Spiritual Musings on God’s Purpose and Sovereignty when Bill was selected for a “Random” Security Screening

When we were heading back to the USA out of Beijing earlier this month, our passports and boarding passes were checked a half-dozen times as we made our way through the airport. Everyone’s bags were scanned and checked and screened. Every person walked through a top-of-the-line high-tech scanner as well as being personally patted down (men by men and women by women) before being permitted to board the plane.

As Bill and I and some four-hundred others making the trip, lined up to enter the plane, Bill was one of a dozen passengers “randomly selected” to undergo an additional security check. Next to him was a small Asian woman whose husband and two young daughters were waiting for her. Then came a tall, slender black man, a large black woman, and a young middle-aged talkative white woman who was part of some kind of American women’s group, plus a handful more. There seemed no rhyme or reason to why they were selected.

Had they packed something suspicious? I suddenly remembered that Bill had a large camouflage-print battery-backup for his phone in his carry-on bag. Was that it?

Or was it something in his appearance? Bill is tall and thin with dark hair and a goatee. Hmm.

Maybe Bill wasn’t friendly enough. Maybe he asked too many questions.

There simply had to be some kind of reason for why he was selected for this additional security screening. And I wanted to know what it was!

When I was a teenager, I didn’t believe in the existence of the supernatural. All of life was a series of random chance. I didn’t believe in luck or blessing or karma.

Now I see life very differently.

Now I see everything in life as having purpose. I believe that I have been created on purpose, for a purpose, by a God of purpose. The events of my life have purpose, both for God’s glory, and for my good, as well as for the greater good of others in the God’s great plan of life.

So, if God selects me to go through a trial – whether that’s sickness or marital hardship or a wayward child – I see that trial through the lens of “PURPOSE.” I am now able to see that in some way a “seemingly random event” must have a purpose.

My faith is constantly being tested and refined. My faith is being proved genuine and made stronger. God is being glorified as I stand firm through a storm even if my knees are shaking beneath me.

Other people, too, are effected by the trials of my life, whether in how I directly treat them, or the witness that I’m able to be for Christ, or even as I write about an experience that I go through.

I’m afraid that sometimes I forget that God is at work behind the scenes and I end up feeling like I’ve been “randomly tagged,” like Bill felt that day. It’s all too easy for me to fall back into my former way of thinking and I find myself deep in the middle of a pity party when things don’t go my way, blind to the fact that God is at work both in the big stuff and the small stuff.

Friends, “we may not know WHY, and yet we know why,” as my pastor has reminded our congregation again and again since a dear fellow church member died in a house fire last Christmas.

How have you seen God at work lately?

Have you missed out on seeing purpose in the trials your life?

I’d love to pray for you. Let’s walk this road together.


Of Creativity and Power

This morning Daniel was supposed to list 15 things that show mankind’s creativity. He listed 15 different inventions like phones, lightbulbs, airplanes. I encouraged him to add other creative pursuits that are uniquely human, like art and music.

This afternoon, I was working on my Community Bible Study lesson on Genesis 1-2. We were to read Hebrews 11:3, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

Phones, lightbulbs and planes are made from physical matter.

Painting a picture requires paint and taking a picture requires a camera.

Making music requires an instrument or a human voice.

But God made the physical universe by the power of His spoken Word, creating what is visible out of the invisible that, “His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

God wants people to seek and know Him. Praise His name.

For more, read Acts 16:22-31, Romans 1 and Hebrews 11.

Who am I? – Of Relationship and Responsibility

Image result for overcomer movie who am i

Sunday morning, my pastor preached a fantastic sermon titled, “Relationship Comes with Responsibility.” You can listen to it online here:

Then, Tuesday night, I saw the new movie, “Overcomer.” The main character in the movie is a basketball coach and history teacher at his local Christian high school. Without giving too much away, he realizes that he is finding his identity in his job, rather than in his relationship with Christ.  The other main character, a teenage girl named Hannah, is amazed when she learns who she is in Christ while reading Ephesians 1-2 in the Bible. Hannah realizes that as a child of God, she is loved, redeemed and forgiven.

So … What about ME? Who am I … and how, then, should I live?

  • I am a created being, created in the image of God, on purpose, for a purpose … so I should live daily with purpose and hope.
  • I am a disciple of Jesus, called to make more disciples of Jesus … so I should intentionally study God’s Word and share the gospel with others.
  • I am a forgiven and redeemed child of God … so I should forgive others and help them to be reconciled with God, too.

But, my relationship with God is not my only role in life. God has given other relationships, roles and responsibilities as well.

  • I am a wife … so my husband should be a priority in my life.
  • I am a homemaker … so I should clean my house and cook dinner for my family.
  • I am a mother … so I should love and disciple my children with diligence.
  • I am a homeschooler … so I should faithfully teach and train my children in the way they should go.

Like many Christians, I can tend to overemphasize one area of my life and overlook another one.

Yes, indeed, my identity is found in Christ.

  • Who am I? I am a forgiven child of God.
  • Who am I? I am His workmanship, created on purpose for a purpose.
  • Who am I? I am a disciple of Jesus, called to make more disciples.

But, I am also a wife, homemaker, mother and homeschooler to the glory of God. These titles, too, have value and worth.

May everything I do be done to the praise of God who created me, saved me, and redeemed me … and gave me a home and a husband and children.

Having a Gluten-Free Child as a Homeschooling Mom

Do any of you love food? When you’re having a bad day, do you want to head for the pantry? When you want to celebrate, do you head for your local ice cream shop? My answers are: yes, yes, yes – How about you?

In the fall of 2015, when my middle daughter was 12, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid condition called, “Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis” and began a gluten-free, dairy-limited lifestyle. This year she was diagnosed with autoimmune urticaria (chronic hives). My husband, too, has an autoimmune condition called, “Eosinophilic Esophagitis,” which he chooses to manage with acid reducers and allergy medicine. In May of 2016, I tried a modified diet called “Whole 30,” but have largely returned to regular eating except with less sugar and grains. You can read more about it here: Matthew 4:4 – Not Bread Alone and here: My Whole30 Tips

I hope I can help others with some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past four years of trial and error.

1. Don’t overlook the emotional impact that dietary restrictions have on your child. Food is a big part of our culture, and eating gluten free has consequences deeper than just bringing our own desserts when we go to potlucks. Noelle misses the food that she’s no longer able to eat, but she also hates being “the one” who needs gluten free pizza or who can’t eat Taco Bell tacos.

2. Plan for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Fresh fruit and fruit cups are great. So are guacamole with tortilla chips. Make extra dinner for leftovers that you can package in individual tupperwares for breakfast or lunch meals. Keep yogurt and deli meat on hand for a quick pick-me-up.

3. Encourage your child to get creative in the kitchen. Noelle has learned to make all kinds of creative dishes for herself. We have a weekly “cooking competition” for lunch. Some of her experiments have turned out GREAT and become regular favorites (crustless peach pie with a chocolate chip granola topping and chocolate dipped bananas to name a few).

4. Let your child make some of their own choices. Honestly, it would probably be better for Noelle if she didn’t eat any dairy or eggs or nuts, but until she’s ready to make that jump for herself, that is one battle that I’m not going to fight. It’s too hard for her, and, frankly, it’s too hard for me. Noelle knows how to add things to my “Walmart Grocery app” and she’ll add a gluten-free cookie that she’s craving or a salad bowl that she’d like to have for lunch. This allows her to have some control over her diet that she can’t have in other ways.

5. Be careful with your substitutions. In my attempts to avoid dairy, I substituted almond or cashew milk. In my attempts to avoid peanut butter, I substituted almond or cashew butter. In my attempts to avoid wheat flour, I substituted almond flour. In my attempts to avoid sugary snacks, I substituted roasted almonds or cashews. Bad idea. 😦 Noelle developed a sensitivity to almonds and cashews from eating them everyday, several times a day. Rotate your food choices.

6. Pray for understanding friends for your child. Incredibly, God has blessed Noelle with her own little group of “gluten-free friends.” For as much as she hates being different, I’m so thankful that she’s not alone in this. She isn’t the only one at youth group who can’t eat the regular retreat food.

Would you like to see my list of regular dinner meals?

How about my recipes for the BEST chocolate chip cookies (made with almond flour), or DELICIOUS banana chocolate chip muffins (made with Pamela’s baking mix)?

Exegesis or Eisegesis – in relationships???

Image result for exegesis or eisegesis

I hope y’all will bear with me for a minute while I think through something in writing. Do any of you think better in writing, too?

My pastor has tried several times to explain the difference between the biblical interpretation terms, “exegesis” and “eisegesis.” (Maybe these words are new to you — they were to me!) Exegesis involves looking deeply into the text to discover what God is communicating to us, while eisegesis involves bringing our own ideas to the Bible and then looking for evidence to support it. My pastor has often warned us not to have an idea that “seems right” to us and then dig a verse out of context to “prove it.” For example, using “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” to justify a whole laundry list of activities might be an example of “eisegesis.”

Last week, I started thinking about how I can be guilty of “eisegesis” in my relationships. I can let my own ideas and biases color how I interpret my loved one’s actions.

Let’s say, I’m feeling neglected and unloved by my husband, and he fails to let me know that he’s going to be late getting home from work. The thoughts in my head go something like this: “He’s so thoughtless. He doesn’t care about my feelings one bit. He always acts like this.”

But, if my love-cup is full and I’m feeling like my husband adores me, then when he fails to let me know that he’s going to be late getting home from work, I think, “Poor guy. He must be caught in the middle of a long phone call at work. I should shoot him a quick text to see how he’s doing.”

How about if I’m feeling like my daughter doesn’t like me. Envy quickly rears its ugly head and I start blaming my ugly feelings on her. When she tells me about a long conversation she had with a friend of hers, my mind starts whirling. “She always makes time for other people in her life, but never seems to have time for me. She is so inconsiderate … and after all I’ve done for her.”

But, if we’ve been spending regular sweet time together, then my thoughts take a totally different spin. Instead I think, “Thank you, Father, for giving Emily such a good friend that she can do life with. Thank you for answering my prayers. I am so blessed!”

Here’s the thing: truth is truth, and feelings are feelings. But feelings should never be the basis for truth. We have to carefully test our feelings in light of the truth. Our feelings change moment by moment, but truth remains the same.

We should approach both the scriptures, and our relationships, with what is true. The truth is that our battle isn’t against flesh and blood. The truth is that we should carefully renew our minds in light of the truth.

The truth is that God loves me and has good plans for me.

The truth is that God is sovereign and at work even in hard situations.

The truth is that my husband loves me, my children love me and I love my husband and my children.

The truth is that I am a sinner saved by God’s grace and I am prone to think selfish thoughts.

The truth is that love is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast. It is not proud or rude. And God wants me to pour out His love on others.

The truth is that God loved me while I was still a sinner, so as the chief of sinners, I can love others with the love God has lavished on me.

How do you need to remind yourself of what is true and discern rightly the relationships you’re in? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Witnesses for Jesus

This week as I’m reading through John chapter 5:30-40, I noticed the words “witness” and “testimony” over and over again.

“I [Jesus] can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:30-40 ESV)

When a word or idea is used repeatedly, it catches my attention. In looking on my Blue Letter Bible app, I easily discovered that both the noun and verb here have the same root from where we get our English word, “martyr.” [“martyreo” (verb), means: “to bear witness, i.e. to affirm that one has seen or heard or experienced something, or that he knows it because taught by divine revelation or inspiration, while “martyria” (noun) means “what one testifies, testimony, i.e., before a judge.”]

In looking again at this passage, I notice that Jesus admits that if He alone bore witness about Himself, then we wouldn’t be expected to trust Him. (John 5:31)

This reminds me of a recent comment by a parent of one of my VIPKID students. She said that she couldn’t trust a teacher’s own biographical comments, because they said it about themselves. Rather, she wants to read comments by other parents who have taken classes with that teacher.

She wants to hear the testimony of other witnesses because it’s hard for her to trust an unknown teacher’s self-proclaimed praise.

God knew that people would feel this way. In fact, we ought to doubt people who sing their own praise. So, in God’s great mercy, He provided four additional witnesses about Jesus.

  • John the baptizer bore witness about Jesus. (John 5:33)
  • Jesus’s works bore witness about Jesus. (John 5:36)
  • God the Father bore witness about Jesus. (John 5:37)
  • The Scriptures bore witness about Jesus. (John 5:39)

But now, let’s look at an additional witness about Jesus that God has prepared: His followers. Look with me at Acts 1:8

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

God desired for the 1st century disciples of Jesus to go out as His witnesses to what they had seen with their eyes, heard with their ears, and believed with their hearts. And God desires for us as 21st century disciples of Jesus to go out as His witnesses to what we have seen with our eyes, heard with our ears and believed with our hearts.

If you’d like to study this topic more, try visiting www.BlueLetterBible.org and searching for “witness*” in the New Testament. Or Click HERE – I’ve done the work for you. 🙂

If you’d like to read my own eyewitness testimony of coming to faith in Jesus, I’d love for you to get a copy of my new book, God is Real: The Eyewitness Testimony of a Former Atheist. You can buy it on Amazon in paperback or Kindle, or order it at your local bookstore.

If you’d like some help in how to share your testimony, I’d love to help you! Leave me a comment below.

Take It Away

This week I’ve been reading through the book of John. Each chapter I ask 4 questions: What do I learn about God? What do I learn about man? Are there any sins to avoid? Are there any examples or commands to follow? I also choose one verse (or more) to write down and study more. On Thursday, I chose John 1:29, where John the Baptizer sees Jesus coming and exclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

In studying this verse I gained a deeper understanding of what Jesus taking away the sins of the world really means. In my mind, Jesus “taking away” the world’s sins looked a lot like a waiter “taking away” my dirty dishes after I’d finished eating, or “taking away” a particular cold soup that didn’t meet with my approval. Or maybe even like a judge commanding the bailiff to “take away” an unruly prisoner.

Instead, this verse uses the Greek word, “airo” (“take upon one’s self and carry what has been raised up, to bear”) which is also found in Matthew 11:29, where I’m told to take Jesus’s yoke upon myself, and Matthew 27:32 where Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry Jesus’s cross. Jesus Himself uses this word in John 5:8, where he tells the invalid to “take up your bed and walk.”

Jesus did more than “send our sins away.”

Jesus didn’t just “throw our sins in the trash” or tell someone else to “take our sins away.”

Jesus, the Lamb of God, “took our sins away” Himself. He bore our sins in our place, taking them upon Himself on the cross.

“When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14 (NASB)

Please join me in praising God anew for sending Jesus to take away your sin through faith in His only Son.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23 ESV

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8 ESV

“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” – 2 Corinthians 9:15 ESV