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!

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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!

Psalm 10| David Complains

“Why standest thou afar off, O LORD? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?
The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined.
For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the LORD abhorreth.
The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.
His ways are always grievous; thy judgments are far above out of his sight: as for all his enemies, he puffeth at them.
He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity.
His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity.
He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor.
He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net.
He croucheth, and humbleth himself, that the poor may fall by his strong ones.
He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it.
Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble.
Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it.
Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless.
Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness till thou find none.
The LORD is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land.
LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear:
To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.”
-Psalm 10 (KJV)

David complains.  Of the many songs we’ve read by David, complaining wouldn’t really be a characteristic I pin on David.  I does mention how the wicked grieve him, and he prays passionately for deliverance from them, but complain?  And his first line of complaint is to God about God!  In his suffering, he feels like God is far from him, and he forgets, in his distress, that God is never far away.  But notice how he still prays in honesty and with passion against the wicked.

David’s complaining is turned to the acts of the wicked.  He sees how their pride and boasting hurts the poor.  The wicked do not consider God as part of their lives, their only goal is the destruction of those around them.  And the Lord abhors them for it.  They put down the poor and they build up others in wickedness.  The wicked, knowing that he can defeat those less than him, builds him up, and only makes him more prideful.  They are certain that their way is right and is determined not to change.  David points out the ways you can tell a wicked person- cursing, deceit, fraud, vain, mischievous, prideful, boasting… and David is certain that God will put an end to them.

I can honestly say I have never met or known someone that would be considered wicked by the standards laid out by these verses.  I have met boastful and prideful people, and bear witness that their manner of speaking about themselves is a downfall to those around them.  I have encountered those who have never considered a higher being, such as God, existing, which is always shocking to me.  I can recall instances in some of the classes I teach when a child does something mean, knowing full well what they are doing.  Obviously, for kids, it is more of a cry for attention.  I had one child punch another kid in the back- the whole class saw it (except me) and they all went, “OOOOOOOOoooooooo!  He punched him!”  And I looked at the kid and asked him why, and his response was, “I just don’t have control!”  To which I pointed out that had he been sitting in his seat then it wouldn’t have happened.  But he was honest.  He doesn’t have control, but it was also clear to me from his words that he had been labeled.  Do you know, a lot of things we struggle with are because of labels from others that we have decided to believe?  As soon as I spoke to that child, they were very well behaved, but I didn’t tell him how awful his actions were.  I sat him down and I told him I knew he could control himself, and he never failed to prove himself.  We find so many verses in Proverbs that speak of how careful we need to be with our words.  I’m not much for coddling others, and I tend to be very blunt and straightforward with my speech, but working with children has really made me take time to consider what I want to say to them.  I can’t tell them that the image they created looks nothing like the lesson I taught or that it is worse than the younger students’ drawing next to them!

I do believe such wicked people exist in our world.  Certainly we’ve all heard those who speak curses, only saying negative things, guilt-tripping and manipulating those around them.  And it would be foolish for us to believe that we have not hurt some one using similar tactics at some point in our lives.  Whether we intended to do it or not.  But have you ever been in a place where someone said or did something without intending for it to hurt you, but it got to you anyway?  Jesus knew that as we, Christians, would grow into Him, more would rise up against us to destroy us, so He gave us the verses in 1 Peter 4- “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:
But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”
It’s tough to rejoice when someone has hurt you, but know that God hasn’t hurt you; and that the other person may not have intended it the way they said it.  Know that being offended is a choice you have.  And begin to look for the strings of lies and deceit the enemy is trying to slip into your relationship so you can promptly cut free from them with the truth.  Remember, David lived on the other side of the cross, so he prays for the ‘smite button’ on his enemies.  God still sees the acts of the wicked and will deal with them in time, so our command is more like ‘kill them with kindness’.  When it seems like all your coworkers do is take down to you and each other, be the person who builds them up in kindness.

Though David feels far from God, he knows that God has heard the cries against the wicked.  David clearly has a heart for the persecuted and those who are oppressed by the wicked.  It shows in each of his songs.  It’s reflected in his cries to God for deliverance.  We’ve heard it over and over again.  It isn’t wrong to bring your complaints to the Lord, it isn’t wrong to pour out your heart and even confess that you feel God is far from you.  God hears those passionate prayers, and more of who He is making us into is revealed in the things He puts on our hearts to pray about.

Sorry if this post seems to jump around, I am a bit congested, trying to keep my lungs where they belong.

Be blessed, friends.

Bonus: Samuel’s Calling

I’ve decided to talk about the calling of Samuel for the bonus post.

And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision.
And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see;
And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep;
That the LORD called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I.
And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down.
And the LORD called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again.
Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him.
And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child.
Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth.
And the LORD said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle.
-1 Samuel 3: 1-11 (KJV)

Samuel was promised to God by his mother Hannah, who longed for a son and so promised to give him up to God should He give her one.  Samuel grew up in the temple under Eli.  Studying and growing in the Lord.  And we have some insight into how he was called.  I wonder what Samuel thought when he heard God’s voice but mistook it as Eli’s?  Do you think he thought Eli was playing games with him.  Samuel lived with Eli at the temple, so I am surprised he wasn’t able to tell the voice he heard didn’t belong to Eli.  Perhaps Eli and the Lord sound similar, or maybe Samuel was so tired he wasn’t hearing right.  The chapter does begin by telling us that the word of the Lord was scarce in these times, so we know Samuel had never heard the voice of the Lord because it was even absent from Eli.  Yet, each time the Lord called, Samuel lept up, ready to serve Eli who he thought was calling him.

When Eli finally put it together and gave Samuel the proper response, the Lord came to Samuel again, the same way He had before.  God didn’t change anything about His methods of calling, Samuel was just ready to listen this time.  God was still ready to speak, His purpose didn’t change.  Samuel didn’t even know God was calling him, but when he stopped going to Eli, thinking he had called him, and responded instead to God who had called him, it was a very important lesson and message.  We could compare Samuel’s thinking that Eli calling him to those things we take from the world as something God has called us to that He really hasn’t.  In other words, Samuel was listening to the things the world was telling him at first.  Perhaps Samuel was really following Eli up until this point, since God was not speaking during this time.  Eli may have just been keeping up the temple as a duty and not as a servant of the Lord, still teaching, but disconnected from God.  When Samuel stopped answering the world and answered the Lord, ready to listen, God was planning great things for Samuel. (Later verses tell us how quickly Samuel grew in the Lord.)

I think Samuel is a good example of how tough it can be to discern the voice of God against the world, and a great example of what is to come when we listen to God.  I wonder if Samuel felt any embarrassment later for thinking Eli was calling him, and making that mistake 3 times, and for mistaking God’s voice for Eli’s!  He sure did feel dread over waking the next morning and sharing the news he’d received with Eli.  I doubt he was able to sleep!  What a beginning for a prophet called by God!  Look as how awesome our Lord is at using our human nature to bring us near to Him.  Eli probably struggled too, having his student come to him 3 times, and realizing the student was hearing from God and not the teacher…I’m sure he had to humble himself a bit that third time to instruct Samuel in what to say.

Have you had moments where the world has made something look so appealing that you took part in it, maybe it wasn’t even a bad thing, but later discovered God wanted something else for you?  Or better yet, is the world holding you back from something God wants you to do?  Let’s look at a story from Acts 3.  Peter and John are walking to church.  Two brothers, following the Lord, off to the temple in the morning to spend time in fellowship.  They are on their way to the gates called Beautiful.  And sitting outside of these gates is a beggar.  This beggar is special, though.  He is crippled in his legs, and his friends carried him up to these gates because this was the best place for him to be.  Such good friends!  The beggar sees John and Peter walking and thinks they look like people who will help him-give him some change- so he looks to them for help.  And Peter looks back at the beggar.  How many people do you think walked past this man on their way to the temple?  Finding him an inconvenience on their way to praise God.  But Peter sees this man as an opportunity.  Peter tells him he has no money, but he can offer something more.  The beggar was expecting something much less that what God wanted to give him.  The beggar wanted some spare change, but what he got was the ability to walk again!  Samuel wasn’t expecting to be called to be a prophet, but what he got when he gave God his attention was so much more then what he expected!

Be blessed, my loves, and listen to the Lord.

Psalm 4- Pray Passionately

It is going to be strange to split up this short chapter, but I am looking forward to making a long post about just 3 verses next time.  And hopefully this is a great post about passion.  David is a great example of not just having passion, but using it fully.  Let’s see how he does it!

“Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me and hear my prayer. O ye sons of me, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah. But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him.  Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD.” -Psalm 4: 1-5

David asks for an audience with God to open this song.  You can hear the passion- he’s not just casting words to ring in the air like an empty prayer, he needs God’s attention!  Do you ever have those days when you feel like your prayers fall flat?  I think a lot of us have felt this at some point.  Especially after hearing a prayer given passionately by another, or at the beginning of one’s walk maybe.  The strange thing is that our culture tends to shun passion.  Of course, everyone has a different idea of passion.  Maybe you think of a specific group of people whose passion has resulted in others misery. Or crazy enthusiastic athletes.  We don’t often associate passion with religion any more, and if we do, it may not be the most positive thing we hear.  Why are we afraid to live passionately for Christ?  To pray with passion to God? To passionately share our faith?  In Francis Chan’s book “Crazy Love” he calls this ‘lukewarm Christianity’.  That place where everyone gets along, no one is challenged around you to consider faith or their way of living, you may not be living a ‘bad’ life, but you aren’t living passionately in your faith.  But in just David’s first few words- “Hear me when I call!”- we can feel that passion flow!

David knew his passion too, which greatly helped.  He was passionate about leading, and he knew God wanted him to lead because he was made king!  But David wasn’t just made to lead, he was made to passionately lead people to God.  And he knew his passion well.  He spent time learning how to be a better leader, he was not discouraged by his son trying to overthrow him and being forced from his kingdom- in fact, maybe he was only made more certain that he was in the right place by the amount of resistance he faced, but nobody said following God was easy, and David knew that!  He knew his God, he knew his passion, and he knew what he needed to do.

He turns to the God of his righteousness- the One who has made David righteous by His guidance, laws, and provision.  The One who put him in the position he is in. David, again, practices recognizing who has helped him in the past, recalling how God has never let him down before or let him stay low.  David uses the word ‘distress’ which is a relation on an emotional level for extreme sorrow or pain.  It is heartbreak.  It stems from a desire for some kind of healing.  That’s how passionate he is about seeking his help from God.  He bears his emotional state to God- Elohim, the One who created him, the True God- because he knows God understands. God will listen as He has in the past.

We would think David would be distressed because his son is after him or because he has been displaced, but it is actually because people are trying to destroy his good name, slandering him. (Though the other things may also be a factor.) Thus, in the second verse, he changes his desire for audience to men, because God is backing him.  And he confronts them straight away- “how long will ye turn my glory into shame?”  How long?- David keeps asking, as though he is pleading with children.  How long will they try to turn the good he is doing into something bad?  We can think to Job where we get the saying ‘Shall we accept good from God?’  David is praying on behalf of these people who are breaking his heart by pursing such a vain thing as his destruction.

David knew that God had set him and others apart.  Such people are a joy to God!  They have a special purpose, they seek to live in that higher, more difficult calling of purity.  They live with passion for God.  Do you know someone like this?  I honestly haven’t met many people who live this lifestyle, but the few I have met have inspired me to pursue it more!  You know who they are in your life- the ones who walk upright, that are full of edifying comments to encourage and build up those around them, and eager to talk about their faith with a passion, but also often the ones you may hear ridiculed the most for their lifestyle.  They aren’t afraid of the enemies that come up against them, because even Jesus had enemies (though David didn’t have that knowledge, he still lived righteously!).

We already know that God hears David’s prayers.  He has confidence that every Christian should have about their prayers- God will hear our prayers.  But the Bible is clear that there are reasons our prayers may not be answered: if we don’t fast, don’t believe, aren’t abiding in Jesus, or haven’t repented, just to name a few reasons.  Knowing and studying these should help us to know what we do need to continually practice as upright Christians to have our passionate prayers answered!

For the last bit of these verses today, we witness David talk to himself, which is something popular in the psalms, and it has it’s own purpose too.  If we live our lives in righteousness under God’s guidance, then even talking to ourselves should be encouraging.  He gives himself great advice that is founded in truth for good Christian living.  He says ‘Stand in awe, and sin not.’  Our understanding of ‘awe’ should not confuse us here- Not the awe we feel of being before something incredible, but the awe of something troubling that angers us.  Note that he doesn’t say ‘do not be angry, and do not sin’ (ESV uses ‘angry’ instead of ‘awe’).  It is not unbiblical to be angry, but we should make sure our anger is righteous too, and totally under our control so we do not sin. And David has lots of reasons to be angry, but he has no reason to sin, so he reminds himself of this.  He also speaks of meditation- to be filled with God’s word (as opposed to the eastern practice of emptying yourself).  He also speaks of traditional religious practices coupled with trusting in God.  Not replacing our trust!  But drawing near to God, abiding in Him.  Taking time to be with the Creator, even in the middle of an attack. (Or maybe, ‘especially’ in the midst of attack!)  We do not practice that traditional way of offering sacrifices to God, but sacrifice is a practice we should still have in our personal lives.  Things like sacrificing technology for a while, or certain foods (like a Daniel diet), or anything that is a large part of our life where the removal of it calls us to rely heavily on God in-place of that thing.

I hope this has been encouraging to your soul!  I am coming up on the 5th Psalm post quickly, and hope to make a topical post after 5 Psalm posts- if you have a topic you’d like me to talk about, leave it in a comment!