Wednesday, July 26, 2006

No complaints

"Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life." Philippians 2:14, 15.

Liana provides our lesson today. She was playing with her felt board, an elaborate set with several scenery backdrops and so many felt characters and props she could re-enact any story in the Bible. She's partial to Moses and the Exodus, but this time she was making up her own story. Jesus is sitting in the palace throne room and a line of people are waiting to approach him. Each person goes forward and makes a request. The first woman wants a baby and magically the Jesus figure produces one and the woman leaves with praise on her lips. The next woman wants a little girl and the felt girl is suddenly in her arms. The next woman asks for a husband and Jesus holds out...Joseph, dressed as the Prince of Egypt! The felt woman is so thrilled with her princely husband in his royal robes. Everyone leaves happy.

I'm glad Liana knows that we can boldly and confidently approach the throne of God in prayer. He gives us good things and grants our requests. But there is some immature thinking that is fine for a six-year-old, but not for us. God is not a genie, instantly performing signs and wonders when we snap our fingers. Would we want a God like that? One who gives no thought to our true need and no care for our souls? What kind of love would that show? God desires people who will worship and love him for who he is--our Father who is intimately involved in our lives. Anybody would line up in front of a magical god who wowed them with gifts from the sky. What kind of mother would you be if you gave your children everything their eyes and flesh crave? You don't do that because you have their greater good in mind.

Let me make clear that our God is an extravagant giver! He's given me above and beyond all I could ever have dreamed of receiving. But he's more concerned with my character and transforming me into the image of his son than any shallow pursuit that I may have. So if I am discontent with what I don't possess, then maybe I need to examine my heart. Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life says, "When you grasp the eternal consequences of your character development, you'll pray fewer 'comfort me' prayers and more 'conform me' prayers."

Back to the child's picture of God. Liana's choice of husband for her felt woman was a prince! We all asked for a prince, didn't we? Are we content with how God answered that prayer? Are we content with the children that God has graciously given to us? When we begin to stop complaining, let's start here with our own family that God saw fit to give us.

"If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets?" Jeremiah 12:5. Let's learn to have a grateful heart in good times, so we will be prepared when we travel through the thickets. What is the cure for discontent? Please give me your thoughts!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


The one who commented on the previous post made an important point. Can we honestly join with Job in saying, "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him."? Job 13:15.

Paul said, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." Phillipians 4:11, 12.

This reminds me of a book I recently read. Contentment is not the "American dream" fulfilled where "we claim solidarity with Paul from the easy chair of middle-class America. We profess to having learned the secret of contentment in all circumstances, yet we've never experienced (like Paul) forty lashes, stoning, shipwreck, hunger, thirst, homelessness, or imprisonment. Perhaps none of us should presume maturity until the truer tests have been endured. To snuggle up alongside Paul and profess contentment without having known want seems a bit impudent on our part. Paul's contentment in need and plenty is mostly of interest because of the need. Until we know true need and survive the test, we must not presume to be his companion." Richard A. Swenson from his book Margin.

So what is the secret of contentment Paul was writing about? We need to read the next verse. "I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength." Philippians 4:13. We don't know how we'll act or what our attitude will be in a time of testing. We pray we will always be content because we believe what God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. So we can say with confidence, The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" Hebrews 13:5, 6. We don't have reason to fear. Whatever road we have to travel, Jesus goes with us. In fact, he's already been there. He knows the way and he will see us through.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Seek contentment

"My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you." Psalm 63:5. The psalmist has been recalling God's goodness and praising him and then he states an amazing truth. Knowing God, experiencing his presence and his love, and seeing God work is enough to satisfy the soul. These are the richest gifts. They are satisfying. These things are the best this life has to offer. "They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light." Psalm 36:8.

Are you satisfied? What more do you want? In our human-ness we need people as well as God. We're created that way. So if you have family or friends, is that enough? Even Jesus acknowledged we need food and drink and clothing. He said not to worry about these things. If we seek God, they will be provided. Matthew 6:25-34. "My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19.

A home is good to have. But we could live without one. People do. Jesus did. Do we thank God for our house, or do we long for a different one? God has blessed us abundantly, way beyond what we actually "need." So why do we always want more? Why are we not content?

Are you content with your meal, or are you still searching the cupboard for more? Are you content with your husband or mentally cataloguing his faults? Do you wish to be single if you are married, or do you wish for a husband if you are single? Are you content with your children, or do you wish they were smarter, more talented, prettier? What about your looks? If only you were shorter/taller/ skinnier/fatter/older/younger? Are you content with your life, or is it boring or burdensome?

Some of us are living in very difficult situations with family problems or health issues. Being content does not mean pretending everything is fine. But there is a difference in complaining with an ungrateful heart and sharing deep concerns with our friends and crying out to God for help.

I admit to being a complainer. But I want to change. I want to recognize God's blessings and turn to him in time of need instead of looking for something this world has to offer, which will never satisfy for long. Do you live in a general state of grumbling? What do you reach for when you are discontent? I want to further explore this common problem among women.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The greatest gift

Let's go back to Psalm 63. "O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory." vs. 1, 2. When we remember God's past gifts, both small and big, we develop a heart of thankfulness and praise and this carries us through the desert when God might seem distant or unavailable.

"Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. vs. 3. When we recall what God has done in the past, we remember we are loved.

We know we are loved simply because "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son." John 3:16. So God could be reconciled to his people, he sent his son to die. It was that important to him. And Jesus willingly gave his life because he loved his father and us. If God had done nothing else for us since then, we should still know we are loved. It had nothing to do with anything good in us. "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8.

Yes, God loved the "world", but he also loves YOU! You, the individual. You, the sinner. You, the woman after his own heart. Why would he love you and me, as imperfect as we are? Jesus gives us the answer. "The Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God." John 16:27.

"I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands." Psalm 63:4. Are you committed for the long haul, no matter what?

Last Saturday night, at our families' Bible study, we gathered the children to pray for them before dismissing them to play. Our teacher, Francis, asked them how they would receive a gift if one were handed to them. One child reached out her hands to take it. Francis then instructed the children to lift up their hands during the prayer to receive God's blessings. It was a beautiful picture to see the children with their hands raised. What an example to us. God so desires to give to us, simply because he loves us. Will you lift up your hands to receive his gifts?

Friday, July 14, 2006

A big gift

My little daughter's life didn't begin the day she was handed to me by an orphanage worker in a government office in China. Did God care when her parents put her in a cardboard box and walked away? Was he watching? Was this part of his plan for her life, or did he take a bad situation and redeem it for good?

I know that God did care and God did see. Isaiah 40:11 is a beautiful picture of God's concern. "He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart." I know that God had a purpose for her. Acts 17:26, 27 says, "From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." My daughter's birth was planned, and it was no accident she was born in China. All the days ordained for her were written in God's book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:16.

Well, that issue is settled. But did any human being on this earth care about her? Did anyone hold her close so she could hear a human heartbeat next to her own? Did warm hands comfort her when she cried? Did someone smile when she smiled? I mourn for the first year of life that my daughter and I did not share.

My son Dominic took advantage of an opportunity to visit Liana's orphanage last week. He met with the people who tended to her six years ago. What a gift to me and to his sister to learn about her first months and to see where she lived. Dominic told me after all these years and all the babies, people remember her and they care. Dominic said these women showed genuine interest in her now and commented on her personality when they knew her. This is a Big Gift to know these things. I am grateful to my son and to our Lord for allowing this trip to happen.

How you resolved the issue about whether God knows or sees or cares about your life? I hope so. Knowing God cares especially helps us through hard times of difficult relationships. What others think doesn't define us. We are secure when we realize God knows us intimately and is involved in all circumstances of our lives. But we all desire to be loved by other people too. Maybe that's why Jesus told us over and over again to love each other. "My command is this: love each other as I have loved you." John 15:12. I was so relieved to know that my Liana was loved.

Dominic has a blog too, writing about his travels through southeast Asia, including his visit to the orphanage. If anyone wants to read it, let me know.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Small gifts

I once told my son I'd discovered the secret to happiness. Most of life is not huge momentous events that excite and thrill. I've had those moments, but the majority of life is the day-to-day routine, getting up, eating, working, sleeping, over and over again. The secret is to find joy in the small things. Because those things are really not small at all, but gifts from a God who loves us.

Here is an example: My girls wanted to have a camp-out in the backyard. Me in a tent in the backyard, sleeping on the ground? The things we do for our kids. Dad agreed to do it too. In fact, he was probably the instigator. He set up the tent and the girls excitedly brought down their blankets, pillows, and sleeping toys. Trying to be a good sport, I longingly looked at my bed and then carried out my pillow too. It was 9pm--almost dark, time for the big event. It's weird to walk around the backyard in your pajamas. We all climbed in the tent and zipped it up, except for the flap with the screen for air. To our delight, a huge orange moon was directly in front of our "window"! We hadn't noticed it at all in setting up. We were able to watch it for a long time before we drifted off to sleep. The ground was hard, but we have good grass that cushioned us. I'm thankful my bones are strong enough to sleep on the ground. We heard creatures we never knew roamed our yard at night-- screeching and calling and rustling and scurrying.

A verse came to mind that made me smile--Psalm 91:9, 10. "If you make the Most High your dwelling--even the Lord, who is my refuge--then no harm will come near your TENT." God is so good to us and his word is appropriate for every occasion! We cuddled together in sleep, all four of us, safe and protected.

In the morning, after compromising on a full-course breakfast cooked outside that the girls wanted, we had coffee and hot chocolate sitting in our tent, in our jammies, with our neighbors leaving for work. How silly! How wonderful! Then I thought, what a morning to tackle our garden! So before my enthusiasm wore off, we grabbed our tools and cleared the weeds. We have flowers everywhere--zinnias, cleome, daisies, cosmos and towering sunflowers to jazz up the vegetable garden. But the vegetables had a glory of their own today. Huge orange blossoms adorned the unruly pumpkin vine, with more demure varieties decorating the watermelon and cucumber. The girls discovered baby praying mantises and a giant black butterfly visiting us as we worked. Arielle noticed the first crop of beans, long green fingers dragging the ground. She ran for a bowl and busied herself picking them. This is life! This is joy! "He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." Acts 14:17. Even work is a gift. It is part of God's bounty and provision and care for us. Scripture tells us God walked in his garden in the cool of the day. Genesis 3:8. When we delight in his creation, is this part of being "in his image"? Enjoying what he enjoys?

Psalm 86:17 says "Give me a sign of your goodness." Well, this is it. There is plenty of suffering in this world and maybe in your life right now. But God is with us. He wipes away the tears and gives us joy again. We can rejoice, maybe not in our circumstances, but in who God is and knowing he's right there with us, offering his gifts.

Are we satisfied with the small things that really are not small at all?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Seek his presence

Psalm 63 is a psalm of David, written while he was in the desert of Judah. He said he was looking for God like a thirsty person in a desert would search for water. "O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water." vs. 1.

Remember Charleton Heston in the The Ten Commandments? He was wandering in the desert--at the end of his strength, dying of thirst, the winds and sand whipping around him. He was in a bad place spiritually too as he fled from Pharaoh who wanted to kill him. He didn't know God, didn't know his purpose in life. Raised as an Egyptian, but rejected by the Egyptians, he didn't know where he belonged. In church yesterday we filled out cards to express our gratitude for what God has done in our lives. I wrote that God delivered me from a purpose-less life. He ended my wandering.

David, also accustomed to running for his life, gives us this desert image to compare to the soul-search for God. But David does know God. If we follow his words, they lead us out of the dry and weary land of our lives to praise and thanksgiving.

After his heart cry, David recalls God's work in his life in the past. "I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory." vs.2. We also have seen God work. Let's recall what he's done for us--answered prayer, close calls he's saved us from, the sense of his presence in times of heartbreak or fear. Have you seen God? Have you seen his power or his glory? God's glory is seen in the face of Christ. (II Corinthians 4:6) Recall what Jesus has done for you, not just in the past but last night or this morning. Praise will spring forth and then your own face will reflect God's glory. (II Corinthians 3:18)

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise." (Psalm 100:4) Praising God and thanking him brings us into his presence. Is there any place more awesome?

So what should we be seeking? Seek his presence.