I stand amazed.

IMG_3834Emerald still has a fascination with bubbles. Every day she asks if we can blow them, and each time it’s as if she’s never seen them before. She “stands amazed,” which for her means an open mouth and a wildly-waving right hand. As bubbles swirl around her, joy bubbles out of her.

Once in a while, though, a stray bubble pops in the wrong place – not on her nose or forehead (which she loves) but in her eye. She crumples to the ground in tears, rubbing her face and hollering at high decibel. “The bubble hurt Emerald! The bubble hurt Emerald!”

IMG_3850Might there be a spiritual parallel to this soap-in-the-eye dilemma? We all say we love the Lord. We trust he’s telling the truth when he says he’s always working for our good.

So we pray and ask for things he’s encouraged us to ask for – protection from evil, strength to endure temptation, life-guidance through prayer. We have confidence in his amazing power and expect him to act on our behalf. Then suddenly a situation arises that makes us raise our eyebrows at him. We might be left unprotected and become injured; maybe we fail at resisting temptation and give in; or he might seem silent when we desperately need his help making a decision.

And suddenly our bubble of amazement pops – bringing a hurtful sting. Our faith crumples, and we cry, “Lord, you hurt me! You hurt me!” Who would stand in awe of that?

There’s a wonderful old hymn that includes these lyrics: “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how He could love me, a sinner condemned, unclean.”

It continues: “How marvelous, how wonderful, and my song shall ever be! How marvelous, how wonderful, is my Savior’s love for me!”

It’s easy to smile as we sing those words, nodding affirmation and feeling his love. But when life goes awry or gets really hard, our raised eyebrows quickly form a frown, and we feel like wagging a finger at God. Instead of amazement, we want to lay blame.

The truth is, we don’t understand why the Lord does what he does any more than Emerald understands why soapy water creates her beloved bubbles.

Bubble-ologyAnd maybe that’s exactly what’s at the heart of her amazement. Because she doesn’t understand it, she’s in awe of it. And though a bubble in the eye is a set-back, her fascination doesn’t diminish, and the expectancy of joy quickly returns.

Even as the sting lingers, she jumps to her feet. “More bubbles? More?” Her mouth drops open, her right hand starts waving, and once again she stands amazed.

Can we say the same about God?

They were completely amazed and said again and again, “Everything [Jesus] does is wonderful.” (Mark 7:37)

Royal Purple

The other day I was making a PBJ (peanut butter & jelly) sandwich for Emerald while she watched. As I spread the grape jelly she said, “MeeMee, the J is so glamorous. It’s purple!”

Princess Snow WhiteI’d never thought of jelly as glamorous, but I understood. Unlike the drab-beige of the PB, the J really had it – rich color and sparkling shine.

Emerald loves glamour. Princess dresses, sparkling crowns, glittering fingernails. But maybe she’s not the only one.

In thinking about what attracts our attention, it’s often the most glamorous things that grab us – the brightly colored, the shiny, the sparkling. It’s the fanciest cars. The flashiest vacations. The showiest homes. The biggest jewels. The designer clothes.

This might even be true when it comes to people. Are we enamored with glamour? Do we name-drop in our conversations? “I spotted that celebrity at a supermarket once and actually talked to her.” Or, “I got that famous person’s signature in my copy of his book.”

We might spend time reading about the rich and famous, secretly wishing we could be like them. Or maybe we complain that we don’t have all the “stuff” we need or enough money to buy it. So how do we keep ourselves in check?

One way is to view these things as God does – especially when it comes to sizing-up people. He definitely sees individuals differently than we see each other. His Word says, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

This is a quote directly from Jesus, and when he said it, he was trying to teach his disciples the difference between the world’s version of greatness and his. They didn’t understand it at the time, but that didn’t bother Jesus. He stuck with his statement.

Bottom line? The most “glamorous” on earth might not be as sparkly in heaven.

IMG_1060That’s even true of sandwiches. After all, the drab-looking PB actually wins in a contest of nutrition, but the oh-so-glamorous J?

Last place.

“Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” (Matthew 19:30)

The Little Red Church

IMG_1745Sunday worship in Kona offers many options, and for the past few Sundays we’ve traveled 20 miles up the mountain to attend a church whose building is an antique from the mid-1800’s but whose preacher is very up-to-date. Its official name is Pu’uanahulu Baptist Church, but most people simply call it The Little Red Church.

Pastor Derek has been one of Nelson’s close friends for more than a decade, and the two of them, often a world apart, have connected whenever possible. He’s ministered in scores of countries and has mastered several languages, Hebrew and Greek among them. Birgitta benefited from his teaching recently during her first week of classes here at the University of the Nations.

IMG_1894Ten years ago, Derek became the pastor of this historic church and now shares the task with his gracious wife Heeran and their three children, Andrew, Chiara, and Acacia. Though the church might be tiny, it has a big story behind it.

Here on the island of Hawaii, active volcanoes have always been part of its history. One hundred and fifty years ago, the wooden church stood close to the waterfront on the island’s west side when a volcano’s advancing lava threatened to destroy it.

Historic church.Parishioners gathered and prayed passionately that God would spare the building, and then they evacuated the area. When they returned after the lava had cooled, they found whole villages burned beneath the red-hot flow (2000 degree F). But they were astonished to find their church completely intact. The lava had divided, moved around it, and come together again afterwards. God had protected their church.

Years later a similar volcanic eruption occurred, and once again the lava split to go around the church. That’s when worshipers decided to move the building to higher ground. In 1871, they painstakingly dismantled every board, loaded it all onto donkeys, and marched the pieces up the mountain to a grassy field, where they reassembled it. It still stands there today.

IMG_1743Since Hawaiian weather is often perfect, the packed-out church uses the meadow for its children’s ministries – a nursery under one tree, Sunday school under another.

This little church proves that God pours power into small churches as well as big ones. A potent reminder of this is a sandy spot surrounded by black lava rock near the Kona coastline – in the shape of The Little Red Church.

Mega-churches have their perks, but God is just as present in a no-frills tiny place of worship as he is in an ornate cathedral that seats thousands. After all, his preferred dwelling is the sanctuary of a humble heart…. which is small indeed.

“Let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him.” (Hebrews 10:22)