December 25, 2002 - thoughts from a Christian, home alone on Christmas night
Cold nights still come,
"alone"ness still happens,
but He's a shroud about me.
There's no living apart from comfort,
no dismal darkness to overwhelm -
just a nearness, constant closeness
of a Presence that fulfills -
light in darkness,
hope in despair.
Just when things seem impossible,
He creates another way -
value to the worthless,
redemption to the meaningless.
Dead ends become new beginnings,
the seeming void becomes solid rock.
Safety, safeness, safe.
December 23, 2002 - God's valuables
I had another epiphany the other night. It really isn't about my worth that makes me useable by God for His Kingdom or not. It's really - simply - that all those others are so valuable to Him. They are so valuable to Him that He would create a way to use me to make an impact on His Kingdom. He would create a way (though it's literally so impossible with my inadequate abilities) just because 1. I am willing, 2. they are His valuables, and 3. He loves us all intensely.
December 22, 2002 - asking for God's will
1 Kings 20 - made me realize what a precarious thing it really is to hear God's will for my life. Once He tells you something, you better obey Him completely or you'll be in big trouble (and I mean the fatal kind of trouble). So I've been wanting to know God's will for my life (in terms of this coming year), but I guess the question really is - do I really want to know God's will for my life? I can only answer yes to that question if I can also say yes that I am willing to obey Him completely. (Why should He reveal His will to me if I'm just going to push it aside and do nothing with it?) So am I willing? After I can say yes that I am willing to do whatever He says, then ought I ask Him for His will for my life...
December 21, 2002 - quiet times
I had an epiphany this morning. Quiet times start the night before. Meaning... if my aim is to have quiet times in the morning (which it is), then I need to think "quiet times start the night before." Only in that way will I be able to convince myself to go to sleep early. Otherwise, if I'm just thinking about "bedtime", I'll always dawdle. But if sleeping early is part of my quiet time - if it is, in a sense, a time consecrated for Him, then I will be compelled to sleep.
Dec 18, 2002 - possessing nothing
I just found something in my bookbag that I wrote a few months ago after a serious heart-victory -- but at the time I dared not declare it aloud. I was unsure that it would remain true, but time has proven it to be so...
"I have reached the blessedness of possessing nothing. I can joke about marriage now without the craving, struggling, wrestling in my heart -- oh, there's freedom in this because the yearning for marriage no longer has a smothering hold on me. It is nowhere near being an idol in my heart any longer." --July 12, 2002
It had been an idol in my heart for so long...
The concept of "the blessedness of possessing nothing" is explained in Tozer's "The Pursuit of God", chapter 2.
December 17, 2002 - tithing
Tithing has been, for me, one of the greatest parts of having a salary-paying job. This is actually a pretty amazing thing for me to say. It took a seriously long time before I got to this point. (It was a progression of many, many verses that helped to build a correct conviction and understanding of God's view on money. He makes us stewards of His money so that we can use it for eternal things - things in which will glorify Him and further His Kingdom.) (Read this story from the past.) :) So now I love the giving! Every time I write a check for tithings and offerings, I feel like it's a stomp on satan - a victory over him. I guess it's highly personal to me since I used to be so enslaved to "money." In some small ways, I think I still am -- or at least, it is a temptation for me to be enslaved to it - to be possessed by it once again. So maybe that's why I always feel like I'm stomping satan out when I give to God with a cheerful heart. And it's funny too because it's truly an overflowing DESIRE I have in my heart to GIVE to Him ~ ever since that day (click on link above) when I discovered unchained giving. :)
Dec 12, 2002 - Christmas magic
when i look over the years to past Christmases, i have a very distinct memory of one particular Christmas in high school before i was a Christian. i spent that Christmas morning in my room secretly listening to sermons on the radio about Jesus' birth. i say "secretly" because i knew my parents would think i was crazy or something to be listening to that Jesus-talk. but I knew in my heart that i was listening to what was True. i knew it. i knew it! there was just something so marvelous about the story that was being told. it struck me to be as wonderfully magical as any fictional stories i had ever dreamed about or read about. --but even more so magical, and more so wonderful.
nowadays, after being a Christian for some years, i still marvel in awe of what Almighty God chose to do. i can't help but shed continual tears through this season. singing Christmas carols never fails to cause me to break down. it is still so marvelous to me.
some words i tacked on to one of the favorites:
Come to calvary and see
Him whose blood was shed for thee;
Come adore on bended knee
Christ the Lord who's set you free!
Gloria... in excelsis Deo... (one quarter of Latin helped me understand that means "Glory to God in the highest" -- or "the highest glory - goes - to God!")
December 10, 2002 - not getting married
i think i've finally acknowledged to myself that the real reason why i really don't think i'm going to get married is because i am not beautiful. i once reconciled myself to the idea that maybe i will one day get married because there might be a man who lives by "Kingdom standards" and he may see me as beautiful because of Christ in me (for who is more beautiful than Jesus?). but i think recently i have come to realize that as much as men in the Kingdom desire to live by Kingdom standards, they (as we all) are still living in the flesh, and so - as such - still struggle with their flesh. they need to struggle with being willing to marry someone who is not beautiful, they need to pray about it, lay it down, etc... and boy are they glad and relieved when God actually gives them someone beautiful. and then again, it is the men who pursue, not the women, so why wouldn't they only "choose" those who are beautiful to pursue?
so... my response: at times i feel very upset by this. it frustrates me and angers me...
but that is when i've started with the wrong starting point. getting upset comes from the mis-belief that marriage is the ultimate happiness and the ultimate gift, and if i don't get married, then i will be gypped of something important -- that God is being cruel and unkind and withholding something good from me. that is the wrong starting point. the right starting point, of course, is that marriage is not the ultimate happiness or the "ultimate relationship." God is. And He has not nor will ever gyp me of that.
December 9, 2002 - so many desires, so many desires
i have so many desires and yet, i have found that my deepest longing is not that He should change His will to match with mine, but that I would change mine to match with His. This thought is so eloquently writ up by Amy Carmichael:
"And shall I pray thee change thy will, Father,
Until it be according unto mine?
But no, Lord, that never shall be, rather
I pray thee blend my human will with thine.
"I pray thee hush the hurrying, eager longing,
I pray thee soothe the pangs of keen desire,
See in my quiet places wishes thronging,
Forbid them, Lord, purge, though it be with fire.
"And work in me to will and do they pleasure,
Let all within me, peaceful, reconciled,
Tarry content my Wellbeloved's leisure,
At last, at last, even as a weaned child."
December 6, 2002 - the right starting point
once we've got the right starting point, life makes more sense.
as a believer, we often think that because we belong to God and "pay Him our dues," we deserve to have a really good life. we think that because we are Christians, this means we are guaranteed a beautiful/handsome spouse, wonderful family, suburban house, steady job, good health. we deserve it! that is protocol. but once we start thinking like that, we have done the same thing as the skeptic (in the previous thought). we are beginning with the wrong starting point.
we do not "deserve" any of the above. if God chooses to give us these things (and He so often does because He delights in giving us good gifts), then we need to accept it with humble gratitude. because in reality, we don't deserve any of those good things. and most of all, we don't deserve salvation/His satisfying Presence! but, funny thing, not only does He gift us with salvation (and allow us to have intimacy with Him), but He also tops it all off with those aforementioned wonderful gifts. He has gone above and beyond what we deserve.
the right starting point helps us understand that the best Gift ever is God Himself. a gift that keeps on giving and never stops.
once we've got this right starting point, the loss of all those nice things (spouse, job, health, house) will never be quite as devastating... because we've still got God, i.e. the very Best... no matter what temporal thing we lose.
and here's the intriguing part, God allows us to have the loss of these things (yes, shattered dreams) so that we would understand deeper and deeper that we've already got the very Best. He will do this when we hold onto those other things too tightly, so that we would SEE what can truly satisfy us.
December 5, 2002 - the wrong starting point
it occurred to me the other day that a lot of inscrutable dilemmas skeptics wrestle with stem from an inaccurate starting point. they ask questions such as "if God is so great, why does he allow suffering in this world?" or "why doesn't he just destroy all the bad people who hurt others?" or "why would God allow 'good' people to go to hell? they're good, they don't deserve it."
i could answer all these questions for you.
but i'll tell you first that the root of the problem is a wrong starting point. these questions presuppose that we, as people, deserve good things. our starting point is that: we deserve to not suffer, we deserve to go to heaven, we don't deserve punishments, we are the victims and it's "those other people" who are "bad."
but that's the wrong starting point. we are not good people, we are bad, we deserve punishment, we cause plenty of other people to suffer because of our bad traits, flaws and selfishness. and why in the world would we deserve to go to heaven and be with God when we have spent our entire lives being disobedient to Him?
we deserve God's wrath.
so that's what makes it so much more amazing that even while we were still sinners and enemies of God, He chose to die for all those bad things we've done to pay for the punishment we deserve -- just so that we could be with Him.
the real questions are: why would God choose to suffer for us? why doesn't He destroy all of us now? why would God love such sinners (definitely not good people) and allow them to get near Him? those are the questions i have.
December 4, 2002 - plans for anywhere
I am a J on the Myers-Briggs personality test. This means that I am a planner. I'm a scheduled person. I like to know what's going to happen. I like to be early and on time. I like closure. Spontaneity makes me uncomfortable. These are my natural tendencies.
But God does not work that way. At the beginning of my relationship with Him, He helped to establish some groundwork with inspiring me to memorize Prov 19:21 - with the understanding that this is the way things are: "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." I learned in my early days of ministry that it's good to plan how an evening will go, but to always offer it up to the Lord to change the plans if He so chooses -- if He has better plans. And I always got to watch in awe and delight as He would transform my meager plans to something wonderfully glorious where He would get the most glory. And so I learned (especially from my two best friends who are extreme P's -- one who loved to discard the notes that she had so painstakingly made for messages she would give to the youth group and the other who would always decide on the fly to do something extremely unusual) that being a servant of God meant unplanned adventures. Pam and I coined a phrase - "ATSL" - one night as we prepared for a Sunday school lesson, and thereafter, I began to live life out... "As The Spirit Leads."
These days I feel like God is preparing me. You know how when you get ready for a trip, you prepare yourself emotionally, mentally, physically? Well, I feel like I'm being prepared for such a trip. "Where to?" you ask. Well, that's the funny part. I feel like I am preparing to go "anywhere" with God. Some trip somewhere - I have no idea where. And strangely, I am not unnerved by this unknown and unpredictability (although I clearly once would've). I have been trained to trust the One from whose Hand offers the greatest adventures...
People often describe themselves as someone doing something, planning to do something else. Here is my two cents on that: I am Mary Ann Nguyen, a researcher for the University of California, San Diego, planning to go "anywhere." I am not planning to go to grad school; I am not planning to climb the corporate ladder; I am not planning to live in luxury. I am planning for anywhere. That's my plan.
December 2, 2002 - superficial prayer & true prayer
I think it's tempting to pray superficially. Superficial prayer is when you come before God as a duty in order to pray - with condescension - for the needs of other people - as if you, yourself, were so super-spiritual and don't need Christ. Superficial prayer results from a spiritual pride that is shockingly subtle. It's very hard to recognize.
I am prone to being guilty of this.
True prayer requires a willingness to be transformed by God - a willingess that says, "I will obey you" to God, even before knowing what His instructions might be. (The ability to do this weighs heavily upon your grasp of the reality that God has in mind only what is best for you. If you grasp this well, then it becomes easy to say, "I'm all yours" to God.) True prayer also requires that we come before God with humility and honesty. We cannot meet Him in true prayer if we do not humbly acknowledge and admit to Him that we need Him and can't make it on our own. We also need to be honest with Him - confessing to Him what we're really struggling with and where we have transgressed against Him. And, yes, the truth is, we are always lacking somewhere and have transgressed His Perfection in some way...
But the truth of the matter is that often I don't think I actually need Him and nor do I recognize that I've messed up. That's why sometimes I miss out on true prayer.
December 1, 2002 - the stuff of dreams
I'm reading a book by Elisabeth Elliot about her first year as a missionary. She writes of the difficult adjustment of "disentangling" herself from the world she had known, "One of my recurring dreams was of going into a dimestore. That became to me almost a dream of paradise - to be able to wander freely among the displays of vegetable parers and shining pots, dishcloths, notebooks, Scotch tape... The familiar became the stuff of dreams, and the stuff of former dreams - the jungle, Indians, thatched roofs, campfires, a strange unwritten language - became familiar." (From "These Strange Ashes")
How strange the thought of race and time to the passing heart and life's travails. We must hold onto what we know of God and know from God of what is to be done today and how we ought to live today, dream His dreams of tomorrow but live in harmony with His Truths today, lest we regret our todays as they fade into yesterday. For soon - very soon - the familiar will become the stuff of dreams and the stuff of former dreams will become familiar. Passing time becomes a predicament for the sentimental heart.
Copyright 2002, A Lil' Ladybug Production.
Mary Ann Nguyen. All Rights Reserved.