Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Being Still

“Be still, and know that I am God.”Psalm 46:10a

I don't know about you, but I know all too well about me, that I am rarely still before my God. My prayer life is very weak. It's a struggle to pray for me in the morning. Reading my Bible and asking God to open my eyes that I might understand His precepts and principles better in His Word comes easy. But prayer and resting in His presence is difficult. I could easily blame the ailment of our age—busyness—and its ripple effects in my life, but the truth is I am just not a very still and patient person. I am so busy with all the activity of my day that I find it sometimes “slow” work just to spend quality time with my precious daughter as she explores every rock, leaf, and branch on our walks together around our block. Sometimes I like concentrating on her explorations because in it I do find rest. I am struck with the awareness that there is much about this life that begs slow and easy exploration, the kind my daughter exudes.

But being still also has another meaning in the presence of our Almighty God. This application came to me the other day in the quiet of my heart when I was meditating on a particular prayer request. Because I didn't quickly see how this particular request could be answered and I was contemplating another of my own ideas to try to quickly achieve the result I was praying for, God had stopped my thoughts in their tracks. In that moment, while I was reading Psalm 46, the Lord clearly, gently, and pointedly told me to “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Again, I don't know about you, but when my eyes don't see what my heart is begging to see, I have a tendency to work in my flesh (not walking in the Spirit) toward accomplishing what I believe and perceive to be God's will. The result being that I often find elusive the rest and the stillness this verse addresses. So, it was nice to be reminded at just the right time that God is in control. No matter how big or small my worries and concerns are I can trust God. He wants me to be still from my own works and ideas, and to know that He is in control. He can turn my burdens and my cares into the directions He wants them to go, and all I need to do is just rest in Him.

I know I've often discussed this in previous posts, but I wanted to mention again that I am so grateful for a God who wants to and does communicate to my heart's needs through His word. This is why I try to avail myself of His counsel daily in the morning before all the day's activity begins. I hope I don't come across self righteous or somehow laudatory when I say I really do love reading God's word for this very reason, as if I am somehow better than those who don't or don't even have these kinds of moments with God while reading His word. That's not my hope. My prayer is all who read this do have those very sweet times of fellowship with the Lord, and if they don't, that somehow they may be encouraged to ask God for them. With that said, God's counsel may come in other ways, but it will never contradict His word. So it is still wise to read His word to familiarize yourself with it so that you will not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14).

In the end, I believe God is asking us all to be still, and know that He, and He alone is God, and that every care, every worry, can be placed in His hands. He knows what He is doing. Sometimes, He may guide us in such a way to be a part of His work, but sometimes I believe He simply calls on us to rest in Him, as He takes care of our heart's desires and needs.

This was such a timely lesson for me in all my busyness, in all my assumptions that somehow my prayer requests need to be answered by me and my plans in my way. To use a modern phrase, we can sum it up with, “God's got this.”

He does. So, let's honor Him by trusting our needs and hopes and all of our despair and care into His precious hands.

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”—Matthew 11:28-30

Saturday, April 19, 2014

An Easter Weekend - 14 Years Ago

I think that's me in the middle. Not 100% sure though.
Much of the blogosphere this week, especially the Christian blogosphere, is full of our Savior and meditating on His glorious resurrection (Praise His Name!), but I wanted to take a different track. As I was pondering what kind of “devotion” I can give to my readers this week, the memory of celebrating Easter learning to scuba dive almost 14 years ago came to my mind. It was for college credit, and it was during the semester I was studying abroad in Thailand through Cal Poly. 

And so, I present to you a letter I wrote home to my dear family and friends after this wonderful experience. For your sake, I did edit it and massage it in some areas, but about 95% of what follows is the exact letter I wrote to my family on April 29, 2000, after I came back from spending time under the sea.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did rereading it.


Hello everyone! It’s time for another one of those mass email letters. As I sit and scratch my mosquito bites, I ponder over which tale to tell. Which story to focus on. How many words to write. And how much energy I have to write those words.

I guess the only way to start is to begin, so here goes.

I came home today at four o’clock in the morning. Tired? Yes. So, to bed I went, with my mind filled with the last six day’s events. What did I do, you ask? I scuba dove!

When my head connected to the pillow this morning I kept having these mini flashbacks.

The turquoise color of the ocean and its glass-like perfection when looked through.

I saw fish swim by. Two angel fish, always two together, swimming near my mask – beautiful yellow, white and black.

I saw little fish dive into holes in the sand and wondered again in my mind, where on earth could they have gone?

I also recollected my encounter with Mr. Mean and Nasty Triggerfish, with his trigger way up and his teeth way clamped on my fins. Bye-bye Mr. Triggerfish, as fast as I can.

But most of all, with my head on the pillow and my body on the bed, I still felt that magical weightless feeling of being in the water. Of swimming with fins side by side with all kinds of life I have never seen before. Floating, floating … off to sleep.

The Thai island of Ko Toa was gorgeous. I saw the ocean and said to myself, “Yes, this is going to be a vacation.” Wrong. This was going to be the prettiest P.E. I’ve ever had. But P.E., nonetheless.

My bungalow was one of the ones closest to the ocean, with a dungeon for a bathroom. It was connected about seven steps down from the room and was a bit scary, with bugs lurking in every corner.

If memory serves, my bungalow is the one pictured here on the bottom left.
In front of my bungalow, there were boats on the water swaying peacefully under the hot Thai sun. Gorgeous stones lined the island giving it a sense of independence from all other tropical locations. And I can’t forget the towering palms, indigenous and well-nourished from the tropical climate. It was simply gorgeous, despite the creepy crawlies.

But the whole reason I was there was to take the Open Water Diving class. When I saw we had to do homework and actually read a book, I’m not going to lie, I was a little bummed. When you’re halfway around the world in such a gorgeous location, the last thing you want taking up you’re precious discovery time is homework.

The first day in the water was the day after I arrived. That was a little intimidating. You are wearing so much weight; my weight belt alone weighed six kilos. I can’t tell you how much my 12-liter aluminum tank on my back weighed but I imagine it was a lot. Getting in the water with all that equipment on for the first time was bizarre, but I immediately loved that weightless feeling of floating in the water. I remember little fish, an all of two species, would swim by and I thought WOW! Little did I know I had many more amazing visuals in store for me!

We learned some scuba diving skills. Confidence building they call it. I won’t bore you (or me) with the details. Just know that despite my awe under the water, I was a little anxious. You know that whole air-and-what-if-it-runs-out thoughts? Yeah, those thoughts. But, I pressed on.

The next two days were the same. Only the skills were a little harder and the destinations were a little deeper.

The open water diver is qualified to dive 18 meters or 56 feet. With much lazy studying and barely passing the final test, I was certified. Yay! And I had fun despite the homework.

So when they offered a two-day Advanced Open Water diving course after that, I decided to stay, albeit a little reluctantly. You see, an Advanced Open Water Diver is certified to dive to 30 meters, which is about 100 feet below the ocean. That was a little daunting to me—to have 100 feet of water above my head—but I thought, okay, I'll give it a try.

The fact that there would be no homework for this certification happened to be a strong selling point. Not to mention, that in order to do any other diving, Ocean Photography being one of those, I had to take the advanced class. 

We had five dives to accomplish: a deepwater (30m), and multi-level (which we plan), a night dive (a little freaky), a peak performance buoyancy dive (where you go through loops with all of your gear under water much like a circus animal – this one I had the most fun with and did the best—impressing both my instructor and my learning mates), and a navigation dive (using a compass).

They were actually more fun than the dives in the previous certification class, and by the time I was done with them all I was one exhausted person. So, as of right now, I’m a forever-certified advanced open water diver! I would never have thought I would ever do something like this, let alone in a location halfway around the world I know.

And now, the more interesting stuff: what was under that gorgeous crystal clear ocean? I have to be honest, I think I spent more time under water watching where my buddy was and looking at how much air my air gauge said I had. But when I wasn't preoccupied with those things, I saw some spectacular sites.

I saw this school of fish (of 50? 100? or more?) so close together, not really moving in any direction, but still enough to be organized in such a way as to look as if it were some larger fish, a whale maybe – just suspended in the water for the eyes to see.

The cutest things I saw were these clown fish in their “homes,” their homes being these gorgeous anemones. How to describe these anemones? Well they were kind of Dr. Seuss-like. They were clothed in bright turquoise and beautiful blue colors and had these Raggedy-Ann-like hairs coming out of the top, a kind of mustard yellow. And the clown fish resided in them, played tag around them (I would have liked to watch that more) and even cleaned them. When our instructor dropped a shell in the anemone, a clown fish would pick it up and throw it out. So precious.

I think if I were to come out of this with a main thought in mind it would have to be that I was swimming in God’s fish tank, and it was a marvelous site to behold, not to mention just as fun to be in. If you like the idea of flying – you can do that in the water. If you love fish – this is the best way to see them. If you like to try new things – this is an adventure worth having.

So, when my days were over, my nights would begin, and I would sit on my balcony, listen to the ocean waves, and reflect about the days spent in such beauty both inside and alongside the Thai ocean. Peace would fill my soul with each breath of wind, and my closing thoughts melted onto the pages of my journal beneath my candle-like lighting. My eyes would absorb the ocean’s reflection of the many lights on the island, and my heart would fill with joy.

One of the most peaceful and relaxing views ... a boat on the water.
(Ko Tao Island, Thailand)
Truly, this was an adventure given to me by God, and it was a very unique way to celebrate Easter with my Savior. Here, He was showing me a little more of Himself in His artistic and majestic ocean and the beauties within and beside it.

What a privilege to travel with God. You never know where He might take you when your days end, your nights begin and your sleep becomes just the beginning of what's ahead.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Jesus Paid It All

“The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”—Romans 7:12

“The law of the LORD is perfect.”—Psalm 19:7

I have a dear friend who I crossed paths with before many years ago and today we are attending the same church. One get together and one phone conversation after another, she has been discipling me. Many of you who know me may think that I already have learned so much about God and His Word over the years. And you would be right. I say that not to highlight my achievements in studying (which are really a far cry from what others have to study for degrees and so on) but to emphasize, we never stop needing to learn and grow in Christ. Like most relationships, my relationship with the Lord has its ups and downs. And lately, my general fellowship with Him in His Word and among His people can be compared to someone wandering in a desert in desperate need of an oasis. My soul craves to know something more about Him. To enter that next step in my relationship with Him. We see Peter encouraging us, through God's Holy Spirit, to do the same: “Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

That growing in grace is no casual statement for me either because it is this topic that my friend has been discipling me on. God knew exactly how to encourage me to grow in His grace and in the knowledge of Him by using someone who is as intense as I am about studying the Bible. It is fun for us to read great doctrinal truths and to go deeper into the knowledge of God's Word. Now, lest it sound like I'm looking for new revelation or truth, like the Gnostics of the New Testament days, I assure you this is not the case. The knowledge I am seeking is always there and changes not. But what has changed has been my readiness to receive this next level of growth in Him. And it has been a marvelous thing!

So, why do I open this post with verses on the law above? Well, one of the books I was encouraged to read by this friend was Alva McClain's Law and Grace booklet. I own his The Greatness of the Kingdom book, which is his theological masterpiece on the doctrine of the Kingdom in Scripture. It is a book I was highly recommended to read many years ago (and one I'm still in the process of reading) while I was an intern with the Fundamental Evangelistic Association when it was located in Los Osos, Calif. All that to say, I knew Law and Grace was a book that could be trusted because of who the author was. I read this 80-page booklet, and what impressed me most was just how holy and perfect God's law is. McClain shows how the law cannot be separated into three parts (ceremonial, civil, and moral) like it is generally done in Christendom and has been done down through the ages. His argument is that this separating of the law into parts and believing that only some of the law has been fulfilled in Christ (as in the ceremonial and the civil), has been the cause of much confusion and false teaching, especially resulting in the various forms of legalism we see and experience in every generation.

Below are three quotes that encapsulate how God's law relates to His grace, which is the truth that I wanted to share with you today. But first, I think it's helpful to understand that God's law was given because of man's transgressions (Galatians 3:19). This shows me that the law was given for protection against ourselves, which also shows us that God is gracious and loving. This was yet another eye-opening understanding for me, even though that truth was always in Scripture. 

Now, the quotes from "Law Unable to Save Men," Chapter 3 of Law and Grace.

“The law's demands could not be relaxed to accommodate the weakness of men. This is the curious idea that some people hold. Grace, to them, is God's tolerance in lowering the absolute demands of the law to the point where sinners can keep it. Such a misconception dishonors both the law and grace” (pg. 21).

“It was necessary, therefore, for God to devise a plan for saving sinners without any relaxation of the law. This brings us to the very heart of the gospel … the Son of God incarnate at Calvary paid man's obligation to broken law to the last farthing … Jesus paid it all” (Emphasis mine-pg. 22).

“The law of God can do nothing to save sinners. It cannot save us from the guilt of sin. It cannot keep us from the dominion of sin. It cannot provide a sufficient motive for obedience to the law. It cannot supply the power necessary to keep its requirements. It cannot recover us when we break the law. May God open our eyes to understand that our 'help cometh from the LORD' (Ps. 121:2). Our only hope is in Him” (pg. 23).

I just can't articulate these truths better than McClain. The law was fulfilled at the cross, and since then, all of God's children are free from the weight, burden, condemnation, and judgment of the law. We, who are His children, walk in grace today...not a grace that minimizes God's law but a grace that looks to Jesus, and with adoration and weeping, we fall down at His feet and say, thank You, Jesus, for what You did on my behalf. Thank You for saving me and giving me Your Holy Spirit to walk in newness of life.

What I have been learning in bits and pieces about His law and His grace has been a tremendous blessing to my heart, and it has given me a tender heart for His children who want to go back under God's holy and perfect law. It's not necessary. Jesus paid it all. We are free from the law!

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that is was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: The righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-4).

Is that not a gorgeous section of Scripture in light of reading about the perfection of the law and how we are now set free in Christ? It's glorious! The way to tell if you are then walking in the Spirit or in the flesh is to read Galatians 5:16-26, where God reveals to us the difference between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.

If we are walking in the Spirit, it is not because of any goodness in ourselves. We need to understand that it is Christ in us, that gives us the power to walk in His Spirit, not our will or the works of our flesh. I believe many Christians are religious and think they are walking in the Spirit, but when one considers the results of their religion and religious teachings, they can be summarized by works of the flesh. Namely these—wrath, strife (contention, fighting, dissension, friction, rivalry, conflict are all synonyms of strife), seditions, heresies, and such the like.

My Christianity of the past was rife with these works of my flesh. Through this step in my growth in Him, in learning more about God’s law and His glorious grace, I now see how wrong I was.

Moving forward, I pray that my Christianity and my walk with Him and in Him permeates this glorious truth, that Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe.

(From Wikimedia Commons)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...