Archive for ‘loving God’

September 6, 2016

Vulnerability and Telling the Truth

by mendibpng


I used to have a hard time telling the truth, especially if it had the potential to cause someone to be unhappy with me.  I couldn’t reconcile the command to “speak the truth” with the “in love” part. So often in Christian circles the “love” part is emphasized but we don’t call each other out because we want to avoid shame to the other person or to ourselves.  I have also seen many people hurt by immovable idealists.  What I mean is people who think they are telling the truth but really are dogmatic in their own beliefs and unwilling to hear other points of view. The tension of living cross culturally is that you are always going to run into someone who makes different choices. It’s the lack of grace that makes people feel like they’ve been thrown into the gutter. I’ve been thrown into the gutter and I know I’ve been guilty of throwing others in. That’s the hard thing about being human…we will hurt each other. But if we can’t talk about it, there’s no way to move forward.

I began boundaries training with my friend Kay many years ago, and it started with me approaching strangers politely asking for more cream in my coffee, or asking for something in the store that wasn’t on the shelf. This progressed to me saying that I had to think about an invitation or request before saying “yes” or “no” to them.  It meant listening to the Holy Spirit (and to my heart instead of denying my thoughts and feelings as I was conditioned to do) and facing my paralyzing fear of disappointing people. I had to keep asking myself “what if I say ‘no’ to …….?” what could happen? (For example: she could get mad. I might lose a friend. I won’t die. I might be able to say ‘no’ more easily next time.) And “am I responsible for ………’s response?” (nope!) I had to remind myself that I have value (and so does the other person) and to say “yes” when I really mean “no” is a way of devaluing myself (or my family). Often I find that the fallout extends to my husband and kids as well as myself.

What I learned was that I needed to accept the consequences of telling the truth and practice it, even if it meant that it cost me something. No longer would I be angry at someone for asking me for a favor. Because it was my responsibility to respond appropriately. I can’t say the gut wrenching feelings ended with me learning to speak truthfully/honestly, but I think they have subsided some as I’ve put what Kay taught me into practice.

Telling the truth means that there will be personal consequences. Here’s where the vulnerability comes in. It’s a risk to tell the truth. Someone won’t like what I said. We might have completely different ideas of what is “respectful” behavior or even what is normal. Or, sometimes I get it wrong by the story I told myself about what happened. Sometimes I confront on my own strength without seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Sometimes the thing I said gets blown out of proportion and the thing I was hoping to convey gets lost in the conflict. Another result is that I’ve said my peace and there is no response or worse, a hostile one. At that point, I can choose to stop engaging with the crazy. I usually conclude in the end that I’m glad I said something because it’s worth it not to allow myself to be victimized. My previous efforts to be ‘nice’ damaged me because I lived in a constant state of fear of making people unhappy. In his book, ‘When Panic Attacks’, David Burns writes, “If you show me a hundred people who are anxious, I’ll show you a hundred of the nicest people you ever met!”

One of my friends tells the truth unapologetically. She has no problem approaching others to find out what really happened, and I think she’s really good at diffusing a situation that could get ugly. The reason I find safety in our friendship (and others like it) is that I know she’s going to tell me the truth every time. We don’t have to agree on everything but we both know each other’s hearts so we can assume good intentions right from the start.

It took time to build up our friendship and trust each other. She would never put me above her family or relationship with her husband and nor would she expect me to do that for her. We both have other close friends and freely expect each other to spend time with them. When I’m with her, it’s common for her to share with me what she’s studying in the Scriptures. Her desire to grow spiritually is infectious.  Also, she makes me laugh. I don’t have time for emotional games or drama in friendships, because I am stretched with all that I’m called to do here (wife, mother, teammate, etc.) I have several friendships here like this, where there are no ‘shoulds’ or guilt trips and for that I’m really thankful!

Living in community means more opportunities for truth telling and for loving confrontation.

 But you, dear friends, carefully build yourselves up in this most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, staying right at the center of God’s love, keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ. This is the unending  life, the real life! ( The Message, Jude 20-21)

March 11, 2016

“I’ve got this.”

by mendibpng

(above) The flowers in our village and here in Ukarumpa lure a multitude of butterflies so I rarely go a day without seeing several. Each time I see one, it is a reminder to me of God’s love for me and of his transforming grace. They often appear at times when I need encouragement the most, or when the daily grind of the mundane has me teetering on the ledge of self pity…

Periodically, I encounter the “what if’s.”

  • There’s a decision we need to make about our near future. What if we make the wrong decision?
  • Ben and I are leaving for the weekend. What if one of our children needs a medevac while we are gone? What if the little ones end up being a lot to handle for their aunties who have kindly offered to look after them?
  • Our son is researching colleges and universities. What if we don’t know how to best help him with this process?
  • There are often concerns in the missionary community where we live. What if the truth gets minimized or buried?
  • We encounter needs and important tasks for our our project and family life: what if we can’t handle it and end up burned out again?

These are just a few of questions swirling around (incidentally, it actually helps to get them out of my head an write them down because some of them I wasn’t even aware of until just now!)

This morning, I fed my soul with God’s Word. Comfort and direction come without fail. Here’s what I read today:

Easy come, easy go, but steady diligence pays off. Proverbs 13: 11 (The Message)

My coffee is cold, vegetables waiting to be soaked, bread dough is unmade….but I can’t give up.

I read Acts 22-23 as well as all of Proverbs 13 and once again felt encouraged by the presence of the Holy Spirit. I may not hear an audible voice as the Apostle Paul did at times, but I do receive clear direction from the Word and from the Voice speaking to my heart. I’ve come to rely on it, so much that it’s easy to discern it from my own thoughts.

But here’s the difficulty. I know I need Quiet to hear. I know I need Solitude. Yet, as a missionary, mom of five, and wife to Ben, I feel like I can barely remember to brush my hair sometimes, much less sit down with my Bible. The crazy seems to be hiding in the next room and being quiet is often a luxury I don’t give myself. I’ve come to realize, however, that spiritual food is as necessary to me as physical food. My awareness of God in everything and worship is also as necessary as me being conscious of my ‘to do’ list.

That night the Master appeared to Paul: ‘It’s going to be all right. Everything is going to turn out for the best.’ Acts 23:11 (The Message)

….to me, the Master says, “I’ve got this.”


November 19, 2014

This God

by mendibpng

Since coming home from PNG, I’ve had a chance to eat things that we haven’t had in four years. One of them is this salad: mixed greens, toasted almonds and Craisins. It makes me think about the Banqueting Table referred to in Psalm 23. Eating at a banqueting table is a great picture of how I feel when God speaks.

I have been hesitant to write about this subject because it is so personal and touches on the painful parts of my history. Growing up in boarding school, I became frustrated by any kind of legalistic thinking and even as a six year old cried out to God (usually at night) when I missed my family who lived on the other side of our island, although I quickly learned to hide my emotions. As I grew older, I began listening for God’s voice and heard it from time to time. It wasn’t until I became an adult when I learned of Brother Lawrence, who talked of ‘Practicing the Presence of God,’ even during mundane tasks, like washing the kitchen floor. I began stopping to Practice the Hours and continued to seek God in the small and big things of my life, and noticed how He would show up. It was obvious when I didn’t include Him because that’s when my selfish/foolish thoughts or self pity would come to the surface. As a result, He gave me wisdom (obviously from Him) in difficult situations and I saw Him in a whole new light. He even healed some of my most painful memories, which had been buried deep but leaked into my relationships and daily living. I used to be afraid to think about Heaven, because it meant leaving the known for the unknown. But now, I’ve had a glimpse of it and of Jesus Himself, and I can’t wait to get there.

So today, I’m thankful for a God who speaks. Not just in the HUGE difficult things of life, but the smaller things. Yesterday I started my day weary and with a headache…thinking about all the things I had left on my plate, including an endless pile of laundry in my basement. Here is what He said to me

I know what you are thinking and I can handle it. Remember to keep Me in the forefront. I want you to trust Me with all the little and big things in your life today. You can do what you need to do, but you have to take time to rest. Your body is beaten down right now.

So today I’m thankful for my God, who encourages me to take care of myself (even when I normally would keep pushing on with my daily tasks.) He challenges me to tell the truth and to keep Him in the forefront (two themes that seem to be repeated again and again.) What if I looked to him every day for direction about what I needed to do that day? What if I stopped planning everything myself? What would my life look like then? What would organized church and missions look like if everybody sought God’s voice for their goals and purpose?

A side note here: I have seen people use “God told me….” to elevate themselves and to abuse other people. All I can say is, this is not what I’m talking about. (If I were on the receiving end of a comment like that, I would go straight to God and ask Him.) The book “Surprised by the Voice of God,” by Jack Deere addresses this very well.

Two other books I highly recommend are:
Praying in Color,” by Sybil MacBeth
A Praying Life,” by Paul Miller

October 28, 2014

Failing massively and Finding God Faithful

by mendibpng

As Soon As I Fell
There are people in my life who have offered me hope in times of deep dark valleys of uncertainty and pain during my missionary career. Kay Bruner is one of them. She began writing me in 2005 in response to some questions I put out on an email group for misisonary wives and has provided a safe friendship ever since that first email. On top of that, Kay gave me assertiveness training and encouraged me to be truthful about the realities I faced.

Today, I’m honored to be able to interview her here about the book she has written about her life as a missionary in the Solomon Islands. Although her circumstances are different to mine, there are threads in her story that I can totally relate to in my own service overseas. The things she talks about are quietly spoken about amongst missionaries (if there is a safe place to talk…some do not have this luxury!!) but it is rare to see them in public. In fact, I’ve never seen a book like this before. If I could recommend a book to anyone heading overseas, living overseas or for someone who loves and cares for missionaries, this would be it!

Please feel free to follow the link at the end of this post to enter a giveaway for ‘As Soon As I Fell.’

MendiB: How long did it take you to write this book, and why?

Kay Bruner: Parts of the book were written back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.  Our son Michael just turned 20, and his birth story is in there, pretty much as I wrote it to family and friends back in the day.  There’s a section of journal entries that’s 12 years old.  Probably 8 years ago, I tried to put it together and I just couldn’t make the structure work.  Finally, last fall, I figured out how to put it all together and I spent about 4 or 5 months being very disciplined in writing the first two drafts.

After the second draft, I thought it was done, but one of my beta readers said, “You have to open a vein here, Kay.”  And Katrina, my editor, kept asking question after question, so I wrote a third draft.  Then we worked on clean-up for a while.  The actual hard-work-writing process ended up taking most of a year, and I worked on it 3 days a week during that time.

MendiB: Why did you write it?

Kay Bruner: I wrote this book because I needed this book and couldn’t find it.  I was such a believer in knowing the rules and following them so my life would come out great, and that didn’t work AT ALL.  I did everything as right as I knew how to do it and I got a mess.  There wasn’t much written in the category of “Fail massively, and find God faithful.”  I knew we weren’t the only ones who had ever failed.  Statistics tell us that the average mission agency will lose 50% of its membership over a 10-year period, but all the books are missionary success stories.

It just seemed to me it was time to tell this other story, that God loves us right where we are, in all of our mess, and he’s not stymied when we fail.  I think the whole Bible is full of stories like that.  Many of the great heroes of the faith were also adulterers, liars, murderers, you name it.  That didn’t slow God down one bit back then, and God still works that way today.

MendiB: If you could choose an specific audience, who would it be, and why?

Kay  Bruner: This is really a love letter to women–and men–who are trying so hard to be so good, who are so exhausted by people-pleasing and expectations and rules and and and and and.  I want to say to you what Jesus said to me: “It is finished.  I have done it.  It’s not up to you.”  Sure, it’s for missionaries.  But I think us good girls and good boys are pretty much the same, regardless of our geographical location.

MendiB: How did writing the book change you?

Kay Bruner: Well, I learned some really interesting things about my own story, mostly because Katrina, my editor, as I said, is one persistent woman.  She just would not accept easy answers.  I would write something and she’d say, “But I still don’t understand…”  Some of the things that had happened were so painful that I hadn’t been able to think them through at the time.  I had just said to myself, “Well, God knows, and I have to forgive.  I don’t understand this, but He does.”

But in the process of Katrina pushing me so hard, I was able to see how some of the very worst things were like surgical tools in the hand of God.  He had used those specific things for healing and wholeness.  Also, hitting the “publish” button was a real act of bravery for me, because I felt like I’d written some hard things that push against the status quo that I was raised with.  It was another opportunity for me to believe that God loves me, even when I go ahead and tell the entire world the truth about some really difficult things in my life.

MendiB: What main message do want people to take away from reading the book?

Kay Bruner: I want people to know that God loves them with an everlasting Love, and that nothing, nothing, nothing, NOTHING ever separates us from that Love.  There is healing.  There is hope.  There is life beyond anything we could ever dare to ask, think, or dream.

MendiB: What kind of response have you had from your readers?

Kay Bruner: Well, I’ve had two main responses.  One response is silence, because I think this is a book that challenges a lot of the ways we think the Christian life works.  It’s the story of me starting out very sure of myself and my system and my calling and capacity to change the world, only to find myself broken into a million pieces.  I understand that not everybody shares my experience, much less my response to my experiences, and so they don’t say anything, and that’s fine.

The second response is that readers are grateful that someone is giving voice to a different kind of missionary experience, a different kind of faith walk, one that’s not about how to make your life perfect but instead, that no matter what, we can fall into Love, and find Love faithful.

I’d love to give away a copy of my book, As Soon As I Fell, to a reader.  In order to be entered, click over to my blog,, and subscribe before October 30.  We’ll randomly choose a winner and notify the winner by email.

MendiB: THANK YOU Kay, for sharing your story with us!

February 25, 2014

Lean on me…

by mendibpng


The other day, my closest Papua New Guinean friend presented me with this bilum: a string bag traditionally used to carry food, babies and other cargo. Bilums are given in bride price exchanges, when new babies come, or to honor a visitor. They are highly valuable, often the most expensive item being sold at our local market. This isn’t just any bag: it represents a depth of friendship between my friend and me. She took pains to find colors I like, which I know is her way of acknowledging/caring about my value for beautifully made things.

When bilums are made, it’s often a group effort. One mama will work on it for a bit, then someone else will take a turn, and so on. It can take weeks, even months to finish one depending on the size of the bag and intricate weave of the design. This bilum is different from ones I have seen before; in this case, my friend learned a new pattern, which makes it even more special to me.

I have been wanting to write about this cultural gift because every time I see my new bilum, I think about the community we have. Each layer of woven thread represents the people in our lives who support us. A team all around the world prays for us and supports us from afar. We have colleagues here on the ground who provide practical services in order for us to do our job (like teachers, pilots, administrators, etc.). There’s also our small group, teammates and close friends who support us emotionally as well. On top of that, godly Papua New Guineans hold us up in prayer and give us valuable cultural advice. If I were going to take this metaphor even further, I would say that Ben’s thread weaves itself in and out of all of these relationships (with me) since every part of our lives is so closely connected on our team, in our family and in our relationships.

I’m not going to lie and say that all the relationships we have are easy. In fact, it’s rarely the case that we would go through a week without some kind of relational/cultural stress. It makes sense that this is the case, as we interact with people for every aspect of our work and life. On top of that, we battle spiritual forces daily since our primary task is to see God’s word translated and used in the Aitape West region of Papua New Guinea…I see often the attacks striking straight at our relationships. However, the act of learning how to love people in community has really caused us to dig deep into God’s unending well of wisdom. I can think of so many instances (even one from yesterday!) where we are desperate to do the right thing but have no idea how it will be perceived culturally….all of our human wisdom and studies are not enough to shed light on the situation. I think I can safely say that Ben and I as a team aren’t the same people we were when we arrived here twelve years ago, bright eyed and full of expectations and hope for our ministry together. We’re definitely more realistic (I hope not too cynical!) but more aware of our need for God’s presence in our lives in every small and big moment. This draws me back to my original thoughts on community: as we walk through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ (Psalm 23) with our loved ones, they are also doing the same for us, and that is a deep, rich place to be. This journey we are on (I love the ‘journey’ imagery!) is all about what we can accomplish together.

I will end with a quote from my favorite spiritual writer:

Community is like a large mosaic. Each little piece seems so insignificant. One piece is bright red, another cold blue or dull green, another warm purple, another sharp yellow, another shining gold. Some look precious, others ordinary. Some look valuable, others worthless. Some look gaudy, others delicate. As individual stones, we can do little with them except compare them and judge their beauty and value. When, however, all these stones are brought together in one big mosaic portraying the face of Christ, who would ever question the importance of any one of them? If one of them, even the least spectacular one, is missing, the face is incomplete. Together in one mosaic, each little stone is indispensable and makes a unique contribution to the glory of God. That’s community, a fellowship of little people who together make God visible in the world. (“The Only Necessary Thing,” by Henri Nouwen, p. 124)

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February 16, 2014

A world where norm will no more be

by bzephyr

Robertson Norman
The lines below were penned after I received the news a bit more than a week ago that my great uncle Norm had left this earth after 88 years and gone to be with Jesus. He and my dear Aunt Doris had recently celebrated 65 years of marriage. At nearly 6’6″ Uncle Norm was the biggest man I had ever seen when I first met him as a small boy. Even more than his sheer size, the stories my father told of him pioneering in the Pacific Northwest made him larger than life to me. With his big “Cat” bulldozer and his crew of men and logging trucks, he would contract work from the forest service, and the adventures that he had as they pioneered new roads and slipped down rugged mountain slopes are the stuff that hero tales are made of.

Yet more than all that, Uncle Norm represents to me the strength of character and firm faith of one who was confident that he served the King and Creator of the majestic world surrounding him. And he also served his family, community, and fellow man with the same kindness of Another who had stooped so low to care for a world in need to lead them to a higher place and a better Home. My family and I have benefited from Uncle Norm and Aunt Doris’s daily prayers on our behalf. I wish that I’d have had the chance to live closer to him and experience life with my Uncle Norm more intimately. I know that Norm provided a certain exceptional quality of life that is joy and peace and strength to those who lived within the shade of his shelter, anything but the norm in this present world with dark valleys and with devils filled. But Uncle Norm and I share in the confident hope of an abundant adventure of the new and glorious creation of our Savior, whose life and light will have no end for those who trust in him.

A world where norm will no more be

…a giant tree’s been felled this morn
this norm, i hardly knew
and though half a world away i too am shaken
and long that i could go

where my dad grew roots
with other boughs of family line,
had nearly split apart,
yet for this sapling and my seed
the Wind has carried far
and we know not our mountain land
that beckons in my blood.
it’s kin is dear to them who are so very close to me
but i mourn the loss i can not now find,
this giant of a man.

…a servant of creation’s King
this norm, i hardly knew
is summoned forth to hear “well done”
while i, in service yet, remain in this world

where relations whom i wish i’d known
impressed their hands like works of art for all to see
deep in the planet’s soil
engineered behind the scenes
not only earth’s terrains,
fine landscapes brushed on hearts and souls
in a little place that calls to me,
a dale, with those to whom i’d flee,
a town where faithful home was made,
a world where norm will no more be.

…a big ol’ rig has slipped down new road
this norm, i hardly knew
and too, though in another world, my view is cleared
to use whatever Master’s “cat” might cut new bush

where humps and roadblocks bar the way
and trail’s end is yet uncharted
by brothers, sisters too, in fellowship,
heirs who share our Pioneer’s faith
on paths to home or distant shores,
blazed with blood and sweat and prayer,
roads revealing old and New, tracks to reunite.
earthly routes both smooth and worn, dirt and stone,
will not endure like narrow Way that we must seek,
converging on that golden Street.

such norm of life that some have known
through highways, history and house
has come and gone, though we’re not surely left alone.
a taller Tree has toppled death and new creation grows,
uniting every clan on earth to serve their King,
alive again, and bound for our true Home…


The verses above are a poetic duet that I wrote with some help from a fellow pilgrim of the faith after reading this other poetic duet moments after I heard the news that my Uncle Norm had waved goodbye to this earth. Thanks Hasty for your thoughtful input on stanzas four and six.
October 10, 2013

Here comes the Sun…

by mendibpng


In the wake of my 39th birthday, I’ve decided to ask God for the impossible.

I find myself praying the words of this song,

Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me
Melt me, mold me
Fill me, Use me

Let me back up a little. If you have followed our blog, you may already know that in the last four years we have had some significant joys and struggles. We have experienced hard things, and can look back on some of them with relief (now that they are over!) but I for one am exhausted. I realized it significantly last week at the women’s retreat, when I took time to sleep instead of go to meetings or socialize.

I can tell I’m ‘dangerously tired’ when I start intentionally catching up on rest and I don’t feel better.

For a long time.

In fact, I started feeling even more tired and ended up going to bed around 9:00 most nights. I have seen this happen before…once the adrenaline depletion starts kicking in, it’s hard to be motivated to do more than just sleep and do the bare necessities of cooking and looking after my children.

I don’t want to go into all of the things that have contributed towards the ‘road to burnout’ because when I start to list them, I am tempted to dwell in them and start moving towards self pity and bitterness. (I have acknowledged them, so I don’t believe I’m living in denial–I just don’t want it all in the forefront of my mind.)

So, as I’m taking time to rest when I can, particularly in the evenings, but here are the things I am praying for my 39th year of life:

I want

  • God to reveal Himself to me in supernatural ways this year. A note here: I have begun to pray this earnestly and He is speaking to me through his Word, his Voice and through dreams.
  • to learn what it really means to fear God and not people. Instead of being swayed by what I perceive other people want or desire, I want to be in tune with God’s plan for me, even in the smallest things.
  • to mind my own business and not get aggravated by things that I shouldn’t be worried about (God has been impressing on me which things ARE my business and which things aren’t!)
  • to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide every relationship, with my kids, my husband, friends and acquaintances.
  • to give individual time to each of my five children every day.
  • to debrief with Ben once a day.
  • to live a life of gratitude for everything in my life
  • to give God my best time, not just the leftover mutterings at the end of an exhausted day. He showed me through a dream yesterday that I love (some) things more than Him.
  • to trust God that He will do good in my life. (Have you ever been in a place where you are afraid to ask God what He wants to do with you, in case He might give you something painful/unpleasant?)
  • to take time to do things I really love to do: like trying out new recipes and working on my quilt.

This, admittedly, is an impossible list, as I have said above. I am a sinner, and undoubtedly I will mess up as soon as I press ‘send’ on this blog post. And yet, with God’s Spirit working in me, the pressure is off to be perfect. His kind and gentle reminders convict and make me want to love Him more. That verse from James 1:5 comes back to me often,

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (NIV)

It’s all over Proverbs too: wisdom is there for anyone who asks for it.

I feel like someone who is sitting on a beach, with the sun coming down on her for the first time in a long time. I want to soak in the heat and warmth of the sun.

p.s. If you want to see what has been influencing this list, here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

“Surprised by the Voice of God” by Jack Deere
“When People are Big and God is Small” by Edward Welch
The Bible: specifically Romans

September 8, 2013

The ‘My life is hard’ fallacy

by mendibpng


In the last few weeks, I’ve digested ‘The Prodigal God’ by Timothy Keller rather slowly. I’ve seen myself in the younger brother character some but more recently in the older brother character.

Let me explain how this applies to my life.

I am wary of preachers who exhort people to ‘take up your cross’ and ‘give up your lives for Jesus.’ I am wary of visitors who come here, not knowing my situation and who question the way in which we live.

Haven’t I given up enough already? Haven’t I left the comfort of the First World to be here, far away from my family, in order to do my part in spreading the gospel through Bible translation?  I left modern conveniences and entertainment/eating out options behind when I signed up. Oh and my stuff. I packed away or gave away a lot of my wedding gifts if they weren’t practical on the mission field. I grieved for the lack of stability while also seeing our life as an adventure. I’ve put myself voluntarily into constant transition and have dropped myself into a culture that I still don’t understand after 11 years of [cheerfully] trying to assimilate and understand. Some days I feel really comfortable, and some days I really hate the skirts I wear here. I really miss being able to walk around at night without worrying about encountering ‘rascals’ (thieves, rapists, etc.)  What I wouldn’t give for a quick trip to a bulk food store to stock up on things I’ve [again, cheerfully] greatly reduced in our budget to save money, like cheese, cereal, and meat. Oh and I will just give a brief mention about how the stress and burnout (in doing work for You) has taken it’s toll on our marriage and family life. I handed my husband over to You, God, keeping a loose grip on him, knowing that You had important work for him to do. I did it all for You, God. I am [mostly] content in all of these things!!!!! (or am I?)

Please Don’t Ask Me To Give Up Any More. PLEASE.

It might be obvious where I’m going here.

The two brothers in the prodigal son (you can read the story here) came from two perspectives, the older brother (which Keller refers to as the way of moral conformity) and the younger son (the way of self-discovery).

The person in the way of moral conformity says, “I’m not going to do what I want, but what tradition and the community tells me to do.” The person choosing the way of self-discovery says: “I’m the only one who can decide what is right or wrong for me. I’m going to live as I want to live and find my true self and happiness that way. Our Western society is so deeply divided between these two approaches that hardly anyone can conceive of any other way to live. If you criticize or distance yourself from one, everyone assumes you have chosen to follow the other, because each of these approaches tends to divide the whole world into two basic groups. (Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God)

I had always thought that the story exposed raw jealousy that the older brother had for the younger one…maybe that is true in part, but Keller says that the older brother in the story had even deeper sin issues. By ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘avoiding wrong,’ he really was trying to control his father to get what he thought he deserved. I can see how I’ve leaned towards the same thinking. When something unexpected comes along (or when we meet with our own prodigals) I look at God and say, “Haven’t I been doing what you asked me this whole time? Why is this [bad] thing happening?” A lot of expats I know here in PNG would not even fault me for having this perspective because they get what I’m talking about, I think. At least the people I’ve talked to recently do! But let me go back to Keller, because he explains it so well:

 Elder brothers obey God to get things. They don’t obey God to get God himself–in order to resemble him, love him, know him, and delight him. So religious and moral people can be avoiding Jesus as Savior and Lord as much as the younger brothers who say they don’t believe in God and define right and wrong for themselves.

Here, then, is Jesus’ radical redefinition of what is wrong with us. Nearly everyone defines sin as breaking a list of rules. Jesus, though, shows us that a man who has violated virtually nothing on the list of moral misbehaviors can be every bit as spiritually lost as the most profligate, immoral person. Why? Because Sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God, Savior, Lord, and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life. (Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God)

My prayer now is, “Jesus, please help me see where I have put myself in Your place. Help me see where I have tried to ‘follow the rules’ and ‘do good’ to use you to get what I want (comfort, peace, contentment). I’ve tried to control my circumstances by worrying about them. I’ve allowed my mind to circle through things over and over without giving time for You to come in and restore me. Help me to rest in the fact that You have everything under control.” And echoing Peter, “Help me in my unbelief!”

I know that the more I release myself to this way of thinking, the deeper and richer my walk with God will be. He speaks. He gives wisdom. The distractions I dabble in will never satisfy me like He does. I love how the Message translates this verse I learned as a young child:

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Philippians 4:6-7)

p.s. Friends, if you have persevered to the end, thank you. I do want to insert a caveat here: all of the things I listed above are true and I have gone through the grief and loss cycle for some more than others, particularly the one about leaving my family behind. I don’t want to minimize the grief/loss side of this, and I still expect to feel the grief from those things from time to time. I just want to make sure that my attitude towards God is right when I’m doing that.

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