Saturday, April 22, 2017

Why Can't I Have Their Life?

“If God made you special; why did He?”

My students tried their best to answer the “why” question, drawing from the last lesson about God making them in His image and thus they are special.

“Because I am made in His image.”

“Yes, but why did He make you in His image? Why are you here on earth?”

“To worship Him.”

“To serve Him.”

“True, but why did God make you?”

They were stumped. I grinned just as one might before revealing a super big and exciting secret.

“Because God has a plan for your life.”

I illustrated with a key and a padlock – they are the key and the padlock is God’s plan for them. One without the other is not useful and keys cannot be interchanged with other padlocks.

A key is designed for one padlock. The point: You were made on purpose for a purpose.

You were made ON purpose!

God planned, designed, and created you for a very unique plan, and you or your plan cannot be exchanged for anyone else and God’s unique plan for them.

My life is running quite different than I “planned.” As a wee lass, I dreamed of becoming a radio disc jockey or a famous writer or a celebrated detective. Those aspirations were as “big” as my small mind and heart could manage.

I didn’t foresee being a former-journalist-turned-untrained-teacher, living across the world, and teaching young people who are very different from me in nearly every way. I did not anticipate that going barefoot or wearing flip-flops and skirts would be my norm when I used to hate all of them. ;) Eating beans daily was not a perk I expected, though I have always loved beans! Growing up I couldn’t stand cold weather and hardly tolerated any play in the snow; perhaps God designed my body for warmer, equatorial climates.

Living halfway across the world from my family and some of my dearest friends was not on my radar 10 years ago.

Perhaps like many of us I compare my life with others, especially when they appear to be receiving or achieving what is not yet mine – marriage, children, university degrees, a house, speaking languages fluently, being taller or thinner or richer or tanner, or having a different nose.

Granted, some of these I lack because of my own choices; others are ones God may or may not give me.

I wonder what God thinks when I compare my life to others?

“Ruthie, I am writing your story. I designed your character to fit inside the plot I am unfolding. Don’t jump and change characters or plot lines. Your story is as unique as you are.”

What if Peter had compared his life with his Old Testament heroes?

“God, why can’t I ride a flaming chariot like Elijah?” “Is there a reason you don’t continue to appear in a burning bush to give me directions?” “I have to go to the market again. Why not send manna and meat as You used to?”

What if Paul had questioned God’s plan for him?

“Umm, God, was it really Your idea I be shipwrecked, arrested, imprisoned, left for dead? I mean look at John, he is exiled on an island, but that seems way more peaceful and desirable than my present circumstances – chained between two Roman guards.”

Sure, the Biblical saints struggled, doubted, and questioned God’s paths for them. Just this morning I read about Jeremiah wishing he had died in his mother’s womb. Really? Wow.

I wonder if such questioning grieves God as our doubts reveal our lack of trust in Him.

The problem is I and the rest of us humans are short-sighted. We can look back on our past, and we can see today, but we can’t catch a glimpse beyond life’s next curve. We are somewhere in the middle of the story, but we don’t know how it will keep unfolding, and how or when we will reach the climax.

I once heard there will come a day, likely after we’ve left earth and entered our eternal home, that we’ll look back on our lives and say, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

For some it may be a difficult thought to process, especially considering the challenges, pain, struggles, losses, and hardships we have had and will still encounter. But, somehow God in His incredible sovereignty can weave all the good and the bad and the ugly of our lives and stories into a beautiful pattern – for our good and for His glory.

I can’t even wrap my mind around it. It’s just too far above my pea-brain and too far out for my short-sightedness.

But, walking with God is a walk of faith. Trusting a God I cannot see to lead me on a path I do not know toward a future I’ve only ever heard about.

When God called me to Uganda 8 years ago, He assured me with this verse:

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” Hebrews 11:8

(Incidentally, I used this verse as the inspiration for this blog’s title.)

God told Abraham to go – leave his home and country and go. Genesis 12 tells us God commanded Abraham to leave his country and kindred and father’s house “to the land that I will show you.”

It’s my understanding that in Middle Eastern culture, families stick together – for generations, and they generally stay in the same area for a long, long time. What God asked Abraham to do was entirely counter-cultural and far outside the norm.

Can you imagine Abraham trying to explain to his relatives? And, they might respond, “Okay, you’re leaving our home and family and livelihood, but where are you going? At least give us a clue so we can forward your mail.”

“I don’t know,” he might reply, “but God does. I don’t need to know, I just need to obey. God will show me the place and the people at the right time. He has told me what I need to know right now.”

He went, not knowing where he was going. And, God used Abraham’s trust-filled obedience in ways Abraham could never dream of.

“I will make of you a great nation...I will bless you and make your name great...You will be a blessing...and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Wowsa. What amazing and incredible promises!

Would those have been granted if Abraham had chosen his own path or decided to stay in Ur or Haran? Maybe not. True, Abraham later tampered with God’s agenda, but he didn’t derail it.

Yes, God’s plan for Abraham is different than the ones He has for you and I – but no less special or important or good.

Looking back, I don’t want those long-ago small, childish dreams. I want God to keep writing my story and leading the way and choosing my path.

His ways are the best.

You were made on purpose for a purpose. Seek the Author of your story.

(P.S. Check out the "quotables" on the right for some of my favorite quotes on this topic.)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Holy Week in Pictures

Last month I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the "Holy Land," namely Jordan and Israel. In this current Holy Week, I have reflected on the sites I visited, likely some of the very places that Jesus and His disciples walked.

Here are some glimpses of my journey, following Jesus' footsteps from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday.

"Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.  Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'
'Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!'
'Hosanna in the highest heaven!'
Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts." (Mark 11:8-11a)

Jerusalem's Eastern Gate - Built on top of the gate Jesus entered on Palm Sunday.

"It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him." (John 13:1, 4-5)

Believed to be the Upper Room of the Last Supper

"When He had finished praying, Jesus left with His disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and He and His disciples went into it." (John 18:1)

Looking across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives.
"Then Jesus went with His disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to them, 'Sit here while I go over there and pray.'...He went away a second time and prayed, 'My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.'” (Matthew 26:36, 42)

The Garden of Gethsemane

"Now Judas, who betrayed Him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with His disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to Him, went out and asked them, 'Who is it you want?' 'Jesus of Nazareth,' they replied.
'I am He,' Jesus said." (John 18:2-5a)

"Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome..." (Matthew 26:57-58)

After His garden arrest, the path on which Jesus was taken to High Priest Caiaphas' house.

A statue depicting Peter's denial near what is believed to be Caiaphas' house. (Note the rooster at the top of the column.)

"Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. 'You also were with Jesus of Galilee,' she said. But he denied it before them all...Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: 'Before the rooster crows, You will disown me three times.' And he went outside and wept bitterly." (Matthew 26:69a, 74b-75)

"They came to a place called Golgotha (which means 'the place of the skull'). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, He refused to drink it. When they had crucified Him, they divided up His clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over Him there. Above His head they placed the written charge against Him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS." (Matthew 27:32-37)

Golgotha - "The place of the skull." Believed to be named this because the indentations and formations of the rock made the cliff look like a face/skull.

Older photo of Golgotha, circa early 1900s, when the "face" was more prominent.

"Knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.' A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit." (John 19:28-30)

"Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus...At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there." (John 19:38a, 41-42)

A garden located right next to Golgotha and very possibly the garden once owned by Joseph of Arimathea.

The Garden Tomb.

"Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!'" (John 20:1-2)

"He is not here - He is alive!"

“'Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” (Luke 24:5b-7)

The Empty Tomb!

Sign on the door of the tomb.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
    He lives within my heart.

(Hymn: "I Serve a Risen Savior," by Alfred Henry Ackley)