When God Throws A Fireball

On October 4th of last year, I found myself in the Chengni village of Shangri-la, spending the Chinese Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival at a hostel in the Tibetan countryside. Just a couple days before, my traveling companions and I were making our way through the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge in the southern Yunnan province. After a day and a half of hiking a trail so beautiful and arduous it literally took our breath away, we were happy to rest and meet new friends at the Desti Youth Park Hostel.


Our hosts had organized a huge, traditional Chinese barbeque and KTV (karaoke) party in honor of this national holiday. As the only wài guó rén (foreigners) in the building, the staff was delighted when we joined the celebration. Shāokǎo (barbeque) was eaten, “Aladdin” hits were sung, and before long, everyone was headed outside to gather around a huge bonfire.


The Mandarin-speakers of our group followed the locals outside, but Kaile and I stayed behind to continue a spirited discussion. I hadn’t known her long, but she was quickly proving to be a great friend, blessing me with encouragement, sisterhood, and wisdom during what had become a difficult time for me. Though I had been excited to return to the field, my second year in China was not going as well as I had hoped. Unforeseen circumstances in my new life were challenging me in ways I had never known. In all honesty, the fire in my missionary heart was feeling more and more extinguished with each passing day.


A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. Proverbs 17:17


Twenty, thirty, maybe even forty minutes went by before we realized we were the only ones left in the common room. “We will keep talking about this,” she agreed. “But let’s go outside and join the others.”


We’d been outside no more than three minutes when we suddenly heard a collective gasp emerge from the crowd, all eyes pointed upward and fixed on the night sky.



An enormous fireball was burning through the clouds, dazzling the sky in streams of brilliant orange and yellow light. Within ten seconds, night seemingly turned to day as the object disintegrated in a bright flash. A moment later there was a great boom as the resulting pieces struck the ground, miles outside of Shangri-la.


Stunned silence. Then, a unified roar of excitement and bewilderment.


Despite our linguistic differences, we all shouted, hugged, and cried in the mutual language of astonishment after witnessing what we could only understand to be a miracle straight from the heavens.


We later found out it was a meteor. It began as a larger rock, minding its own business, orbiting the sun in its own time – when it happened to slip through the earth’s atmosphere and get pulled downward so fast it caught fire and broke up into different pieces before it struck the ground. The life of a meteor is kind of sad, isn’t it? How quickly a great space rock can become a small has-been of the majestic sky. (Disclaimer: I am not a NASA scientist.) 


And yet, without its drifting from orbit and burning through our atmosphere, we would never be humbled, amazed, or inspired by such a spectacular show of light in darkness.


The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5


You know something? I think our brothers and sisters in Christ are kinda like meteors. (C’mon, you knew a metaphor had to be hiding in this story somewhere, right?)


No, I am not likening God’s servants to lifeless rocks floating in space. And I’m certainly not going full hippy and saying that we are all made of stars.


I’m saying that, whether or not we make a “sonic boom” on impact, we are all sent from the same rock – THE Rock, the Lord Almighty, our fortress and our deliverer – to spread His light unto different corners of the world.


Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.


For some, that means packing your life into a suitcase and traveling 8,000 miles to share the love of Jesus with strangers in a strange land. For others, it might mean inviting your neighbors to church again and again, even if they always decline. Either way, God has a purpose for each and every one of us. He sends us where he wants to use us. He puts us on separate yet intersecting paths, equipped with the Holy Spirit and ready to serve as kindling in each other’s fires of faith. He doesn’t need us to spread his light, but he chooses to use us so that we may grow stronger in faith while serving the mission laid out for us.


There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6


And even when it feels like nothing is happening, or when it feels like nothing is happening the right way, our God is still at work. His timing is perfect. He makes things happen when they are supposed to. And sometimes, God allows us to struggle so that we may learn to trust in Him and rely on Him more. It is during this struggle, this time when we feel like we’re falling out of orbit and plummeting towards an uncertain future – it is then that He is refining us, molding and transforming and sanctifying us as we journey through this earthly life.


In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7


When we are falling out of control it humbles us to the reality of how little control we have in the first place. Think of the meteors again. Once they begin to enter Earth’s atmosphere, there’s no going back for them. They have no control over where they land – but they can still be used to bring hope and light into a world of darkness. Talk about falling into God’s plan.


Locals claimed that our meteor broke up into three different meteorites as it plummeted towards the earth. Each landed in a different spot, waiting to be found by those hungry to learn more about the miraculous light they had just seen.


I believe Kaile was my meteorite during those rough months in China. Why, even when she admitted to be struggling, she was a light for Christ. She comforted me in times of distress, and she guided me back to Christ's love in times of doubt. She echoed the manner of our Savior, showing love and humility to all she met, no matter her own frustrations of being in a foreign culture. The Lord was using her to show others how to reach for his hand when falling instead of pridefully trying to control the situation.


In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16


I’m not sure if anyone ever found the space rocks that fell from the sky last autumn in Shangri-la. For all I know, they could have been destroyed upon impact, having become frail and breakable when separated from each other. As for his servants, however, we know that God’s word and grace only strengthens us as we are sent out into the world. After all, our God is the Creator of everything – all space, all matter, all universe. 

“There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2)!

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How Was Your Day?

On my drive home from work, I’m usually thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner, or what needs to get accomplished that night, or better yet, I allow my mind to drift in the blissful quiet of the car before the business of the night begins. But on one particular night a couple of weeks ago, my mind was troubled as I packed my bags into the car, fumbled around for my sunglasses and got out of the humid air and into my sweltering car. Just moments before I had been taking the elevator down and was joined by a man from the seventh floor who I greeted with a fleeting smile driven far more by habit than politeness. In a casual attempt to fill seven floors-worth of impending silence, he glanced over and asked, “How was your day?”


For a brief moment, I considered responding with the “correct” response: “Pretty good, how was yours?” So easy to say, it’s almost automatic. The same way we’re programed to follow up a classic, “How are you?” with a “Good, how are you?” But I didn’t, in fact I was in such a foul mood that I responded with a sigh and a “Actually, pretty sh**ty.” That’s right, broke out the word that rhymes with pity, as in it’s pretty pitiful that that was my answer. My cheeks reddened the moment I said it, because as honest as my response was in relation to how I was feeling, it wasn’t the “correct” one in any way. My fellow passenger who clearly got more than he bargained for looked surprised albeit sympathetic and replied with “We’ve all been there.”

And what he said rings true, we’ve all had really bad days. The ones where you come home and think, “today was just _____” start to finish. (I’ll let you all fill in that blank in hopes that you can do better than that word that rhymes with pity.) But as I sat in the car that afternoon on the way home from work, I reflected on the day that moments ago I had portrayed as just plain, old awful. What was so bad about that day? Fresh in my mind during those elevator pleasantries gone wrong was the project I had been working on right before I left the office. It was hard. I didn’t want to do it. I knew I’d have to work on it again tomorrow. So the project that took up two to three hours of my day had me treating the whole day as a wash. And what was so horrible about the project? It was harder than I wanted it to be. Something challenging and outside of my comfort zone had me throwing in the towel.

I had completely forgotten how good it had felt to finally figure out the project that I had worked on in the morning, how easily everything fell into place. I had not allowed my coworker’s offers to help me the next day pierce through the barrier of my foul mood. As I retraced my steps, the degree of “bad” in my day was so obviously minimal in hindsight. So why had I let a few hours taint it? Why had I let my frustrations bubble over?

Because in my mind I hadn’t had a good day. A good day is a day when everything goes your way, when you’re successful in everything you do, right? Except God didn’t give us example after example of his people having “good days” in the Bible. In fact, instead of saying, “Have a good day!” God tells us to prepare for our day as if we are preparing for war.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
— Ephesians 6:11-13

In this sinful world, “bad days” have been and always will be a normal occurrence. Just when things seem to be going smoothly, Satan worms his way into our lives and if our armor isn’t strapped on tight or has sat abandoned for a time, sin strikes us like a blow to the gut. God doesn’t allow Satan to challenge us to a fight because he wants us to have “bad days” or because he wants to see us lose. God allows us to face challenges because time and again we have to learn to look past ourselves to Him.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, them I am strong.”
— 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

My weakness as a sinner brought me to me knees on that “bad” day. It also lead me to realize that good days aren’t reserved just for days filled with happiness and comfort and ease. Every day that I’m shown my sin and my desperate need for a Savior is truly a good day. Every day that my children come home after a “bad day” is actually a great opportunity for me to help point them to Jesus. No matter what battle they’re going through or I’m going through or you’re going through, Jesus has already won the war. He’s won for us a place in Heaven when we leave this world. And with that knowledge, no matter what life might throw at you once you walk out the door, you can be assured that it’ll be a good day.

I pray that one day soon, my elevator might just stop on the seventh floor and that I can talk with the same friendly man I met last week about the great day we both had.

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Tools for Refining

A few Sunday mornings back, during the social shuffle between the end of the Bible Class hour and before the start of the worship service, I stood in the entryway to the sanctuary, waiting to grab a pew to share with my family members. As I dallied by the doors, a teenage girl - a newer member in our congregation - approached me. We uttered the usual, casual, “Good morning,” greetings and the, “Did you have a good week?” questions.

Then, “Hey, actually, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about something.”

The following conversation with this bright and bubbly high school senior set my heart aglow. She and a fellow classmate were hoping to start a morning Bible study for other female students at their Christian high school. She sought materials, advice, ideas - anything that would help make their weekly meetings successful and beneficial.

To see the Holy Spirit work so visibly in a young woman’s heart and life was incredible. It both convicted and inspired me. There I stood, without excuse, knowing how lacking my own Bible studies often are, while also being jolted with a bursting desire to dig into the Word, so I could be a source of support for these Christian ladies.

It’s easy to assume that young people are caught up in the world and its temptations. However, how often do we become more caught up in these things as we age? How often do we skip our own personal devotions and prayer time, let alone fellowship time with our brothers and sisters? A sparking light of Christian encouragement from a girl several years younger than me, a girl young enough to be my very own student, yet close enough in age that I knew we were going through some of the same battles.

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.  Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.
— I Timothy 4:12-13

For the month of September, our focus is living refined. If you look up the definition of refine in a dictionary, you’ll find descriptions such as: “to become pure”, “free from impurities”, “to become more fine, elegant, or polished.” However, if you scroll to less common definitions, you’ll find one that should resonate well with the Christian heart. Rather than simply being the definition of refine it’s actually the definition for refine on / upon.

The number eight definition on my phone app’s dictionary states the following:

Refine on / upon: to improve by inserting finer distinctions, superior elements, etc.

We can only live a life refined because a superior outside element has been inserted in our hearts. Our gracious God has made a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit in us through his Word, through our fellowship with others, and through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. To live refined is not a choice of ours but a result of God acting upon us.

My heart swelled that Sunday morning when a mature, young lady asked me a simple question and again in chit chats over coffee days later — not because this girl was an exceptional model of Christian living in action, but because the refining light of the Spirit was shining through her. How naive was I to not see the potential to walk in faith with those my junior? It’s routine to get caught up in our day-to-day living, in our own paths, in our own thoughts, and to believe that these are the undeniable truths in our lives.

What a blessing that the Spirit uses innumerable outside forces to call us to attention and polish our faith. Prayerfully, let’s lean on our fellow Christians this way. Young and old. Weak and strong. Lifelong believers and those new to the faith. Man and woman. Spiritual leaders and the everyday church member. Stay alert and seek out these outside sources of spiritual insights, encouragement, and excitement.

The Spirit is working in ways you cannot imagine.

May the Lord pour out his Spirit to refine our own hearts so that he may sharpen our faith as a blessed tool used to refine others.

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