“It is only an appreciation of His love that can motivate genuine obedience.” -Elyse Fitzpatrick
I was teaching my Sunday school babies this past weekend our first lesson in the series, “What’s in the Bible?” I did an overview of what the Bible is, who wrote it, how many books and chapters it contains, etc. The pre-teen boys in my class snickered and elbowed one another when I compared God’s word written for us to a letter penned by a husband living in a faraway country — a well-understood concept here — to his great love back home.
In this letter, He explains His love for us in great detail. He shows us through the acts of love He recounts to us. He tells us He will be coming back to take us home with Him so we can live out our heavenly ever after with Him for all eternity. He tells us who He is and what He is like. We gain confidence as we learn more of His great love for us, and we are inspired to faithfulness and to obedience. We are motivated to move towards Him in love and towards others in showing His love.
But the greatest part? He’s not far away. He’s right here with us as we wait for Him to sweep us up to spend our days praising Him for all the goodness He embodies. He is love, and He is with us every day and every step of the way. We love Him because He loves us so well, and He empowers and enables us to obey Him as we respond to Him. His perfect love obliterates our fear to live a life loving Him back.
I hope my babies at home and in my Sunday school class — which strangely enough is on Saturdays — will understand it. I wish with all my heart they will open up the letter and read it for themselves. That they will see the heart of our personal God who desires to have an intimate relationship with each one of us, wretched as we may be.
Until then, I’ll keep telling them. And I better keep telling myself, too. I want to obey Him with all my heart, and that starts in within my heart where I’m instructed to dwell in His love.
And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. (John 4:16-19).
Celebrating birthdays overseas requires early morning Facetime calls complete with birthday hats on both ends. My mom is great about sending a “birthday in a box” which includes decorations, cakes, and gifts for the birthday boy or girl.
While it is not typical or traditional, this time is treasured. It is special in its own way. The extra planning, financial sacrifice, and intentionality required of the whole thing speaks to my heart in a way that a Wal-mart spree or a more convenient birthday party ever could.
I’m thankful my son’s birthday falls before Christmas, and I got this reminder right as the memories of holidays at home began to weigh heavy on my heart. We do what we can. We make the most of each opportunity to spread cheer across oceans or across the street. And the time is sweet.
Whatever God calls us to this year, I pray we would steward it for His glory by His grace. If trial trumps tradition, may He carry us through these days with His mighty love. Whether we are pouring ourselves our for others or find ourselves on the receiving end of acts of service, may we know that we know that we know we are treasured by the Lord.
When I walk around this city, I carry with me an unrelenting awareness that I am different. Even though I’ve learned this language and have adapted to the culture in many ways, I still speak differently and do a million and one things differently from the way I dress or wear my hair, relate to my husband, and raise my kids. With the Christmas season upon us, that awareness has become stark and severe.
I don’t want to be different, but since that is inescapable I will say this: I don’t want to be different because of my skin or my hair, the way I celebrate holidays, or make my home. I want to be different because I am a woman that loves and fears God. I want to be different because His name is continually on my lips, sharing what He has done for me and that His love is big enough for the whole lot of us. I want to be different because the focus of my life is Jesus Christ.
But I don’t want to remain different for long. I long to see God change this country and change the people I love and live each day with. Not to be more like me but to be more like Him.
Earlier this week, I ran out of money after helping a friend out at the airport. Unfortunately, taxi drivers in Kathmandu don’t take Visa. I had a taxi take me from the airport to my husband’s office at the church, so he could bail me out of my predicament. He willingly obliged and didn’t seem terribly put off by me hanging around for the afternoon. He and ‘his guys’ (men training in ministry) spun a bizarre story about something I needed to see in the back room. One of them even took a video as I stretched out one leg to open the door and kept my eyes half-shut. I almost believed their story of a caged rat the size of a dog, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to see in there.
Instead of a scary beast, I saw a great gift my husband had been hiding away for me. They had been working on remodeling my Sunday school “room” which wasn’t really a room at all but was more like a giant storage space with all kinds of things little ones should not get into. Tears welled up in my eyes because I’m an emotional lady these days and because I was just so relieved. We aren’t big on romantic gestures and gifts on holidays, but this made me know I had been heard by my husband and he cares about my needs as I labor with him in ministry.
I said to him, “You know this won’t make me a better Sunday school teacher.” In a snap, my insecurities crept in to steal the goodness from this moment. I am not a natural-born teacher. I’m not even really great with kids outside of my own family. It is a challenge for me every week to get up there and teach — and in my second language, no less.
But my insecurities are not and cannot be an excuse to not do my best. Even if I think my best may not be good enough, my best can meet these kids where they are with hugs and candy, names-remembered and simple-truths taught. I may not create killer lessons that others would copy, but I can create opportunities to influence little lives. I can spur smiles and laughs and teaching moments — even if I’m not the best teacher.
My other excuse, my lame Sunday school room is history. May my enduring excuse of insecurity finally be history, too.
I smell burning incense in the air, hear rhythmic chanting and ringing bells, and step over shrines set out for the goddess of wealth. Our people miss services to visit family and not one visitor darkens the doors of our church plant. We have to have conversations with our oldest about religion and culture — things I truly haven’t wrapped my head all the way around yet. For those who don’t celebrate like Hindus, this festival season can be a very discouraging or depressing time. The darkness is real and overwhelming.
It’s so easy to dwell on the darkness, but God calls me to look into the Light. In the book of John, Jesus is called the Light. When it seems darkness is all around me, I have to remain focused on Jesus and let His light shine into my life. It shows me all the graces of God and the good that is present among the darkness. Yes, it’s a difficult time in this country for believers. But when I choose to celebrate small, I see how God has changed people from this time last year until this year’s festival. I see boldness and beauty and opportunity. I see a nation lost in darkness but loved by God. When I see the Light, I see all these good things.
I think of times as a child when I would deny myself water or a bathroom break because I feared the dark. I thought something would snatch me from under my bed if my feet touched the floor! In the same way, fear of the darkness of the world can render me useless as I hide from it. I can stock up on our necessities, and shut our doors and windows, and play Christian hymns at eardrum-busting volumes to drown out the happenings outside….
OR I can remember that God is Light, and He lives in me. What good is the light in me if I’m not shining it into dark places? Of course, this doesn’t mean I am joining the Hindus in idol worship, but it does mean I’m not afraid to walk around my neighborhood and enjoy the sight of hanging lights. It means I sit with a friend and eat the traditional meal as she teaches me about the history and customs that make this time of year special for her. It means obedience to share my light.
Now more than ever, my fear of God has to outweigh my fear of darkness. My praise must outdo my pity. My trust must surpass my trepidation. And how can any of this be? Because my Light outshines the darkness.
How can you let your Light shine in the darkness around you?