Look and Live: Sights of Christ That Thrill The Expat Heart

slava-bowman-161206Photo by Slava Bowman on Unsplash

Hello friend!

Maybe the title caught your attention because you are a fellow expat. Or maybe you, like me, are on a quest to know the Risen Jesus more and more. Either way, I am so glad you are here.

I have had at least 10 different addresses in the last 15 years. 3 of those moves have been cross-cultural. God has taught me to love the places I have lived in. I enjoy new places, meeting new people, discovering new cultures. I have tasted the faithfulness of our homemaking God who has made a home for me and for my family everywhere we have lived.  He really does prepare places for His people.

At the same time, God has used every move to  peel away the dragon-like clothes I have been wearing without knowing. Even though I have known God as mine for a long time, and even while being very acquainted with Romans 3, I lived for a long time with the delusion that I wasn’t as bad as other people. I rested on what I thought was the strength of my faith. I grounded much of my confidence in who I was.

But God in His mercy has orchestrated the places of my story to slowly remove the scales off my eyes. In her book Keeping Place Jen P. Michel says:

“No place is insignificant in our stories. In fact, in paying them attention, we pay attention to the salvific movement of God. Wherever we move, we may be sure of this: God always moves toward himself.”

Well, God has definitely been doing just that. This is my 3rd year living in a country in the Middle East. Moving over here was like being a in a pressure cooker. I can’t tell you how intense God’s dealings with me were the first year and a half or two. Initially I was crushed under the realization of how dark was my heart. But when I was drowning in the sea of self-contemplation, Christ rescued me.

He did it by telling me to do the same He told the Israelites long ago when they were bitten by fiery snakes and were dying in the desert. He had Moses set up a fiery snake on a pole. The Israelites were to look on the serpent and live (Numbers 21: 9).

Jesus told Nicodemus that serpent in the desert had pointed to Him: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3: 14).” Christ was willing to become sin to save us, to save me. Bearing all my sins and transgressions, Christ took them all to the grave and buried them. He crushed the serpent and its power over me. He rose up in new life by the glory of the Father (Rom. 6: 4) and the life Jesus lives He lives to God.

Christ raised me up to new life many years ago but He keeps sustaining me in the same way He saved me then: giving me faith eyes so I can look at Him and continue to live.

Over these next few weeks I am excited to share some of the glorious sights of Christ that have been sustaining and reorienting my expat heart. There has been nothing more life-giving over these past years than to search the word and discover the riches of His strength. There is none like Him.

You may be an expat living in a country other than your own. But even if you belong in an earthly sense to the place you live, I hope these posts encourage you. If you live by faith in Christ Jesus, you are also in exile. I pray that these posts stir your affections for the One who keeps you until you make it home.

I am far from Home and I am not what I will one day be. But instead of looking at my brokenness and despairing, as long as I am homeward bound, I will look to Jesus and live.

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I joined the write31 challenge this year. I am writing every day but due to the season of life am in, can only actually post 1-2 times a week.

These are all the posts related to this writing challenge:

Two Songs

When I Don’t Feel Like Running

Swirly – A Book For TCK’s

15 Ways to Celebrate Fall When You Live Far From It

What Matters To Me in Homemaking

A Truth That Rocks My Nomad Socks Off 

A Fall Poem

Helpful Resources on Union with Christ

Who Said We Have To Grow Up?

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Thoughts From The Back Row

Yesterday morning we made it to church – Wes’ first time since he was born. It was sweet to be back! At one point I had to sit in the lobby to nurse him. I couldnt hear the sermon very well. The thought came to mind, “is it worth it to come if I wont be able to participate fully in the service, nor sit through a whole sermon?” And the Spirit in me answered with a resounding YES. 

Here’s why: 

1) I heard my brothers and sisters lifting their voices with joy, and saw them gratefully raising their hands. What a testimony to God’s power who has made His light shine in our hearts (2 Co. 4: 6), and given us eyes to see the beauty of His Son. How else can I explain the delight and affection I saw on their faces as they proclaimed Jesus is King?

2) When I looked at the gathered body of Christ from Ghana, Nigeria, Philippines, India, Brazil, Cuba, Panama, United States, South Africa (I may be missing other countries), Jesus reassured me that He is indeed saving people from every tongue and tribe & nation.

3) Christ served me humbly through my pastor and friend @andrewremke, who took my baby and said, “Go, enjoy the service; I will hold him for you.”

4) The Spirit strengthened my faith when I saw the faith of my sister who in the midst of difficulty and sorrow still went to church: worshipping Jesus and adoring His goodness toward her. Through her he deepened the conviction: Jesus is worthy of all of my praise at all times (Psalm 145: 3; 34:1).

5) Through the breaking of the bread and wine, my Savior gently and powerfully spoke of His faithfulness to me – his body given for me, his blood poured out for me (Matthew 26: 26-27). He knows my faith is weak. He tangibly and tastefully reminds me: “I am for you.”

6) He is not just for me. He is for all of us gathered at the table. He gave His blood to bind me not only to Himself but to all those brothers and sisters who are also feasting on Christ.

7) I saw the heart of Christ when my sisters lovingly embraced my children, sat down with them, asked them questions and cared for their needs.

8) Our joy over our newborn son is our church’s joy. Only through Jesus can others truly rejoice with those who rejoice.

9) I attended a meeting for children’s ministry and was so encouraged: he answers prayer and has provided volunteers for children’s ministry. 

10) Christ has given my friend and sister love for His church and faith to rely on His strength to lead Children’s ministry while I am on maternity leave. Through her, Christ is providing unexpected rest.

11) Jesus is great and greatly to be praised (Psalm 48:1). We are a young church; we all come from many different backgrounds, countries, denominations. We may not all believe exactly the same doctrinally – but Christ is our treasure. He is far above every ruler and authority. His name is precious. Truly, who is like our God?

12) Jesus dwells in the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3). He Himself was there yesterday- holy and enthroned in our worship. What an awe-inspiring truth. I got to be with Christ in a way that only happens when we are gathered as his people.

My husband once challenged my reluctance to attend church, “If you knew there would be a gathering of people from the age to come, what would you give to be there?” Yesterday I tasted once again the unspeakable privilege we have to be there. The Risen Christ has created a new people whose hope is in the age that is to come. Through them He is doing the work of uniting all things to Himself (Eph. 1: 21). All my brothers and sisters live and love in ways that only make sense because of Christ’s death & resurrection. 

At church, seen realities like bread, wine, raised hands and community link hands with unseen realities of covenant, love, eternity and Resurrection life to feed our faith. What a merciful Savior we have! He knows that we forget and that we wander. So He invites us week after week to feast: to come and taste and see and hear through His Word and through His people that He is indeed good.

So friend – when people from the age to come gather to worship, Jesus their Maker & Redeemer is there. What will you give to be there?


10 Things I Learned This Summer

 

Recently I went to Emily Freeman’s blog – it had been a while since I last visited it. I found her reflection of the things she learned this summer and her invitation to her readers to also share what they had learned. At first I didn’t think I could come up with an actual list, since I hadn’t really been thinking about it intentionally this summer. But when I sat down to jot down a few, I quickly came up with the list below. I wrote them down as they came to mind – nothing significant about the order.

jan-kahanek-184675 (1)1. In the Myers Brigg Personality test, I am very close to the middle in the P and J but when I go through transition and change, I default to J. Structure helps me to have a sense of where I am headed. So even if it is a very simple plan, it really helps me to think through it, talk about it with my husband and stick to it.

2. Being off Instagram on the weekends made me realize how mindlessly I turn to it and how much time I waste on it! I have been fasting off IG during the weekends. I uninstall it late Thursday or early Friday (since Fridays are the day of worship in the country we live in, and thus the first day of the weekend) and install it back up again on Monday. I use that time to focus on other things: reading, praying, memorizing the Scriptures or simply just enjoying those right in front of me. It is a weekly rhythm that is helping me realign my life and heart. 

3. Sons are the sweetest gift. We just had a son 12 days ago. Before he was born I was so scared of not loving him as much as I have loved my daughters. I had no vision for being a mom of a boy. But oh, my son melts my heart. In some ways I find myself bonding more quickly than I did with the girls (even though I adored my girls when they were tiny).

4. I enjoy learning language with my husband. We spent 100 hours studying the local language this Summer and I am thankful that we really liked being in class together.

5. I can DIY! I have always thought of myself more of a DIFM person – Do It For Me. I love the DIY style but I am not super gifted with my hands. But getting ready for baby I embarked on a few projects and I am super excited how they have been turning out!

6. My girls are awesome big sisters. They have been so helpful – bringing me water when I am nursing, throwing out diapers, holding their sweet baby brother.

7. I love memoirs. My go to reading books are usually on theology, but this summer I read memoirs by Madeleine L’Engle, Tsh Oxenreider and Jen Pollock Michel (her book is a part memoir, part theology)… and couldn’t really put them down. Memoirs might be very close to my favorite genre.

8. Sleeping with the phone outside my bedroom has helped me to unplug. It is so nice not to have the phone to reach for when I can’t sleep at night or to be the first thing I grab when I wake up. Having it physically out of reach exposed how addicted I can be to it.

9. I am often tempted to fear not being enough for people around me – instead of embracing it and resting that He is enough for them.

10. Nothing will take away the joy of holding an actual book – but during my sleepless nights of pregnancy and now while nursing, it is so nice to have a kindle that allows me to read while the lights are off in our room and my husband sleeps next to me.

 

Photo by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

The Day I Heard Him Say, “You Are My People”- How Christ Satisfies The Homesick Heart

longing-for-home1The longing to belong has been my ever present companion the past 6 years since I got married and left the Dominican Republic, my home country, for good.

For 28 years I had taken for granted what it was like to belong. Being together with our church people was a way of life in the DR. We vacationed with other families from church almost every time we went on holiday. Birthdays, graduations, holidays, Friday nights, Wednesday night ice cream after prayer meeting, pizza after church on Sunday nights, long weekends at the beach – always, always, always meant being with multiple friends from church. My family (from a strong Arabic background) was not the only one that lived that way but many families around me. Grieving, just as joy, was a community affair. So any given month there were many reasons to gather with family and friends. Together was just the way to be. A lot of my grounding and identity came from being well known and deeply loved.

On my wedding day -in a two hour long greeting line- I tearfully hugged my family and church goodbye. I moved to a new city in the United States. I was eager to discover who would be “our people.” We loved hospitality and opened our home consistently to our church family. But the first 3 years I couldn’t quite tell who wanted us to be their people (mostly because I misread cultural cues.) I yearned to do life together – not just to invite others into our life but to have others invite us into their life – especially the way I had been used to in the DR.

I compared our family with other families who seemed to have what I longed for. At times I was jealous and dissatisfied. I had friends. We had our small group from church. But something was missing from my life that had been a big part of my life. I looked for home in people and developed sinful habits of seeking refuge and safety in what they thought of me.

Over time, the Lord kindly used my new church– especially our women – to give more of that sense of belonging. Towards the end of my 5 years there I was very grateful for all the relationships the Lord had grown over the years and was so sad to leave them. Just as I felt like I was starting to understand my American friends more fully and their way of doing life, we gave up life with them to move to the other side of the world.

I didn’t realize, though, that I was still grieving that belonging didn’t feel exactly like it had in the DR. So with unresolved grief and with patterns of seeking refuge & safety in people as a way of coping with that loss – we moved to a very international city in the Middle East.

Our time in that new city was relatively short due (10 months) to my husband’s work. I jumped into trying to do life with God’s people there, because I knew it would be for a very limited time. I think I expected to belong in an expat community – where everyone far from home is aware of how hard it is and would embrace us into doing life together. But metropolitan life, ministry, distance, extreme busyness, no car, children who get sick – all made doing life in community very challenging, not just for me but for every woman. We tried to join a small group at different times and were not able. I asked questions, served others often, invited people into our home. Most of the friends I pursued the first 6-7 months were very helpful and kind but were not able to give themselves in consistent relationship as they focused in loving unbelieving friends around them, cared for the many needs in our church and they themselves adjusted to living far from home. I am thankful for the way they blessed our family and how Jesus provided through them. But my longing to belong was not met in those relationships the way I hoped. This exposed my heart to me as much sin was revealed during those months.

Thankfully, in God’s mercy and grace in spite of my sin, the last few months there, I definitely tasted the sweetness of community life in multiple ways. God provided friends through discipleship relationships and God’s people served us lovingly. I am very thankful especially for the way God bound our hearts together with two families and our last two months there we had very sweet times of fellowship.

We were beginning to feel a little bit at home when we had to pack up our apartment and say goodbye – again. As I thought of moving to another city in that same country and start all over again, my heart shrank and many tears flowed. I wasn’t sure I could do it. But the Lord used losing that sense of earthly belonging a third (or fourth time?) to show me something about Him that I desperately needed to understand.

“You Are My People”

One day, late in May, reading Isaiah 51: 12-16, the Lord broke into my soul. His Word – alive and piercing – brought clarity to my heart:

“I, I am he who comforts you;
who are you that you are afraid of man who dies,
of the son of man who is made like grass,
and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker,
I am the Lord your God,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the Lord of hosts is his name,

establishing the heavens
and laying the foundations of the earth,
and saying to Zion, ‘You are my people.’”

When I read the phrase, “You are my people” I burst out crying. I had been longing for 6 years to hear other people say clearly (in a way that made sense to me in my culture and personality): “You guys are our people.” But that day I heard God himself telling me that. I’d feared man and ran for refuge in others – I’d forgotten my Maker and Redeemer. Yet, the eternal God, the one who comforts me and gave Himself for me, was saying, “Aylin, you are mine!”

God’s Spirit through Isaiah opened my heart to understand the longing to belong is good and right. God gave it so we long for Him! Yet I had been ruled by the functional beliefs that:

· the longing to belong would ultimately be met by people.
· I am entitled to have this longing met completely in this earthly life.

The Lord reminded me of the precious promise woven through all of Scripture: “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” From the beginning, home was always meant to be where God was. Sin entered in and ruined that. We could no longer be at home with God because of our sin. But our homemaking God had a plan. Jesus Christ left His home so he could come and make his home with us. Through His death and resurrection he opened the way to bring us home to God.

When the Lord says, “I will make my dwelling among you” He is giving us the gift of doing life with us. In Christ I have been welcomed into the life of the Trinity – and I now have the same relationship with the Father that the Son has. Through the indwelling of His Spirit, Christ does life with us and through us. In Christ my longing to belong was met!

A Gift (Not A Right)

When God made us His, He also welcomed us into His family. But sometimes we don’t experience that sense of belonging among them as we would like. Experiencing belonging is a gift, not a right. Yet ever since I left the DR I had been functionally living as if it was a right. And when I didn’t experience it – either because of my own cultural definitions or due to the Fall (my own or the brokenness of others around me) – I would at times experience jealousy, anger, fear or deep sadness. He has led me to repentance from idolatry and unbelief by comforting me with the promise of who He is: He is my home.

Onward and Upward

As I move to a new city, He has emboldened my heart by making me realize I have been looking for home, but Home has found me and will never let me go! At the same time, there is also a very real sense in which I will be homesick all my life until I reach my lasting Home. God’s promise in Revelations 21: 3,

“Behold, the home of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God”

has not yet been fully realized. There is deep suffering and grief that comes from not being Home with our Father. Jesus Himself tasted both while he lived on this earth. I am learning to recognize the grief and restlessness of my heart as signs of homesickness for God Himself. I am also learning to actually grieve instead of stuffing my emotions down.

Thankfully, the grief of the heart far from its Home is filled with hope. The Spirit in us guarantees we will receive the city we have been seeking and longing for (Hebrews 11: 14). We can embrace our “exile” status with joy, become friends with grief, and like Jesus, set our face to fulfill our purpose on this earth to worship God and make disciples. We no longer set our face to satisfy a longing that can’t ever be completely and ultimately satisfied on this earth.

There is a day coming when God Himself will comfort each one of us as a nursing mother comforts her child (Isaiah 66: 11). What a tender, intimate picture! We will be deeply satisfied with the glorious sense of belonging found in God alone as soon as we see Jesus face to face. Then, we will be finally Home.

6 years later…

 

Our wedding day – the day I said hello to a new life with the love of my life – was also the day I said goodbye to my life in the DR and flew to the US to make a new home in a new country. I left my dear family and precious church – thus all the tears in the video. 🙂 I left home gladly because Ethan would be home. What a home Ethan has been! Such a sweet, sweet picture of the home I have found in Jesus. I didn’t realize, though, there would be much grieving these past 6 years over the loss of belonging I had in my culture, my country, my home church of 28 years, my beloved family. Yet through multiple cross cultural moves, and as I have grieved & ran to seek refuge in others and not Christ; as I have repented & tasted the reality of my union with Christ, He has opened my eyes to the real and lasting Home that I can’t ever lose. Jesus, my Home, has found me and will never let me go. 

An Image That Gives Life

There is a question that the host of a podcast I listen to loves to ask her guests: “What is something you have seen, heard or tasted recently that you can’t stop telling other people about?” It is a great question and I enjoy hearing the varied answers. If we were to ask that question to every living creature in heaven, they would say, “The Lamb who was slain. We just can’t stop marveling at the Lamb.”

Indeed, John says that,

“Myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands worship Him with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, cries out: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev. 5: 12, 13)

I love these glimpses into Heaven’s worship and it thrills my soul to think one day I will join that choir, singing those same songs with enraptured and undivided adoration to the Lamb who was slain. I am so thankful that one day my heart “will be so consumed with [You] that [I] will never cease to praise.”

But what about the here and now? If someone were to ask me, “What is something or someone you can’t stop thinking about?” and I were to honestly answer it, I would have to say that often I can’t stop thinking about myself. When I suspect sin or failure in my heart, it is very tempting to make it all about me. I want to admire myself, so I spend time in front of the mirror – obsessing.  “Should I have said that?” “Should I clarify what I meant when I said…?” “Did I ask good questions?” “Did so and so feel loved by me?” “How does my daughter feel about our relationship?” “Was I too distracted on the phone today?” Those thoughts are often accompanied by a measure of anxiety when I realize I am not enough and that I fail. Sometimes thoughts go from wondering whether I should have done something, to actually being convicted of pride, impatience, jealousy, lust. Those thoughts come with a sense of dismay and deep discouragement at my propensity to sin and at my lack of progress.

Staring at the mirror, only to find self looking back at me, does not give me life. In fact, the more I obsess in front of the mirror, the less strength I have. It feels like the mirror is crushing me under its weight and I can’t get up. There really is no hope in a narcissistic preoccupation with self.

How about you? Have you ever felt similar defeat, burdened by your sin? How do we fight sin without making it all about us? How do we make much of Jesus in our struggle against sin?

  1. Stop Looking Inward

Paul says in Romans 6: 6 that the old self has been crucified with Christ. Our sin-ridden self is dead. It has no power over us. We have a saying in the Dominican, where I am from, that goes like this: “There are looks that kill.” It means that certain looks we give people are so full of hatred and anger that would kill people if they could. In the same way, “there are sights that kill.” The principle stands true – I become like what I worship (Psalm 115: 8). Looking at my dead self does not give life. The more I am consumed with the life of my old self, the more its death envelops me.

My old self – my narcissistic, fearful, jealous, obsessive, dead self- has eyes but can’t really see God’s glory, ears but can’t really hear of his love for me. The more I stare at it, the more I am vulnerable to sin. So I give in. So I loathe myself even more as I keep staring at the mirror and all I see is weakness and failure.

It is a death-producing cycle. Let’s stop staring at self!

  1. Look To Jesus and Live

photo-1449168013943-3a15804bb41c.jpg

But praise God! When I start drowning in the sea of self-contemplation, there is An Image that gives me life. It is the image of the Living One. The One who died yet is alive forevermore.

He is the One who was raised like the Serpent in the desert, who even though knew no sin, yet became sin so we could become the righteousness of God. The only way we find and continue to taste eternal life is by putting our faith in the Son of Man (John 3: 14-16).

He is truly glorious! John saw the Risen Christ as the Lion of the tribe of Judah who has conquered and as a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain (Rev. 5: 5-6). I can almost hear Handel’s majestic “Worthy is the Lamb” as I see the myriads of myriads falling at His feet in passionate adoration.

This glorious Christ is our life. Because of our union with Him, the Gospel startles us by telling us that in a way, when we now look at the mirror with faith, Christ looks back. He is our new image (Eph. 4: 20, 24). He took our sin and shame and has given us His righteousness (Rom. 4: 24-25). Friend- can you believe this? The real and lasting us is perfect like Jesus. He has given us his honor – we are seated with God in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6).

Life Changing Advice

At the same time, in the already/not yet tension, we are not perfect. Our experience has not yet caught up with the reality of who we are in Christ. We are still in the process of looking more like Christ. Christ-likeness, though -putting to death what is earthly in us- does not happen when we look at the mirror and see ourselves. It happens as we behold the glory of the Lord.  “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3: 18). Thank God the principle is still true: We become like what we worship! Adoring our Risen Savior we find life as He lives in us.

So instead of obsessing over our dead self, the only worthy occupation of our soul is to pursue being consumed with the glorious Christ. A friend gave me this advice that has changed my life: “Instead of spending your day obsessing over your sin, distressed by your fear, pride or jealousy, spend your days obsessing with Christ. Do that by pondering how He is the opposite of your sin. Do you find yourself tempted to fear? Study the Word to learn how Christ is fearless. Pride? Then look in the Scriptures for all the ways where you see Christ’s humility.”

Doing this has opened God’s Word to me in powerful ways. I have tasted more deeply its riches, as it shows me how beautiful Jesus is. There is none like Him! He is emboldening me by Jesus’ fearlessness as I read the Psalms through Christ as the greater David. He is making me hate and neglect my pride as I ponder his humility in the Incarnation. The Lord is melting my cold, self-seeking heart as I contemplate Jesus’ sacrificial, selfless love in Philippians. The Spirit is fueling my service as I see in Hebrews how he serves us through His High- priestly work. He is strengthening my faith as I consider Jesus’ hopeful faith in His Father in Psalms, Acts and Hebrews. And I have wept with joy as I’ve studied Jesus’ relationship with His Father and see it is mine too because Jesus has shared His sonship with me! As Mrs. Campbell says to Katherine in one of my favorite books, Stepping Heavenward – “To learn Christ, this is life!”

Because He is our life, his humility, patience, fearlessness, and faith is ours. Friend – we have no reason to despair and much reason to boast – Christ is our righteousness. It is exciting to think we will spend the rest of our life –into Eternity- learning Him in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2: 4). O come, let us adore Him.

“No other throne endures. No other song remains, but ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was for sinners slain!’” He has already been coronated so we have every reason to join that choir again today, consumed by the praise of the One who alone is worthy. Let’s study his Word and be diligent to learn Christ. May our one obsession become not ourselves, but the Son whom angels adore, the slain Lamb who reigns forevermore: the Risen One who is our life.

 

On the Incarnation and the Joy of Nurturing Lives

BW-65“You feel like you are swaddled, right?” I was talking with a friend about some of my frustrations during this stage of life. I am a factory of projects and ministry ideas. But entering the world of those I am called to serve and becoming like them has meant saying no to pursuing many of those dreams. It seems like a season of unstarted and unfinished things. I know I am not alone. I have a precious single friend who gave up for now her dream to serve overseas to continue to care for and provide for the unique needs of her family at home. There were many tears as she put her desires on hold. This past few weeks a similar theme has come up as I’ve interacted with other friends who are nurturing lives: the sister in law who is a caregiver to her nieces; the teacher who is investing in children with disabilities; the pregnant mama who is in much physical pain as she carries the life of her baby to full term; my friend who left her home and is getting ready to serve Jesus in another country; the woman who meets to disciple and encourage another woman that she wouldn’t naturally gravitate to; the parents who are releasing their children and grandchildren to live overseas because Jesus is worthy; the foster mom parenting very difficult children. All of them, in one form or another, are limiting themselves and giving up something – time, sleep, energy, personal preferences, dreams, rest, home, relationships – for the sake of another’s joy in Jesus. But limiting self is hard and painful. “Swaddled” -constricted, wrapped around like a baby so tight I can’t move- was a great word for how I was feeling. I was resenting how limiting it is to enter the world of and become like those God has given me to nurture and care for.

Meditating on the Incarnation of Jesus has been a wonderful gift for me the past many months. Turning my gaze from my life to the life of Christ has strengthened me and given me joy for this season.  Through our union with Christ, He lives His life in us. And because we are united to Him, the pattern of His life – suffering, death, glory –is the pattern of our life.

The prosperity of Jesus Christ

Jesus is the blessed Man of Psalm 1 who was fruitful and prospered in everything He did. Yet, Isaiah’s description of the prosperity of Jesus Christ is shockingly counterintuitive:  

“Behold, my Servant shall act wisely [or shall prosper]; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind – so shall he startle many nations…He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 52, 53 ESV).  

How is it that for Him to act wisely meant so much suffering? What a paradigm shift to my self-seeking heart! To the earthly mind, the incarnation seems so inefficient. It meant limitation for Christ – dealing with one person at a time, one place at a time. He didn’t seek the most influential or powerful but the weak and needy. People just like me, people just like my children. The Incarnation seems like an inefficient way to be productive, but when Jesus chose limitation, weakness, servanthood and death, much fruit was born (John 12: 23-24). In the economy of the Gospel, embracing humility as a way of life is Jesus’ path to glory (Phil. 2: 5-10). His life shows His glory is to regard the lowly (Psalm 138: 5-6).

I am sometimes bitter by how limiting it is to care for others but I repent of my pride and selfishness as I see the Son of Man to whom belongs all dominion, choosing to be homeless, dusty, exhausted so that we could live forever to the glory of His Father. Jesus joyfully chose all that because He was full of resurrection hope (Acts 2: 26-28). He knew the paths of life went through death yet His Father wouldn’t abandon Him there. Fullness of gladness was certainly coming – He would be raised up and of out the anguish of his soul, His offspring would be born! (Isa. 53: 10-11)

The Path to Life

The Spirit loves to give us eyes to adore Jesus’ beauty. His grace trains us to treasure the pattern of his life so it is not something we despise. I am so encouraged by what my friend Kim wrote: “The fight of faith is to believe that the Gospel, the good news, is true in every little death you face. When you deny yourself that lie, that attitude, that self-seeking life that is so familiar to you and me…and we take up our cross to die to what we could do, could say and feel…and follow Jesus into that grave…do it by telling yourself the Gospel truth: life will come from this death. Joy will rise in the morning.”

So Maia, my 4 year old, wants me to pretend I am an alligator because she wants us to play a game that she made up. I could be a lot more productive washing dishes while listening to a podcast that keeps me in grown-up company. Yet I both find life and give life when I give up my “rights” to a clean kitchen and stimulating conversation and become like a child. I find His life, because it is Jesus’ resurrection power enabling me to choose her. Left to my power, I would always choose me. I give life to her when I pursue fellowship with her and delight in her.

Dear friend – resurrection life is our only hope as we nurture others. Through the power Christ gives us as the Risen One seated at the Right Hand of God we live day by day, knowing we too have been raised and are seated together with Him in the heavenly places. We live today by faith in Christ’s power, but also with our hope fully set on the day when we will be raised to our real life. Just like Jesus Christ, we tell our Father, “You will make me full of gladness with your presence” (Acts 2: 28).  Everything we are giving up now is not only for the sake of another’s joy in Jesus. It is for the sake of our joy – our undiluted, pure joy in Him.

My sister – the pattern of His life-giving life is ours. His Story is our story. His fullness of gladness our very own – forever.