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I was driving in my car last week when Israel Kamakawiwo’ole‘s Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World remix came on (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9b3_1CcXtY). As I listened to that song I had this fleeting thought: what must heaven have been like for Ray Charles? I immediately had this mental image of Ray Charles in heaven standing in a wide open field surrounded by the most vivid blue Kansas sky and big green trees, arms thrown up and head back laughing with joy at the vibrancy that surrounded him. The deep, palpable, joy in this image made me weep for joy at that moment and still brings tears to my eyes.

Funny enough, I’m not a particularly big Ray Charles fan! But I think the idea of someone who was blind seeing nature and colors (and the real, most true beauty of things) for the first time in a very long time is (at first) a starker image then what it will be like for a sighted person, like me, to see these same things. But then, I realized that it will be the same for me! Here is what I think the Holy Spirit was telling me in that moment: I don’t know what Ray Charles’ relationship with God was like and I sure hope that he gets to experience that, but I do know that there is this place where God meets us in the deepest longings of our hearts. A place where such vibrant joy awaits all who are reconciled to God. And I was humbled and thankful once again for Jesus, who held nothing back but gave everything he had to love me and show me how to love God.

I have held onto this exchange with the Holy Spirit for a week or so now, returning to think about it here and there. After all, I couldn’t not respond to this, right? So I put a Ray Charles station on my Pandora list because, now, every time I hear him I am reminded of this image! The Holy Spirit has a weird sense of humor . . .   

The Great Divorce

This is one of my favorite C.S. Lewis stories, from The Great Divorce. Every time I read it I think about what redemption and resurrection may be like!
C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, pp. 98-103:

I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ. Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily. What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. “Shut up, I tell you!” he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile. Then be turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains.

“Off so soon?” said a voice.

The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.

“Yes. I’m off,” said the Ghost. “Thanks for all your hospitality. But it’s no good, you see. I told this little chap,” (here he indicated the lizard), “that he’d have to be quiet if he came -which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won’t do here: I realise that. But he won’t stop. I shall just have to go home.”

‘Would you like me to make him quiet?” said the flaming Spirit-an angel, as I now understood.

“Of course I would,” said the Ghost.

“Then I will kill him,” said the Angel, taking a step forward.

“Oh-ah-look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,” said the Ghost, retreating.

“Don’t you want him killed?”

“You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.”

“It’s the only way,” said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the lizard. “Shall I kill it?”

“Well, that’s a further question. I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here-well, it’s so damned embarrassing.”

“May I kill it?”

“Well, there’s time to discuss that later.”

“There is no time. May I kill it?”

“Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please-really-don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.”

“May I kill it?”

“Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.”

“The gradual process is of no use at all.”

“Don’t you think so? Well, I’ll think over what you’ve said very carefully. I honestly will. In fact I’d let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I’m not feeling frightfully well to-day. It would be silly to do it now. I’d need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day, perhaps.”

“There is no other day. All days are present now.”

“Get back! You’re burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You’d kill me if you did.”

“It is not so.”

“Why, you’re hurting me now.”

“I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.”

“Oh, I know. You think I’m a coward. But it isn’t that. Really it isn’t. I say! Let me run back by tonight’s bus and get an opinion from my own doctor. I’ll come again the first moment I can.”

“This moment contains all moments.”

“Why are you torturing me? You are jeering at me. How can I let you tear me to pieces? If you wanted to help me, why didn’t you kill the damned thing without asking me–before I knew? It would be all over by now if you had.”

“I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?”

The Angel’s hands were almost closed on the Lizard, but not quite. Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying.

“Be careful,” it said. “He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever. It’s not natural. How could you live? You’d be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us. Yes, yes. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams–all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent …. “

“Have I your permission?” said the Angel to the Ghost.

“I know it will kill me.”

“It won’t. But supposing it did?”

“You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.”

“Then I may?”

“d*mn and blast you! Go on can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,” bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, “God help me. God help me.”

Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken backed, on the turf.

“Ow! That’s done for me,” gasped the Ghost, reeling backwards.

For a moment I could make out nothing distinctly. Then I saw, between me and the nearest bush, unmistakably solid but growing every moment solider, the upper arm and the shoulder of a man. Then, brighter still and stronger, the legs and hands. The neck and golden head materialised while I watched, and if my attention had not wavered I should have seen the actual completing of a man–an immense man, naked, not much smaller than the Angel. What distracted me was the fact that at the same moment something seemed to be happening to the Lizard. At first I thought the operation had failed. So far from dying, the creature was still struggling and even growing bigger as it struggled. And as it grew it changed. Its hinder parts grew rounder. The tail, still flickering, became a tail of hair that flickered between huge and glossy buttocks. Suddenly I started back, rubbing my eyes. What stood before me was the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold. It was smooth and shining, rippled with swells of flesh and muscle, whinneying and stamping with its hoofs. At each stamp the land shook and the trees dindled.

The new-made man turned and clapped the new horse’s neck. It nosed his bright body. Horse and master breathed each into the other’s nostrils. The man turned from it, flung himself at the feet of the Burning One, and embraced them. When he rose I thought his face shone with tears, but it may have been only the liquid love and brightness (one cannot distinguish them in that country) which flowed from him. I had not long to think about it. In joyous haste the young man leaped upon the horse’s back. Turning in his seat he waved a farewell, then nudged the stallion with his heels. They were off before I well knew what was happening. There was riding if you like! I came out as quickly as I could from among the bushes to follow them with my eyes; but already they were only like a shooting star far off on the green plain, and soon among the foothills of the mountains. Then, still like a star, I saw them winding up, scaling what seemed impossible steeps, and quicker every moment, till near the dim brow of the landscape, so high that I must strain my neck to see them, they vanished, bright themselves, into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning.

A couple of days ago I was listening to one of my favorite websites – the audio devotional site www.prayasyougo.org. The passage that day was from Genesis 28:10-22, it was the story of Jacob’s Ladder. Jacob has a dream in which God shows him a ladder with angels ascending and descending and God speaks to Jacob about His plan for Jacob’s future. When he wakes up Jacob says: “God is in this place and I did not know it! How awesome is this place!”

 

I love the sense I get of Jacob’s surprise in this passage! God surprised Jacob by revealing Himself in an unexpected way at an unexpected place and with unexpected news. Sometimes our idea of God is so small, we only expect to meet God in the predictable places: at church, through Bible study, in prayer. Often we limit our own ability to be surprised by God by never venturing out of our safe little bubble of comfort. But something I am always reminded of when I am serving in a new or different context is how big our God really is.

 

Over the last couple days I have had the opportunity to be surprised by God in new and unexpected ways. One way was in the story of a man named David. David’s Grandfather was martyred for his faith in Jesus, his parents were persecuted for their faith, but he is now the Pastor of a church growing so fast they must build a new sanctuary (their current building only seats 500 people so they hold 5 services each weekend to accommodate their 2,500+ weekly worshipers). As David shared his story in our small group he exclaimed how wonderful it is that his grandfather’s vision of the Gospel of Jesus Christ being proclaimed in China has come to fruition through God’s call to ministry in his own life.

 

I HATE flying, so far I have eaten frog, duck’s feet, and just passed on the pig intestine at lunch today, the mattresses are more accurately described as box springs, and I have over a dozen mosquito bites on my legs but I am HAPPY to tolerate any of those discomforts in order to sit across from David and hear this amazing story of how God has been working in 3 generations of his family in order to bring the Good News of Jesus to the people of China!

 

The devotional I already referenced asked me to consider a question that I want to pass on to you today: What are the things that help or prevent you from hearing God’s voice and responding to God’s vision for your life? Pray for God to increase the things that are helpful and for the Holy Spirit to empower you to overcome those issues that prevent you from embracing God’s dream for you.

 

David’s great-grandfather answered this same question with his very life, his parents answered it with their suffering, and he has answered it in responding to God’s call to ministry. Unfamiliar food, a restless nights sleep, and a little itching seem pretty insignificant in comparison. I am humbled and in awe of the vision God shared with me through the life of this brother in Christ. God is in this place in surprising, unexpected, and incredibly touching ways. How awesome is this place!

This morning we went to St. Paul’s Church to worship with our Chinese brothers and sisters. This is the same church that I waited in a line 100 people deep to get into the last time I was in China. This time we made our way through another large crowd of people either coming or going from one of the 4 worship services held at this church on Sunday morning; they also hold 3 services on Saturday night, packing the 500 seat sanctuary at every one of them for a total of 3,500 worshipers each weekend. 


One of the most wonderful aspects of worshiping at this church is the familiarity of the liturgy. We had a prayer of confession, a unison reading of the Apostles’ Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, the doxology, and I’m sure I’m leaving something out. But it was my friend Marci’s reaction to the hymn singing that really stands out in my mind. 
 

But first you must understand that this church packs out 30 minutes early when everyone arrives to “practice” the hymns. Not just the choir – everyone. The only seats in the house were the 2 rows that were reserved for us. Thankfully that gave the American group some time to practice the hymns as well, they even had hymn books that were in both Chinese and English. After a few rounds we had all pretty much caught on and the worship service began. The very first hymn had a refrain of “Hallelujah, Amen,” and it was the one moment in worship where everyone in the room was saying, singing, praying, the same thing. It was this phenomenon that compelled Marci to wonder out loud: “is this what it will be like in Heaven?” 


A moment like that makes any difficulties of a venture like this all worth while. In that moment the Holy Spirit gave me such a gift – a glimpse of what Heaven may be like: full of people who at one time may have been very distant from each other (whether because of ethnicity, geography, politics, age, or whatever else) but who are now united in one voice praising God! It is simply unlike anything I have ever experienced in the States and I am once again in awe of the way in which the Church in China is on fire for Jesus! Praise God from whom all blessings flow . . . hallelujah, amen, indeed.

 

Well, I’m in China again and since that is where I was the last time I was able to do any consistent blogging I thought I’d give it a shot this time too! No promises about what happens when I return home though . . .

China is an amazing place to be and every time I’m here I experience the Holy Spirit in new and wonderful ways through the powerful work of God in these people in this place. This morning I woke up ridiculously early: 4:30am – and if you know me at all you can only imagine my pain at this. But I was less irritated at being awake that early when I realized I had the lyrics to “God Of This City” by Chris Tomlin ( http://youtu.be/d61LamkXfwk ) running around in my head: “you’re the God of this city, you’re the King of these people, you’re the Lord of this nation, you are . . . “

There are so many misconceptions about Christianity in China. It is such a big place and yes, persecution does happen – I do not intend to dismiss persecution at all. But Jesus has a visible presence here in China. Giant crosses on the tops of beautiful sanctuaries beckon people to come know the God of this city. Christian bookstores offer Bibles and a multitude of devotional/theological books to anyone who walks through the door. We pray openly (with our Chinese national friends) in hotel lobbies and restaurants.

As a Communist country it is true that the people here do not share the same sense/lifestyle/amount of freedom we do in America, but that has not stopped God’s work here. Sometimes I wonder if it the opposite is true. If, in a system of government that exerts considerable control over people lives, perhaps God woos our Chinese brothers and sisters to Himself through the great freedom that is offered in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

I do not know God’s immediate plan for China, but I do know that God has a plan for China. I know that He is the God of this city and I wait in anticipation knowing that “greater things have yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.”

Isaiah 58

Lent is fast approaching! This lent I am working with some wonderful Adult Discipleship team members at University Place Presbyterian Church to produce a Lenten Devotional. I had been looking at spiritual practices such as prayer, solitude, and fasting when I came across this passage from the Prophet Isaiah:

 6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
   and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
   and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
   and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
   and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
   and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
   you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

   “If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
   with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
   and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you always;
   he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
   and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
   like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
   and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
   Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Wow! What a new meaning this brings to the practice of fasting. Imagine if it were less about our own deprivation and more about the provision of those in need. What a stunning difference that would make. I also came across this restatment of what Jesus tells the goats in Matthew 25 from The Hole in our Gospel by Richard Sterns:

“For I was hungry, while you had all you needed. I was thirsty but you drank bottled water. I was a stranger and you wanted me deported. I needed clothes but you needed more clothes. I was sick and you pointed out the behaviors that led to my sickness. I was in prison and you said I was getting what I deserved.”

I am going to bed convicted and prayerful that the Holy Spirit will show me how best to use these pearls of wisdom.

Echo’s Obituary

Rest in Peace Echo, our beloved family dog. Echo was 1 year old when we brought him home from the San Diego County Animal Shelter. Tim and I had been married just over 2 years and Echo was our first dog. He was a classic mutt – a little foxhound, boxer, probably some pit thrown in.

He was a supremely silly puppy and his antics made us laugh a lot. I will remember watching him fred-flintstone it on our wood floors and crash into every piece of furniture and wall in the house. His ability to destroy any toy in minutes was impressive to say the least. He was also a very smart dog and knew commands like “shake right” and “shake left,” how to speak, lay, stay, find any of his numerous toys by their individual name, and just a few months ago I taught him “roll over” – which just goes to show you that an old dog CAN learn new tricks! When he was a puppy I took him to work with me at a house that sat on an acre of land. He ran the length of it many times a day, chasing ducks and birds, and splashing in whatever body of water was available. He made friends with the 2 Great Danes on the property and was routinely put in his place by them.

Echo was an excellent watch dog (some nights a little too excellent); I distinctly remember a time when Echo roused us in the middle of the night. He was in the bedroom with Tim and I wrapped myself in a blanket and went to the living room to look under the drapes. When Echo and Tim came out of the bedroom I suddenly heard Tim yell “it’s mommy! It’s mommy!” and I turned around to see that Echo had positioned himself right in front of Tim, ready to protect his human.

We adopted Whisper when Echo was almost 3 (she was 4 months old). When I brought her home Tim held our new little puppy up in front of Echo when he suddenly caught sight of a long, thin, white, moving toy near daddy. Needless to say, Echo reached up and nipped at the end of it, Whisper gave a sharp yelp from having her poor tail bitten and Echo fell back in shock! So began many years of chase and play between Echo and Whisper. When Whisper was a puppy she would work Echo into a tizzy and then dive-bomb under the couch before he could catch her. He would run after her and slam, nose first, into the couch trying to reach her. They spent many hours chasing each other around and around the gazebo in our backyard, and sometimes in the evenings they would suddenly begin howling at the moon together – it was a beautiful sound.

During Echo’s final days we had a lot of fun together. Tim braved the December-cold pool water at our neighbor’s house in order to give Echo a chance to swim again. This was something he loved to do when he was a puppy, and it was 90* outside. He didn’t seem to like it so much in December, when it was 65* outside, but hey, we tried! Echo had his very own big bowl of popcorn, but would only eat it from my hand. In one of the shining achievements of his life, Echo was finally allowed to sleep on the bed with us, and lay on the couch without reprimand. Tim took him for a run and we went on a long car ride where Echo got to sit in the front seat and have the window rolled all the way down. He had a raw steak dinner and got to lick Tim all over his face for as long as he wanted. And, of course, Echo was given lots of hugs, kisses, and belly rubs.

Echo, we loved you very much and we will miss you dearly. You brought us much joy and though you are gone from this life, you will never be absent from our hearts. Till we see you at the bridge . . .

 

The Rainbow Bridge

 

By the edge of a wood, at the foot of a hill,

Is a lush green meadow where time stands still.

Where the friends of man and woman do run,

When their time on earth is over and done.

 

For here, between this world and the next,

Is a place where each beloved creature finds rest.

On this golden land they wait and they play,

Till the rainbow bridge they cross over one day.

 

No more do they suffer in pain or in sadness,

For here they are whole, their lives filled with gladness.

Their limbs are restored, their health is renewed,

Their bodies have healed with strength imbued.

 

They romp through the grass without even a care,

Until one day they start and sniff at the air.

All ears prick forward, eyes dart front and back,

Then all of a sudden one breaks from the pack.

 

For just at that instant, their eyes have met;

Together again, both person and pet.

So they run to each other, these friends from long past,

The time of their parting is over at last.

 

The sadness they felt while they were apart,

Has turned into joy once more in each heart.

They embrace with a love that will last forever,

And then, side by side, they cross over together.

 

(this poem can be found at: http://www.newrainbowbridge.com/NRB/rbpoem.htm)

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