Hiding the Word in our Hearts

IMG_0355I had the privilege of growing up in a family that encouraged me to read the Bible and memorize Scripture. I remember memorizing passages of the Bible in Sunday School or Children’s Church even before I had the ability to read.  I even diagrammed sentences in my school curriculum… from the King James Version!

But one of my clearest memories of Bible memorization comes from my freshman year of high school. I was attending a Christian school at the time and in our Bible class through the course of the year, we memorized Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5, 6, and 7.  At one point I got in to a spirited discussion with the teacher his decision to change the grading standards for our Bible memory quizzes. For each word we missed, we lost 25% — meaning you could miss a few conjunctions in 5 verses and get a 25%.  I argued passionately (albeit respectfully) that when the Bible talks about hiding the word in our hearts I don’t think it was meaning that degree of legalism – and quoted a few other verses along the way! While he didn’t change the rule that day (I don’t think he wanted to admit failure) a few weeks later it went back to the previous grading strategy where as long as we had the basic idea of the verse, we had minimal points deducted.

While I didn’t agree with the teacher’s brief grading strategy, in retrospect I realized his meaning behind it. He wanted us to take memorizing the Bible seriously. As we look throughout Scritpture, I think it’s clear that knowing God’s Word is something we should take seriously “lest we forget” as we see happen over and over again to God’s people  – and our hearts turn away from him toward the many idols of the world.

About 10 years after the mini-debate with my Bible teacher, I stood at the top of the hill on my seminary campus. (Coincendentally, around that same time, my parents ran into that Bible teacher who was not surprised I was in seminary.)  I was walking around on a sunny, but cold spring day, gripped by anxiety about my future. I’d come to seminary with such certainty of God’s plan and calling – and yet in this moment I had no idea what the future held in store. As I stood there looking out – seeing a small glimpse of the ocean in the distance – I heard a slight chirping of a bird – and I began to hear the words in head so loudly that it was almost like they were audibly being spoken from Matthew 6:25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Those words continued to repeat themselves over and over again, I couldn’t stop the refrain. They quieted my anxious heart  and reminded me of God’s provision. If someone had asked me to quote them Matthew 5, 6 and 7 to them a few minutes before, I don’t think I would have been able to. But in that moment, the Holy Spirit spoke to me – using those words I’d hidden in my heart so many years before.

Today, I can often forget how important it is to commit to memorizing Scripture, but it’s just as important today, as it was for that much younger version of me who argued with her Bible teacher, citing Scripture along the way.  We don’t just memorize Scripture to gain knowledge or impress people.  We memorize Scripture because we believe that God’s words are living and active – and he uses them to speak to us and conform us to his image.

When we memorize Scripture, we recognize that the Word is living and active among us – that the same Word that became flesh can come alive in our hearts and lives and transform us – so we can reflect his glory, grace and truth.

If you are interested in digging more into Scripture memorization, please consider joining our community of women at Do Learn Scripture Memory. 

What if?

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(written for my church Advent devotional)

What if the Lord had not been on our side? 

Let all Israel repeat: What if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us?

They would have swallowed us alive in their burning anger. The waters would have engulfed us; a torrent would have overwhelmed us. Yes, the raging waters of their fury would have overwhelmed our very lives. Praise the Lord, who did not let their teeth tear us apart! We escaped like a bird from a hunter’s trap. The trap is broken, and we are free!

Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

-Psalm 124

What if? This is a question that can cause endless stress and anxiety in our lives. What if I’d taken a different job? Married a different person? What if I’d kept my mouth shut instead of speaking up? Spoke up instead of keeping silent? Raised my children differently?

We can drive ourselves crazy asking ourselves questions that there is no real way to answer and obsessing about potential past failures or mistakes. But there is a question we can always answer: what if the Lord was not with us?

In the Psalms, David says that if the Lord had not been with the Israelites they would have been completely destroyed. Our answer to the question today may look a little different, but the principle remains the same. Without the Lord, we are capable of nothing. Although we might not see instant physical destruction, we are not capable of producing anything of eternal value. In the end all of the things we desperately seek to build with human hands are worthless if our hope is not firmly planted in Jesus Christ – knowing his sovereign plan if far greater than our human limitations.

So today when we are tempted to ask the question “what if” in a way that causes us fear and anxiety, perhaps we should ask different questions. What if I lived every day knowing that God is in control regardless of the circumstances? What if I follow the Lord’s will instead of chasing after things that will fade away? What if I trust that the Lord is with me no matter what?

As we answer the questions, I hope we are reminded that we can be free of the fearful “what ifs.” We are free because we know that Jesus came and took upon him the sin, injustice and brokenness of this world and overcame them. So we don’t have to wonder if we can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ – we are given the opportunity to walk with him each and every day – knowing that He is the only place our help can come from.

Where’s your hope?

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It’s been nearly 8 months now since I made the move back from China to the US. In some ways, it seems like my life in China is a distant dream. But in many other ways, it feels like the adjustment is far from over. It didn’t take long after arriving on American soil that I began to question the wisdom of moving back to the US during an election year. Election years tend to bring out the worst in people – and 2016 has been far from the exception.

There are many things to be discouraged or disturbed about during this election season. From the candidates we’ve seen scandals, dishonesty, racism, sexism, and lack of integrity. From the American public we’ve seen many lose the ability to engage in civil discourse and resort to bitter and nasty conversations – both on and offline. Yet in spite of all of these discouraging things (and many more!), that is not what bothers me most. What continually troubles me is when I see Christians, people that should be the forerunners of life, love, and hope, instead being the forerunners in anger, hatred, and despair.

In too many conversations and Facebook posts, I see Christians sounding so much like the rest of the world as they lament the future of America (and often falling into an even greater level of despair). While I agree there are things to be concerned about, I wonder if we’ve forgotten our role as the church to be agents of change in our communities – not through political arguments, but rather through sacrificial service and love, even in the midst of persecution. I wonder if in our desperate fear for the future of America, we’ve forgotten that we serve a God who is far bigger than any presidential candidate’s ego.

I’ve travelled and lived in places around the world where governments are far more corrupt than ours is, where Christian liberty is unheard of, and where people have little to no say in what their government does or does not do. While I’m certainly not saying that I hope our government becomes more like theirs, I would like to see our church learn from theirs – because in these places where Christians have all of the reasons in the world to fall into despair, they often have so much more joy and hope than we see within the walls of our churches.

Over and over again in the Bible, we are admonished not to put our trust “in princes, in human beings, who cannot save” (Ps. 146:3). We are also reminded that God’s purposes are accomplished through even the most wicked rulers – and yet so often God’s people would forget this and once again turn to earthly rulers for their salvation. Sound a little familiar?!

There can be many good arguments against either candidate of the two major parties’ candidates for president. I’m not addressing those here. But what I hope for each of us, regardless of whom we cast our votes for, is that we realize God’s purposes and plans will not be thwarted by the outcome of this election. I also hope that we realize in the midst of a nation divided, a time where this is so much darkness and despair, that instead of joining that chorus, we can sing a new song celebrating our hope is in something far greater.

 

 

How many pants are you wearing?

Sometimes when students ask me how my life in China is different from my life in America, I don’t know where to start.  In many ways I’ve adjusted to the “new normal here”, but some days, I think, “Hmm, I don’t think that would happen in the US…or I definitely wouldn’t do that at home.” For example, last night I stood up and sang a solo in a room with 50 students, but that’s a story for another day.

In class, I have students ask attendance questions at the beginning of class. It’s supposed to be a short question that gets them speaking English (ie. What do you miss about your hometown?) A few weeks ago the attendance question: “How many pants are you wearing?”

After the October holiday, long underwear season begins. I’ve heard China called the “long underwear capital of the world.” (In China people largely dress based on the calendar, not on the temperature.) It seems to ring true. Sometimes people (mainly older women or maybe occasionally my students) might even feel your legs to see if you are wearing an appropriate number of layers.  And my students love to tell me to wear more clothes.

While it can seem a bit odd at times, it’s a way of them expressing their concern for my welfare.

There were a few times last winter when I did have on 3-4 layers of pants (and felt so Chinese), when my students told me I needed to wear more clothes and I’d say, “I have 3 pairs of pants on!” One time my student responded, “wow, I’m not even wearing that many.” (It gets pretty cold when you’re walking and riding your bike everywhere.)  Outside of skiing and football games, I’m not sure I’ve ever worn long underwear in the US.

Today I bought some nice fluffy slippers with lambs on toes to wear around my apartment. Once again, pretty sure I’d never own a pair of slippers like these in America, but I have to say the crazy slippers are one of the many things I’m thankful for in my new normal.

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Fears and Far Away

When I told people I was moving thousands of miles away, on the other side of the ocean, to a land where I didn’t speak the language, far from everything familiar, the response so often came, “You’re so brave.” Or, “Aren’t you afraid of what could happen?”

In many ways, moving to the other side of the world requires facing fears. I have to say some “normal” fears rarely enter my mind. I’m not so concerned about things happening to me in daily life, about travel, about crossing the street (which can be a pretty scary thing!). But it can also cause a whole new pile of fears and uncertainties to creep in.

Will people forget me? Will I be able to really adjust?  Where will I fit?

A few weeks ago, with several of my teammate we discussed our biggest fears being in China.  For me, the biggest fear has long been the same—something happening to my family and not being there.

Two days later, my grandpa died.  My grandfather—the man who I hurried across the gravel driveway to see every morning as a small child. The man who taught me all about cars, boats, houses, James Bond and John Wayne.

And there I was 7000 miles away.

Yet, as I set on my bed crying I couldn’t shake the unmistakable peace upon me.

My word for the year is dependence. And I realized I had to depend that my Father was taking care of my family.  I had to realize I’m not in control.  That the hands that hold the universe hold me and my family—even on opposite sides of the world. And He tells me, “Do not fear, for I am with you.”

Lady in Red: A Chinese wedding!

Last weekend, I had the exciting opportunity to attend my first Chinese wedding.  It’s something I’ve been excited about doing since I arrived here a year ago. Our neighbor (who is also our invaluable colleague and helper) got married. We were so happy to celebrate with her!

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Some interesting Chinese wedding traditions & observations:

  • Traditionally, the women’s parents do not attend the wedding because the woman is leaving her family and joining the groom’s family. Today, more and more brides (especially in the cities) have their parents at the wedding. The bride’s parents did attend this wedding and her father walked her in and presented her to the groom–similar to what we are accustomed to at Western weddings.
  • In another influence from Western culture, more brides wear white wedding dresses as opposed to the traditionally-styled red dress. In spite of this, the bride will often change into a red dress.
  • Wedding pictures are often taken at various locations before the wedding, similar to what we do for engagement photos, only the bride and groom wear various formal attire (wedding dresses, colorful formals, etc. I think the outfits are often rented.)
  • The wedding itself might seem a little bit more like a reception, centered around a meal and taking place in a hotel ballroom. There is an announcer who MCs the event (quite loud and energetic–think of the guy who introduces the basketball players at the beginning of the game).  I’ve heard vows are not always said (perhaps a simple question of “will you marry this person?”), but our wedding did have something similar to Western wedding vows. (Or so I was told. I basically understood the part where the bride said I love you.)
  • The day of the wedding is strategically chosen by a variety of factors according to the Chinese zodiac calendar. I’m not sure exactly how this works, but I do know it takes into account the bride and groom’s birth years, as well as days that are considered lucky. Apparently all of 2015 is both a bad year to get married and a bad year to have children. That’s unfortunate. (Pun intended.)
  • As part of the ceremony, the bride and groom have to call their new in-laws mama and baba (mother and father), until they do so satisfactorily. Then they receive a gift from the parents.
  • After the ceremony, the bride and groom walk around to each table and toasts all of their guests.
  • The event is quite colorful. Some even have fireworks indoors. We didn’t have fireworks, but a screensaver that gave a simulated look of them at times.  Not quite as exciting, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty of other opportunities to see and hear fireworks living in China 🙂

**Yes, I do remember I have a blog. I’m planning on weekly updates this year, so if I don’t do it you can keep me accountable.**

Home to a Foreign Land

If I learned to speak Mandarin perfectly, with no discernible foreign accent, if I lived the rest of my life in this city, if I my children were born here, if my grandchildren were born here, even if I dyed my hair black, got dark contacts and tried my very best to blend in as much as possible—one thing will still always remain—I’m a foreigner.

As a native of a country where we can’t readily identify foreigners, even by their color of skin or the language they speak—it’s easy for us to never really ponder what it means to be “foreign.”  But here, my status as a foreigner is obvious and constant.

After nearly 4 weeks of traveling, I returned “home” a few days ago.  Although I was leaving this beautiful country full of warmth and sunshine:

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I was excited to be returning to this foreign land—which over the past few months begins to feel more familiar, like a place I belong.  Perhaps that’s why my status once again as foreign was a little bit jarring.  My first night back we went to dinner at a restaurant we frequent.  Another diner moved across the restaurant to stare at us.  He probably wanted to examine the foreigners’ chopstick skills. Or maybe he was just intrigued by the group of foreigners.

While at times this identity as a foreigner can be a bit overwhelming, I have to say I’ve grown in some ways to appreciate.  In one of my early letters home I mentioned that living here, ‘I’m continually reminded that for each of us, this is not our home.  China is no more my home than the land of (real) football and barbecue is.’

So even as I retain my foreign status, I’m thankful for the opportunities that it brings me to meet new people and build relationships.  I’m thankful for the many foreign things that become familiar.  And I’m thankful for the reminder that I am made for a greater home and have been given a “longing for a better country—a heavenly one.”