’s take that a step further. What if Jesus is more powerful than PowerBall? What if He died so that all of our debts would be forgiven, literally? What if our mortgage was paid, our cars were paid, we had no credit card debt, no student loan debt, or any debt at all, and all of the food, clothing and shelter we would ever need were provided for us?
Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:24 about not serving two masters and goes on to say:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
-Matt. 6:25-26 (ESV)
Our heavenly Father knows that we need food and clothing, and He provides them for the birds and flowers. Why wouldn’t He provide them for us? We’re so caught up in making money, saving money, spending money, moving money around, worrying that there won’t be enough money, trying to figure out how to get things without money (lotteries, loans, credit cards, getting you to give me something), anxious and distracted.
What if we never had to think about money again? What if wealth and power and greed had no meaning? What if I didn’t need to be concerned about what you had (envy, jealously, keeping up with the Jones’s), because I had everything I needed? What if I were content down to my bones? What would my life be about? Would I go to work? Would I strive? Would I do anything? What would define me?
The Apostle Paul says this in his letter to the Romans:
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
-Romans 13:8-10 (NIV)
What if Jesus is the one who takes away the debt of the world? What if believing in Him and receiving Him means that we get to see the world through His eyes? Would our entire focus change? Would we no longer be slaves to the “stuff that makes the world go round”? Would we instead be free to love one other, because that’s what Jesus does and that’s what He wants to do through us? Would that be Heaven on Earth?
1) If someone from Heaven could talk to you, what do you think they would say?
2) If someone in Heaven was praying for you, what do you hope they’d be praying for?
Do you think they’d tell us that we should focus on accumulating more while we’re here (“whoever dies with the most stuff wins”?) or do you think they would pray that we would focus on what really matters? PowerBall or the Power of God? It’s only by His power that we can truly love one another. We don’t have it in us. But if He is in us, we have all we need.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matt. 6:33 (ESV)
There is power in the name of Jesus
To break every chain
All sufficient sacrifice
So freely given
Such a price
Bought our redemption
Heaven’s gates swing wide
–Break Every Chain by Jesus Culture
I wanted to share with you a video that we recorded at our new building a couple nights ago. It’s a “thank you” video to all of our customers at Sportsmen’s Direct, but it applies equally to our employees, founding ProStaffers, suppliers, friends, family, really everyone who has supported us over the last 6 years. It’s been a crazy ride and we wouldn’t have made it without all of your support and prayers.
I also wanted to wish all of my blog supporters a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thank you for supporting me and my blog over the last 18 months.
Here’s our annual Christmas collage card:
If you see me live and in person, please ask – I have a hard copy version for you. 🙂
If you’re in the Metro Detroit area (or the Orlando, Florida area), please join us for one of 46 Christmas Eve services at Kensington Church (your choice of 7 different campuses). Free tickets are available by clicking here. If you’re not in the area, I believe Troy will be live-streaming their services: click here to live-stream.
And, lastly, I wanted to pass along several blog posts that have meant a lot to me over the past year. Feel free to check them out if they sound like they apply to you:
1) What in the world was God thinking when he created us? Worth It
When you hear the words “sin” and “repent”, does it make you want to run screaming in the other direction? That was me. I was an atheist for the first 22 years of my life and I had absolutely no interest in anything having to do with God or Christianity. Thankfully, that all changed in 1994 (you can read that story here: Joshua the Prophet).
After following Christ for about 20 years, I felt like God gave me some clarity on the words “sin” and “repent” and I wrote a very short post about them last year. Have you read it? If not, you can check it out here: Two “churchy” words
For the past year, every time I read the Bible, I read it in the light of what those words now mean to me. And it’s brought such clarity that I want to share more with you. How can I make it crystal clear?
How about this? I have a swivel chair in my office. I can choose to turn it in all different directions. I can turn toward the computer, the printer, the file cabinet or the hallway. It’s my choice.
Imagine that there is a swivel chair in each of our minds. We have the choice of which direction we turn our thoughts. But unlike the swivel chair in my office, imagine that this chair can only face one of two directions. It can turn toward God or away from God. And, just like in my office chair, we have the choice of which way we turn.
If it were up to God, there would be one moment in every human being’s life when we realize that we are not the king of our own universe, but that He is the King of the universe. In that moment when we turn to God, acknowledging that He is our creator and the ultimate authority in our life, thanking Him for sending Jesus to take on our sin, we are what Christians call “saved”. That decision is called “salvation”, when we are “born again” (John 3:3).
But it’s not up to God. That’s not the kind of world He created. Instead of creating robots, He created human beings with free will. Why? Because He created us to be in a love relationship with Him. If He demanded that we love Him, that wouldn’t be love. Love requires choice. And the choice is up to us. He already made His choice. He loves us no matter what. But His desire is that we would choose to love Him back.
And when we choose to love Him back, accepting His love and forgiveness, we’re “saved”, as the Apostle Paul explains in his letter to the church in Ephesus:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)
But God speaks in the Bible over and over again about “repentance”; changing our mind and turning to Him. Why do we need repentance if we’ve already turned to God? Isn’t once good enough? Are we unsaved and then we get saved again and again and again?
Nope. Salvation happens one time. But we are human. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 7 that our fallen human “sinful nature” draws us back to our own devices over and over again. Probably a million times each day, our thoughts turn away from God and back to our own selfish desires. And that is “sin”. That is turning away from God. That is “missing the mark”.
Think about that swivel chair in our mind. There are only two directions:
Sin (pride, “missing the mark”) = trying to figure out life on my own
Faith (humility, repentance, “changing one’s mind”) = turning to God for His direction
Romans 14:23 says that “everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
From the swivel chair, that makes perfect sense. There are only two directions: Faith or Sin. We can look to God and see the world through His eyes (Faith) or we can look at the world however we think is best (Sin). “There is a path before each person that seems right,
but it ends in death.” Proverbs 16:25 (NLT)
God created us to have a relationship with Him. Intimacy with Him is the goal. Not following the rules, but following Jesus. Not perfection, but following the Perfect One.
In Beth Moore’s “Living Free” study, she quotes a friend who was far from God, depressed and broken. Her friend said, “I thought I couldn’t come to God with this sin in my life.” When I read that, my heart broke for her. I wanted her to understand that not coming to God WAS the sin in her life. Turn around. Come to Him. That is repentance. That is faith. That is humility.
In “Living Free”, Beth goes on to say that “prayer keeps us in constant communion with God, which is the goal of our entire believing lives. Prayerless lives are powerless lives, and prayerful lives are powerful lives; but, believe it or not, the ultimate goal God has for us is not power but personal intimacy with Him.”
He loves us. He created us. He wants us, warts and all. He knows we’re messed up. He knows we’re broken. But that brokenness is not sin. That is part of being human. Our sin is our turning away from Him. Repentance is turning back, confident that He is waiting to receive us with open arms. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)
Beth Moore continues her study with the question, “How is intimacy with God different from the goal of being good enough to be acceptable to God?” Here is my answer. And my prayer is that it can be your answer as well.
Intimacy with You, my God, is knowing that, because I turned to Jesus who took on my sin, my “turning away”, and accepted Him as my Lord and Savior, I’m already good enough, covered in Your grace, reclining at Your banqueting table, resting with You, my creator, enjoying Your presence and knowing that You enjoy me, just as I am.
Go ahead. Read that again. In the swivel chair of your mind, turn to God, seeing the huge smile on His face, and read those words to Him. He’s so happy to see you.
“For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
-Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)
“We all have a need for significance. Besides survival, it is the strongest drive we have. We need to know that our life matters, that who we are and why we are here counts for something. So… who are you? And why are you here?
You are God’s crowning achievement, His masterpiece. You were fearfully and wonderfully made. You were also purposefully made. You are here for a reason – to bear God’s image and to establish His heavenly Kingdom on earth. You are a co-creator with Him, a co-ruler with Him, and a co-lover with Him. He has chosen you to dance in step with the Trinity . . . In this vast and expansive universe, you matter. You! You are loved beyond comprehension. You are precious beyond words. You are valued beyond measure.”
Then Dan did something beautiful. He took that quote, line by line, and gave us God’s Word for each part (click on the red references to go to each verse at Biblegateway.com):
God is not mad at us. He’s not disappointed in us. He loves us. He likes us. He delights in us. He longs to see us blossom into who He sees we can become. If we could look in the mirror and see what God sees, would it change the way we live? Would we stop wasting energy beating ourselves up and instead put that energy into receiving God’s love and passing it along to those around us?
“When you need comfort, I love to enfold you in My arms. I enable you not only to feel comforted but also to be a channel through whom I comfort others. Thus you are doubly blessed, because a living channel absorbs some of whatever flows through it.”
– Sarah Young, “Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence“, October 16th
I want to be that living channel. I want to absorb God’s love as it flows through me to other people. But in my own strength, I can’t do it. And it’s not a matter of trying harder. It’s a matter of trusting Jesus. I need to turn to Him, thank Him, and breathe in His gift of life, moment by moment, day by day. Rest, receive and pass it on.
**If you’ve ever wondered why God created us and why He is Three Persons in One (the “Triune God” or the “Trinity”), check out Dan Kopp’s message from 8-30-15 called “Dancing with the Triune God“. Dan paints an incredible picture that you need to see with your own eyes. Take 30 minutes to watch. You’ll be so glad you did.