Emptied

As he sat at our table, he spoke words that have lingered in my heart long after they were heard…

“It’s not illegal to hand out Bibles here, but you just never know when someone will kill you…”

His words were joyful sorrow.  His words come from an emptied place, where he has decided to live a life of faith, believing in the Author of Life, where risk is right. As I let his words saturate my American mind, which has spent years surrounded by the prosperity gospel in the land of plenty, I felt Esther-like courage emerge in my spirit, fresh and new. I was made to live here for such a time as this and his words reminded me that to live is Christ and to die is gain.

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” ~Philippians 1:21 {the words of Paul}

This young man knows Truth, has counted the cost of following the Way, and isn’t shy when it comes to conversing about the lostness in this world.  He is a new believer who spent years examining the Word of God before finally admitting it to be the absolute Truth and trusting His life to Jesus.  His parents do not believe and while I do not know much of his story, I do know that at my table for Thanksgiving was a Brother – a member of my Spiritual Family – whose life is rooted in the Branch and whose joy radiates from a heart that chooses Jesus over circumstance.  He has chosen Light over darkness, and we were honored to have him sitting at our table, breaking bread with our family. With my eyes I noticed how very different our Thanksgiving was this year, but my heart could not have been more content. We were living the beauty of sacred and simple.  We were warm and fed and giving thanks to Christ that He alone is enough. He is always enough.

Decorating our Christmas tree with our Thanksgiving guest and Brother in Christ! This was his first time to decorate a tree! Please pray that we will let His Light shine brightly through our lives this holiday season as we share the story of the birth of Jesus with all who will listen!!

While there are tender moments every day where I know the Sustainer is holding me, there are moments preceding the tender ones where the difficulty of life smacks me so hard that I almost lose my breath, falling into the Comforter who revives. As I stand on the bus during my morning commute to language class, I cannot help but look into the unflinching eyes that stare at me and imagine the day that they will hear the words written in Matthew 7:23…

“Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

And imagining them standing before God and realizing they were wrong and that Jesus is the only Way makes my stomach ache and my head spin. How can we as believers turn a blind eye to the fate of the unbelieving that we encounter every single day – at work, in our homes, at Sonic, in the elevator….they are everywhere, starving to know Who will satisfy their hunger. There’s just no one to tell them….or very few willing to go to them and try.

These past several days have been ones of feeling just how different I am from the nationals around me.

I tried to make sense of her words as she told me the total and I focused on counting out a new currency to pay for my groceries.  I see this girl everyday and we smile at each other and I barely understand her questions and while each meeting leaves me feeling helpless, I return daily.  I know I must practice language.  I grabbed my grocery bags, said goodbye to the cashier in her language, and headed back to our apartment.  My groceries were heavy and as I struggled to walk back home in the cold while dodging cars and buses that flew by me, I wished I could drive a car to Wal-Mart where I could buy huge amounts of every kind of food you could think of.  My eyes were focused on worthless things and on just how hard it is to feel like I can’t do anything, specifically speak language. I had barely taken one step down the road of self pity before I was interrupted by the Comforter.  Scripture that has been written on my heart redirected my focus from my lack of material things or abilities to my abundance in Christ. I possess Jesus and therefore I have everything.

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” ~Psalm 119:11

“Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word.” ~Psalm 119:37

“Your promise revives me; it comforts me in all my troubles.” ~Psalm 119:50

I smiled and praised Him for an intimate moment of kindness in my struggles.  His promise to never leave me brought revival and although I still physically struggled to carry the heavy groceries home, my spirit was strong and my hope was alive. Hope Himself was with me and I knew it. I walked past the security guard, entered the code to the front door and as I waited for one of the two elevators in our building to arrive, I noticed a beautiful woman about my age coming in the door right behind me. I smiled at her as I eagerly opened the door to the elevator that had just arrived.  I thought to myself “Ok, you do can this….just try your best to converse with her…” She was wearing a long coat and her head was covered.  We looked very different from one another and her clothes were an indication that we were spiritual opposites. I long to make friends here.  I see national women walking together and giggling over tea at cafes.  If I’m not with my husband, I am usually alone.  I see them lock arms and share life and I miss my sisters in Christ from back home.

I tried my best to hide that I was struggling to open the elevator and hold the door open for this woman.  I looked at her, flashed my best smile, and motioned for her to go in front of me, hoping we could ride the elevator together and I could use the opportunity to strike up a conversation.  Conversations lead to relationships and relationships lead to sharing Christ and sharing Christ leads to chains falling.  With a heart full of hope and expectancy, I watched her look at me, turn the other direction, and walk into the other elevator. My face dropped as I stepped foot on the elevator alone and rejection stomped on my hope of friendship.  The recent memory of a man in a train station putting his hand in my husband’s face and calling him a foreigner as my husband was asking for directions in the language here was still fresh on my mind.  It’s disheartening to spend hours studying language and as you try to use it and practice, some people still refuse to talk to you.  We are foreigners.  We are different.  To some, we are infidels. We are like babies trying to put simple words together to form sentences and there is still so much we must learn to function in this society. We are tasting rejection, and while it’s hard, it’s also the gateway to living humbled and dependent on Jesus. I pushed the button to my floor and looked in the mirror on the wall.  As I looked at myself, the Comforter spoke again…

 “If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live. When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.” ~John 14:15-22, NLT

“If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!“I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.” ~John 14:15-22, The Message

Again I smiled and praised Him for yet another tender moment of grace in the solitude of an elevator.  He reminded me through His Word that I am showing Him my love by obeying His commands with my heart and with my lifestyle. I am not an orphan, though I know that pain intimately.  He is my Father and Christ in me is my hope of glory. The elevator ascended, and so did my heart.  Jesus knows rejection.  Jesus knows pain.  Jesus knows and Jesus died so that I – the daughter He knows and sees – may have freedom from rejection.

“He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
the sins of us all.” ~Isaiah 53:3-6

But before Jesus could die, He had to be born. Before He could be beaten so that I could walk whole, He had to come to this world.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” ~Philippians 2:3-11

And this is what    C H R I S T M A S    is all about…

Jesus left where He was, humbly coming to earth as a servant. Can you even imagine the humility it took to come in the form of a helpless baby who was 100% dependent on His parents?  He could not talk and He could not feed Himself.  He emptied Himself on that first Christmas and as I examine the birth of Jesus in the days prior to our first Christmas abroad, I find myself thankful beyond measure.  For the first time in my life, I feel 100% dependent on my Father, and I’m finally seeing the joy in this necessary reliance. This humbling that is happening in our lives comes from a beautiful empty that only He can fill. In our weakness, He is strong.  The more radically I obey God, the more passionate my love for Jesus becomes.  This fiery passion to know Jesus and live like He did inspires me to endure and love others, even when the love is not reciprocated.  Jesus left where He was and came to us.  We must leave our places of comfort and go to the lost.  It’s not easy and it’s very humbling, but yet there is joy because living a life like that of Jesus helps me understand on a deeper level just how amazing my salvation is.  In these days of Advent before celebrating His birth, I am so honored to share in His suffering….this is living life abundantly!

“2:6. Jesus is the preeminent example of humility. He has always been God. John 1:1 speaks of Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” As God, he did not selfishly grasp hold of or tightly hold to his position as equal with God. Instead, he was willing to leave his high position in heaven temporarily and to give himself over to serving our needs. Although he set aside the rights and privileges of being God, he remained God.
2:7. Jesus made himself nothing or “emptied himself.” Scholars refer to this important statement as kenosis, from the Greek word. By becoming a man, Jesus did not lay aside his deity. Charles C. Ryrie sheds light on this event: “Christ didn’t become any less God, but he chose not to use some of his divine attributes. This involved a veiling of his preincarnate glory (John 17:5) and the voluntary nonuse of some of his divine prerogatives during the time he was on earth (Matt. 24:36). For God to become a man was humbling enough, but he was willing to go even further. Christ could have come to earth in his true position as King of the universe. Instead, he took the role of a servant. The Creator chose to serve his creatures.
Jesus did not come into existence as a baby in Bethlehem. As God, he always existed. He did take on human nature as Jesus of Nazareth being made in human likeness but remained sinless (Heb. 4:15). Christ did not have a halo as paintings sometimes portray him. He entered this earthly life looking like an ordinary man. Had you passed him on a street, he probably would not have caught your attention.” (Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians. Holman New Testament Commentary (Vol. 8, pp. 225–226). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)

My prayer for those of you who follow this blog and pray for our family is that you will treasure Jesus above all else this Christmas.  Perhaps you are like me and the holidays bring back painful reminders of the death of loved ones who will not be gathered around your Christmas tree this year.  My prayer for you is that you would seek Jesus this Christmas season, discovering that He is enough.  He was born so that He could rescue and His death makes us whole! Please also be praying that we would continue to joyfully endure during this season of language learning which is more difficult than we ever imagined!

sunrise

Joy to the World, the Lord has come!

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