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)

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.

Souvenirs for the Soul: Lessons Learned on Summer Vacations

Ah, the summers of my childhood.

Raised in a typical middle-class home, my parents somehow managed to take our family to new places across the country. Camping on Minnesota lakes. Visiting friends in the Missouri Ozarks. Stopping at the painted dessert, petrified forest, white sands, and the Grand Canyon, enroute to extended family in Arizona. I’ve a bucketful of memories from up-close-and-personal interactions with America the Beautiful.

My husband also enjoyed childhood opportunities to experience life beyond his home town. His parents took him to amazing places in the Northwest such as the Oregon coast, Crater Lake, and Yellowstone National Park.

So it’s no surprise we wanted to pass similar experiences on to our children as well. We are so blessed in this country with breath-taking panoramas, incredible histories, and opportunities to interact with both. I’m grateful our family has been able to experience so much of it together.

Jun 5 Travel

Bryce Canyon, Utah 2001

Father God loves it when we experience new people and places.

He gets to show us a new dimension to His creative powers and His love for mankind. In fact, as I’ve reflected on some of the places I’ve visited, I can think of several lessons God has taught me.

We don’t plan to travel this summer. As empty-nesters we have the privilege of avoiding the summer crowds, heat, gas prices, and bugs. But I thought it would be fun to share about some of the places I’ve visited over the years and the fun little treasures God has shown me along the way.

I’m titling this summer series Souvenirs for the Soul. I look forward to reliving some memories as I share them with you.

But you know what else I love?

I love to go places vicariously through other travelers.

I love the free ride their pictures and stories provide. Whether to the neighborhood pool or to the other side of the world, please, please, please, may I join you? All you have to do is share your pictures and stories in the comment section.

Oh, and this summer as you go, keep your eyes open to little lessons God has for you. In fact,

To give you an idea

… of what I’m talking about, let me share a quick lesson with you.

It was the summer before my senior year in college. I was actually by myself and it wasn’t a vacation. I was on the longest airplane ride I’d taken so far in my life, heading from Des Moines, IA to Anchorage, AK, where I was going to serve as a summer missionary. A couple hours into the flight I looked out my window and saw a view of endless, rugged, massive snow-covered mountains. The Yukon Mountains. I grew a bit spooked—thinking if this plane goes down in those mountains, we’ll never be found.

Before my imagination could spark a panic attack, I chose to focus on the beauty beneath me. I chose to allow utter awe to seep in deep. Total amazement at God’s incredible handiwork. Then God whispered a sweet little message into my soul. A message I turned and shared with the gentleman sitting next to me.

Isn’t this view spectacular? Such a testimony of God’s creative genius and ability. But the Bible says that when God created this He looked at it and called it merely “good”. Yet when He looked at the earth after He created man, He called it “very good”. We are the pinnacle of His creation. His prize. Wow! Isn’t it great to know we are valued that much? Loved that much?

If you find yourselves in places of breath-taking splendor this summer,

… remind yourself that to your Creator, you are even more captivating. You are so much so, that you were worth His laying down His life so He could bring you back to Himself.

June 5 Captivating.

Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
Genesis 1:31, NKJV

Arise, Darling! Winter is Over!

We only have one that pops up in our garden each spring. But it only takes one to make me squeal like a three-year-old …

“Look! The daffodil has bloomed!”

Daffodils are one of my favorites. They are the first to bloom around here. With their perky heads and sunny faces, they trumpet promises of warmth and renewal.

2017 May 22 Daffodil

Photo courtesy of Aaron Burden @ Unsplash

God’s promises are like that, too. They trumpet hope like water in the desert, color after a long grey winter, warmth after a bone-deep chill, the beginning of a new productive season. God’s promises are like that because like the flowers we count on to bloom every spring, so God is unchanging and faithful. We can count on His promises because we can count on Him.

Yes, His promises reveal much about His character:

He’s not slow—He’s patient.
He’s bigger than any giant—and He uses the subtlest weapons.
There’s hope beyond our current difficulties—He’s with us in our difficulties.
There’s always a bigger picture—an eternal purpose.

But did you know …

His promises also reveal much about our character?

May 22 God's promises are meaningless unless they've been tested.

For example:

His promise to never leave us or abandon us (Hebrews 13:5) doesn’t much matter until we’re in a place where He seems to have vanished. We can’t see Him, hear Him, or feel Him. It’s at this point we have to discover if we trust Him even then. It’s at this point we have a choice: to let our trust grow or falter.

What about His promise to prosper us and not harm us, to give us a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11)? Do we look at our future through the lens of our circumstances today or through His Word?

Then there’s His promise that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). How many times have we allowed death or life, principalities or powers, present circumstances or fear of the future, convince us otherwise?

Oh, and the one we all think we’ve passed when in truth we have failed over and over. Whoever believes in Jesus will have everlasting life (John 3:16). How many times have we acted as if our salvation depended on our performance—as if it’s something to be earned?

And there’s other promises we often fail to believe when tested. I can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13). He will supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19). The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). And how about, He will give life to our mortal bodies (Romans 8:11)?

I find that it’s easy to perk up when we recite God’s promises—that is until those …

promises experience a hard freeze.

And for me, mothering unattached children frequently blew the door wide open to wintry blasts. But you know what? Though I doubted, I clung like crazy to God’s promises.

I’d like to say those promises have evolved over the years. The way they materialized in the end sure looked a lot differently than I expected at the beginning. But the truth is, the promises didn’t change. My understanding of them did. My mind—my heart—is what has been transformed. And I can tell you now, the scent of those promises is much sweeter than I ever imagined.

So what’s popped up in your garden this spring?

Have you considered

… the effort it took for that sprout to push through the soil? Have you pondered what it might be like to endure a long, cold winter, buried in darkness? Do you realize that near death had to happen for new life to grow?

Oh, but you’ve experienced these things haven’t you? Yes, me, too. And that’s why we take the time to stop, gaze, touch, inhale deeply, and praise the Creator as we see His promises blossom into new life before us.

Like Solomon,

Jesus invites us to enter His spring.

May we follow.

 

“Arise, my darling,
    my beautiful one, come with me.
See! The winter is past;
    the rains are over and gone.
Flowers [daffodils?] appear on the earth;
    the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
    is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
    the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
    my beautiful one, come with me.”

Song of Songs 2:10-13, NIV

When God Seems to Take His Sweet Little Ol’ Time

She was barren, this wife of his youth. Barren throughout her child-bearing years, and well beyond the cessation of her cycling. And THEN God tells him he will be father to a great nation (Genesis 12:2).

What would have gone through your mind if God had made such a promise to you?

May 8 Questions

{Photo courtesy of Evan Dennis @ Unsplash}

I think I would have looked around, trying to figure out who God was really talking to. And it would have been just like me to attempt to take responsibility for fulfilling this promise—and found another vessel to bear my seed. I certainly would have questioned my sanity—and maybe even God’s reliability—as year after year (twenty-five, actually) flew by, with me and the mother of this promised child quickly approaching the God-determined “ending of our years” age of 120.

But God’s promises are like that, aren’t they?

Given, and then left to marinate while we wait, and wait, and doubt, and fume. We question what we heard, or if we had done something to cause God to renege on His promise. We wonder if we’re supposed to DO something ourselves to make it happen. Over time, weariness of faith fogs our vision. In fact, this fog often prevents us from seeing the ways God is actually fulfilling His Word.

But promises from God require childlike faith from us. Trust that behind God’s promises is God’s character.

May 8 God's promisesare backedbyGod's character.

 “God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent;
Has He said, and will He not do it?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”

Numbers 23:19, NASB

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23, NASB

What has God promised you?

If He is God, and He has promised, then He will be faithful.

“Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.”
Psalm 27:14 NASB

“Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him;
… Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.
… But those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.”
Psalm 37:7-9 NASB

I Often Don’t Like Easter Services

I often don’t like Easter services.

I don’t. I like parts of the service—usually. But I often come away less than satisfied.

The Easter story is packed with lessons:

The prophecies of Passover fulfilled
“Not my will but Yours”
Peter denying Christ
Christ bearing the punishment for our sins
By Christ’s stripes we are healed
The crushing of Satan’s head
Light in our deepest darkness
The defeat of death and the grave
Eternal hope
And so on, and so on, and …

It must be rather difficult for preachers to decide what to focus on. Most usually choose a topic that will speak to those who rarely attend church. (I think that’s a great idea.) And for those who want to break the story into meditation-size pieces, many churches offer several services the week preceding Easter Sunday. (Another great idea.)

But if I was the one planning the Resurrection Sunday service …

Continue reading “I Often Don’t Like Easter Services”

Calling the Monsters Out

We sat around a beautiful hardwood dining room table.

Six of us with stomachs stuffed full of egg casserole, muffins, and fruit. A vase of flowers and a tempting dish of m&ms remained on the table. Our china cups recently refilled with fresh coffee. We met like this monthly, each woman sharing updates on the progress—or lack thereof—of her children.

0410 brooke-lark-96402photo courtesy of Brooke Lark @ Unsplash

One mom shared of the ways her near-adult son was taking advantage of her and her husband’s generosity. Disrespecting. Deceiving. Demanding. Where should she draw the line? How could she protect her sanity while trying to keep peace in the home? What should she do about her husband who continuously gave in to the demands?

I finally asked her,

What is it you fear the most?

Continue reading “Calling the Monsters Out”