Souvenirs for the Soul: The Testimony of God Shows Up in Unexpected Places

In my pre-waking moments, I thought I was on a subway again. I’d been in the country only a few days, and with my group of journeymen missionaries had ridden several trains and subways, touring the city as we acclimated to the culture. Awakened long before my alarm rang, I thought someone was shaking my bed. My eyes rolled open to realize my bed was indeed shaking though no one was near it.

I sat straight up wondering,

“Is this an earthquake? …

We’re rocking, not rumbling. What am I supposed to do when there’s an earthquake?” My roommate and I sat dumbly blinking at each other. But when after only a few seconds the swaying stopped, we both returned to sleep for another hour.

“Welcome to Japan,” our orientation leader said a few hours later. It was the first, and strongest (6.1 on the Richter scale), of innumerable earthquakes I would experience over the next two years.

I had gone to Japan because I wanted to know what parts of the gospel resonated with a culture far different from my own.

Though I had a job to do, teaching English and working in a church, personally, I was there to expand my understanding of the God I loved. Obviously, I can’t share it all in a single blog. But I can share some of the highlights.

SONY DSC1. Japan is a group-oriented culture. They seek to not stand out as individuals. So in their churches, unity is a must. They never do anything significant without 100% agreement. We Americans have a lot to learn from them about surrendering our individual agendas (uh-hum … pet preferences) for the sake of the body.

July 24 - kiwihug on unsplash

2. When I served there in 1988 and 1989, less than one percent of Japan’s population was Christian. What I loved about this was that people weren’t afraid to ask real questions. Questions I tended to either ignore because they’re too scary to delve into (in case I might change my mind about my faith), or questions I took for granted because that’s what I had been taught and it hadn’t occurred to me to challenge those teachings. I grew to love digging into the Bible and into my own suppositions to solidify what was Biblical truth and what I could set aside. (photo courtesy of kiwihug on unsplash)

 

3. Whenever you visited anyone, you always brought a gift. Always. What a sweet gesture of appreciation! I wish I would remember to do this more often now.

July 24 - boots off

4. You’re probably quite familiar with the Japanese practice of taking shoes off at the door when you enter a home (and even churches and other places). In fact, other countries, and in many northern states (because sloppiness sticks to your shoes in the spring when snow melts), this same practice is observed. When I taught the gospel to a group of Japanese ladies, the removal of dirty shoes served as a great picture of our sin being removed before entering the holy presence of God.

What’s cool about the Japanese, is that the host always has slippers for you to wear so your feet don’t get cold. I suppose this, too, is a picture of God’s grace—clothing us in His righteousness.

July 24 gideon-peter-caringal-2389955. The Shinto shrine’s layout is very similar to the Old Testament tabernacle. Now isn’t that interesting? Japan for thousands of years has prided itself on its autonomy, and yet they built their places of worship with strong similarities to the instructions found in the Bible. How did that happen? (photo courtesy of Gideon Peter Caringal on unsplash, and of the very shrine I visited in the area of Tokyo where I lived)

Now hear me carefully. I’m not a universalist. I believe there’s no god or religion founder who came close to doing what Jesus did for us. None died for the world but Jesus. None rose from the grave but Jesus. None sent His Spirit to live with us but Jesus. This sets Jesus apart, and far above, any other.

But the Japanese shrines, to me, were prime examples of what Paul said:

“… what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, …” (Romans 1:19-20, NKJV)?

So, if God has made himself known to an autonomous island country, has He not also made himself clearly known to people of other cultures? What about the culture your child/ren came from? Maybe this is how we can reach them with the love of God.

Souvenir for the Soul:

Start with what’s familiar to them that reflects the character of God and His salvation story, and build on that.

July 24 Foundational Awareness of God

Because it’s true that …

The earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord,
At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
The heavens declare His righteousness,
And all the peoples see His glory.

Psalm 97:4-7 (NKJV)

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Remarkable Faith

I’m in the middle of a first time experience, and I’m loving it. I have the privilege of serving on Shauna Lettelier’s launch team for her book …

Remarkable Faith: When Jesus Marvels at the Faith of Unremarkable People

… to be released July 11th. And here’s the cool thing: Shauna has also been a nonbiological mom.

The last Monday of every month this year, I’ve featured a guest blogger. Today I’m doing that a little differently. I thought it would be fun if I interviewed Shauna so she could share directly with you how being a nonbiological mom helped her discover Remarkable Faith. You’ll be touched by her all-too-familiar story and the beautiful way God redeemed a difficult time in her life.

June 26 Shauna Letellier Remarkable Faith is a Braided ...

Tell us about your experience as a nonbiological mom.

We had the privilege of fostering two little girls for 16 months. They came to us when they were 16 months and 2.5 years, joining our three biological boys ages 7, 6, and 5, and making us a family of seven!

What were your greatest struggles in parenting these children?

My greatest struggles were mostly internal and spiritual. I could not understand why it was so hard. If God had called us to it, (and we believed he did), if his heart beats for the orphan and widow in their distress, why on earth was I constantly on the edge of panic and out of patience with everyone in my family. In my estimation I was messing up all the most important things I had hoped to do so well.

Wow, does that ever sound familiar!

I felt like I was parenting en-mass. They became a little group of people I had to shuffle from here to there. I had to run them through the tub one at a time like a machine. I fed and washed them all, and in between the shuffling, bathing and washing, I was sprinting towards the next event, trying to stay ahead of their needs. And if for one second I took my hand off, closed my eyes, failed to plan ahead, a dam of unmet needs would break on me and it would take days to recover from the fatigue, fits, and fallout. I learned to never get behind. It led to living life in a state of low grade panic, with no time or energy for relationships with the children, or others.

What did God teach you in this experience?

God taught me so many things. He will grant what he requires. And so often we think he requires more than he actually does. Does he require moms to make a certain kind of meal? To keep a certain kind of schedule?

Sometimes I wonder if our journey in foster care was more about God teaching and taking care of me than it was about me teaching and taking care of children.

I had worked so hard at something so important. And for various reasons I felt like I had failed. I figured God was probably disappointed with me.

But he showed me through his word that faith is less about doing and more about depending on Him.

June 26 Shauna Letellier Remarkable Faith is Not Performing

How does this experience tie into your book Remarkable Faith?

I wasn’t homeschooling. I wasn’t a single parent. Each of our five kiddos had unique and individual needs, but none that were medically or developmentally urgent. I wasn’t helping refugees overseas. I wasn’t building orphanages.

Many of my friends were doing much harder things and I was barely making it to church. And it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the free childcare provided by the nursery and Sunday school teachers may have been my main reason for attending church. “Everyone else” was performing remarkable acts of faith and ministry, and I could barely fix supper.

I began to wonder…

If my faith was pleasing to God, wouldn’t this come easier?
My “acts of faith” are nothing compared to so-and-so. Maybe my faith is second-rate?
If I’m feeling so desperate all the time, maybe I don’t have faith.

I picked up my Bible and discovered something remarkable. When Jesus spoke with his chosen disciples about their faith, he said they were faithless and twisted (see Matthew 17:17, NIV). More than once he exclaimed, “O you of little faith!” But there were others in the gospels whose faith Jesus noticed and commended. He saw their faith, remarked about it, and was even astonished by it!

But here’s the funny thing. We don’t know their names. We only know them because of their sickness, tragedy, and sordid histories. Jesus not only knew them by name, he knew their suffering, and saw great faith in the midst of it.

And if he commended these nameless examples of faith, then maybe mine wasn’t a disappointment to him after all. In each story I discovered that perhaps the most remarkable act of faith is to unreservedly carry our inadequacies to Jesus and trust Him to transform our weakness into worship. Remarkable faith is depending on Christ, not performing for him.

The unlikely examples of faith were so fascinating that I retold them in a series of eight biblical vignettes. Each one weaves history, theology, and fictional detail into their biblical accounts to bring a new perspective to those whose faith feels unremarkable. Those eight stories became my book.

June 26 Shauna Letellier_RemarkableFaith book cover

Thank you, Shauna, for taking time in the midst of a crazy launch season to answer my questions.

What an encouragement your words are for us. How comforting to realize that we too can be women of #remarkable faith.

Friends, I rarely find books I recommend, especially on my blog, because I’m picky that they contain rich content and are well-written. I can say with absolute certainty that Remarkable Faith is worth having. To learn how to pre-order click ⇒ Remarkable Faith. If you order before July 10, you’ll also receive a Bible study guide and other free gifts.


June 26 Shauna Head shotShauna Letellier enjoys weaving strands of history, theology, and fictional detail into a fresh retelling of familiar Bible stories. She draws upon her Bachelors degree in Biblical Studies from Grace University in Omaha, Nebraska, as well as a variety of Bible commentaries to drape the fabric fiction over the framework of Scripture. Shauna is a self-proclaimed expert second-guesser but finds certainty in knowing Jesus Christ. She blogs about finding rest and relief in Him at ⇒ Shauna Letellier. With her husband Kurt, she has the wild and hilarious privilege of raising their three boys along the banks of the Missouri River where they fish, swim, and rush off to ballgames.

Jesus: The Perpetual Gift

How could it be past Christmas day and I’ve not yet mentioned Jesus—the greatest gift of all? But then, how can I even begin to describe Him?

Yet it’s Jesus alone who carried me through the turmoil of raising SAFE* children.

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When a friend—a married man—got to know my daughter a little too well, I implored the Lion of Judah to devour that man. However when I looked in Scripture at the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, I discovered the Lion is actually the Lamb—the Lamb that was slain (Revelation 5:1-6). He’s who made salvation possible, not just for me, but for this man as well. The Lion who is the Lamb, offers mercy to every human—hideously naughty or sugary nice.

When my only perfect child took a giant step into the abyss, and my world seemed dark, I discovered the Bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16). You know what? That Star not only shows up in the morning after the long dark night, that star is actually the first to appear in the sky at the beginning of night and is visible all night long. Hope, even when it appears small, never abandons us.

When my children seemed to turn against me, I sunk deep into Immanuel, God with me (Matthew 1:23). I sheltered under the shadow of His wing (Psalm 91). He was the no-man’s-land that placed Himself between me and my enemies. But He also reminded me that though I had a very real and angry enemy, it was not my kids (Ephesians 6:12).

When others misjudged me, He reminded me that He Himself was my vindication (Psalm 17:2). And you know what, He handled all the judges just fine. Most who thought they could do better than we did, at some point had one of our children living with them. Each one came back later to say they now understood our decisions. None of them allowed our children to live in their homes longer than a few months.

When I messed up—over and over and over—He reminded me that He was my salvation (Psalm 18:2).

When I fell far short of meeting my children’s deepest needs, He assured me that He is the Father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5).

  • Lion of the Tribe of Judah
  • Lamb Who was Slain
  • Bright Morning Star
  • Immanuel
  • Shelter
  • Vindication
  • Savior
  • Father to the Fatherless

‘Tis true, Jesus is the most exquisite gift we treasure each Christmas: wrapped in babe-like innocence, cooing the purest peace, shining with inextinguishable love, assuring eternal hope, and reigniting the joy of our salvation. But He’s also the sacrificial Lamb: a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He enters our struggles and becomes, in Himself, the fulfillment of our every need.

He’s the never-ending gift for today, tomorrow, and every tomorrow that follows. Even when it feels like crucifixion Friday or deep-in-the-grave Saturday …

december-26-2016-every-day-is-christmas

In the year to come, I encourage you to frequently make time to grasp the snow-globe of this good news and give it a little shake. Take just a few moments to gaze at the truths encased in the God-made-flesh scene, and remind yourself that God is always present and mighty to save.

*Step/Adoptive/Foster/Every other nonbiological