Victory

When this corruptible puts on incorruption and this mortal puts on immortality, then will come to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  55. Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”  56. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  57. But thanks be to God who gives to us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  58. Therefore, my beloved brothers be steadfast, immovable, always abounding with respect to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.  1 Corinthians 15:54-58 (my translation)

God has given us the victory!  This statement is rich and deep with incredible insight into who God is in his grace and power as well insight for our practical theology.  Because of the work of Christ, his death and resurrection, a core doctrine in our faith, he has conquered sin, death and the grave.  This is finished and completed, and yet we await the day of its final fulfillment when death itself will be no more.  But even now because of the victory God has given through Jesus Christ, we can live in this resurrection power, with hope for eternal life, but also with power for present victory in our daily battles with sin.

            This passage gives us true conviction and a firm reason for a life of praise and thanksgiving to the God who has given us victory.  All our life should be centered on praising and glorifying the risen Christ who has conquered death.  This life of praise must be lived out with the knowledge that sin as well has been conquered.  All idolatry or temptation towards immorality or division should be broken and vanquished as we acknowledge the truth of this resurrection life with its implications for now and in the future.  He has given us the victory, and we need to be steadfast and unmoved in living out this victory in our daily decisions, relationships, sexuality and worship.

            This life of thankfulness based on eternal and present victory over death which God has given also provides us with a base for our work and ministry to the Lord.  There is purpose, motivation and enabling for our work and hard labor that is done for him.  First of all we can rest in the knowledge that He will give the victory and bring forth fruit; this is not dependent on ourselves.  In the toughest field of labor, we can be assured that our work is not in vain.  We can also maintain an eternal perspective, knowing that eternal rewards result for work done in the Lord, and he is the one who will bring this about as we are faithful to him.  And so our hope, expectancy and joy can abound as we abound in His work in praise, right living and service to him.  May all praise, glory and honor be to our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have been given such a great victory both now and forever!

 Theological reflections from recent exegesis of this text.

 

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Identity Search

Identity.  How we struggle with this word, question this concept and fight to attain to an ideal or at least to achieve a true representation of ourselves to present to the world.  Our culture is so extremely success and productivity driven that we question our own worth if we are not reaching the expected level of achievement.  Our identity becomes tied to what we do.  Who we are is defined by our job.  We ask each other, “what do you do?”  At the core of this question in reality we are asking, “who are you?”  But we answer with our profession, sometimes in secure confidence, and other times almost apologetically, hoping that the questioner sees that we are more than the sum of our job descriptions.

I have found myself most recently confronted with this dilemma and question.  I have questioned myself, who I am and been confronted with my own socially and culturally driven response which lead me to a place of doubt and confusion.  At times I laugh at the strangeness of my own story.  In a few short years I’ve transitioned so many times and held so many different positions that I question how to define myself, from a student, to a church planting assistant, custodian, street evangelist, painter, youth worker, worship leader, student again, teacher, minister, Bible professor, missionary, student, and now again working for custodial services.  It is good to once again learn to humbly serve behind the scenes, strip myself of my pride and do all to the best of my ability as unto the King.

I have seen in myself this questioning and concern for defining my identity, but more than this, a longing for recognition for who I am.  I have come to understand that I have been conditioned to define myself by my society’s standards which are all together opposed to heavenly standards.  I need to step back and attempt to remove those socially-conditioned lenses through which I view the world and prayerfully consider God’s view seen in Scripture.

When I open this Book, I find that the lowly, rejected and poor were often those chosen for great exploits.  Here in the Word I see a widow whose two mites were more than all the riches of the kings since she gave her all.  I am amazed that a scared and timid man hiding from his enemies in a cave is made into a great warrior.  A lowly shepherd boy, the least of his family, is raised up to be a great king, selected to begin the line to the Greatest of kings.  A young, unknown girl is chosen to conceive Jesus Christ, God incarnate, and she gives birth in a place not even fit for servants but in a stable with animals and filth.  The least become the greatest in God’s agenda, perhaps because then only He is seen as great, as is fitting and true.

And so the basis for my own identity or security in who I am must shift to an altogether different foundation.  Deuteronomy 7:6 says, “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”  I am chosen.  I belong to God Almighty.  I am His and He is mine.  I am now called by His name, made His child.  This is my identity and my hope.  So come what may, through the shifting of the tides, season and times, whether I “succeed” or find myself in want, I can remain firm.  I know my future is secure not based on my portfolio or resume, but based on the fact that I belong to the King and am called His own.

Devotional for a Dear Friend: A Promise Fulfilled

Dear Beth,

How beautiful that I am able to be a part of your baby shower even from a distance.  Who would have thought that two first-grade school girls would remain friends as we have over the last couple decades in spite of all the changes in life?  When your sister invited me to join the party through this devotion, I was so excited to participate.  Though you’re on the west coast and I’m on the east, my heart is celebrating with you, rejoicing as I watch how Jesus is crafting the story of your life and your family.  Since we were little, your dream has always been to be a mommy, and now God is blessing you not only with your little girl, but also with this second miracle baby boy.  God’s timing is perfect, though it would seem rarely our own.

I’ve found that life really is a continuous series of lessons in trusting Jesus.  I at least never quite seem to learn this lesson since each day, every morning I’m presented with the same lesson once again.  How our flesh shrinks from those waiting times, the questions, the uncertainties, and anxieties which so often spring up when we attempt to picture what the future may hold.  Our minds fill with those unanswered questions:  “How?” “When?”  “Why?”  “How long?”  Our hearts’ prayers so easily turn inward focused, dwelling on our longings, desires and even those still unanswered promises.

Lately, Jesus has been teaching me the value of waiting, even the beauty in those waiting times.  Those times of unfulfilled expectations either break us or cause us to turn to the only everlasting Hope.  When we learn to wait for Him and to cling to Him, rather than our own heart’s desire, something beautiful happens.  We find ourselves held in His everlasting arms of love (Jer. 31:3).  We encounter the only One who deeply satisfies the cravings of our soul (Ps. 63:1-5).  We learn to sing for joy under the shadow of His wings (Ps. 63:7-8).  We discover the beauty of complete trust and find our deepest delight in Him (Ps. 37:3-5).  And we learn simply to rest (Ps. 37:7).  What joy is found in resting in Him!

I am reminded of Abraham and Sarah who were given a promise; a promised child would be given to them.  Yet they waited.  For years they waited.  They took matters into their own hands and even so continued waiting for God’s perfect plan, the promise to be fulfilled.  The dream was impossible, but they waited.  Sarah laughed, “how could this be?”  She knew she was incapable of fulfilling this promise, but the power to complete what was spoken did not lie within her, but in the One who spoke the world into being.

But Abraham believed.  He had faith and turned around that natural, inward focus and fear that threatens to paralyze.  Instead of dwelling on his and Sarah’s incapabilities, the impossibilities, he turned his eyes to the Lord, the miracle maker, and he received what was promised.

This, my friend, is the definition of faith.  In faith we turn our eyes off of ourselves and unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.  Trust.  In trust we hand over the pen we cling to so tightly and allow Him to take control and write the story of our lives.  In faith, we look unto Jesus in the middle of the storm, when our lives threaten to come unglued, and we know He is stronger.

In faith we wait.  You have waited for this precious child in your womb.  You have prayed for him, longed for him before he was conceived, and God has heard your prayers and answered your request.  Know that His timing is perfect, and He is the one who holds this child in His hands just as He has held you.  He knows the plans that He has for this little boy (Ps. 139:13-16).

And so the Lord has called you to a high calling.  He has prepared you, called you and set you apart for this ministry, for this service, this honor, this responsibility, this privilege.  He has given you the title of mother and entrusted you with the most important role in the most formative years of your children’s lives.  You and your husband will teach your children what it means to love, to forgive, to aspire to their dreams and submit their lives to Christ.  You will bandage their cuts and bruises just as Christ heals our wounds and brokenness.  You will be Jesus’ loving arms as you hold your baby close and calm his tears.  You will nourish him with your body, encourage him, love him and give of your own life blood if need be for him to grow and be who he is meant to be.

The Lord has given you this gift for this time.  We are not promised tomorrow, but we rejoice in today.  Remember to hold loosely to the gifts given.  Though this little one has been entrusted to you, remember that he belongs to the Lord.  Should Jesus call him to a far off land, know that he first belonged to Jesus.  Each gift we are given, we must lay down at His feet to do as He will, just as Hannah did when she brought little Samuel to serve in the temple of the Lord.

So look to Jesus dear friend.  Aspire to be more like Him every day.  Spend time with Him.  Love Him.  Cherish Him as your dearest friend, your Lord, your Father, your Lover, your Friend.  He will sustain you as you sustain your children.  You will discover that Jesus is all you need as you abide in Him, find Him as your source of comfort, love and strength, and remain in Him as a branch which draws its necessary, life-giving nutrients from the vine (Jn. 15:5).  In this way you will be a source of life, joy and peace for your children.

May the Lord bless you, your husband and your babies.  May the Lord cause His face to shine upon you and give you peace, that His way may be known on earth, His glory among all nations.

Love Always,

Chariti

I Am My Beloved’s

ImageYou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. Deut. 6:5-6

You shall therefore love the Lord your God, and always keep his charge, His statures, His ordinances, and His commandments. Deut. 11:1

You shall follow the Lord you God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him and cling to Him.  Deut. 13:4

 

A deep, committed, close love relationship is the basis of devotion and obedience to Christ.  We are to cling, hold fast, be joined, and follow close to Him in affection and loyalty.  This love is deep and abiding, intimate, beautiful, joyful, fragrant and all-satisfying.  It is meant not only to be known with the mind but also to be experienced, enjoyed, felt and perceived with the senses.  True Christianity is not dead, lifeless observance of laws and regulations, but a joyful celebration of intimate communion with God, the Creator of all, who made us, with all our emotions and longings, for this union with Him.

We are to cling to Him.  The Hebrew word dabaq is artful and romantic; it is the same word used to depict how a man should leave his father and mother, cleave to his wife, and the two are to become one flesh.  The word is used to describe physical joining together in many other places of scripture, though here it symbolically represents joining together in purposeful, intentional loyalty and affection.  We love him because he first loved us.  Here we see the backdrop of Israel’s powerful deliverance from Egypt by the mighty hand and faithful devotion of God.  We have been bought with a price by the precious blood of Jesus (1 Pet. 1), and for this very reason we love Him and set ourselves apart to be holy, consecrated unto Him.

The outflow of loving Him and cleaving to Him is faithful obedience to Father God.  Our response to His goodness reaching out to us is love, and this love is demonstrated through our actions, decisions and deep desire to do what is pleasing to Him.  Obedience to His commands is the automatic response to His love as our hearts respond in loving devotion.  The goal of true religion is Christ Himself, knowing Him and loving Him, nothing more, and nothing less.

The lover of our soul calls us to deep communion with Him, to come away with Him.  How shallow and purposeless are our lives when we dwell in this place of distraction, driven to accomplish our own goals, denying ourselves and Him time to fellowship.  Come away, be mine, He speaks over us, yet in the business of our schedules, times slips like sand through our fingers.  Yet if we truly loved Him deeply, intimately, we would take this time with Him, we would lay our lives, our moments, our life goals upon an altar of sacrifice to Him.

I am my beloved’s, and he is mine.  Romantic poetry in Song of Solomon 4 pictures a garden locked up, only to open for the beloved as he is welcomed to come and eat the choice fruits.  Psalms 37 tells us to dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.  Delight yourself in the Lord…  We are to cultivate the garden of our lives, cultivate fruit that will give Him pleasure: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  And the fragrant spices of this garden will bring joy to Him and be wafted abroad by the wind of His Spirit, the fragrant offering of a life of devotion to Jesus.

I’ve Changed

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Pastor Keith, Susan, Sarah and Josh. Together again in New Hope Church in Albany, NY

The weekend before last I traveled with a team from Zion Bible College to Albany, NY and ministered in one of my second homes where I served several years back.  We walked the urban streets passing out invitations to the Easter service, and I spoke with a man I felt lead to speak to.  He opened up and I encouraged him in the gospel.  In that moment I realized something: I love talking with lost people.  This is something I do miss, something that drives me.

 

Friday night I lead the worship for the Good Friday service, and God showed up.  How beautiful it is to be lead by the Spirit of God and see people touched by His Word.  Pastor Keith arranged the service so that several people shared from scripture between songs.  Many told me afterwards that they felt God’s presence touch them in a powerful way.  

 

The night I arrived, Pastor Keith asked if I could take over and head up the team since he really didn’t have time Easter weekend.  In reality I had pictured myself visiting friends, hanging out, but you accept what comes your way.  There was some team strife I helped them work through, team devos in the morning and activities through the day.  It was exhausting, but good.

 

One thing struck me unexpectedly.  I have changed dramatically.  I’m not the person I was then.  Even Karl, a man in the church who did not know me well then, noticed the difference just observing me.  One afternoon after we had been passing out invitations and talking to a lady in the projects, Phillip, one of the Zion guys asked me with admiration if I had always been this way.  He didn’t qualify his statement, but I knew what he meant.  Somehow I walk in confidence whether in front of the church or through the projects.  They see the difference.  I feel the difference.  Through the years, experiences in ministry and especially my time traveling, ministering and evangelizing in Mexico has changed me.  I’m not the same that I once was. 

 

But somehow I feel that people who meet me do not know me unless they know who I was, where I’ve come from.  They don’t know the insecure girl who hid behind a shy masquerade, afraid to express who I was, striving for acceptance.  They don’t know the ways I berated myself, feeling I was never good enough.  They don’t know the mud, the mire, the depression, the affliction I’ve come from and at times still struggle through.  Freedom truly is in Christ, but it has to be lived out, worked through, and sometimes we have to be broken to be freed from our fleshly addictions to self-pity, shame and pride.  This is the gritty stuff of life, the day to day realities God can use to change us, mold us to His image and make us useful in His hands. 

 

 He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.  ~Psalms 40:2

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 

~2 Corinthians 3:18

He is the Potter, and we are the clay.

 

A Life Remembered

ImageThe brilliance of spring and new life can be seen in the beauty of a flower, sprouting forth in joy, following the gaze of the sun.  One day it shines in all it’s glory, and the next it fades and is gone.  This Easter weekend I remembered the life of a dear friend, Landen Reimer who also lived a short yet brilliant life in much the same way, and I contemplated the realities of life and of death.

Incredibly gifted and talented, Landen seemed to succeed at anything he put his hands to.  He was a gifted musician and lead worship with spirit and heart.  He was a friend to all and never looked down on anyone.  He had a true gift for seeing people for who they are and loving them.  I felt that he understood and saw me like most people never take the time to see; he was like a brother.  His sister and also his wife who he married after graduation were both dear friends of mine as well through BibleCollege.  For a year we traveled on an evangelism team I lead, and we spent spring break with the team working in a church in Albany, NY where God called him to return and serve along with his wife.

After dedicating a year to working in this urban church, after a year with his bride, he woke up one morning and suffered a heart failure, and he was gone with no warning.  Twenty three years old, his life barely beginning, with so much potential, and he was gone.

This is life.  The reality is we are not promised tomorrow.  We do not know if we or the ones we love will be here tomorrow.  I have to learn to hold loosely to these things I claim as my own, for nothing is truly mine.  Even my life belongs to my Maker.  In so many ways I feel ready just to be with Jesus.  I’m tired of moving from one place to the next, one ministry to another, of solitude and longing for companionship.  I just want to see Him fully and be with Him, inseparable, all tears wiped away, all sorrow obsolete.  He is Joy.  He is Life.  I want to be with Him.  I feel I understand in part Paul’s heart when he said it is far better for him to be with Christ, but more beneficial for others that he remain.  He knew he would remain, and so I know God’s plan is not yet complete in my life.  Someday I will see him, and I long so for that day, but here and now I also long to experience that closeness and reality of His presence.  We see in part, but in that day what is in part will be done away.  Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Inspiring New Friends

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My friend Rebecca and I on a New England shore.

There are times you feel as the prophet Elijah when he stated, “I alone am left, a prophet of the Lord.”  At times it seems there are very few who are giving their life to serve Jesus, very few who have experienced going to the far corners of the earth and leaving all behind, few who have confronted the powers of darkness and seen the victorious power of the cross.  I have found that here in seminary many of these precious servants come together, even from the far corners of the world to prepare for further service.  Meeting these brothers and sisters has been one of the most amazing experiences of being in seminary thus far.

During my first days here, I met another girl on my hall who spent the last two years in missions work in Egypt.  Another precious friend upstairs who is from Korea came to Christ in a university there and has traveled the world, including almost every continent with YWAM.  Others have spent several years serving Jesus in India or in Thailand.  I am not alone or even unique in my experiences overseas, and these understand the challenges as well as the privileges of not only living or giving, but also going for Christ.

But the international students are the ones who have inspired me like no other.  They come from Nigeria, Burma, Burkina Faso, Sri Lanka, and many other countries, overcoming many challenges to be here and study the Word of God to be equipped to return and train their own people.  Some have been incredibly persecuted for their faith, yet continued evangelizing.  One of my fellow students in Hebrew class is from Nigeria, and he shared his testimony of the challenges he encountered and of God’s divine, sovereign hand in guiding him and his wife to serve in Morocco for ten years before coming here.  He repeatedly urged us through the course of his testimony saying,

 “Do not rush until you hear the Lord speak,

and when you hear Him, follow His lead.”

 Amen!  So we come, from the corners of the nation and the far corners of the earth, each one following the unique leading of the Lord.  How precious, how beautiful is the body of Christ and the unity and love we experience in Him between brothers and sisters from every nation, tribe and tongue.  This is a unique experience, and I have been blessed!