Sunday, February 24, 2008

Window Gazing

As many of you know I live in South Korea. I have lived here for 7 years now. When travelling in various countries, people often ask me, "where are you from?" I love to mess with their heads and say, "South Korea." I know they really mean where is my accent from ... but still the reactions are fun.

Perhaps the funniest time this happened was a year ago golfing with a friend in Keri Keri (the North of New Zealand). She is my neighbour here in Korea and is from the USA. I was playing tour guide and she wanted to golf so one glorious morning, her, I and another friend were trucking our way along a golf course. We noticed an Asian couple trotting along behind us and I got the giggles because living in an Asian country, I have learnt several things. Land is scarce so golfing is very expensive. If you play golf, you don't hack around a golf course like we were doing. It's SERIOUS and you need "THE GEAR"! I have also learnt that Korea has a love affair with Burberry (that is the beige and black plaid and is a major designer label to boot). So ... as we trotted along, I was keeping a surreptitious eye on our fellow golfers. I noticed they were decked out in Burberry golf gear. They were very serious about their golf form and must have been wincing in pain at my hacking of golf balls. I am such a bad golfer that part way down one of the fairways, I noticed a golf ball. I looked around and saw noone, so figured it was lost. I picked it up and went to stroll on, but a very irate man came through the trees ... needless to say he was not impressed with me at all! Anyway ... I was being a bit naughty and making fun of my fellow golfers. Particularly when they pushed a button on their golf bag cart and it drove itself up the hill!

Part way through the game, I shot a ball into the water (of course, this was part of my clever plan ... I was AIMING for the water people!) I was trying to get the ball out with the cumbersome device left by the golf club (which consisted of a heavy metal pole with a chicken wire basket one end). It was too heavy and kept falling in and stirring up the mud. I had just decided to leave it, when who should appear behind me? Ms Burberry herself! And I was a tad ashamed when she graciously offered me her ball retriever. It was a bit of a clever, high tech gadget- you pushed a button and the handle shot out and extended in three snaps. Another button push and the actual ball retriever part folded out too (I might be making that bit up but hey ... its for the art of story!). This gadget was fabulous. Unfortunately my arms were about 3 feet too short so we called it quits. I smiled at her and asked her where she was from (I was thinking Hong Kong or Taiwan). She smiled and said, "Auckland." She asked me where I was from and I smiled and said, "Korea!". The irony of it struck me and I started laughing and said, "well really I am from New Zealand but I live in Korea. She said, "Well really I am from Hong Kong but I live here now." Don't judge on appearences people!

Anyway ... back to the main direction I was heading. When people hear I have lived here for 7 years, the next comment invariably is, "7 years?! Wow, you must really love it there." And the thing is, I don't love it here. Given the choice of sunny, clean New Zealand with great beaches ... a population density of 14 people per square kilometre (or 74 if you live in Auckland) or smoggy, polluted, crowded Seoul where there are 9000 people per square kilometer and an insane pace of life, there is no comparison. However, God has me here and I can honestly say that I do love my life and I believe life is what you make of it whereever you are.

So today, I thought I would give you a little glimpse through the window of the world I live in. Late this morning (Sunday) I headed out on my scooter for a haircut. A scooter is the ideal vehicle in Seoul because you can go around the bumper to bumper stationary traffic and park anywhere you like (including the pavement). In addition, if you drive like a local, that also means you get to run red lights at minor intersections! After my haircut I went to get a Coldstone Creamery icecream and sat in the window with a Phillip Yancy book eating, reading and watching the world go by. It was a positively balmy day today. Beautiful sunny skies and about -2 degrees Celcius (thats really really chilly for those of you who think in Farenheit). However, it was nice in comparison to the weeks of -14C with wind chill weather we have been having.

As I looked at the window, I saw a sight that is not unusual. It was a graduation day for a university and a bunch of old ladies (adjumonies) were squatting on the pavement (they can do this for hours) selling flowers. They had obviously been to the flower market and then prepped the flowers on the street as all the trimmings were there for bouquets. You often see them selling off stands or squatting selling nuts, seeds, vegetables or fruit. One of these old ladies caught my eye and I couldn't help but notice how beautiful she was. It was freezing outside, and she had probably been there for hours. I would think she was in her late 60s or early 70s and she was lovely. No one was stopping to buy her flowers (people already had flowers so I am guessing they got them further up the road) but she sat with patience, grace and dignity, smiling and nodding at people. She so moved me, that I stopped and bought some of her flowers.

As I looked at her, I felt a glimpse of how much God must love her and the Korean people. They have been through so much hardship. Korea was devastated in the Korean war - I have talked with old returning ANZAC soldiers and they tell me their stories of what Seoul and Korea were like when they left. Basically a huge pile of rubble - flattened and devasted. Now, Seoul is a bustling modern city with high rises and neon everywhere. It has a booming economy. Beneath the glitz though there is a sadness. Korea is a divided nation. Instead of one Korea, it is two. And the gulf between the Koreas is huge. The tragedy of the two Koreas are that families are forever separated. Parents from children, sibling from sibling, relatives forever split. The generation of older people are dying and many will die having never been reunited with their loved ones. Imagine if in one day, a minefield and fence got strung up across your country separating your family ... if all communication was cut off. For Koreans, who cherish and love family, who pay respects to their ancestors and honor each other, this is an unimaginable grief that must tear their hearts in two.

The younger generations face a different challenge. One of the things that is entrenched in the culture I see around me is a must to be the best and have the best. Materialism is everywhere. People must wear the right labels and go to the right schools and universities. it is not enough to try your hardest. You must strive to be the best and if you are not the best, there is a sense of shame and failure. I have thought about this and discussed a theory with Korean friends for several years. Part of why I think this has taken off is because of the recent history of Korea. I think after the war, so many had nothing. They fought to make a life for themselves and provide for their families. Children grew up poor but were educated because their parents sacrificed to make this happen. These parents determined that their children would not grow up without as they did, so they worked hard to educate their children and give them the best they could. This perpetuated until now, we have a generation of children who have grown up with nothing in their lives except studying hard to get into the best universities to have the best. Add having the best things into this and the current generation of teens is very materialistic - money and status counts and little else. What a tragedy. Yet are we any different in the west? We just put a different spin on it.

Pray for Korea ... its a country where God has really moved, but that movement is starting to be replaced with apathy and indifference as life becomes comfortable and materialism takes hold.

A little window in my life ... what's the view like through your window?

Saturday, February 16, 2008


On my computer at work I have a sticky note. It has three simple words that are a powerful reminder to me … “grace under pressure”. It is a reminder to me that no matter how stressed I feel, I need to reflect Jesus to those I walk through life with. I try to model grace under pressure. I often fail abysmally but we (God and I) are working on it! The funny thing about grace is that most of us expect to receive it, but we are not always so good at extending it! It’s easy to extend grace when we are recipients of grace, but is that really grace? Do we extend grace when people are rude to us? Do we extend grace when we are taken for granted? Do we extend grace when someone cuts in line in front of us? Do we extend grace when our trust is broken and we feel betrayed?

The most commonly used word for grace is the greek word Charis. It is defined as good will, loving-kindness, favour, that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm and loveliness. Grace is often defined as undeserved favor. When did you last extend undeserved favor?

I have been mulling over grace the last week or so. Today I thought I would go back and see what sorts of things the Bible has to say about it. We often think that grace is a New Testament concept. Grace is liberally sprinkled throughout both Old and New Testaments. I particularly enjoyed reading in The Message. Have a look at some of the scriptures below …

Proverbs 15:26
“God can't stand evil scheming, but he puts words of grace and beauty on display.

Isaiah 30:19
“Oh yes, people of Zion, citizens of Jerusalem, your time of tears is over. Cry for help and you'll find it's grace and more grace. The moment he hears, he'll answer.”

Jer 31:2-3
“This is the way God put it: "They found grace out in the desert, these people who survived the killing. Israel, out looking for a place to rest, met God out looking for them!" God told them, "I've never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love!” I love that scripture! Have you ever felt like you are dying? Ever felt like you are in the desert? You will survive the killing and you will find grace in the desert!

In Matthew 6:6, Jesus encourages us to get away to a quiet secluded place with the Father. The Message puts this beautifully: "Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace."

A favourite scripture of mine in the Message is Matthew 11:28-30. Again it is Jesus speaking and he says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

I love that … “learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” As a musician I know that you get into a zone with rhythm … you find the groove and then just sit in it. Imagine if we lived like that with grace. Just sat in the groove of grace! Not a forced thing that we try to model as good Christians, but something that just bubbles up from within us and oozes out to the world outside. Wow! It would be life changing.

Paul and the apostles had a great understanding of grace. It flows throughout the New Testament (there are 156 examples in the KJV alone). Many books start and end with it. The apostles had a keen sense of what they had been saved from and so they lived their lives in the shadow of grace. Romans 12:3 gives us an insight into their thinking: “I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.” There it is people, undeserved favour that has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with him.

At the moment I am really struggling with some health issues. Last year I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour (on my pituitary gland). Some of the residual effects of my tumour are that I am flat, exhausted, fuzzy thinking, and a bit of an emotional wreck. I find myself acting in ways that are not my normal self … withdrawing, being irritable … struggling to be even keeled and to physically make it through a day. I am not as efficient at work as I normally would be. Last night I expressed some of these struggles to a friend and said that I don’t feel like a very nice person or someone fun to be around at the moment. This morning, as I was reading scriptures on grace, I read 2 Cor 12:9. Paul was grappling with his own issues and sharing about his struggles. While wrestling with God over this, God told him the following: “My grace is enough; it's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” Paul goes on to say, “Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness.”

This really spoke to me and encouraged me. My friend asked me how do I get through this when I am looking at a minimum of 5 years treatment (hoping things go well). My answer was, “one day at a time.” And that one day, needs to be living under his smile and walking in his grace. When I am pleasant and performing well at work … I am no more deserving of his grace than when I am the person I don’t like to be! That’s the beauty of grace. It’s undeserved favor and nothing I do merits it. Breenan Manning says, “God’s love is based on nothing and the fact that it is based on nothing makes us secure.” Jimmy Abegg (musician and artist) says, "we are ragamuffins, much loved by God in the midst of all our short comings and failures.” I am used to being strong. Maybe in this season, I need to allow myself to be carried by his grace. God will be more manifest in me. And that’s really our mission isn’t it – to know him and make him known.

My prayer for myself and those of you reading this today, comes from two scriptures:
Phil 4:23
“Receive and experience the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, deep, deep within yourselves.”

2 Cor 13:14
May the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, and the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Trust ...

I have just read a great devo that Mel at Mel's world wrote on trust and living in the fog (God is in the Fog). I smiled to myself and then thought, "darn"! Yet another finger poke! This is a reoccurring theme in my life and once again, right now, I am really struggling with trust. A friend of mine told me the other night that I am being disobedient. I suppose I am ... my reply was that I am not being defiant in it, I am just struggling and I cannot see. And ... I don't want to hope or dream in this area because unmet dreams are painful.

Mel shared from Proverbs 3:5-6 and it made me want to share a wee story with you. This takes place back in 1997 when I was an intern working at my church. It is one of many lessons in trust ... seems to be my life lesson - I just go to harder levels each time! But thats how we learn to walk by faith people ... baby steps first!

On my ministry internship programme we were given support of $100 a week and I taught at my school on my Monday off, which earned me another $100. That year I was living very much by faith, and there were many many times God provided for me - in all sorts of amazing ways. One week, things were so tight financially, that the option was eat, or put petrol in the car. I needed to drive to work at the offices (a 30 minute drive) so, in my fabulously competent way of taking charge of my life (NOT!!) I thought, "oh well, I could really do with fasting this week any way ..." and that is what I did - fasted for the whole week. So picture me at the end of a week of fasting. I haven't really heard from God much but I fasted anyway. On the Tuesday (the last day of my week of fasting) I read Proverbs 3:5-6. The scripture reads, "trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your path straight. As I read it, I sensed God's leading to stop on those two verses. There are 5 challenges he highlighted to me, that I would like to share with you:
1. Trust in the Lord ...
Trust in WHO? (yes ... thats right, who or what, are YOU trusting in ...)

2. With all your heart ...
How much? ALL ...

3. And lean not on your own understanding ...
Hmmm ... I can't lean on mine? Could it be that God's ways and thoughts are not mine! Could it be that they are higher ... (Isaiah 55:8 would say, YES!)

4. In all your ways ...
All? ALL? At this point I got a little mad with God and said, "That's not fair! You are asking for something not humanly possible ... You are asking for perfection and I can't give this ..." My attention was drawn to Ez 36:26-27, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and keep my laws ..."

Wow ... what an awesome God we have ... he is not asking for sinless perfection here ... he just wants our heart and our spirit. He wants to permeate every area of our lives.

5. Acknowledge him ...
Acknowledge WHO? Acknowledge HIM! How many times do we (in a very subtle, roundabout manner) go, "well I prayed and then God moved ... " Its okay to acknowledge God's answer to prayer but don't forget that scripture tells us his blessings fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. It's not because of us people. It's because of HIM.

I don't know about you, but the way I often live this scripture is, "Trust in the Lord with some of my heart, and lean entirely on my own understanding!" Having read and meditated on this scripture, I thought it was pretty awesome. On Wednesday, it was payday and I was a little desperate. My car had 1/4 tank of petrol in it (I used a tank a week going back and forth to the offices, let alone any running around I had to do in addition to work). My sister was coming to visit from Australia and I needed money for parking at the airport, as well as money to have dinner with them. I rang up my bank account and to my horror, there had been $30 of unexpected bank fees and charges. I can still remember the frozen panicked feeling. I would not have enough money to meet all my expenses again. And this time, I had no way around it. I had come to the end of my plans and my thinking. I remember being in tears and saying to God, "but I can't go without food another week (not a great idea when you are seriously anaemic which I was at the time)." As clear as anything, "I sensed his quiet voice saying, "and whose idea was that Sarah? I did not ask you to do that. You just tried to orchestrate things your own way and left me out of the picture." Ouch! Butt seriously kicked and I was chastened.

On Friday that week, I was reading in Proverbs 3 again and this time, vs 9 - 10 jumped out at me: "Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats will brim over with new wine." Again, I was pulled up short as I was not tithing when money was really tight. I sensed that God was saying that he wanted me to put $20 in the offering Sunday as a commitment to trusting him. Okay ... now I have $50 less than I need to meet all my basic expenses (not counting airport and dinner with my sis). Again I struggled and wrestled. As Sunday came, I put that tithe in the offering and pledged my trust to God once more.

On Sunday night an elderly couple at church gave me $10 because they felt led to. (They were pensioners and this was sacrificial giving for them.) On Tuesday I came out of a meeting and when I opened my Bible there was more money in it! Amazingly, my quarter tank of petrol lasted me until the next pay day (I kid you not - and this included extra running around over to the North Shore and out to the airport!). I was even able to take a discouraged friend out and treat her to coffee and cake. God met all my needs and then some. A valuable lesson in trust.

And yet, here I am again ... struggling with it. Struggling to trust. Perhaps I am struggling because this isn't just a bigger step. This is uncharted territory. This is something completely out of my control. It is a hearts desire and something that was buried deep in the basement of my life until the past year. It is something that in all honesty I would like to put back in the basement and shut the door on because it hurts. I don't want to dream about it and think about it. I don't want to hear a platitude of, "God will give you the desire of your heart", because do you know what people? Sometimes in life, we don't get to see the fruition of those desires. There is a whole chapter in Hebrews dedicated to the heroes of faith - all of who died having seen it from afar, and not having attained it! I don't want to spend emotional energy contemplating my desire. Actually, in all reality, I would like to go back to Egypt! (It was comfortable there ... cozy and warm ...!) But I can't. And you can't either. The only way to travel is forward, and the only way to walk forward is to trust. When you are struggling with that ... reach up from your pit and cry out for him to lift you out of the mud and mire. He will set your feet upon a rock ... upon THE ROCK, and give you a firm place to stand. He will put a new song in your mouth and people will see who HE is ... Our little mustard seeds of trust are something greatly treasured by God so don't be dis- couraged. Be en-couraged. Let him fill you with HIS courage and dare to dream!