Thursday, March 3, 2016

I feel compelled to define, if only for myself, why I am a Christian and what difference it makes to my life.  Maybe because there are so many notions and voices presented with a Christian label, I want to bring clarity to what it means to be a Christian.

First, I want to declare that, by being a Christian, I am not better than other people, no matter their religious or philosophical persuasion.  In fact, ever since I had a supernatural encounter with Christ, I see my own failures, my deficiencies, my hypocrisy clearly, and I am grieved by my heart condition.  Before Him, I thought I was "good", my reputation untarnished by murder, or sexual misconduct, or some audacious conflict.  Before Him, I was blind- blind to the pride that "steps" over other people, blind to the grief my words brought, blind to the wounds my lies were effecting on myself and others.  A that moment, when I looked in His eyes and His love flooded every atom of my being, I could see, for the first time, how utterly depraved I was and how much I needed His righteousness.  He is God, and I am not - and I needed Him to save me and give me a new beginning.

Being a Christian does not mean that I am perfect.  In fact, for as long as I live, I will struggle to choose between what I want -often what is easy, self-pleasing and void of sacrifice -and God's higher calling.  He calls me to die daily -not physically, of course -but die to the pleasures that seek to ravage my soul and to ultimately separate me from the One I now love.  I have discovered no greater joy than the nearness of His presence, no greater delight than the truth of His  law.  He is the pearl of great price, the treasure worth living and dying for - and the peace He gives transcends earthly afflictions.

Being a Christian means living a supernatural life.  It means that, in my strength, I cannot live a life that honours God, because the enemy that I am fighting is much stronger than I.   It is only as I remain connected to Him, drawing upon His strength and the fellowship of His presence, that I can rise above the call of my self-seeking, self-gratifying nature, and the invisible foe that seeks "to steal and kill and destroy" (John10:10).

Being a Christian means I have a new roadmap for my life, the Bible.  The day I invited Him into my heart, I willingly surrendered the throne to the One in Whom all the treasures of love, beauty, and wisdom hide.  I have relinquished my perceptions for His truth, my world view for His absolute, my shack for His kingdom.  I gave Him the broken pieces of my life and He gave me life eternal, laughter for my tears, joy in my suffering.  Knowing Him has been the greatest gift of my life.

Being a Christian means loving the kind and the unkind and blessing the ones who seek to hurt and malign me.  It is because I am called to imitate Him - a loving God who died for the ones that tore and shred His flesh, and marred His face beyond recognition.  "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good", He says -and today, as millions of Christians are forsaking retribution and vengeance, their children are beheaded, their homes are burnt, their lives turned into often irreversible upheaval.  

Being a Christian means I have a permanent home beyond the confounds of the grave.   Death after a life of seventy, eighty years is not the end, but the beginning.  This life is not the destination, but the journey to my permanent residence.  For this reason Christians have been able to endure inexplicable tortures in their refusal to forsake Christ, because "they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one", a country worth pursuing to the point of death (Hebrews 11:16).  In God's economy, they are the winners, the ones whose names will never be forgotten and whose sacrifices bring true riches:  "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Cor 4:17).

Being a Christian means being rescued from my sin and from an eternal destiny of hell.  Sinning against God is no small thing, and the punishment is no small slap on the wrist.  A holy God must punish sin, otherwise He would be unjust.  A loving God took my punishment-and the whole world's-upon Himself, and His forgiveness makes me a citizen of heaven. 

 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish
but have eternal life " (John 3:16)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Recently, one of the leaders of a mega-church in North America made the following statement:

"I just want to encourage every one of us to realize: When we obey God, we're not doing it for God.  I mean, that's one way to look at it.  We're doing it for ourselves.  Because God takes pleasure when we're happy.  That's the thing that gives him the greatest joy this morning.  So I want you to know this morning, just do good for your own self.  Do good 'cause God wants you to be happy.  When you come to church, when you worship him, you're not doing it for God, really.  You're doing it for yourself, because that's what makes God happy.  Amen?"

It has been a couple of weeks ago since this statement has been heard in that church and subsequently around the world.  I haven't been able to shake it off because, sadly, this statement seems to pervade through much of our theology and the way we perceive God's role in the lives of His creatures.  God is here for us, orbiting around our little worlds, moving the machinery of heaven with one purpose alone: to bless us. To prosper us.  To weed out every discomfort, to purge our minds and our souls of every ounce of suffering, to cancel the dust of poverty off the soles of our shoes.  God exists for one reason alone: to inhale our troubles and our deficiencies and to exhale the goods filling our ever-expanding barns as testaments to His blessing.   He is always near, thinking up new ways to pamper our bodies and stuff our barns, in hopes that our abundance will draw the world with chords of envy into our crystal citadel.  This god requires no sacrifice, makes no demands on our flesh, and affirms our tireless pursuit of self-gratification.

I listen to the happiness gospel disturbed.  Calvary looms over my life too large to synthesize it into a formula for worldly success.   The suffering of Christ is too encompassing to reduce it to a feel-good patch or a get-more scheme.  Jesus died -and  His call to me and to us is a call to death (Galatians 2:20).  A call to crucify our lust. Our desire for worldly acclaim.  Calvary urges me to place the whole of my desires, the heart of my pursuits and the bent of my will on the altar of perpetual sacrifice (Romans12:1).   Paul's admonishing to "glory in our sufferings", to "put to death the deeds of your sinful nature", to "fight the good fight of faith" are worlds away from the gospel of happiness.  God does not exist to make our earthly sojourn a spa retreat where every star whispers our name and every atom collides to create our happiness.  We were made for Him, to bring Him glory and to exalt the excellency of His name.  Everything-and everyone-is for Him, through Him, and by Him.  One day, when He will write the final sentence of His story and seal our final chapter into eternity,  the only name our lips will exalt will be His. 

After all, it's all about Him.

"The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:15-17).

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they were created

and have their being"  (Rev. 4:11)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

I have recently read the journey of suffering of one blogger who had a miscarriage.  With eloquence and tremendous sensibility, she describes the sadness, the fear and the sense of loss she felt throughout her ordeal.  As I read her story, I cried.  I cried for the child she never got to hold.  For the thousands of women who, as I write, will not get to soothe a newborn's cry, or stroke their gentle cheeks.  I cried for little bellies swollen from hunger, and shoeless feet bleeding from winter.  And I cried for myself.

When I was very young-we are going back to the prehistoric era now- I believed that, if I loved God with all my heart and lived for Him, my life would be spared from suffering.  The reward for my shiny existence would translate in a life free of chronic illness, or "complicated" relationships, or whatever other ailment affects the human race.  Ten years into my struggle with digestive issues and beyond, I stand corrected in my doctrine.  My struggles showed me that life is not as tidy and linear as my ideological lens had wished it would be.  Life is often messy and difficult-but God is good.

My biblical heroes haven't exactly earned a free pass in their earthly pilgrimage, either. These people have toiled much, failed often and sorrowed deeply at times-yet God ushered them in heaven's hall of fame. Moses missed out on the Promised Land, his longing eyes beholding the very essence of his journey.  For nearly a decade, David ran for his life, persecuted by the one whose torment he availed.  Jeremiah wept at the destruction of  Jerusalem and God's holy temple.  Paul toiled with a thorn in his flesh -something that bothered him enough to plead God thrice for its removal.  And Jesus...  Jesus died. 

I still remember the evening I knew something was wrong.  One bite into a luscious Granny Smith apple, my throat was on fire.  I lay down, and my abdomen felt like a load of rocks.  For weeks and months following, my distended abdomen told the story of an invisible struggle that brought a new normal to my physical functions.  Those were months of fearing, wandering a desert of question marks, and diet restrictions, and medication side effects.  The "what if" and "if only"  lurked constantly in my thoughts, preying on my fragile condition and threatening to collapse my world into despair.

Ten years later, I might still be wandering the same desert, pounding at the same question marks, stroking the same "what if"s-but Christ changed everything.  He came and moped my tear-stained soul with strokes of light and laughter.  He taught me how to walk again -hope again- laugh again. He held my heart on solitary walks and nourished it with rainbows and The scrolls.  He came arrayed with strength and comfort - and what He spoke, I became.   In His presence, I believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. 

Christ changes everything.

"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Cor.4:17,18)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Michal and I have been in our townhouse for over a year now, and our d├ęcor is still a work in progress.  After numerous trips to Home Sense, a hundred purchases and a hundred minus one returns, I am still looking.  For what?  For that perfect, flawless "thing" that will accentuate the square corners of my dining room table or the reflective surface of my mirrored dresser.  That structure that will fill my empty nook underneath the small living room window. That artwork that will dress the airy grey walls in hues of warmth and summer-eternal summer.  It is no secret in my circle that I am obsessed with all things sparkling.  My eyes light up when light shatters into rainbow as it pierces through a crystal chandelier.  I love the way diamonds explode with flames of color as the sun bursts through brilliant facets.  My cheeks and my hands tremble at the caress of soft and furry blankets.  And the pulse of all these likes is color- explosions of vibrant, deep tones of reds, blues and gold.

Perhaps my obsession with all things colored and shiny can be traced to the elements of summer.  This season of non-stop sunshine has always been my favorite.  In summer, the whole of creation is flooded and fed by consuming, fiery sunlight.  Seagulls and dolphins, ocean and sky roar their acoustics beneath the gallop of the sun.  Everything is full of life, everything glows...   I enjoy beyond words the thousand shades of green bursting toward the translucent skies.  My fingers delight in the soft texture of flower petals as they brazenly chase the knight of the firmaments.  My palate is continually stimulated  by soft, ripened fruit that will restore the nutrients winter stole.  All I want to do is be outside-cradled by warmth and infused by light until my every cell is nourished and restored by its healing rays.

My obsession with summer can in turn be traced to my desire for God.  God is light-at all times, in all seasons, everywhere.  Because of Him, the birds outside my window fill my ears with their continual chirp of joy.  He is the author of the resident splendor of roses, and dahlias, and linden.  It was His idea-and only His- to fill the oceans with creatures ornate with iridescent sheen.  It was His creative genius that endowed the tiger both his fur stripes and his predatory moan.  It was in His heart to fill the skies with wings and the air with aromas - to fill our ears and our lungs with transparent joy.

This parcel of the Milky Way which is our home-and the galaxies beyond- are an unveiling of Him.  We marvel before the wonders we taste and see and smell - and they are all a reflection of His limitless command.  He spoke that which was within Him-and it came: extravagant, overflowing, overwhelming majesty.  "The heavens declare the glory of God.."  -glory that every being made in the likeness of Adam can behold with unveiled faces.  He is beautiful, and our desire for all things lovely authenticates our origin in Him.

I am enjoying the last morsel of summer with the window open, the birds continually serenading me with their song.  Soon, the rains will start and the glow of summer will be a faint memory on my fading tan and my birdless tree.  My hunt for the perfect "thing" to dress up my living room will continue.  It's okay, I have come to realize, to like all things sparkly and shiny, soft and velvety.  These small treasures remind me of Him - His awesome wonder, His brilliance, His joy.  I see the auburn maple and the lilac in my neighbor's yard, I hear the chatter of the birds and I long for Him.  Summer will soon pass away and my heart is at rest-in all seasons, at all times, everywhere, He remains.

"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork." (Psalm 19:1)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Michal and I recently returned from a trip on Vancouver Island, specifically the  rainforest of Pacific Rim National Park.  For three days, we walked the verdant trails colored in a thousand shades of green, breathing in the pulse of the forest.  We unplugged ourselves from the attachment of all things electronic and we planted our souls and our feet on the hallowed ground of the centuries-old sanctuary of giant evergreens, their branches embracing the sky.  Silvery cedars, weathered and stressed by time and rain, stretched their twisted trunks on our paths across several feet. Old Man's beard linches, appropriately named due to their hairy, silvery appearance, hung like tinsel from branches of fir and hemlock, their delicate strands supplying the machinery for photosynthesis.  Sometimes the canopy of branches was so thick and the foliage so dense that sunlight was off limits on these trails.  Above us,  branches covered in moss and fungus contorted their silhouettes in intricate, asymmetrical shapes.  Below us,  banana slugs unveiled their black-speckled  contours as rain was falling gently on the ground.   And the ocean always in our ears...  We walked excitedly, allured by the restless buffeting of the waves calling us to praise the One whose voice is like the sound of many waters.  Sometimes we would hear its billows from far away, unleashing their grand fury against the sentinel of rocks.  Ah, if we could hear the secrets of the great waters within the anger of their poundings!  If the ears of our hearts could decipher the agony of the billows... 

Walking beneath the cupola of the luscious forest, the ocean beating against a nearby shore, our hearts were melting in thanksgiving to the One who created such grandeur for our delight.  The heavens declare the glory of God -and how vividly we saw His creative majesty in this unparalleled panorama of surreal beauty.  He reveals Himself in the firmament above, in the luxuriant shades of green around us, in the force of the ocean reverberating within us.  How awesome God must be to have authored such splendor!  How extravagant in beauty my God must be to have birthed such grandeur... how pregnant with creative energy is His word to have spoken such a world into existence!  Oh, that the whole world may praise Him for His wonderful works!

I can still smell the colors of the forest as it came alive under a gentle mist that afternoon of August.  I close my eyes and I see the ocean crashing with unstoppable might against the gentle sands of the shore.  I hear the seagulls in their dance across the waters, their delicate song a fit complement to the roar of the waves.  I see God's heart pulsating with beauty and love in this extraordinary unfolding of color and sound.  Verily it is well with my soul...

 "For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God"  (Romans 1:20)

"Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!" (Psalm 107:15)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Today is the first day I have felt a considerable measurable of relief from the symptoms that have plagued me these last few days.  I have been in physical agony of such intensity that a simple task such as getting a glass of water exhausted all my resolve.  This virus was more virulent than any other that had previously attacked my system.  It held me captive to my couch and deprived me of rest and sleep both day and night.  I thank God for having crossed to the other side-the place where healing is finally accomplishing its work.

There might the occasional soul who may be confounded by my joyous  declaration of physical restoration.  "It's just the flu, Delia, no reason to make a big deal about it.  Of course you would snap out of it eventually... "  Ahh, maybe...  I have been in health-care long enough to see people come into the hospital with a simple cold and hours later their lungs shut down and they toggle between life and death.  Nobody knows why, or how.  The trip to intensive care is often paved with questions that elude answers.  Eternity is but a breath away...

There is great relief sweeping over me at having "overcome" the offending microorganism.  I have never experienced this sentiment before... I always took healing for granted.  Today I am more aware of the complex world of viruses and bacteria that constantly seem to shift and mutate their structure, making them more difficult to eradicate by our present means.  I also appreciate how "fearfully and wonderfully"  my body is in its design:  cells perpetually standing in attention to fight off incoming invaders;  a heart that beats without my input, directing litters of blood to circuit throughout the body every minute of every day...  lungs that inhale, independent of my command, life-giving oxygen that keeps the entire machinery of life going, pulsing, beating...  Yet, amidst the complexities and incredibly intricate mechanisms of the body, there is potential for great peril.  One simple clot in a blood-carrying vessel and this life would expire... one super-invader overcoming invisible defense barriers and this story would be terminated...  Eternity is so, so close...

As I am enjoying rest on the other side of this debilitating flu, I thank God for the gift of life; for a body that triggered the right responses in its defense; for its ability to rebuild and reconstruct, and forge protective pathways.  It is in Him that I breathe, and move, and have my being.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

 (Psalm 139)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

As I am sitting here sipping on my thyme and cinnamon-honey tea (a strange combination indeed), I am so grateful for the small pleasures of life. Under normal circumstances, such a combination of tea ingredients would not exactly produce feelings of exaltation; however, as I am doing all I can to empower my body in its fight against a menacing virus, thyme is what the "family doctor" prescribed (ie. my sister, and she is a nurse).

This morning has been full of gratuitous yet significant luxuries already.  My husband saved the last square of sea salt chocolate for me, an indulgence that has elevated my pleasure quotient and I am sure will contribute to a speedier recovery.  Just minutes ago, I had a long phone conversation with my five-year old nephew (me, asking questions, he, dutifully answering). Although Joshua has transitioned to the "small boy" phase in which he asserts his independence every time I run to help him with some task, in my eyes he is still the toddler who needs me at every turn.  I still want to tie his shoelaces, or wash his face after breakfast, or-alas, even worse!- feed him when he gets distracted.  I still want to pick his clothes and dress him on the rare occasion I get to baby-sit him.  To my disappointment (I know, a most selfish sentiment), Joshua has now taken charge of these daily tasks which have given me such immense satisfaction in the past.  However, our relationship is as precious as it was when he couldn't pronounce my name or jump the stairs like a bunny. Now that Joshua can translate his surroundings into words and can therefore specifically instruct me about how to play a certain game (customization is not encouraged), I am enjoying the depth that comes with verbalizing moments that will be rendered immortal in the treasure chest of my heart. 

As I am rediscovering this morning, joy can come from the simplest-and often unappreciated-places.  A cup of warm tea on a winter morning.  A hidden square of chocolate in a fridge full of vegetables.  A sweet conversation with a child (in my case, time with Joshua is both therapeutic and magical).  A walk in the rain forest. God is perpetually delighting my spirit with His gifts. He has colored the skies with serene hues of blue and injected the grass with vibrant shades of chlorophyll so we would taste and see how good He is.  Because of Him and through him, life has merit and pleasure.  La vita e bella, indeed...