ARTICLES BY COLLEEN CHAO

Category: Wisdom

Category: Wisdom

Community

Dear Younger Self

Dear Younger Self—I know it’s cliché,But I would go back if I couldTo say: Make yourself small,Don’t resent being weak—Humility before GodWill set you free. Practice his presence:Listen and rest—A quieted heartHears his voice best. Don’t go it alone.Seek wisdom to knowWho to keep closeAnd who to let go. Gratitude strengthens.Counseling helps.Measure your beauty,Measure your wealth In joy,In friendshipIn laughterIn pain.In lossesIn crossesIn wakingAgain. Love as he loves you,Don’t fear what folks think.Forgive (you’re forgiven!),See what he sees. Don’t be surprised—More suffering’s to come.Grief will undo youAnd seem to have won…. But his Word will grow sweeter,His nearness will beYour joy and your good—Your everything. And when Death comes knockingYou’ll look back and seeLife had more purpose thanAll your first dreams. For each pain invitedYou into his LoveFurther and deeper And more than enough. (Written between March 2020 and Fall 2022)

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Bible study

A book like Amos (for a year like 2020)

What if tomorrow, one person could rise up and speak peace into the chaos of our world, healing into the brokenness? What if one voice could drown out all others—the arrogant, the bitter, the violent, the naïve? I’ve spent a couple of months looking long at the prophetic book of Amos, and I’ve been stunned to find a microcosm of our own current world affairs—as well as a God who speaks into the madness, whose voice is so powerful and authoritative that it leaves every other voice (even the ones screaming the loudest) sounding like whispers in a hurricane. Amos begins his book by saying, “The Lord roars from Zion and makes his voice heard.” According to Amos, the Lord roars (and also speaks and sings) in order to: …declare punishment on both his own people and their neighbors. …recount all the ways he has tried to win back his people. …proclaim his presence and his plan to redeem. I love that God is an all-knowing, truth-telling God. He’s not passive-aggressive or unsure of himself, nor is he swayed by the masses. He calls a spade, a spade. And so, in chapter 1 of Amos, he brings grave accusations against three of Israel’s neighbors: Edom, for mistreating his brothers (as well as stifling his compassion and raging incessantly); Gaza, for exiling “a whole community”; and Tyre, for breaking “a treaty of brotherhood.”** To these nations who abused and enslaved people within their own communities, he promises to send consuming fire as punishment. Then he accuses Judah of rejecting his instruction, of following ancestral lies that led them astray. For them, too, consuming fire is promised. Then the Lord moves on to Israel, describing her as predatory, impure, violent, enslaved to sin, indulgent, proud, callous, complacent, and self-righteous. Because of her sins, the Lord says, “Look, I am about to crush you in your place as a wagon crushes when full of grain. … I will punish you for all your iniquities.” And then—perhaps just in case Israel dares to question God (“How could you be so cruel?!”)—God reminds her of all the ways he’s tried to stop her from self-destructing, all the ways he’s tried to get her attention and woo her back to himself. I sent famine—yet you did not return to me.I sent drought—yet you did not return to me.I made you stagger—yet you did not return to me.I struck you with plagues, disease, defeat, and death—yet you did not return to me. Out of his great desire to be in relationship with his people, to save them from their sins, God sent crisis after crisis. Yet his people refused to return to him. (I don’t want to rush past these haunting verses. I want to sit here and feel the awfulness of them—and then be filled with gratitude that the Lord disciplines those he loves. Oh, how I’ve needed his discipline time and again when I’ve set out on a destructive path.) My favorite moment in the book of Amos comes next. At the climax of exposing Israel’s sin and prophesying judgment, the Lord tells her that he is with her—and gives her yet another chance to repent of her sins and seek him. “He is here: the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals his thoughts to man, the one who makes the dawn out of darkness and strides on the heights of the earth. The Lord, the God of Armies, is his name.” (4:13) “Seek me and live!” (5:4) “Seek the Lord and live or he will spread like fire… (5:6)  The heart of God beats with holiness and hatred for sin, yet tender longing and patience too—“not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Judgment was coming. Israel would pay dearly for rejecting her perfect and patient Lover. Even so, the book of Amos ends with God promising a day when all things will be made right. “I will restore the fallen shelter of David;I will repair its gaps,restore its ruins,and rebuild it as in the days of old. …I will restore the fortunesof my people Israel. …I will plant them on their landand they will never again be uprootedfrom the land I have given them.The Lord your God has spoken.” This year we collectively find ourselves in a chapter of chaos and crisis and conflict—but it is only just a chapter. The Story is a surpassingly great one, and it is always moving toward its glorious end (which is really not an end at all, but a breathtaking new beginning). God is here. He is speaking, roaring. And his plans will prevail. Speak, Lord, for we are listening. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Postscript: One of the most surprising and compelling themes of Amos (which I couldn’t capture in this scratch-the-surface post), is God’s heart for the nations. For this and so many other reasons, I highly recommend spending some time in this oft-overlooked prophetic book! **Moab was a fourth neighbor God accuses and judges, and his crime was “burning the bones of the king of Edom to lime.” I found it fascinating that Edom was guilty of heinous sins, and God was going to judge him with fire, yet God would not tolerate another nation using fire to murder Edom’s king.

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Suffering

Words of wisdom

May the wisdom and hope of these dear saints encourage your hearts as they have mine. We may live in a dark world, but his light shines brighter. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Take the very hardest thing in your life, the place of difficulty, outward or inward, and expect God to triumph gloriously in that very spot. —Lilias Trotter, Parables of the Cross The Lord knows how to order things better than I. The Lord sees further than I do; I only see things at present. … And how do I know that had it not been for this affliction, I should have been undone. —Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment It grew harder and harder. There was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy. But…one thing became increasingly clear. And that was the reason the two of us were here. The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God. —Corrie ten Boom,The Hiding Place (recalling her time spent in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp) Spare not the pain though the way I take be lonely and dark, though the whole soul ache, for the flesh must die though the heart may break. Spare not the pain, oh, spare not the pain. —Ruth Bell Graham, Clouds are the Dust of His Feet When it costs most we find the greatest joy. We find the darkest hours the brightest, and the greatest loss the highest gain. While the sorrow is short-lived, and will soon pass away, the joy is far more exceeding, and it is eternal. … In the presence of bereavement, in the deepest sorrows of life, He has so drawn near me that I have said to myself, “Is it possible that the precious one who is in His presence can have more of the presence of God than I have?” —Hudson Taylor If I refuse to allow one who is dear to me to suffer for the sake of Christ, if I do not see such suffering as the greatest honor that can be offered to any follower of the Crucified, then I know nothing of Calvary love. —Amy Carmichael, If The deep of misery calls to the deep of mercy; the deep of transgression calls to the deep of grace. Greater is the deep of mercy than the deep of misery. Therefore let deep swallow deep. Let the deep of mercy swallow the deep of misery. —Girolamo Savonarola (Italian Dominican preacher martyred in 1498), Reformation Commentary on Scripture Let no incident of life, pleasing or painful, injure the prosperity of my soul, but rather increase it. —Christmas Evans, sermon from the early 19th century I am afraid that all the grace that I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable. . . . Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister’s library.—C.H. Spurgeon, The Complete Works of C.H. Spurgeon, Vol. 34 May I not instruct thee in my troubles, but glorify thee in my trials. —Valley of Vision, page 133 It has everything to do with God and his grace that sustains—not just over the long haul, but grace given in tiny moments, like stepping-stones leading you from one tick of the clock to the next. And the beauty of God’s grace is that it squeezes those hard moments together, eclipsing the years until one day you look over your shoulder and all you see is five decades of God at work. Try as you may, you cannot recall the horror of it all—grace softens the edges of past pains, choosing only the highlights of eternal importance. What you are left with is peace that’s profound, joy that’s unshakable, and faith that is ironclad. It is the hard but beautiful stuff of which God makes your life.—Joni Eareckson Tada, The Scars That Have Shaped Me Grant me thy blessings with bitter things,to brighten and quicken me,not to depress and make me lifeless.—Valley of Vision, p.140 The weightiest end of the cross of Christ that is laid upon you, lieth upon your strong Savior. For Isaiah says that in all your afflictions he is afflicted [63:9]. … Glad may your soul be, even to walk in the fiery furnace, with one like the Son of man, who is also the Son of God. Courage up your heart; when you tire, he will bear both you and your burden [Psalm 55:22].—Samuel Rutherford, Letters (1628) God has seen to it that [in my life] there has been a certain measure of suffering, a certain measure of pain. And it has been out of that very measure of pain that has come the unshakable conviction that God is love.—Elisabeth Elliot, Suffering is Never for Nothing Untried faith is such little faith that some have thought it no faith at all. What a fish would be without water, or a bird without air, that would be faith without trial.—C.H. Spurgeon, The Trial of Your Faith: Sermons on 1&2 Peter and Jude Not only this valley but all their earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. … That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.–C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce If Christ be not in view, there is nothing but wants.—Isaac

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Love

Everything my heart craves

Before the foundations of the world were laid, you saw me and knew me and knew my days. You had already determined the era of history, down to the very environment, I would live in. You knew that I would enter a toxic world, a world riddled with crisis and cruelty—but a world of breathtaking beauty and wonder too. You set me in an age of indoor plumbing and technology, overcrowded cities and racial strife, advanced health care and incurable cancer. You brought me into being though you knew I would be your enemy from the first day—born into sin, enslaved to Self, hating your ways. You knew my greatest suffering would come from within, not without. You foresaw the brokenness and the beauty (of myself and my world), and you tenderly, tenaciously placed me in the thick of it—to write a story of surpassing goodness. Even as you have allowed pain to have its wanton way with me these many years, even now as you have let rampant disease, racial division, and political upheaval change the shape of our days, I praise you for you have also—moreso— revealed the path of life to me (Psalm 16:11) made my heart glad (16:9) hemmed me in behind and before (139:5) helped me, sustained my life (54:4) rescued me from every trouble (54:7) fulfilled your purpose for me (57:2) upheld me and exalted me (18:35) delighted in me (18:19) hidden me in the shadow of your wings (17:8) increased strength within me (138:3) loosened my bonds (116:16) turned your ear to me (116:2) given me a confident heart that is not afraid of bad news (112:7) supported me with your faithful love (94:18) made me happy by disciplining and teaching me (94:12) never left me nor abandoned me (94:14) made me rejoice by what you have done (92:4) welcomed me into your house (5:7) been my refuge in times of trouble (9:9) listened carefully to me (10:17) seen my trouble and grief and taken it into your hands (10:14) provided safety for me (12:5) counseled me when my thoughts trouble me (16:7) given me a beautiful inheritance (16:6) satisfied me with your presence (17:15) led me along the right paths (23:3) guided me with your faithful love (26:3) God, you are Love itself, and in you I have found everything my heart craves. Teach me to love you more. (All quotes from the Book of Psalms, Christian Standard Bible)

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Stories

Read biographies to strengthen your soul

This morning I woke up in a warm bed with a roof over my head. I took a hot shower, brewed a pot of coffee, and enjoyed breakfast made from my well-stocked fridge and pantry. Electricity, phone, and plumbing worked at my beck and call. Compared with most people around the world and throughout history, I am spoiled rotten. These comforts and conveniences are a gift, yes; but they can also be a grief. Gift because God appoints us our particular place in history, geography, and culture (Acts 17:26-27)—so this very location and set of circumstances are from Him. But gift quickly turns to grief when my passion for eternal realities is dampened by an all-needs-met existence. This physical wealth can numb my soul, and I’m daily at risk of living in spiritual poverty. And what good is it to have everything I need at my fingertips, yet lose the very essence of who I’m created to be? (Luke 9:25) I was made to love and serve others for Christ, to joyfully spread God’s fame in my little corner of the world and beyond. Whenever I sense this sluggishness of soul—a craving for all things convenient, a reticence to do hard things—I revisit “old friends,” Christian men and women who have long since passed into glory but whose lives have indelibly shaped my own. Even as a young teenager, I was spellbound by their stories. Reading Christian biographies became the kindling of a fire in my soul that would spark countless decisions and desires for years to come. These were real people with real frailties and failings (sometimes embarrassingly so), but they lived in such a way that showed the surpassing greatness of Christ. Their faith was rugged and resilient, unashamedly rooted in the hope of the gospel. They considered their sufferings and sacrifices well worth the eternal rewards awaiting them, and proved it by giving up all manner of comfort, success, even life itself. They didn’t expect life to be easy, fulfilling, or successful. They expected to lay down their lives for the sake of their God and His Kingdom work. It’s hard to conceive of a life of selflessness, of utter self-denial, in a culture that promotes its antithesis. We vehemently value our autonomy, our rights, our health, our comforts. We’re tempted to live in the superficial and act as if this is our permanent home. For the sake of our souls, we need a bigger view, an historical perspective, and the company of those who have gone before us. However, Christian history has largely (and sadly) been relegated to theological seminaries and Bible colleges, and most of us rely wholly on modern advice and methodologies, neglecting a wealth of sound counsel and proven wisdom in what Hebrews 11 calls “so great a cloud of witnesses.” If we were honest, many of us would admit that our culture, our peers, and social media hold more sway on our life trajectory than does any influence pre-1980. Today there are thousands of blogging, book-writing Christians on the scene, and many of them have good things to say. Biblical insights to share. Counsel to impart. But a diet consisting largely of blogs and books written by modern-day men and women who have lived a mere three, four, or five decades in affluent America—it’s a recipe for spiritual malnutrition. We’re glutted with writing on God’s love, our personal griefs and journey to recovery, applying the gospel to our modern-day messes, and buzzwords like community, authenticity, and wholeness. But when is the last time you read an author who wrote like this? Nothing will seem too much to have done or suffered, when, in the end, we see Him and the marks of His wounds; nothing will ever seem enough. Even the weariness of deferred hope will be forgotten, in the joy that is not of earth.” – Amy Carmichael, 1867-1951 Or this? I remember, when I have preached at different times in the country, and sometimes here, that my whole soul has agonized over men, every nerve of my body has been strained and I could have wept my very being out of my eyes and carried my whole frame away in a flood of tears, if I could but win souls.” – Charles Spurgeon, 1834-1892 Not only does reading Christian biographies put iron into our souls, it is also extremely practical for daily life—giving us a richer, broader perspective on relationships, education, career, marriage, parenting, spiritual disciplines, politics, and ministry. As C.S. Lewis said, it gives us eyes to see “the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective.” Lewis argued passionately for the reading of old books, for My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad of eyes, but it is still I who see.” These flawed-but-faithful believers are not meant to be the object of our gaze, but rather, they serve as a looking-glass through which we see Christ more clearly. Our sights are lifted beyond our present circumstances and we are strengthened to run our course well. God has gifted us with a cloud of witnesses—because our own eyes are not enough. Don’t let the testimony of these lives be lost on you. Walk with them awhile, learn from their mistakes, consider their counsel, imitate their love and obedience to God. To encourage us in this pursuit, the True Woman blog is featuring a new biographical series called “25 Women Who Impacted the World for Christ.” These inspiring life sketches are posted on the blog every Thursday. 

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Community

A word to the wise

When my son was only a few months old, I had a mother-of-four walk by me and say, “Oh, I remember the days of only one child. Enjoy it—you have it so easy!” She was right, you know. Mothering one child is enjoyable, and it is much easier than taking care of four small children as she was. But she was also wrong. Enjoyment doesn’t come merely from having only one child. And easy wasn’t what I was feeling that particular day: I was in the throes of post-partum depression, suffering from serious health issues, surviving on three hours of sleep every night, and learning to be a mom for the very first time. … During my 14 years of singleness, I had more than one married woman tell me, “Once I surrendered my singleness to the Lord and was completely content, God brought my husband along the very next day!” (Why was it always the very next day?) Was contentment a destination or a daily choice? Moreover, was perfect contentment supposed to win me the prize of marriage? … Over the years, I’ve heard myriad people say, “Parenting is the most sanctifying thing in the world.” What does this mean then for those who are single or barren? What happened to Jesus’ statement in John 17 that God’s Word is what sanctifies us? Do parents have a corner on the market of spiritual maturity? A BETTER WORD It would be easy for me to resent such misguided comments, except for the fact that I’ve been guilty of similar words myself. When we’re hurting, self-absorbed, or simply wanting to validate our season of life, it’s easy to think and speak “extra-biblically.” We offer commentary and advice that’s rooted in our own experiences or emotions, not in the Word of God. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:6 “[A wife of noble character] speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” Proverbs 31:26 Where does wisdom come from? The Lord. So if I want to speak with wisdom, if I want faithful instruction on the tip of my tongue, I go to the Lord, the source of all wisdom. Sure, I can draw from my own life lessons and share my experiences, but “apart from the Lord, I have no good thing.” My Word-less words have no power of their own. But His Word? Oh, His Word is… “perfect, refreshing the soul trustworthy, making wise the simple right, giving joy to the heart radiant, giving light to the eyes.” (Psalm 19) If I really want to refresh a friend’s soul, give joy to her heart, and light to her eyes, I’ll be slow to dish out my own advice and quick to direct the conversation toward the beautiful, life-giving truths of the Word. For example, instead of comparing plights with a friend and telling her, “You have it so easy!” I might focus on the goodness of God I see in her life. Or I can steer the conversation away from the differences in our situations and instead focus on what we share in common in Christ. Or instead of telling a single girl to be perfectly content so that God will reward her with a husband, I might share how I learned to cling to Isaiah 54 (“your Maker is your husband”) and 1 Thessalonians 5:24 (“the One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it”). God’s Word will never return empty; it will always accomplish what God desires. It’s alive and active, piercing to the joints and marrow of our souls. And if we could speak with that kind of wisdom, then it would be said of us, “Faithful instruction is on her tongue.” {Scriptures referenced: Psalm 16:2, Isaiah 55:11, Hebrews 4:12} This article also appears on ERLC.com.

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Category: Wisdom