daughter day one

“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”Luke 8:48

“Daughter.”

In a time and culture where fathers advocated for their daughters, this woman came to Jesus alone and ashamed. She was known to all as unclean, and there was no father to defend her or speak on her behalf.

Upon touching His cloak, she was healed from her ailment, from what made her unclean.

Yet, it is the word “daughter” that restores her identity and heals her soul. In a situation where no other defended her, Jesus chose to be her father. With one word, Jesus filled the lack and accepted her. She was clean. She was directly addressed. She was seen―seen by a man who would call her His child.

I have always been uncomfortable with this relationship of father and daughter. It is the identity of God that I relate to the least. While I never expected God to hurt or betray me in this role, I simply didn’t get it. I didn’t understand who I was in this relationship or who He was. I didn’t know how to be a daughter to a father, and I didn’t know how a father would normally relate to a daughter.

Several months ago, I felt that God was inviting me to discover this with Him. I felt that He wanted me to know Him fully, and this was the relationship that was most awkward for us.

So I did what any daughter who grew up with an absent father would.

I turned around and walked―no―ran the other way. I could not get away fast enough.

Because I know that exploring this would ultimately bring me back to the father I never had, the father who never wanted me.

I spent years trying to heal, forgive, and move forward from the abandonment I experienced at his hand. While in college, I had finally done it. I was at peace that he was not there, and I decided I would forgive him so as to not be eaten alive by the pain and anger I felt toward him. His sin was my sin―just manifested differently.

This was the place I refused to go. I already healed. That was it. I would revisit this no more. So I built up my walls, hardened my heart, and wondered why I felt so empty.

(Pro-tip to those who receive an invitation from the God of the universe, Maker of heaven and earth: take it.)

Last night, my mom and I somehow got on the subject of my father. My mom asked me a question about his new family, and I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. So she told me about an article she found, and I looked it up.

Within seconds, I realized this was the biggest mistake I’d made in quite some time.

What I was looking at was an interview about my father, conducted by a girl who could possibly be my half-sister.

I read about his upbringing in China, which was similar to my mother’s. I read about how he did not want his children to experience not having food or clothing like he once did. I read that he came to America in 1988 and struggled until he learned English and could open his own business.

And I was angry.

In one sentence, he managed to insult both my mother and me, as he didn’t seem to care if we had food or clothing. The factual error of 1988 tells me that no one knows about my part in his history because we were a family in America by 1987. There were no details of how he came to America because that would have to include the ugly story of how he married a woman so that he could join her family, who was beginning to emigrate from their side of the Pacific. And then sired a child with her that he did not raise.

And then at the end of his interview, he boldly proclaimed that what he was most grateful for was that he would not have known Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior had he not come to America.

I was livid.

We may have happened before this, but we still happened. There was no attempt to reconcile, despite having been in contact with one of my uncles for years. This made me furious, but my anger only served to mask the deep hurt that was coming from a wound I thought was long closed.

This was why I didn’t take that invitation. This was why I ran. I had been hurt by this man long enough, and I did not want to invite him to live rent-free in my head once more. It took too much to heal the first time.

I have written countless letters, journal entries, and at least one poem regarding what I was feeling toward him, how I was processing, what I needed to do. And a few years ago, I wrote him an eviction notice. I was free from him. Finally.

I do not regret my life without him, despite having wondered more times than I’d like to admit, “why not me?”, “what would it have been like?” I was sent into the fire early, and from there, one can burn, or one can rise. It’s no one’s choice but your own.

But in the midst of this, God blessed my father and allowed him to gift the character “phoenix” toward my name as part of His plan: before I was even born, God declared that I would be victorious.

I was afraid to come to this place because I did not want the wound to reopen. I feared returning to a place of darkness, anger, hatred. But it seems the difference this time is that the wound is shallow and uninfected, and I am pressed to address it while it is so. And it is God who will have to help me keep it this way because my natural leaning would be to pick at it.

To be here now, as difficult as it is, God had gone to drastic measures to barrel through all of the walls I had built up, for the sole purpose of extending His invitation to me again.

God is a God of second chances, and when your heart is as hard as your head, He will break that rock-hard heart to give you one that beats and lives, and ask you to try again.

A spiritual mentor recently told me that because I have endured this much pain, my capacity for hope is this much greater. My wounds and scars run deep enough that the foundation is set for hope and love to be poured in to fill these broken places.

Months have passed since I was invited on this adventure. I was not ready to accept it then, but I think I am now.

It feels like the first step toward something huge.

I am terrified of the idea, but I am also feeling something I didn’t feel the first time.

Hope.

The one gift my father gave me is also my greatest burden. To bestow the name “phoenix” is ironic and fitting and everything I don’t want to bear. But it is a name that is redeemed because God called me something else.

Daughter.

He saw my lack and chose to fill it. He saw my wound and chose to heal it. With one word, He claimed me as His own―His own daughter. With this word, He chased away the hurt, shame, and lies that I had chosen to believe for much of my life.

He gifted me the bearing of a phoenix to fulfill the promise He made to me with this name. I will be refined with fire in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10)

And a phoenix will always rise.

Above the ashes.

I am a daughter―His daughter. And I will learn to live what that means.

This is day one.

love your neighbor (redux)

We hear it all the time.

Love your neighbor. Jesus tells us to love. Jesus is love, and He wants us to love like Him.

What is that supposed to look like? Do we “love” someone by tolerating them? Do we love someone by doing our best not to offend them? Do we love someone by keeping our mouths shut regarding their actions, even if they may be dangerous, but it makes them happy?

What does Jesus say about what it means to love? What does He say it means to follow Him?

To know that, you must look in the Scriptures.

It demands our life, and it demands our comfort (or lack thereof). We like the “hippy Jesus” that tells us to accept people and be good neighbors, as some consider to be the “core” of Christianity, but let’s take a look at what that actually means.

In Luke 10:25-37, we have the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We have our cast: the wounded Jew on the side of the road, the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan man. Let’s take a look at the last three a little more closely.

Many priests at this time lived in Jericho and went on two week assignments to Jerusalem, which was about seventeen miles away. The road they traveled was a common one and was known to them. A priesthood is extremely exclusive; it stayed in the family. This priest was likely wealthy and riding on an animal.

What were the stipulations and requirements to be a priest? What was his duty according to Old Testament Law?

1) he was not allowed to approach or touch a dead body, lest he became defiled
2) had he approached the wounded man to discover he was dead, the priest would have had to return to Jerusalem to be ceremonially cleaned
3) he would not be able to use the offerings he received (usually of food; his family and servants would also not be allowed to use them)
4) if the wounded man died later, the priest would still be considered unclean
5) serving as priest while unclean was punishable by death
6) when upon a dead body, he would have to tear his robes, but he could not tear ceremonial robes

The Levite was an assistant to the priest in the Temple. He likely just assisted this particular priest and was on his way home as well. Knowing that the priest just walked by, he could not challenge the decision made by the priest to pass the man, and so he would pass as well.

There’s a lot more than meets the eye, right? This isn’t in any way to excuse or pardon the fact that they were not neighborly, but we cannot deny the gray area in this situation. And isn’t the gray where most of life is lived? It’s not as pure as black and white.

Inserting a Samaritan into this story was a particularly radical move by Jesus. Samaritans are a mixed-race between the Jews of captivity and the Samaritan people of the land in which they were captive. The relationship between these two peoples were hostile as a result of their history with one another. The Mishna states, “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of swine.” The Samaritan is not a Gentile but is bound by the same law as the Jews, yet they were considered impure “half-breeds.” The Samaritan would not naturally be from that area, so the half-dead man would certainly not qualify as his neighbor. And the Jewish man would likely have chosen death over associating with a Samaritan.

In that time, a tradition known as “blood revenge” was practiced. In it, a relative of the guilty party may be punished for the crime in his place. It did not have to be an immediate relative but could extend to the most distant branches of the family tree.

So let’s recap the sacrifices this man had to make in order to love a man who was not necessarily his neighbor and would not likely have welcomed his help or offered it in turn:
1) he risked defilement
2) he poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds, sacrificing monetary and material resources
3) he paid for a place for the man to rest and heal
4) he paid for the man’s treatment
5) there was no way of guaranteeing that money returned; he was not expecting repayment at all
6) he exposed himself to the innkeeper and made himself and his entire family and tribe vulnerable to blood vengeance

Loving our neighbors requires sacrificing our comforts and possibly even our lives. It means more than just being tolerant. I would hate to just be tolerated by my neighbor. I would hate to just be tolerated by my friend.

What often keeps us from what’s best is what’s good.

Tolerance is “good.”

Acceptance is “good.”

Love is best.

Yes, Jesus preached love, but this love is dirty. It is demanding and sometimes demeaning; it requires us to get in the middle of people’s messes in order to love them. It requires us to point out what is wrong but not stop there—we must replace it with what is right.

It required a sinless God to step down from His throne to become a Man, made of dirt and clay; and it required His death to overcome death itself and His blood to cover all of our sin.

Pointing out the hypocrisy of Christians has been done over and over by the national media. Do we as Christians really need to add to it? When the world sees us dividing against each other, would they really want to know the Jesus we both claim to serve and love? Choosing to turn from each other is a declaration of a Pharisee, praising God that he is not a sinner like the tax collector, who is quietly begging God for His mercy to be extended toward him (Luke 18:9-14).

We don’t like the Christianity that is being portrayed in the media. We don’t like the hatred that is preached by some who call themselves Christians. We don’t like the misconceptions with which we label others, and we certainly don’t like the misconceptions with which they label us back.

Then what are we going to do about it?

Are we going to shame those people into submission? Did Jesus ever do that?

The kind of love we need in order to heal each other doesn’t come from us. It can never come from us. Look how easily and willingly we can choose to tear each other down.

So no, the core of Christianity is not to be a good neighbor. Even if it were, by context we are failing horribly at it. No, friends, the core of Christianity is Jesus.

If we are going to preach real, biblical love, this is it. It is gritty and it demands so much more than words and Facebook posts talking at people. Real, biblical love demands for us to destroy our pedestals and use those pieces to build homes. It demands for us to dig deep into our our poverty and feed someone else. It demands for us to love someone with a ferocity that destroys apathy and hatred in its wake.

Are we ready to do that?

you keep using that word

Words are powerful little creatures. They have the ability to lift up and tear down, encourage and demoralize. Humanity is fascinated by the strength of words. We seek to wield its potentials as a weapon, using it to cut our enemies down and defend our loved ones.

But sadly, we don’t often do the work required to wield them. We don’t train, we don’t listen to another’s words or what they mean. We throw around single retorts to end conversations. If someone doesn’t agree with you, s/he is an ignorant bigot. If someone is very passionate about faith or theology, s/he is a dogmatic fundamentalist. If the same someone speaks up about it, s/he is intolerant and needs to learn how to coexist.

Someone with the figure of a model is called beautiful, whereas someone with a full-figure is called overweight. Students who are more partial to math and science are called intelligent, while those who are more partial to arts than logic are not given such high a praise. Asians are nerdy, non-Asians are something else.

Can you see the problem?

We decide a word needs to fit another word, and when it doesn’t, then we use a third word to judge it.

One of the biggest words against me is how unfeminine I am. That’s the word I’m going to focus on for this entry.

I’ve been called “kind of like a dude,” a “guy with boobs,” a lesbian, among many other things. I’ve been asked if there’s anything about me that’s actually girly, if I’d ever considered wearing more makeup and dresses, and a whole slew of the same such questions. I am a word that doesn’t fit a word that people have decided I should fit, and as a result, the aforementioned words are used in a desperate attempt to define me.

What does it even mean to be “feminine”?

When we take traits and interests and apply them to gender, this is where we get into stereotyping people into this one area, and this is where people who don’t fit such a stereotype become confused, upset, or depressed as a result. Who died and made the rule that boys like blue, and girls like pink? Who decided that boys can love Batman, and girls get left with Barbie? Why do guys get action movies while gals get romantic comedies?

This is where the judgment sets in: I hate pink, I love Batman (I just purchased an adult onesie for crying out loud), and my idea of a romantic comedy is Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

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I’ve been slowly going through this book for a while. She describes dominant masculinity very well, and it’s her James Bond example that I used in this entry.

Hollywood has a type of masculinity that it calls “dominant.” This is your misogynistic James Bond-type character, but he has to rely on other masculinities in order to exist and be elevated. We, as a society, buy into this dominant masculinity, and, as a result, we allow it to define what masculinity and femininity mean. Guys have to be suave yet totally tough and rebellious (and a bit of a jerk), and ladies have to be Bond girls—size 0-2 (but curvy), sexy (like, objectified-sexy), and flawless (and often need to be rescued by the former).

Why do we allow ourselves to be put into boxes? Why do we tell the six-year-old girl that she can’t like Batman or the color blue because she’s a girl? Why do we shame the six-year-old boy if he doesn’t like Batman or the color blue because he’s a boy? What exactly are we telling them when we treat them like they’re doing something wrong by enjoying things that they aren’t “supposed” to like because of their gender? What will the repercussions be?

I had a conversation about these two words with a college roommate several years ago, and this is how she defined masculinity and femininity:

“Masculinity, as it should be, like femininity, is having confidence and strength in one’s own skin—gender and sex and whatever essence the individual has claimed for himself or herself—while remaining respectful for self and others.”

She says there is room for this quote to grown and change. I think we just have to let it.

When I was first trying to figure out what “femininity” meant, I did what lots of people do: I read a book. It was a book called Captivating, which boasts of exploring what biblical femininity looked like. And I spent most of my time yelling at the book in the margins: about its theology, about its use of verses out of context, about reading into verses what they were not saying, and mostly about the fact that all of the females they used as examples were characters in movies (I mean, I would love to have been an elf in Middle Earth, I guess, but I’m not, so…). I also talked with girls who seemed to have this femininity thing down pat. But every time, I ended up getting dressed up, and I kinda hated it. I think the third word for me there was “conform.”

These days, I’m taking my friend’s advice and claiming the term for myself. I am a feminine female in my own right as well as a masculine female. I possess an undefinable, unboxable feminine masculinity and masculine femininity. I am in the cluster of “other masculinities” that dominant masculinity needs to reduce in order to build itself up. And I love it here, but I won’t be reduced for it. I don’t have to become someone I’m not in order to be me. I’m already me! I like what I want! And I won’t let anyone try to package me up with nice, shiny wrapping paper, crisply folded and taped where things need to be wrapped and hidden away, and then finish me off with a bright pink bow.

The most harmful things in this world are words and the people who use them without thinking of what they actually mean. We decide girls should play with dolls, and boys should play with superheroes. We decide girls should be nurses, and boys should be doctors. This makes it very confusing for adults, let alone children.

So what does it look like to be biblically masculine and feminine? It will probably take a lifetime to unravel just a fraction of what it means. But one thing I believe it means is that our masculinity and our femininity work together in the Body for the glory of God. We don’t reduce one to raise the other. Both are necessary to work in the Kingdom.

Carry your uniqueness proudly, and take words with a grain of salt or learn how to put some on as armor. But don’t be the person that cuts people down with it. Words can just as readily bring peace as well as war.

How will you use your words?

your Savior has come

I was looking through some prayers and messages I’d written down in my notebook in the course of the last year or so, and I came across this that I honestly don’t even remember writing down. But it was the word that I received from God at the time, and it’s an encouraging one:


Your Savior has come. I am right here with you. You are My child. I see where you’re prone to stumble. Trust Me during those times. Fall into Me when you fall. Make Me where you turn, not yourself, not your old habits, not what you’re used to protecting yourself with, not what you think you deserve. I will protect you. I will catch you when you fall over, and I will heal your wounds. Your Savior has come, Daughter; I am here. I came for you, and you have Me.

“Liar” is not your identity. “Prideful” is not your identity. I wash these names that you have seared into your heart. I remove the scars you’ve inflicted upon yourself on account of those names. Trust Me from now on. These “identities” are no longer there to “save” you. Only I am here to do so. They will trap you and ensnare you if you give them the chance. I will release you. I will set you free.

Fall into Me. Let Me be your identity. Don’t try to live up to what you think I want. I want you. As you are. Let Me make you what I want you to become for My glory. I know you, and I still want you, I can still use you, and I will still use you. I finish what I begin.

Don’t ever lose sight of that.

ohana

Dear Family,

What does this word actually mean for you? You toss that word around when it’s convenient for you, and when it’s not, you hoard it to yourselves and keep it exclusively. When has that word ever been used to describe us?

Yet you asked me this week—no, you shamed me—in order to convince me you’re my family. You tell me that you can’t believe I would trust an outsider over my own family. It’s not the first you’ve shamed me with this either.

But let me ask you something.

Where were you?

Where was my family when I had to put a restraining order on one of our members? You were on the side of my abuser. Where was my family when I longed to belong to it? You were abusing me and shunning me from your presence. Where was my family when the inheritance I received from my grandmother disappeared and the account closed? You were the ones closing it. Where was my family when I was suicidal in high school because of the abuse? You were oblivious to your role in my suffering, and you could not be found.

How do you ever expect me to trust you? How could you ever ask that of me?

I have not allowed you to define this word for me for quite some time now. The word “family” does not belong to you.

It belongs to the Person who guided me out of suicide. It belongs to the Person who redeemed my greatest abuse to lead me to my greatest salvation. It belongs to His children, who have walked beside me and carried me these past fourteen years when you were nowhere to be found.

“Family” does not end with blood.

Blood may be thicker than water, but grace runs deeper than blood.

You made me feel that I needed to earn a place in this family. Was being my mother’s child truly not enough? Yet in this grace community, there is no such thing as earning a place in the family. We are family because of Him.

This word is still being redeemed for me, but here and now, I claim it as my own. It is not a word for you to throw at me to acknowledge your authority. This word will not be reduced to something so petty.

This word means hope. It means acceptance. It means love—love unconditional, love to the point of sacrifice, love for life.

This word is too precious to me now. You cannot define it for me any longer because I know what it is now.

My Father told me. He showed me with His loyal love.

I have a new family now. Maybe you can join it some day. But you’ll have to understand, it’s on His terms, earned by His death.

I hope you can give up your small definition for His great plan.

Do you wish to get well?

Jesus asked the man at the pool if he wanted to get well. The man made lots of excuses in his response: no one would help him; people keep getting in front of him (John 5:1-17).

Jesus asked a simple “yes or no” question. And I think the message underlying it is, “Say ‘yes,’ and I’ll make you well.” He was there. He was ready. Like in Isaiah 65, God made Himself available. He made Himself ready to answer when His people cried out to Him for help.

But no one did.

Not the Israelites. Not this man.

Not me.

Sometimes we convince ourselves we’re too dirty for God to want anything to do with us. It’s easier to believe God doesn’t care than to ask Him for help. Why is that?

“I’ve screwed up too many times.”
“God has better things to do than care about me.”
“I need to atone for this myself before I can be ‘clean enough’ to see God.”
“God bailed me out of this exact same thing last week; His patience has to be wearing thin.”
“I’m afraid to face the people I’ve hurt.”
“I’m afraid to face the people who hurt me.”

We make so many excuses, but are they actually valid?

How can they be if they are keeping us from God?

We hold onto everything: our excuses, the reasons we think we’re “doing God a favor” by keeping away from Him; and they are poisoning us slowly.

It’s time to let them go. As the chorus from “Yesterday is Over” goes, you have to “open up your hand.”

And let go of what’s behind you
The past can’t hurt you anymore
Or keep you on the ground
Will you let this be the moment
That you let go of yourself?
Let His love hold onto you
And He won’t let go

“I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me” — so let us ask for Him.

“I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me” — so let us seek Him.

“I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ to a nation which did not call My name” — so let us call His name.

(Isaiah 65:1)

“I called, but you did not answer” — let us answer.

“I spoke, but you did not hear” — let us hear.

(Isaiah 65:12)

And be healed.

“Do you wish to get well?”

Yes, I do.

just lucky, i guess

I seriously don’t know what it is, but for whatever reason, I seem to always get into conversations about singleness. In particular, conversations where I have to convince someone I don’t need to be cured from it. It’s the most bizarre thing.

Anywhoo.

At my age, most of my friends are getting married or have gotten married and are starting families. So when there are oddballs like myself around, one of the first things I get asked from people is whether or not I’m seeing anyone.

It’s a seemingly harmless question, but what kills me is when it’s used as a measuring stick. “Oh, good. She’s still single. I’m not so badly off.” “I just need to find someone before she does.” Or, “well, at least I’m dating someone right now.”

(I suppose this entry is a little more tailored to the ladies because well… I don’t know the guys’ perspective on the subject.)

The second most popular question I get asked is “how/why are you still single?” I get it. I’m awesome, and it doesn’t make any sense (just kidding… but seriously). Sometimes people are well-meaning and think a single friend of theirs is great, and can’t fathom why it is that someone that could be a significant other hasn’t figured it out yet.

But listen to that question.

“Why are you still single?”

“Why are you still single?”

It doesn’t ask anything of Mysterious Person X who hasn’t got the brains to be attracted to this person, but it speaks everything of the person you’re talking to.

“What is so strange or incomplete about you that you’re not married yet?”

I’m not saying this is on everyone’s mind when they ask this also seemingly innocent question—chances are it doesn’t even come into thought—but it does linger in the air for the listener and receiver even if we don’t realize it at first. I don’t doubt people have had their confidence shaken up by that question. I know I have. To the point where I had to talk about it to justify myself. But why should I have to?

Why am I still single? I don’t know. Why is it so important for me to not be? I don’t know that either, except that society tells me it’s a big deal.

Now, if any of you have had these conversations, you know what’s coming next.

Consolation.

“I’m sure he’s out there somewhere; you just haven’t met him yet.” “Guys are idiots (I really don’t find it reassuring when we just put guys down either, but I know we’re all guilty of playing the blame game). Someone’s bound to figure out how awesome you are.” And my personal favorite: “God has a purpose for you while you’re still single.” (And yes, He does. It’s called serving God. Which I’m pretty sure is not limited to just me and my single friends.)

And then advice.

“The moment you’re completely satisfied in your singleness is when God will bring someone to you.” “When I decided I was done with guys, I met my husband.”

Well, that’s great, and I’m glad that’s how God decided to provide for some of you, but that’s not the formula for all of us. There is no formula. God doesn’t work in formulas. If we’re all unique, and God created us to be so, why would He impose formulas to blanket us with?

Also, there is some really bad theology going on.

For those of us who do desire to be married someday, we will never be completely 100% satisfied in our singleness. And Scripture doesn’t tell us to be. We are called to find our worth and satisfaction in God alone and desire God alone above all else (Deuteronomy 6:5; Romans 12:2; Psalm 139:14; Psalm 62).

Besides, it seems cruel for God to suddenly give me a boyfriend the moment I’m fully satisfied in my single status. What a jerk! (I’m sorry, I guess that should be “Jerk,” capital J.) And should that not work out, then I have to go through it AGAIN? Yikes.

What I’m trying to communicate is that we cannot allow ourselves to be defined by our relationship status. If we did, what would happen if or when that status suddenly changes? We cannot allow the world to define us because the world has no right to do so. The world did not create us; it does not provide us with purpose.

Only God can define us.

We’re not more or less holy because we’re single or married. We’re holy because God has set us apart for His purposes. We were all created to bring God glory. The purpose of our lives is to serve God and give Him glory, and we can do that no matter what our relationship status is.

The purpose for single people is to serve God. The purpose for married people is to serve God. That doesn’t change. The only thing that does a little is how.

Single people, God does have purpose for us at this point in our lives. He doesn’t need to bring us a significant other before He can finally use us to our fullest potential. But only He knows if “this point” will ever actually end. Will you still believe and trust that God is good even if He decides not to change your relationship status?

One of my absolute greatest fears in this area is settling. “Well, he’s close enough.” I’m deathly afraid of rationalizing all the reasons some guy may not be right for me.

And for me, for all of us, the greatest defense against that is being rooted firmly in the God who created us and everything beyond us (Jeremiah 17:8). He defines my value and worth, and if I believe that I am worth the death of God, then I will behave as though I do. From our heart, from our identity, will flow our actions.

The advice that often follows that last one is to “wait for God’s best.” Okay, yes, but don’t leave it there. Waiting is not a passive verb; it can be as active as we want it to be. Yes, absolutely wait, but don’t wait for God to sit a husband in front of you and part the clouds to tell you he’s the one. We deserve more than to just twiddle our thumbs and wait for our soulmate to suddenly appear. We deserve to live and be alive before we ever meet someone.

Another meaning for “wait” is to serve.IMG_3113

Serve God because that is your purpose. That will always be your purpose. But don’t play games to try to get God to submit. Reverse psychology doesn’t work on Him (trust me).

Don’t do great godly things in hopes of attracting a great godly guy. Do great godly things because you were born to serve and belong to a great God.

We’ll never be able to “trick” God into doing what we want. He does not exist to make all our dreams come true. We exist to make His.

As much as I hate to admit it, I have absolutely made my relationship status my idol at some point in my life.

But I don’t live for men, I don’t live for marriage.

I live because He gave me life. And I won’t waste it waiting around passively for someone to finally see my worth. God has already seen it. I will submit to Him and wait on and for Him because He deserves to be praised and worshiped for the sole reason that He is God.

So single people, rejoice! Married people, rejoice! Rejoice because we have one God, and that God is good and gracious and pours love and grace with a generous wrist (Ephesians 3:19).

What is Grace?

(Someone sent this to me in an email. it meant a lot to me, so I wanted to share)


The following is from a book by David Jeremiah called Captured By Grace. I thought his insight here on the difference between mercy and grace was quite illuminating, and make sure to see the illustration below. It will most likely bring tears to your eyes:

Mercy is God withholding the punishment we rightfully deserve.

Grace is God not only withholding that punishment but offering the most precious of gifts instead.

Mercy withholds the knife from the heart of Isaac.
Grace provides a ram in the thicket.

Mercy runs to forgive the Prodigal Son.
Grace throws a party with every extravagance.

Mercy bandages the wounds of the man beaten by the robbers.
Grace covers the cost of his full recovery.

Mercy hears the cry of the thief on the cross.
Grace promises paradise that very day.

Mercy pays the penalty for our sin at the cross.
Grace substitutes the righteousness of Christ for our wickedness.

Mercy converts Paul on the road to Damascus.
Grace calls him to be an apostle.

Mercy saves John Newton from a life of rebellion and sin.
Grace makes him a pastor and author of a timeless hymn.

Mercy closes the door to hell.
Grace opens the door to heaven.

Mercy withholds what we have earned.
Grace provides blessings we have not earned.


He also includes this story which is quite amazing:

It’s autumn in New York. November 2004. Freezing rain, weary drivers. One carload of delinquents on a joyride. Got the picture?

Their spree begins at the local Cineplex. Bored with action flicks, the teenagers decide to act one out. They break into a car, grab a credit card, and proceed to a video store. There they charge four hundred dollars’ worth of DVDs and video games. Why not pick up a few groceries while they’re at it? A surveillance tape catches the kids selecting a twenty-pound turkey. Remember the turkey.

Pedal to the metal in a silver Nissan, the kids move along an irregular line intersecting with a Hyundai containing one Victoria Ruvolo. The two cars cross paths at approximately 12:30 a.m. Victoria Ruvolo, forty-four, is heading for her Long Island home. Having attended her fourteen-year-old niece’s vocal recital, she looks forward to home and hearth—particularly hearth. She’s ready to unravel the overcoat and scarves, burrow under an electric blanket, and rest her weary self.

Maybe the silver Nissan, approaching from the east, catches Victoria’s eye—maybe not. Later, she won’t be sure. She certainly won’t recall the image of a teenage boy leaning out the window of the Nissan as the car approaches. Nor will she retain any memory of the bulky projectile taking flight from his hands. This is the part about the turkey.

The twenty-pound bird crashes through Victoria’s windshield. It bends the steering wheel inward, smashes into her face, and breaks every bone it encounters. Victoria will remember none of this—frankly, a stroke of mercy. Eight hours of surgery and three weeks of recovery later, however, friends and family fill in the blanks. Victoria lies impassively in a bed in Stony Brook University Hospital and listens to every detail. Yet her emotions are difficult to discern, given the mask her face has become: shattered like pottery, now stapled together by titanium plates; an eye affixed by synthetic film; a wired jaw; a tracheotomy.

The public reaction is much more vigorous. The media has run with this story; weblogs follow every new detail of arrest and arraignment. Over Thanksgiving, New Yorkers whispered prayers of gratitude that they were not Victoria Ruvolo. Over Christmas, they cherished their health and their fortunes a little bit more than usual. Over the New Year, they cried out for justice. Internet bloggers and TV pundits suggest what they’d do if they could be in a room for five minutes with those punks in the Nissan. They’d especially love to lay hands on Ryan Cushing, the eighteen-year- old who heaved the turkey. His face should be shattered. His life should lie in ruins. That’s how the man in the street sees it.

But it’s all in the hands of the justice system. On Monday, August 15, 2005, Ryan and Victoria meet face to restructured face in the courtroom. Nine agonizing, titanium-bolted months have passed since the attack. Victoria manages to walk into the courtroom unaided, a victory in itself. A trembling Ryan Cushing pleads guilty—to a lesser charge. Sentence: a trifling six months behind bars, five years probation, a bit of counseling, a dash of public service. People shake their heads in righteous indignation. Is that all the punishment we can dish out? When did this country become so soft on crime? Let’s lock up all these criminals and throw away the key. Who is responsible for this plea bargain anyway?

The victim. That’s who. The victim requests leniency.

Ryan makes his plea and then turns to Victoria Ruvolo, all the essence of tough guy long since drained away. He is weeping with abandon. The attorney leads the assailant to the victim, and Victoria holds him tight, comforts him, strokes his hair, and offers reassuring words. “I forgive you,” she whispers. “I want your life to be the best it can be.” Tears mingle from mask of reconstruction and mask of remorse. It takes quite an event to bring tears to the eyes of New York attorneys and magistrates. This is such an event. TV and radio reporters file their stories in voices that for once are hushed and respectful. The New York Times dubs it “a moment of grace.”


I’ve looked at grace as the thing I could never deserve (which is true), so that means I can never accept it (not true).

Aside from my cultural heritage, my religious upbringing taught me exactly this: we have to deserve the gifts we receive. We have to deserve the good stuff as much as we deserve the bad stuff. In life, there’s suffering because we are broken, messed up people. After death, there’s more suffering because we were broken, messed up people.

It is difficult for me to fully experience grace because I have to rewrite 15 years of theology from my developmental stage in life. And slowly work toward completing 11+ years of new theology that is personal and very, very strange.

Grace should move me to tears in gratitude, not reduce me to tremble in fear.

This is the prayer I need you to pray for me. And if this is the prayer that you need for yourself as well, I will be overjoyed to pray it for you as well.

broken cisterns

There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.” —John 4:7-30

What kind of water have I been drinking? Where have I gone to fill my waterpot?

The water that I’ve been drinking is intimacy—or rather, an imitation of it. Growing up, I’d never seen an example of intimacy (healthy or not) between a man and a woman. There is a great desire in me to seek it, find it, and experience it. However, I am looking in dodgy places with cheap copies.

Intimacy is not cheap.

Intimacy requires time, energy, effort, amongst other things, and I have been left thirsty because I chase after these substandard replicas that appease my thirst for the moment, then I come back when I can afford to, and repeat the cycle, investing mass amounts of valuable time and energy into something that is worth as much as a piece of rubbish on the side of the road.

Then appears this Man, sitting by the well I draw my water from, asking me to give Him a drink.

“This isn’t fit for You, Sir.”

“Let Me give you what is, then. And we will drink of it together.”

This Man, this Jesus, this Messiah, offers me His water, which satisfies the soul and more than quenches the thirst. He tells me this water is alive, that if I drink of it, I will never thirst for any other water again. All other water will pale in comparison and be revealed for what they truly are.

Poison.

Filling ourselves with something other than Jesus will never satisfy us. The water we drink is dead and only satisfies for the moment, and when we are thirsty again, when the tickle rises in the back of our throats, we guzzle more in hopes that we will not be thirsty anymore—merely to repeat the process shortly after and hoping again that it will be satisfied. (What’s that they say of the definition of insanity?)

“None but God can satisfy the longings of an immortal soul; that as the heart was made for Him, so He only can fill it.” —Richard Chenevix

The body, the flesh, has a time limit. We’re given 70, 80, 90, maybe 100 years, and to God, it is a blink of an eye. Each soul will have eternal life—the question is only where we will spend it. God existed in eternity past and will exist in eternity future. Absolutely only an eternal God can satisfy an eternal soul. He created each of us with a purpose, and in seeking our purpose from Him, He is glorified, and we are filled by Him to do His work.

“Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, Nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied.” —Proverbs 27:20

Death and destruction are being filled day after day with more and more of the lost, and yet they keep taking. Our desires are just as demanding and gluttonous. We keep going back to the well day in and day out to find a way to be satisfied, but that can never happen. It takes an exorbitant amount of effort to seek after a water source that does not satisfy. In running toward it, we spend ourselves and become more thirsty, and the swamp tempts us with the rancid water that it holds, and we, being so desperately thirsty, drink it in gulps and allow it to pollute us from the inside.

“…and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.” —Ephesians 4:19

It becomes easier to sin each time we choose to do it. Our guilt may be heavy, but our thirst is more urgent still. We see the well for what it is; we know it is unclean, made up of the dirtiest, most putrid stuff we’d ever seen.

But it is there.

It is the closest thing to an oasis we’ve seen in this desert, and we are parched from our journey to seek it out—it is a destructive cycle indeed. After a few gulps, it’s not so bad. After a few gulps, we’ve drowned out the Voice of our Maker that tells us this water is poisoned.

“For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” —Jeremiah 2:13

We are a prideful people who are trying to usurp God’s place in the universe. This verse has roots deep in Eden. In the Garden, our sin wasn’t merely disobedience—disobedience was the medium by which we truly sinned. Our sin was that we told God He didn’t know what was best for us. We told God that we could take care of ourselves. We told God that we are God.

But we cannot be God.

Our feeble minds and the dirt that formed our bodies are not meant to hold God. We are broken cisterns. We cannot hold all that is God inside us—we would go mad trying. But we put a lot of effort into trying, and we put a lot of effort into failing.

“Men are in a restless pursuit after satisfaction in earthly things. They will exhaust themselves in the deceitful delights of sin, and, finding them all to be vanity and emptiness, they will become very perplexed and disappointed. But they will continue their fruitless search. Though wearied, they still stagger forward under the influence of spiritual madness, and though there is no result to be reached except that of everlasting disappointment, yet they press forward. They have no forethought for their eternal state; the present hour absorbs them. They turn to another and another of earth’s broken cisterns, hoping to find water where not a drop was ever discovered yet.” —Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Human pride is an amazing thing. We will go to the point where we are broken and beat up and near death, when we can receive that which we are searching for should we simply extend a hand forward. And yet, we ignore it and try to gain it with our own will and strength. It is the age-old concept of karma—as we reap, so will we sow.

But then in bursts Grace—glorious in its modesty, simple in its complexity—to tell us that we are doing it wrong. Grace topples our defenses—the bricks we lay in stacks to build walls high above our heads—and tells us we are wasting our time trying to fulfill something that was fulfilled by God, trying to attain something that God has freely extended to us.

“I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?” So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” They went out of the city, and were coming to Him. —John 4:7-30

When one meets God, all other things seem trivial. The things we thought we needed, the things we sought to grasp and keep, the things we filled our broken vessels with—all of it is rubbish when faced with Heaven’s glory. The Samaritan woman met God face-to-face. What good is a waterpot after this meeting? He sparked something in her, made her curious about Him. The Messiah would surely prove more interesting than a waterpot. He was more important than anything else she did or had to do that day, and He was so important that she dropped everything and hurried back to town to face the people she lived in community with—all of whom seemed to know about her history since she so casually mentions that He knew all she had done—and told all of them about Him.

We seek to satisfy our desires on our own, but that only leaves us thirsty again later. The bait is placed in front of our eyes in our lowest, most desperate moments of hunger. And we take it, even knowing a hook spears the bait and will spear our cheek and hold us captive. Then along comes Jesus, who—seeing all of the hooks that pierce our flesh, indicting us on account of evidence of the baits we gobbled up as though we were starved for years—gently removes them and places our hand in His in order to show us a better way.

Jesus is the only one who can satisfy us eternally. Nothing is hidden to Him, and though He sees all that I have done, He refuses to let all that I’ve done be all that I am or will be. Instead, He says that He is the fountain that won’t run dry, that He is the one who will give me rest. Instead, he satisfies my desperation to be filled and continually fills me each day with what I need. I want my entire life to change as a result of this teaching. What more can I do or give as response to having been given more than what I could ever hope to deserve?

Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost… Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David. —Isaiah 55:1, 3

This water is quite possibly the most intimate thing that exists in the universe. It comes from a Man who has been so wronged by all people—by me—in so many ways, yet He offers it to each of us in reconciliation to Himself and lets it cleanse us from the inside, blessing us in order to fulfill His promise for His glory.

sealed by Spirit

Sin, by definition in the Bible, is not wronging another person. It is assaulting the glory of God, rebelling against God. Sin, by definition, is a vertical phenomenon. — John Piper

Ephesians 4:30 says not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, who seals us as God’s own.

To grieve = to oppress or wrong; to inflict sorrow on.

Grief goes beyond anger; it is the intersection of anger and love. It is anger after being stripped of its bite, its bitterness; anger softened by affection, turning it toward the offense and not the offender.

What does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit?

“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…”

AKA.

Do not stir up this painful anger soaked in love, do not distress Him, do not cause Him to mourn.

“… by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

We carry the Holy Spirit with us everyday: when we love, when we laugh, when we worship.

When we sin.

No wonder David said, “Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight.”

Just before this confession, David also described sin to be “transgression” and “iniquity.” And forgiveness is described to “blot out,” to “wash,” to “cleanse.” These words express the seriousness of sin and the great lengths God goes to in removing ours.

Our sin grieves the Holy Spirit.

Grief is anger tamed by love.

The Holy Spirit loves us.

He loved us without beginning. The words used to describe the love of the Father and of the Son apply also to the Spirit. His love is just as eternal, just as sovereign, just as loyal, just as unchanging, just as unfathomable.

He loves us by sanctifying us to be more like our Savior. He marks us as God’s own. When we stray, when we sin, when we grieve Him by our sin, He pursues us and brings us back to Him.

This is why it is only against God that we sin. Yes, we do sin against others, but it is first God that we grieve before all else. It is first God that we offend; He lives in us. Sin is disobeying God’s Law, going against His holiness, denying that He alone satisfies our souls completely and totally, rather than our addictions (which, isn’t the reason why we are addicted to these things because they do not satisfy?).

When Nathan exposed David’s sin, he did not pick at what David had done to others (which were definitely legitimately sin); he instead asked David, “Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in His sight?”

God’s love is loyal. The Holy Spirit’s love is loyal.

Was it not the Spirit who showed us Christ, who brought us to Calvary, to the base of the cross of Jesus? What love is this, that He should bring me to the place, the moment that would change my life forever?

Because of the Holy Spirit, I can fall in love with Jesus and be His bride. Because He let me see who Jesus was; because He broke my hardened heart and made way for Jesus to rest His throne in it. Because He opened my blind eyes, opened my deaf ears, opened my clenched fist to allow me to see and receive His grace.

He loves me as deeply as my Father and my Savior. He compels me to return after I wound His heart, after I grieve Him. He calls me to confess, to release all the dirtiness of my life into His hands; to repent and replace those things with gifts given by Him for the work of His glory.

No faith is genuine which does not bear the seal of the Spirit. No love, no hope can ever save us, except it be sealed with the Spirit of God, for whatever hath not his seal upon it is spurious. Faith that is unsealed may be a poison, it may be presumption; but faith that is sealed by the Spirit is true, real, genuine faith. — Charles Spurgeon

He calls me His and brands me with Himself to set me apart as His most beloved bride, daughter, friend, and servant. He walks through life with me, and He is a Friend and Helper beyond my wildest dreams.

I do not want to grieve this Friend again. Through I know, in my imperfection, it is inevitable that I will fail and sin, I pray that I will recover quickly, seek Him out immediately, and be willing to be humbled, discipled, changed for the better—because He will not leave me where I land.

Because He loved me, I can love Him back.

What a wonderful gift of grace and love we have.