I Am Rich

“Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.”‭- 1 Timothy‬ ‭6:17‬

It’s amazing how I act as if God is holding out on me, how I decide to take matters into my own hands as if God isn’t already doing things in my life, as if He isn’t giving richly.

We talk about the parable of the prodigal son, but in that story it is the father who is prodigal. He gives and gives and gives to his lost son despite the fact that the son was young and reckless. And when the son returned, the father threw an extravagant, lavish party celebrating his return. We know that this parable is about God the Father and us, His children, who wish to take what we think is rightfully ours and leave the safety of His house. God truly is the prodigal Father. He gives far more than I could ever hope to deserve. And yet I act as if He is trying to keep me from having the things that will make me happy.

> But He gives me richly.

> He gives me all things.

> He gives me so that I may enjoy.

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So he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
– 1 Kings 19:10

Walking this road, living this life, I am meant to be set apart from others in this world. I am not meant to be like everybody else. And sometimes this path will be filled with loneliness. Even Elijah – Elijah! – felt lonely. The man who raised a young man from the dead, the man who brought fire down from heaven, felt lonely, and scared. It’s clearly not unusual, clearly not something I alone struggle with. Being in a land where it seems that “I alone am left”, I find myself feeling lonely. I feel like no one is here to support me or protect me or at least be here for me. But what I sometimes fail to realize is that God is aware. And He is near.

And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
– v. 9

God was there. God knew that Elijah was going into the cave and was about to let the self-pity settle in, and instead of leaving Elijah to mope God’s word came to him, offered an ear to listen, offered comfort where he could find none.

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice [a delicate whispering voice].
– vv. 11-12

And so God took Elijah out of his cave of self-pity and woke the man up. Nothing wakes a person up quite like tearing winds, earthquakes, and fires. But then after all of that, He came quietly, delicately, speaking to Elijah.

Is this not so typical? How many times has God done this in my life? He takes me out of my slump, wakes me up, and just when I think I may fling myself from the proverbial mountain because of the quakes and fires, He speaks ever so delicately to my heart. I never noticed this translation before: “a delicate whispering voice”, but it makes perfect sense when you think of who God is and how He works.

I am about to give you a little insight to my past here in hopes that it will help make this message more tangible.

When I was in high school, I had a very teenage heartbreak. There were winds blowing and quakes shaking inside of me. I will never forget how hard I took it. I will never forget how I could not make myself stop crying even though I had been sobbing nonstop for hours, curled up on my bedroom floor. And then God asked me, “What are you doing here, Marina?” And I begged, I pleaded for Him to make it stop, to hold me and making the crying stop because I was just so tired. Then instantly, the winds quieted, the quaking stopped, the fire extinguished, and my crying finally ceased. He held me, and I could actually feel it. He spoke delicately to my heart and quieted the storm in my soul.
This is a night that I will never forget, even when I am 75 and the Alzheimer’s has kicked in.

brokenheart

More recently than that, God set me back up on that mountain. There was fighting, crying, hurting, all winds, quakes, and fires. I was experiencing weeks of unbearable tempests. And again, God spoke to me, this time through Abouna Bishoy, saying, “What are you doing here, Marina?” Things became clear. The storm quieted. And a delicate whisper eased my heart for the first time in a month.

God will not leave us to wallow in self-pity. He will not leave us to die of loneliness in a cave somewhere, but instead He will wake us up. He will shake us. Then He will delicately whisper words of comfort to us.

Sometimes we need to be woken up by blasting winds in order to be ready to hear the still small delicate whisper.

Stronger Than A Thousand Mighty Men

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
– 1 Corinthians 1:18

This verse is kind of easy to gloss over. When I read through 1 Corinthians at one point or another I had underlined it, but that’s it. I feel like a lot of the time we read verses such as this one and think, That’s a nice sentiment, having the power of God, and then we move on to the next one.

We need to stop. We need to meditate in what “the power of God” really means. The power of God is not something neat or kind of cool. It is awesome, in the true, original meaning of the word: The power of God is so great that it fills people with awe and wonder. It moves mountains – literally! It heals the sick, lifts up the dead, disperses demons, even forgives sins. And that’s only to name a few!

Even before Christ walked this earth and showed us some of what He is made of, it was evident how incredible God’s power is:
The three saintly youth (Daniel 3:19-30)- God’s power kept the flames of the furnace from harming Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as they praised God.
Daniel (Daniel 6:10-23)- God’s power kept the lions from devouring him.
Or how about Elijah! He caused a drought (1 Kings 17:1-7). He raised a young man from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24). He brought fire down from heaven (1 Kings 18:20-40)!

And there are countless more wonders that have been done through the power of God!

elijah

Just listen to what King David had to say about merely the voice of God:

The voice of the LORD is powerful;
The voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars,
Yes, the LORD splinters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes them also skip like a calf,
Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD divided the flames of fire.
The voice of the LORD shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth,
And strips the forests bare;
And in His temple everyone says, “Glory!”
– Psalm 29:4-9

The power of God is not just some nice, abstract idea. It is alive as He is alive. And if I am live through His resurrection, then the power of God is alive in me. If I truly have faith, even of a mustard seed (do you know how tiny those things are?!), then I could literally move mountains from one part of the earth to another; look at St. Simon the Tanner! He was just an average Joe like you and me, except for one thing: he had real faith. And with that faith he moved a mountain!

Or even more recently than that, people like Abouna Makary Younan, who casts out demons daily!

The power of God is real, and it is very present. And it does not just belong in the times of the apostles or early Church martyrs.

Which brings me to the next part, the “how” part. How do I attain the power of God within me? How do I find the faith I need? How can I be like Daniel, like Elijah, like the apostles?

Two words: the cross. 

There is no way around it. There is no way above it or below it. You know how in “Finding Nemo” Marlin and Dory don’t want to go through the deep, dark abyss so they swim above it instead? That isn’t an option here. The only way to have the power of God in me is through the cross. 

The entire premise of this verse centers around “the message of the cross”. The cross is what gives us this power. The only way to attain the power of God is to live the resurrected life. And to live the resurrected life, I must first die the death of the cross.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.
– Romans 6:8-9

Take a look at the players mentioned above:
The three saintly youth still had to go into the fire.
Daniel still had to enter the den of lions.
Elijah was terrified for his life, was living alone in a cave, and thought he was the only follower of God left on the earth.

Each and every one of the key players in the Bible or Synaxarium carried a cross in one form or another. Every one of them offered his or her life as a sacrifice for the Lord.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
– Romans 12:1

It is only through putting to death the old man in me, the flesh, the earthly nature, that I will be able to live a true and resurrected life. And only then will I be able to live with the power of God in me.

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.
– John 12:24

Imagine the wonders God could do through us, the grain, the fruit, if we would just die to ourselves and live for Him instead.

Tunics, Cloaks, & Miles

If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.”
– Matthew 5:40-41

secondmile

As a child of God, a follower of Christ, a member of the New Jerusalem, I am to be sanctified, consecrated, set apart. I am not meant to blend in, to be a member of the pack.

What does this look like? How am I supposed to be set apart? John 13:35.

By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

The love of God surpasses all love. His love goes beyond the love of this world. According to this world we love only those who love us. And by love, I mean we love until it no longer benefits us, then we move on. We “fall out of love”. We are taught by this world to love very conditionally, as long as it is convenient or we see that it is good for us. Why do you think people are so screwed up and why there is so much brokenness?
We accept this distorted, demented view of what the world tells us love is as truth.

Real love is nothing like this idea of love we have adopted from the world.

Real love is unrelenting.
Real love is uncontainable.
Real love is unconditional.
Real love is unyielding.
Real love is putting down my own life for the person in front of me.
Real love is death, even death on the Cross.
Real love is going the second, third, tenth mile when I am asked for one.

No part of love is about myself. Love “does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5), but seeks the joy and fulfillment and salvation of the people around it.

IS MY IMAGE OF LOVE SELF-SERVING OR IS IT SELF-SACRIFICING?

Heart On Fire

Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Luke 10:2)

This is such a powerful verse.

How often do I pray for more laborers? I complain about how there aren’t enough people to help me or support me as I try to serve. But how often do I pray that God send me help?
And I pray for people to believe, to know the love and grace of God, but again, how often do I actually pray for laborers to bring others to Christ?

There is such power in this idea, in my opinion. I mean, what if we all prayed for laborers? What if we all united in purpose?

Can you imagine how full the world would be of hearts on fire for God?

heartonfire

Can you imagine how vast and how great God’s Kingdom would be if we united in purpose and prayer?

What Is Love? Baby Don’t Hurt Me

And it came to pass, when she pestered him daily with her words and pressed him, so that his soul was vexed to death, that he told her all his heart and said to her, “No razor has ever come upon my head, for I have been a Nazarite to God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaven, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.”…And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” So he awoke from his sleep, and said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!” But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him.
(Judges 16:16-17, 20)

samson

There’s something I never understood about Samson: Delilah was so obviously against him! Every time he told her he might “lose his strength” she tried it! What kind of woman tries to weaken the man she loves?! What part of this situation could Samson justify? Bro! She’s trying to take your strength! Are you crazy? How could he not see that Delilah was conning him? It’s frustrating. It’s like watching a horror movie, and the girl decides to go out into the woods to figure out what the rustling noise is, and you’re yelling at her, “Stop! He’s going to kill you! Don’t go in the woods, and just call the cops already!” Samson is that stupid girl. For whatever reason he kept Delilah around despite her suspicious behavior. And she kept nagging him! Every day she “pestered him” until he was “vexed to death”! Why are you keeping her around, man?!

So frustrating, right?

And yet, sometimes I’m Samson. Sometimes I’m the stupid girl running into the woods. Going back earlier in the chapter it says, “Afterward it happened that he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah” (v. 4). How many times have I compromised my standards or my beliefs in the name of “love”? Emotions make things messy. Nothing is simple when emotions are involved. Sometimes I know that a relationship isn’t right or is harming me rather than edifying me as a good relationship should. But what do I do? I hold on to it because of “love”.

They say love is blind, but it really shouldn’t be.

If God is love, then love is light as He is light, and if I am being blinded by what I think is love, it really isn’t love. 1 John 1:5 says, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” So if there is no darkness in God, then there is no darkness in love. Love should shine bright in a relationship, keeping us accountable, so that we see our true selves and continually examine ourselves.

I need to stop being Samson because once I blind myself I begin to compromise who I am, and once that happens I will find myself far away from God before I even realize what happened. Just like Samson.

So it’s time now to look for the true, real love, the love that is pure and full of light.

You Don’t Need Jesus ‘Til You’re Here

Yesterday was meltdown number one in the series of meltdowns I am expecting in the next week. You see, I am taking Step 2 in a week; I am scrambling to find somewhere to do elective rotations; the residency application site has officially opened. And I am prepared for so little of it. So yesterday I found myself running across the city, trying to get some of my boxes checked off and trying to force some peace of mind. But the more I tried to “fix” what wasn’t going according to plan, the more my head buzzed. I was feeling helpless and freaked out, and I didn’t know where to turn, when I finally decided there really was only one thing that I could do in my situation: pray. So cliché, I know, but one hour, one WWI Memorial, and a couple Bible chapters later, my mind finally started to quiet down for the first time in a month.

How familiar does this sound? For me, it’s a story I’ve lived over and over.

We run to God when things are going crazy. We look for a Problem-solver when we find ourselves in desperation. But what about when things are going well? What about when everything finally seems to be in place? It is incredibly easy to forget about God when things in life are running smoothly, and to only look for Him when there’s a hitch in our plans.

I spoke to you in your prosperity,
But you said, ‘I will not hear.’
This has been your manner from your youth,
That you did not obey My voice.

(Jeremiah 22:21)

How many of us does this sound like?

It’s great that we run to God when things aren’t going well. It’s a step in the right direction when we recognize our own weakness and where our strength comes from. The problem is when we forget all this because of how well things are going.

Our relationship with God is just that: a relationship. You know that saying, “a friend in need is a friend indeed”? Who came up with that? Who wants to be in a relationship with someone who only hangs around when he needs something? Who would put up with that friend? Not many of us do. And yet we are that friend constantly. We show up at church or finally open our Bibles when something isn’t going according to plan in our lives, and the moment the problem is solved, the Bible goes back on the shelf. Can you imagine how much that has to hurt? The one Person who has been present in all parts of our lives, the One who was beat up, spat upon, wounded and killed out of His incredible love for us, watches as we decide we no longer need Him because “I can handle life on my own.”

But here’s the good news. Jesus tells us, “the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). We have left. We have betrayed. But just as God accepted Israel after Israel played the harlot, He will accept us.

I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me
In righteousness and justice,
In lovingkindness and mercy;
I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness,
And you shall know the LORD.

(Hosea 2:19-20)

Here is one of the many examples of when we betray, and He forgives. No matter how many times we have run away, no matter how many times we depended on ourselves or sought after someone else, when we come back we will be accepted.

It’s time to stop being a friend in need and to start being a friend indeed.