Psalm 15- Sacred Place

“LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the LORD. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.
He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.”

 

This is a very short chapter!  But it earns another bonus post!  I am open to suggestions about what to make the bonus post about.  Just leave a comment.

There have been times recently where I wish I could live in a Christian community, just being in fellowship and constantly in the presence of God.  Spending time learning and growing, reflecting on holy things.  Operating in God’s will and encouraging others.  Maybe it sounds too good to be true.  And as I learn, I find that the community I desire exists in the church that God has placed around me.

David starts out expressing his desire to be in the presence of God- the tabernacle was the place were man could go to met with God.  David goes on to answer his own question.  In those days, the upright were the ones who held tight to the traditional religious practices of the time.  Those of us on this side of the cross should take it to be living life in fellowship with God.  That means we follow the commandments given, bear our own cross each day, and devote time to God.  It may seem like we do less (no sacrifices or atonement through blood, no curse for disobedience, etc).  Yet, self-discipline is not something practiced by many Christians.  Our devotion to God should be just as active and evident as it was in David’s time!  Uprightness and Righteousness go hand-in-hand.  (I did a study on those a few months ago, along with obedience, and plan to make it a bonus post some day.)

Another answer David gave for the one who can enter the presence of God is that he speaks the truth.  The part that follows that is very important too, “He that backbiteth not with his tongue”.  That is slander, gossip, criticism, etc.  Basically anything that doesn’t edify, don’t say it.  David knew how important it was to treat others with kindness.  He seems to have had a lot of experience with being slandered.  The rest of the words in the chapter expand on the importance of living uprightly and speaking the truth.  The righteous man honors God, is true to his word, shows respect, uses his money wisely, etc.  Those who obey are blessed.  And reside in the presence of God forever.

Take care, brothers and sister.  Keep the Faith!

Psalm 14: Corrupt Mankind

“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.
The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.
They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the LORD.
There were they in great fear: for God is in the generation of the righteous.
Ye have shamed the counsel of the poor, because the LORD is his refuge.
Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! when the LORD bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.”
-Psalm 14

In college, I served through a ministry in D.C. for a low-income area to young kids and their families.  It was an amazing experience, but it came with it’s fears and tragedies.  It’s was an awesome ministry, focused on after-school help and Saturday Bible school for the kids, and holiday outreach to the families involving serving up food put together by the church we worked out of.  But there was one time, I was walking around to collect some of the kids from their homes for Bible school, and I got a kid who had clearly been abused.  These were mostly really young kids, mind you.  And the other kids I had with me immediately reacted.  Got back to the complex we were working out of, and had to sit down with the kid to find out what happened.

That talk is always tough- you don’t want to be right.  You don’t want to hear that that child is beaten violently night after night by a parent with drinking problems, or who has anger problems and just sees that kid as a financial burden.  But you also really don’t want whatever it is to keep happening to this kid.  And sometimes, the kids are told not to talk about it, and they won’t tell us.  It’s heart breaking, but it is the reality we live in.  I had such a tough time with this in college- I volunteered as much as I could to make sure those kids got the love they deserved and learned that God would always be there with them.  Sometimes we had to report the happenings to social services, and I could never understand why people committed such cruel acts.

David had this problem too.  How can their be so much evil in the world; evil hearts, evil times, evil works?  He is looking on the character of one who rejects God.  And that means people who call themselves Christian are not exempt- because you can be attending church regularly, but be rejecting God inwardly.  However, David is speaking of those who do not believe at all in God.  “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”  He starts off with this because the one who denies the existence of God makes them-self seem a fool- their denial doesn’t negate the existence of God.  It sure does dishearten David, though, as it should.  Imagine for yourself that your Heavenly Creator is looking down at the earth from Heaven and doesn’t find anyone seeking after Him.  And the evil comes from their heart, the place that only God knows.

I sometimes find that I learn more about what characteristics I do want by looking at what characteristics I really don’t want and developing, within myself, a hatred toward those negative qualities.  As you read this passage, do you feel like this is what David is doing?  It is discouraging to see or think on the negative happening all around you.  They do not pray, or seek God.  “Ye have shamed the counsel of the poor, because the Lord is his refuge.”  The poor are those who know they need to depend on God from a recognition of their own shortcomings.  When you witness evil around you, it should upset you.  And it should make you check yourself for any similar qualities, and them reflect on God and see what quality He desires for His children.

In typical Psalm fashion (Psalm is the new black), David closes off by rejoicing in the Lord.  Can you recall a time when you couldn’t see a positive side to a situation and just felt overwhelmed with negative?  When I was 13, my Nonna was rushed to the hospital with a brain aneurysm.  It had burst- I think she had fallen out of bed, triggering this series of events which landed her in the hospital.  I’d spent so many months with this woman of God right before this happened.  My dad had shattered his ankle, so she (his mom- my Nonna) had come to help out our family and take care of him.  Then I spent my 13th birthday with her in Italy, learning about her, having some of the most intimate conversations about God I’d ever had up to that time, and loving every outing that I got to go on and spend time with her through the lovely streets of Italy.  We got the call in the evening that she didn’t survive, a week before Christmas, and when my dad said we should be rejoicing that she was in Heaven, I couldn’t believe it.  I know now that my dad was right, but at the time I saw the loss of this wonderful woman from my life as a horrible injustice.  Why couldn’t the doctors save her?  Why was the world so against me?  Who was I supposed to write to now?  I couldn’t see any positive in this, and my dad was crying with joy in the kitchen with the rest of my family, comforting each other, and now I was just angry.  A day before all this, I had received a letter from my Nonna and she was alive and well, and I had written back to her, if I remember right…excited to have a ‘pen pal’. And now she was gone…

As years went on, and I grew in the Lord, I began reflecting regularly on what God was trying to teach me in events of the past to prepare myself for what may come.  David rejoiced in what he knew.  He knew that God was his refuge, whether he felt like it while surrounded by negative things or not, he knew he could find joy in this knowledge.  And he rejoices in the restoration and deliverance that he knows will come.  He knew that letting himself stay down over these things would not be profitable to the kingdom, or at least not as profitable, since God can do anything through anyone.  But he was determined to not be like those who deny God, so he desired to be as effective for the kingdom as he could be.

Be blessed, loved ones.  Rejoice in the Lord always.

Psalm 13: Prayer of Longing

This week is a double post week- My schedule is currently a bit crazy, and I apologize that I missed last week.

“How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.
I will sing unto the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.”

Most of us have been in this place- feeling far from God and as though He is distancing himself.  David seems to have been facing some sort of trial.  One thing is certain from the repetition of “How long”- David yearned to be with God no matter what.  We often accept defeat when we feel far from God.  Yet, I think Jesus expressed the same feeling as he prepared for death on the cross, as surely the greatest pain He felt was actually in being separated from His Father.  It is easy to go head first into a trial when we feel God is going with us.  But perhaps your trial is meant to be like Jonahs and you can look back and see how God was really with you all along.  It doesn’t make it any easier.  Of course, God did not forget David, nor was he hiding, but perhaps David had begun to rely too much on ‘feeling’ that God was with him instead of believing it, so for David his words were true and his test difficult.

In feeling the absence of the Lord, David had looked inward.  When I feel troubled or discouraged, looking inward for uplifting has always lead to further disappointment.  I think I have shared this before, but when I focus inward for help, I spiral downward quickly.  The enemy weaves lies, he will bring up things that I thought I’d overcome, but when you feel far from the Lord those truths that you felt you had replaced the lies with are no where in sight.  It’s not until I go to Him in prayer that I feel released. (“The truth will set you free.”)  But prayer isn’t always first on my mind when God feels far.

David even prays for his relationship with God.  Sometimes God needs us to get to the place where we are desperate for Him before He will speak to our situation.  David seeks wisdom, and not only that, he seeks to avoid falling into a spiritual sleep.  He truly is desperate to know that God had heard him.  And in reality, God never said following Him would be easy.  “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” James 1:2- James got that these trials would be to our benefit and we should rejoice that God would let us experience difficulties for the building up of His kingdom to be realized through us.

David recognizes that his enemies may count his troubles as a victory for themselves, so he determines, as James writes, that he will rejoice.  You remember that talk of truth setting you free?  When you know that God isn’t seeking your destruction, it is easier to determine that the enemy will not claim victory over you.  God had to get Elijah to that place where he could look back and see all the goodness of God and recognize that he was never alone.  And when Elijah knew that he had reason to believe, he found it easier to continue. (Referencing the chain of events in Elijah’s life beginning in 1 Kings 18 and continuing to at least chapter 20.)  Have you ever gotten to that place?  Maybe David was facing a similar sort of trial, with enemies rising up against him, but the evidence of God’s goodness piled up around him.

Psalm 12: Craving God

“Help, LORD; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.
They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.
The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things:
Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?
For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the LORD; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.
The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.
The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted.”

 

This comes at a great time for me, personally, as my best and closest friend is gone for quite a while so I find myself seeking the comfort of God even more.  In the last chapter, David expressed sorrow for the ones who were telling him to flee from the wicked around him- most likely these were people near him, maybe friends, offering advice based on what they saw.  Now we see David feeling a lack of ‘quality’ comfort from friends so instead seeking God.  Perhaps he has learned that the comfort of friends, while pleasant to have someone physically present to hear his woes and troubles, don’t offer the comfort he actually needs.  God certainly is good to provide us with close friends who can listen and offer solid advice, and if you have such a friend in your life you know they are very dear and spiritually gifted people, but God also calls us to draw near to Him.  It is good to learn when God wants you nearer to Him, and when He wants you to tap into that friends’ gift He put in your life.

As always, David doesn’t beat around the bush.  He begins with the obvious plea to God, “Help, Lord”.  It’s not clear if David had a friend he watched fall away from the Lord, perhaps someone who was part of his regular time of fellowship, even, whom others would have known too and were unable to help.  Maybe he felt the advice he’d received from friends he had perceived as spiritual turned out to not be what he expected.  We also learn that David battled gossip, too, so maybe someone he had trusted with something deep had turned on him and raised strife among his friends.  Whatever the case, it is clear that David had been hurt and his immediate reaction was to turn to God.

Have you ever been there?  Maybe you told someone something you were battling with, and they went to tell someone else, maybe not even in a malicious way but to seek advice from someone they trusted, but it only resulted in unwanted gossip and the breaking up of friendships.  It hurts, when you trust someone with something and it comes back to bite you.  I have a problem with just being too blunt, but I think it has saved me from gossip many times. I also go straight to the source when someone tries to tell me something about someone.  Yet, in my school days, I certainly was part of a lot of gossip within my friendship circle and it resulted in me running to God a lot.  You feel hurt by the ones you thought loved you, and suddenly you’re not sure who you can trust.  It is tough to realize how small the circle of people is that you can really trust, but it is a beautiful thing when God builds you up in trust in Him.  Your best Friend is always beside you and knows exactly what you are feeling, not just because He created you, but because He loves you deeply and desires a deep relationship with you.  I have been most blessed by those who I seek advice from who tell me something like, “I don’t know the answer, I will pray about it, and the best thing I think you can do is to seek God in the matter for now.”  This brings me some of the greatest relief from my troubles, and often helps me problem-solve in a godly way as I reflect on what the Biblical response would be to my situation.

“They speak vanity…”. We’re not sure what David was going through, but let’s look at this gossip thing.  ‘Vanity’ here is translated to mean ’emptiness, nothingness, falsehood, or worthlessness.’  I think we can agree it doesn’t bear fruit.  It is such a hurtful thing to be involved in, especially within the body of Christ.  If a brother or sister in Christ brings up something personal to you in seeking your advice, what reason do you have to doubt that God hasn’t equipped you to help that friend?  This is where the enemy comes in to weave lies and cause trouble among believers.  Instead of feeling confident that we could seek God’s help, perhaps we turn to another friend in fear that we can’t help and engage in gossip. Gossip doesn’t always begin as an intentional attack on another like it is shown in movies- it can be as simple as me saying ‘Oh, that person struggles with _________”, and perhaps I know that person well enough that it is something I have accepted and love about them, but the person I have told hardly knows them and they begin to treat that other person differently.  And eventually that friend I spoke about learns what happened and they are hurt by it because the enemy was working something I couldn’t see.  Understanding what exactly is gossip is tough.  I’ve tried reviewing my words and asking myself “is this gossip?” and can hardly ever tell.  So my new rule is to instead ask myself “Is this something empty that won’t bear fruit or help my friend in the long run?”  This has served me much better, and now if I hear others complain of someone, I always point them to something positive about that person instead.

“with flattering lips…”.  This doesn’t mean they go around complimenting every person they met. This is a big problem today, even in the church among leaders.  These are the people who say what you want to hear.  Within the church, these may be the leaders who only speak things that are good morals that you can agree with, but never speak the truth.  There is one thing we know about speaking the truth, and that is that it will bring division among families and groups.  Jesus told his disciples “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.”  Is the person giving you advice just saying what you want to hear?  Do they give you Biblical advice, or just nice sounding advice that could be generalized to any problem?  Does it sound like it came from a fortune cookie or from a wisdom given by God?

David always prays for a solution; an end to the acts of the wicked.  “Flattering lips” are a huge problem in ‘consumer churches’.  Has your faith been challenged recently?  I don’t mean that you’ve hit a hard time and had to learn to trust God more.  I mean has your church leader spoken some truth from the Bible that you hadn’t come across yet on your own and it made you question your faith.  Has your belief system been tried?  Have you reached that place the disciples got to where they questioned if they really wanted to follow a man whose path lead to death on a cross?  If you haven’t felt challenged recently, and mostly find yourself just nodding in agreement to the ‘good morals’ or doctrine your leader teaches, it may be time to hop to a different church.  If you don’t think your leader is serious about getting the truth into the lives of the people he has agreed to shepherd, I recommend leaving.  Your faith IS life or death, it isn’t just an agreement to not commit adultery and to obey your parents, it is about a living belief that God created the earth, and you and me, and Jesus died for our sins, and that everyone deserves to know the truth.  Sit in your pew and nod all you want, the enemy nods too.  David could see that this would be a problem, that people could easily enter a persons life and speak flattery to a broken world, and he prayed it would end.  He desired that people care enough about the people around them that this sort of thing wouldn’t go on.  Do you believe you are worth it?  Worth the truth?  Are the people around you worth it?  Does your church teach from a healthy dose of the fear of God?

Without the fear of God, those who don’t speak truth feel free to say whatever they please.  But David recalls that God will rise up against these people- those who speak hurtful words.  And He will offer safety to the poor and needy.  David contrasts the empty, worthless spoken words of man to the true words of God.  His words have been tried and stood the test.  Throughout the times and ages, God’s word has stood firm.  And His words will put an end to those who speak falsely.  David was confident in God, and he knew that though he would still encounter the wicked, they would never have victory over His Word.  Do you feel this assurance when you seek God for comfort?  That was a trick question, I set you up for that- faith isn’t a feeling, is it?  David speaks from a knowledge and understanding of who God is and what God desires for him, not a feeling that he had one day while praying.  His comfort was probably ‘felt’, but more than that, he trusted and believed that God would take care of him and that He desired relief for him in the things he was going through.

Thank you for reading!  Have a blessed week, brothers and sisters!

Psalm 11: Providence!

Psalm 11: Providence!

“In the LORD put I my trust: how say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain?
For, lo, the wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart.
If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?
The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD’S throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.
The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.
Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.
For the righteous LORD loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright.”
-Psalm 11

Websters Dictionary defines ‘providence’ as “divine guidance or care; God conceived as the power sustaining and guiding human destiny.”

By this time, we get that David spends a lot of time reflecting on the character traits of God and studying who He is.  It sounds in the first verse as though David is a bit torn- He knows the Lord and trusts in Him, but he is hearing the advice of those around him and sees that it is given out of fear.  Maybe the intentions of his friends weren’t bad, but it wasn’t what he needed to hear.  His friends pointed out the dangers to come- the enemies rising up to shot him down.  I love that they noted they will shoot the upright in heart.  The enemy will attack you if you stand uprightly in the ways of God.  They know David is a good man of God, and the enemy is taking aim at him, so they advise him to hide.  His friends just wish to keep him safe.

David knows better.  He reminds himself and his friends that God is with them.  His problems may be many and very intimidating, but they cannot waive the God in which he puts his trust!  David knows that God has seen his situation, and if God hasn’t left the temple, or fled from him, then David is going to stay too.  Though the foundations are gone, David knows better than to give up.  He responds to that question by pointing out that God tests the righteous.  While the enemy may have his arrow pointed at you, do you see it as God testing you or as an excuse to flee?  Do we fully believe, as David did, that there is nothing the enemy can do to us that we fear for? Do you realize that if the enemy could kill you, he would have by now?  What really have we to fear when we believe in God?

David also knows that the God who sees all, will deal accordingly with the evil that is present.  God doesn’t allow evil to continue.  And David also operates in the knowledge that if he continues in righteousness, he will also continue in God’s love.  He knows that the enemy can’t take God away from him, he can only try to get him away from God.  To flee would be wrong.  So he encourages himself and his friends to continue on in the Lord.  Do you have a friend like that?  One who you can talk to about problems or passions who returns your honesty with encouragement? Are you that kind of person for someone else?  As we grow in the body of Christ, these are important gifts to keep track of.  God didn’t leave us without a guideline or examples.  We have everything we need.  We need to actively pursue and believe Him for our needs!

Be blessed my dear friends!

Bonus: Blessings

Bonus: Blessings

I noticed that we reached 10 psalms before I left!  How awesome!  So this Bonus post is way overdue- my apologies!  Today I will post two posts to make up for it, God willing.  And hopefully this post about Blessings will bless you. :]

Having recently returned from a Spiritual journey through China, I have thoroughly enjoyed looking back to see all the ways that God blessed me for that trip, but I also find myself asking another question- “Wasn’t this trip really about how I could further the kingdom of God?  What did I accomplish in His name? This trip surely wasn’t one sided…”

I think we often feel the one-sided part of blessings- that is, we can see and be grateful for the ways God has blessed us.  Our families, friends, the weather, our jobs- BLESSINGS!  I see the blessings for my trip through the support that came together around me, the strength given for each day, courage to navigate a foreign land, the trust for purposes unknown… but I also know that God created His children to BE a blessing.  On top of these two things, after returning from my trip where I was very independent, I am finding something else that I will share in a bit here….

So we get that we receive blessings, but we don’t often look back at the day and thank God for letting us be a blessing for some one else.  Maybe it would feel too much like patting ourselves on the back, but your cup needs to empty to be filled again.  It can be a humbling moment to be able to look back to see how God decided that you were the one He made to bless some one in your day.  There was a day while I was in Beijing that I decided to hand out some gifts God told me to give what I had.  I did not expect this opportunity on my journey.  In my hometown, I do love to go out with little items/small gifts/etc. in order to bless people, though I do it to practice being a living form of communion and not for any kind of recognition.  And I hadn’t packed any gifts to give out on my trip. (I actually didn’t pack for my trip until the night before I left!)  It was my last day in Beijing, and I was really excited for this opportunity!  I had a sketchbook, some band-aids, and postcards.  Strange gifts, God used them anyway.

I also realized that each day I got up and actively agreed to participate in this journey, and not wither under a bush like Jonah or Elijah, I was blessed beyond measure.  I met so many amazing people just by being obedient and trusting.  I was so glad that I found an art museum one day, and there was this sweet lady working there who spoke excellent English and she really wanted to talk to me.  Well, I told her I would come get her if I needed help translating things in the gallery, but I always look at galleries quietly so I planned to talk to her after going through it.  Luckily, she came to me while I was watching a piece about migrant workers in China and explained it to me, so we started to talk.  She was very interested in art, so she volunteered at this gallery.  She walked around with me, then asked me if I wanted to get some dinner with her, and I agreed. (I confess, a lot of my immediate moments of trust with total strangers that I met were heavily questioned within me about what character traits I had that I was unaware of…Rash? Bold? Oblivious? Rebellious? While trusting total strangers is dangerous, I think it was God putting me into situations to teach me something, as I didn’t stop to think about it.  Most of my meals came from meeting people randomly.)  We found a place to eat in a little shopping center and began to chat.  I learned that God wanted me to be a blessing to her- she was nervous about her own upcoming trip to Europe alone!  I was so glad that I had met her so I could encourage her and share my experiences a bit and what I was learning from my own trip!  It was an amazing start to a friendship that promises to continue because in exchange for the meal, I will be teaching art to my new friend.

You GET to be a blessing.  I think of tithing- you can’t have a spirit of ‘have to’ when what has been given to you isn’t yours to begin with- YOU GET TO.  You get to bless your kids, your students, your coworkers, even your enemies.  But unlike tithing, where you get the option each Sunday, with being a blessing it often just happens.  You have no say.  You may not even realize it is happening.
“Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”    -Genesis 12:1-3
Did you catch it in there?  “…and thou shalt be a blessing:”  Whoa.  Yeah.  God created you and me, no matter our circumstances or what excuses the enemy may give us to believe we could not bless someone else, to be blessings.  The embodiment of a blessing.  Do you think of yourself as one who walks this earth dressed as a blessing?  Or do you just go out to see what blessings are coming to you?

The third part of this is brought on by something recent.  I got a flat tire about 4 days after returning…not just flat, but something ripped into my tire, took a good chip out of the rim and everything!  I got it back to the coffee shop, it was night, and I didn’t want to change my tire in the community lot where I usually park.  I know how to change a tire, but I double checked my manual to make sure that it wasn’t too different from the last car I drove. (Huge Ford Explorer to a tiny Kia Forte…)  Got everything together that I needed, and proceeded to jack the car up carefully since I was on a slope with no tire blocks.  I definitely took longer than I thought, so Songbird got off work and saw me working on this task, and since he is so full of kindness and grace toward his brethren, he asked if I needed help.  I should probably mention that the stubborn, independent me that had begun changing this tire was still very determined to do this alone- I know how to change a tire!  Did you hear my pride?  I did, right after I told him, “I think I got it.” and then tried to wiggle the tire off with no luck.  He didn’t laugh outwardly, though I’m sure it was humorous.  I humbly said, “Okay, maybe I need help.”  Glad I did, because he laid on the ground to kick my tire off- I never would have tried that!  And he did it like a seasoned pro, like he knew that was what it would take…I’d never had to do that, I wouldn’t have pursued that technique.

I reflected on my actions, and how Songbird had blessed me that night just by being there at the right time, and I realized that if we really believe and want to live like the first church did, we need to walk that two-way street.  There are times we are called to do things alone- we experience the most growth when we are far removed from our comfort zone.  God may be calling you to spend some time alone, even if it seems inconvenient to you.  I am very glad that I took my trip alone, and I am glad to see Songbird head out on his trek alone soon, and I am thankful I get to witness my other friends who are in school come into summer and begin their own independent growth journeys.  But when we are the church, we really need to encompass all the qualities Jesus worked hard to teach, and the disciples worked hard to exhibit.  We need to be open about our struggles and allow others to bless us.  It is a learning opportunity for all groups.  I don’t want to live a life where I block others from being the blessing they were created to be.  Otherwise we will be stuck in the parking lot all night with a jack under our car and a flat tire!

I am determined to be less of a hindrance to the blessing God intends others to be to me, and to recognize more how I can be used as a blessing.  Elijah had it pretty rough, right?  He’d been anticipating the rain that would end the drought he had called and was prepared to receive the blessings that fell with the rain.  In faith, he prayed for what he knew was coming, but when it came, he ran away.  He ran away from his blessing. Then Elijah sat under the Juniper tree and wrote a suicide note to God about how unfit he felt for the calling he was given.  He didn’t want the responsibility any more.  He wanted to receive the blessing, but he didn’t feel fully worthy.  And God bakes Elijah a cake, gives him a new friend, and tells him to keep going.  I was reading the story of Elijah on my trip, and it is a blessing to look back and see how God has used you, but it can also be overwhelming to think that the Creator has chosen you to do something so great- I probably wouldn’t have done any better than Elijah!  But along with those moments, God also provides us with examples of His faithfulness and belief in us to do what He has called us to.  We can look back and be amazed at how He has used us, but rest assured in the knowledge that He has walked with us every step of the way.  Do you believe in the purpose God has called you to?  That He can use you to bless others?  That He has great plans for you?  Can you think of anyone in the Bible who exemplifies this idea besides Jesus?  Who?  I’d love to hear who you think of and why.

Be blessed, friends!

Big God update!

I know it has been a few weeks with no posts, and I don’t think I posted on this blog what I was doing- I just returned from an incredible trip to China on the 19th and have been processing for a few days.  I was there for about 20 days, traveling from Shanghai, to Beijing, to Xi’an, to Hangzhou, and back to Shanghai.  It was a long trip, and after all the train and plane and metro rides I felt like my trip could have been shorter and with fewer stops, but really only because I didn’t like the traveling part of travel. (Silly, I know.  I should have prepared for it better.)

It was a spiritual journey for sure.  I went on this journey without friends or family, as God intended for me to take it alone to trust Him more.  There were definitely times when I was glad that I went alone, I certainly had more freedom to listen to God and practice obedience.  I admit there were days when I was afraid- Afraid of being in an unknown place where I didn’t speak the language and wasn’t sure I would be able to take care of myself so I didn’t want to leave where I was staying because it was safe.  Yet every day I actively made the decision to go out, trust God, get on the metro to anywhere to see what God had planned, and not a single day was I left truly alone.  There were days I went out and people who spoke English, whether Chinese or another foreigner, would come talk to me and recommend places and take me out to eat, and I was so thankful for God’s provision and the new friendships I was able to create through this!  And there were days when I went out and didn’t meet anyone, couldn’t communicate well, but was still so thankful to be in this place that I had wanted to visit since I was a child.

Only a few days after arriving in Shanghai (which had been a bumpy start as I got very sick from being sprayed with insecticide on the flight) it was recommended to me that I not spend six days in Xi’an, and add in Hangzhou as a stop.  It sounded nice, but of course all this doubt on whether I could manage doing that came in, and of course there was fear of adding another location and maybe missing my flight or a train or something…so I knew I had to do it.  Because I know how the enemy like to try to tell me that I am not capable, or that it would be easier to leave things as they are, but I KNEW that God wanted to grow me on this trip.  So I stepped out of my comfort zone, and when I got to the train station to head to Beijing, I adjusted my tickets to add in this extra stop.  The extra hesitation I had with doing this was that the people I had met in Shanghai told me that compared to my other stops, Shanghai spoke English.

Shanghai was really lovely.  It only rained once while I was there.  My lungs took a bit to adjust to the pollution- mostly you feel extra gross at the end of the day and just want to live in a swimming pool.  It has its own smell too, so everything I took there came back smelling like pollution of some sort.  Lots of people spit to get the pollution out of their throats.  The toughest part for me was figuring out breakfast.  Rice is actually not the main dish in China- noodles are ready for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!  I am not ready for noodles at 6am… and many places that sold pastries or sweeter things didn’t open until 10 or 11am!  My first day there I braved a hot bowl of noodles for breakfast, mostly because there was a nice girl who tried to speak English to me to get me to come eat there.  It was delicious!  But not for me, not for breakfast.  Quickly I learned to look for any cafe that opened earlier than 10am.  And this is a great tip for travelers- a cafe is more likely to have people who speak some English just because it would be a popular spot for tourists during the season (I was there in the off-season, but still had luck!) and also great to meet other travelers!

Beijing was a whole different experience.  For the first two nights I stayed pretty far outside the 3rd ring, so I got some funny looks and some rude attitudes for being a foreigner at the first hostel I stayed at.  Once I’d settled in, learned that of the 6 days I had planned there the hostel I had booked could only host me for two nights so I had to book another place, and had a bad experience buying some water at a store, I was ready to leave Beijing.  One day.  But I truly believed God had me there for a reason, so instead of having a pity party, I put my focus on finding a church to attend as Sunday was approaching.  I looked up some churches, emailed some people to see if I could ask questions regarding church in China, and located a cafe to visit (it was attached to a church as a meeting location or something).

The next morning I headed out to the cafe I had found.  It was pretty hidden.  In the many cities I have visited, I seldom find that the location I need to be is located on the second floor of a business complex- most stores are clearly marked for their entrance and location, but this isn’t how it is in China.  Especially when your journey isn’t about going to all the popular tourist spots!  Luckily, I found the cafe hidden upstairs in what appeared to be, from the outside, an insurance building?  Well, the cafe was closed for another hour or so, so I headed back out, not sure what I would do instead.  Then someone called out to me.  I was so happy to meet someone who spoke English!  And he was Chinese.  And he was a Christian!  He told me he was also waiting because ‘English Corner’ happened up in the cafe.  So we got to chatting, he was also excited to learn that I was Christian.  He and his daughter were learning English, he also taught English, but asked me to speak slowly so he could understand me.  Soon ‘English Corner’ started and I got to join in!

It was run by some Christians, they actually had a large group that day, I was told that was unusual. I was so impressed with the program, as it not only taught English, but they also offered helpful way to teach kids English in school since most of the adults there were teachers, AND it included Christian teachings.  I began the introductions, just saying my name and where I was from, and then we went around the room and each person looked right at me and invited me to visit their hometown.  Oh, I would have loved to visit these small villages that had brought out these amazing people who wanted to better education in China!  I later sang a children’s church song with them, dancing and laughing with about 30 others.  But before that, I sat in a group with 3 other ladies and we spoke in English about what ‘self-talk’ was, and how it changes us.  Remember, I did not plan this day.  I said to myself ‘I’ll go visit this cafe and see if some Christians show up’.  I didn’t know it would be closed, I didn’t know of ‘English Corner’, and never did I expect that God would put me in a situation where I could speak with some people about self-talk.  About how it can be good or bad, about how it can change our attitude about life or just a day, the impact positive self-talk can have on us and those around us… how God can use it to point out flaws in ourselves and also our greatest strengths.  And I was encouraged to hear that each of the ladies I sat with say they mostly engage in positive forms of self-talk!

One of the people organizing ‘English Corner’ introduced herself and said she was from the area where I grew up.  So after the meeting I asked her where she was from, and after a few exchanges we learned that we had been neighbors for most of my childhood in that city!  She moved away shortly before my family moved to the country.  I used to play with her children since we were about the same age….it was truly a Big God moment!  We were both so excited to reconnect and catch-up!  We made plans to talk a little later in the week.  Which worked out great.  Again, I didn’t know she was there.  I really didn’t expect that I would run into an old neighbor from my childhood outside of the United States, and I was so grateful that we did meet!

My new English speaking Chinese friend took me to lunch with his family.  It was a great treat!  I met his wife and his mom.  And I prayed over the meal, holding hands with his family members and praying loudly in a busy restaurant.  Another experience I wasn’t sure I’d have, but God was breaking through all my expectations for this trip!  His mom took me to the Summer Palace after lunch.  Now, after all these things had happened, and my new friend told me he told his mom to just bring me to the gardens and not go through them with me, I was looking forward to some alone time with God.  But his mom decided to take me through the gardens.  She didn’t speak English, so I couldn’t tell her I would be fine alone, so I had to go along with it.  Plus, she had a hold on my hand that I think I would have offended her if I’d tried to take my hand back…but I had this rather unpleasant experience where she dragged me into the public bathroom and then didn’t wash her hands…so I really didn’t want to keep holding her hand. And I really wanted my alone time.  Call me what you want- spoiled, first-world, uncultured American- I know that I am not.  I’ve let homeless people kiss me on the cheek and not flinched, I have no issue with uncleanliness, and I have visited 3rd-world countries and understand different cultures believe different things and have other ideals.  I did go along with this wonderful lady through the gardens.  Her son had introduced her to me as one who’d been a Christian for 40+ years in China.  And I realized, during the years I’d grown up- learning and studying about Christianity in China, the persecution, the missionary martyrs, and everything else I had brought with me that I thought I’d see in China now- this woman had lived through, been shaped by, and still continued on in her faith.  And as I prayed to God about it, telling Him that I really wanted to be alone to process everything from the morning and be alone with Him, I realized I was being selfish.  Here was this wonderful woman that God was using to show me how He was working in China and He was giving me the chance to spend time with her.  She had greeted me so nicely, she felt like one of those people I knew in my soul, one from the Holy Spirit who I’d never met but I’d always known…and I was being stubborn and selfish and accepting of this opportunity.

Holding hands with this woman, I happily went through the Palace.  No, I didn’t get many pictures, at least not as many as I would have like to take.  And I did enjoy it.  I couldn’t communicate with her, we couldn’t talk about all that she had been through or share our faith verbally, but as I held her hand (and this is far from my love language) and let her lead me through the gardens I felt peace and joy.  It wasn’t what I expected, but I’m glad I did it.  I do wish I could have talked with her and learned more, but I was glad I was obedient in this.

I managed to speak with one pastor of an online church- I asked why they met through Skype, and he explained that in order to have a building and reach out how they wanted, they would have had to go along with the Three-Self ruling, or close to Chinese (becoming a church only open to those with a foreign passport not from China) and neither of these things appealed to them, so they took the following they had and moved it to the internet. (NOTE: I am not mentioning names or churches in order to protect any who attend ‘Illegally’, which I did encounter.)  I asked how the congregation kept together and if the following grew often- I was informed that those who attended were encouraged and did actively hold Bible studies in their own towns with friends.  This church had people from all over the world, they just logged in to skype and were able to participate in the teaching.  They spent most the morning in fellowship and even had people who led worship sometimes.  They believed in active teaching, so there was a lesson and theme but a chance for questions and back and forth conversation.  They focused heavily on growth.  I asked about how the teaching went, how sermons were put together for such a diverse group, especially with so many coming together in different time zones- the leader believed in meat and milk teachings, but certainly didn’t exclude those new in faith from hearing the meat portions so that their growth wasn’t prohibited by the idea that they couldn’t handle it or it would be beyond them.  He encouraged them to learn to have that strong faith, to learn it from others, similar to how the first church would have operated. Not under the idea that any one was above another, but that all were capable of being on the same ‘level’.  I also asked what they needed that could be met by help outside- He said that missionaries were needed. I should have asked for more about this, but as I understand it he meant that they needed people who were willing to go out and actively seek to convert people and send them to this church and were devoted to doing this.  The current attendees are not trained in mission work, and it would take special training.  Their church was started by missionaries, but some recent changes have left them without any missionaries.  (If you are interested in more information on this, I can at least connect you to him.)

He also informed me that the church I was thinking of attending later was a foreigner church, so it is only open to those with a foreign passport and so I asked what all these differences were.  He explained that his church wasn’t technically ‘illegal’ because the government is aware of it (I believe it is registered), and the church I was going to was going to be similar to worship in America because as a church only open to foreigners, it wasn’t under the Three-self laws, but was closed to Chinese.  So they could teach right from the Bible, un-filtered, with whatever worship music, etc. And the Three-self church has to submit teachings before each Sunday to be approved, and also had to occasionally teach just good morals lessons (I’m simplifying a bit).  He told me they aren’t bad churches, but that (I think I understood him right) the Three-self church sort of came about because some missionaries had tried to distort the government, and the government of course panicked, and it resulted in these highly regulated churches.  The Three-self churches and foreigner churches require that attendance be taken of attendees.  There were times I read specific instructions for no evangelism in some places I visited, but I learned some new truths.

My talk with my old neighbor further expanded my new knowledge on Christianity in China, as did my experiences and observations.  She attended the foreigner church (sadly, I actually missed the service I wanted to attend, so I missed that experience) and she said that it is different from any other church she’d attended.  She also told me some of her experiences of attending a three-self church- they have some good messages, maybe not deep, just the surface of the Bible, but they also throw in teachings of being a good person.  And I feel like I learned something because of the amazing faith that I saw in the people that I was meeting.  I was questioning how their faith was so strong, what had created in those I’d met who were persecuted so much such a deep desire to pursue God- I mean those I met were HUNGRY.  They couldn’t get enough of God.  Maybe this was just my experience from the few that I met and was able to talk to, but I realized that because their access to the Truth was so regulated and withheld, it built in them a desire to have it that much more.  And those who shared it wanted so badly to share it purely and openly.  My old neighbor even spoke of handing out Bible on the metro.  All these things I had come to China believing about Christianity were being shattered…

I thought: I wouldn’t be allowed to pull out my Bible in public or even bring my larger Bible on the airplane so I took a small NT Bible. The truth: Bring your Bible, read it in public, it is fine.  People aren’t going to report you, in fact, they may ask you about it, and even want it for themselves.
I thought: Expressing my faith in public would get me arrested. The truth: Maybe in certain circumstances.  But I prayed out-loud in public, and believe me, I was loud and proud with it because I was so excited for the chance!  You should be aware that in certain places outwardly preaching in public is illegal, but if someone is willing to listen to you, like my friend who shared on the metro, then you are fine to talk with them.
I thought: The faith of Christians in China would be weak, very basic, and very restricted. The Truth: Those who can participate in a ‘Family church’ (an illegal church held secretly usually in someone’s house and with no logging of participants to report to the government) are so hungry for the Word, I witnessed stronger faith in China then I see in most churches in America.
I thought: Christians would be heavily persecuted and really were looked at as martyrs in China. The Truth: While persecution is really anywhere you go, I would say it doesn’t happen more in China than in other countries.  I’d even say that most of China ‘appeared faithless’, so the judgement of Christians wasn’t prevalent. It wasn’t really obvious if any one I sat with on the metro or walked next to was really part of any religious belief system, in fact.  And I even learned of a city along the coast of China which had a statue of Christian martyrs who gave their lives protecting some Chinese people when Japan tried to invade.

Beijing was really amazing, God put many new people in my life there.  Each day I went out, I made a new friend.  Each day I testified to God providing for me in ways that I had never expected.  Each day I also had time to watch Him use me in the lives of others.  I was blessed to have a day alone where I just walked the streets and was able to hand things out to random strangers- just to be a blessing to others in a foreign place where I didn’t speak the language.  And there were days I would sit down to draw and I attracted crowds of people who wanted to watch me draw and some tried to talk to me.  Some wrote me notes in my notebook, and some even drew me some pictures.  Experiences I never would have thought to ask for, more blessings then I expected.  And I was able to spend those few days in beautiful Hangzhou in solitude and reflection.

I learned each day to wake up with no expectations for myself, which is really why I am glad I took this journey alone.  I had written up an itinerary for my trip and I didn’t look at it a single day that I was there.  I got up, went out, headed for where I thought God was leading me.  Some days I struggled to feel like God was taking care of me, days when I walked many miles and didn’t find a single restaurant with a picture menu (makes ordering food easier!) and wondered how I would make it if I passed out from low blood sugar or something.  Shanghai had Gatorade- Beijing didn’t- and I wondered how I would stay hydrated.  I didn’t meet anyone in Hangzhou who spoke English so I wondered how I would find my way back if I got lost.  I got lost in Xi’an and wondered what the purpose was…  And during my reflections in Hangzhou, I read of Elijiah and watched him wander to a place where God had not called him and God reminded him that not a day had gone by that Elijiah had done anything to deserve it, yet God had still provided for him.  Not a day went by where Elijiah was left alone.  I was nearing the end of my trip and I felt refreshed and ready to head home.  I have learned so much, and I am glad for the experiences I had.

 

Be blessed friends!  I will hopefully post more of this trip as I process it, it was really amazing and I do have more stories!