Jacob Travels to Egypt #shereadstruth

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“What? Are you kidding me?!”

I blinked back tears. No discussion. The decision set. We were moving.

In utter disbelief, I learned we were not just relocating to another part of town or even another state. Right before my senior year of high school, after living seventeen years in Boulder, Colorado, my family planned to resettle clear across the ocean—in Hong Kong.

My parents dragged me by the ankles, kicking and screaming. Scratch marks from my nails could be seen in Boulder and Hong Kong, and all 7,542 miles in between. Had I known then what hard-won wisdom and perspective have taught me over the years, I might’ve saved myself a manicure and great deal of heartache.

This side of heaven we sometimes catch glimpses of understanding about our own situations. But more often than not, God asks us to rely on His Word to reassure us of His love and character, as well as the promises He freely gives to those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9).

As we near the end of Genesis, we read about Jacob as he approaches the end of his life. Through Scripture, our vantage point gives us the ability to review his life in its entirety, enabling us to see God at work in Jacob and also in spite of him.

Jacob’s story is one marked by deception. Some instances were instigated by Jacob (Genesis 27:36), and in others, he got as good he gave (Genesis 29:25)—which isn’t saying much. His relational experiences ran the gamut: from strife, grief, and loss, to promises kept and broken. They dot the landscape of Jacob’s life. Perhaps to Jacob, his circumstances seemed haphazard. But we have the benefit of Scripture to offer us perspective on how all the pieces of his life worked together for God’s greater purpose.

“I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you back.”
Genesis 46:4

 

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Children of Light #shereadstruth

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I picked up a crumpled foil gum wrapper by the staircase. Three steps up I found another one. And then another. At the top of the stairs I found a few more. Curiosity piqued, I turned the corner to peer into my son’s room. Under a maroon-colored blanket I saw the shape of a preschooler. In front of the mound of blanket-covered-preschooler, I found a pile of gum wrappers. I walked up to the mound.

“Michael? Are you under the blanket?”

The shape shook his head.

“Michael? Are you chewing gum?”

Again, the shape shook his head.

I lifted the blanket to find my son, cheeks stuffed like a chipmunk. His mouth was so full, he couldn’t bring his lips to close. Barely able to chew, Michael had managed to stuff an entire pack of chewing gum in his mouth.

When it comes to sin, I’m not so different from my preschool-aged son. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, my first response to sin is to hide and cover (Genesis 3:7-10). Instead of an actual blanket, I often hide under a cloak of defensiveness or rationalization when I sin. You know what happens in the place of hiding and covering? Rotting, stinky, cold, isolated living—that’s what happens in the darkness.

Paul brilliantly establishes in the first half of Ephesians our position in Christ and then spends the remainder of the letter addressing the practice of the Christian life. Our position should inform our practice, but often we confuse the order and attempt Christian conduct apart from understanding our standing before God. When we flip practice and position, we may seek to adhere to stringent dos and don’ts out of fear, or to earn brownie points. But living the Christian life through self-effort is unsustainable.

God did not abandon us to live the Christian life in our own strength. He is our Source and Provider. We invest time studying God’s Word in order to know Him, not just know about Him. As we know Him, we will love, trust, and obey Him, and our conduct flows out of this love relationship. We know Him by walking in the light, and we walk in the light by knowing Him.

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On Having a Multi-ethnic/Multi-racial Identity

**GUEST WRITER! Today’s post is written by my oldest son, Jonathan. He graduated last year from Cornell and originally wrote this post over on Facebook. I’ve since shared his thoughts with many who identify as mixed race. I hope his experiences and words help you better understand the changing landscape of our country as it relates to the growing multi-ethnic population. Feel free to leave him your thoughts in the comment section and share his post if you find it helpful.**

 

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Apparently the last couple months of my undergraduate career have turned into a critically introspective, nostalgia-driven time of reflection. I’ve had a bit of time over the past couple of weeks to reflect on multiracial/multiethnic identity as well as its intersection with faith. Thoughts have been floating around my head for a while, and I thought it was about time to put at least some of them into words. Somehow this turned into a short essay, so a wall of (hopefully-not-too-rambly) text lies ahead.

“So you’re Chinese?”
“Well, only half, but…”

“Oh, you’re Japanese!”
“Well, not exactly. See…”

“Isn’t that just the name of citizens of the state?”
“Well, there was this kingdom of people that existed before beforehand, but….”

“But like, how are you part white?”
“Well, there were these explorers…”

“So what languages do you speak?”
“Other than English? Spanish, so…”

Growing up mixed race can be confusing. I’m fortunate that a majority of my experiences have been more comical and puzzling rather than hurtful and offensive. Not fitting into someone’s box can be fun, and having people guess your ethnic makeup is always interesting. (I wish I had a running list of various guesses.) When it comes to figuring out who I am, however, I often find myself wrestling through a myriad of questions.

There’s a sense of a sort of impostor syndrome, in which identifying with a specific part of me feels disingenuous. “I’m not ______ enough.” As someone who loves languages, I’ve done some basic exploration into the various tongues associated with my backgrounds. I grew up speaking only English, though, so it feels a bit off. I utter a ni hao with far too little intonation. A hasty ganjuu yami seemi is unfamiliar in my mouth. I say aloha with fronted vowels and como estás as if it were Spanish.

I don’t really feel like I can place myself into these cultures as I please. There’s so much more to them than their languages. And yet, all of these cultures are still inextricably linked to me. I can’t seem to disconnect myself from each piece, no matter how far removed they may be. They have all played a role, small or large, in my upbringing and in how I see or experience things. Things have been passed down through generations, whether more abstract (like values) or more tangible (like appearance).

So if I can’t remove myself from each of them nor fully embrace them individually, where does that leave me?

Somewhere else I look to for answers in my identity is my faith. Who does God say I am? We are called His poeima, His handiwork, but what does that mean? By no means do I think this erases these distinctions. Yes, there is unity that transcends these differences as we are “neither Jew nor Gentile…,” but we can’t just act as if race and ethnicity don’t exist. I think it goes even further beyond acknowledging these differences exist. There is actually a sense of strength and purpose in this identity. If my ultimate identity lies in being an image-bearer of my creator, I can celebrate who I am in that – all parts of it.

There is a certain kind of flexibility in being able to move between different contexts that I’ve experienced my whole life. I may not feel like I fit in to homogeneous communities, but in a group with a mixture of people from numerous countries, cultures, and experiences, I feel right at home. There are more positives to this that I hadn’t really thought of before, and it’s been so helpful to have conversations with friends about their own cultural and ethnic backgrounds, whether mixed or otherwise.

Now I feel more of a sense of pride. Not in a sense of superiority, and I certainly don’t derive my whole identity from my ethnicity, but I am now able to see who I am – every part of me – as a gift rather than a burden. There’s still so much more to be learned and I’m still figuring out what it means to interact with the world in light of all of this, but at the very least I am much more at peace with the idea of being mixed. I don’t have to choose between these different aspects, but instead can exist in the intersection of all of them. This place of multiethnic identity is weird. It’s awkward at times, and it’s still pretty confusing, but I think it’s growing on me.

Inquire of God

My personal Bible reading has me currently camped out in 1 Chronicles. The first nine chapters cover a whole bunch of names. Beginning with Adam and chronicling (what a fitting name!!) thousands of years to Israel’s return from captivity, Ezra names the names of fathers and sons, and occasional daughters (as a woman, my eyes widen whenever women are highlighted in the Scriptures).

Yesterday’s reading found me contemplating David’s life and leadership in 1 Chronicles 13-14. David’s dependence caught my attention.

He showed dependence on others as he consulted with leaders of thousands and hundreds (1 Chronicles 13:1-4) regarding the ark. The words “all, us, our, and we” are repeated 11 times in four verses. Pretty significant, I’d say.

David also showed dependence on God as he inquires of God regarding going to war against the Philistines. (1 Chronicles 14:10,14)

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As I think about David, a man after God’s own heart, I am sobered knowing of his eventual choices of adultery and murder. I wonder how his life might have looked differently had he continued in dependence and connection with others and a posture of dependence on God through inquiring of Him before taking action.

So my personal take aways are:

  • evaluating how I am doing in the area of dependence on others. Do I consult others when making important decisions?
  • evaluating how I am doing in the area of dependence on God. Do I inquire of God before making decisions and taking action?

Do you have additional thoughts?

A Holy Calling #shereadstruth

**Dusting off my neglected website and starting a new 3x a week posting plan.

Mondays will be a sampling of posts I’ve written for #shereadstruth.

Wednesdays will be short devotionals on what I’m currently reading during my personal Bible study 

Fridays will highlight Asian American focused themes with a sprinkling of other helpful information related to racial reconciliation and occasional guest writers

Please share liberally if what you read here is helpful**

 

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Situated right near the bathroom, our side of the dorm floor drew high traffic. The sound of laughter competed with the high whizzing of the blow dryers. Bits of conversation could be overheard each time the door squeaked open. Constant commotion filled the halls, day and night.

This particular Friday afternoon an abnormal hush permeated the hallways. My roommate, like the rest of the girls on the floor, had left for the weekend. My door was left open out of habit. I paced back and forth inside the room, talking under my breath, and glanced up from my notes when I heard a knock. Kimberly, from down the hall, popped her head in and asked, “Hey! What are you doing?”

“Oh, I’m just practicing for a talk I’m giving tomorrow on training people how to communicate about their relationship with God. Wanna listen and give me some feedback?”

I tried not to look surprised when she nodded and plopped down on my bed. I invited all the girls on my floor to our dorm Bible study every week, but Kimberly never showed interest.

I was just a young college girl, still learning the depth of the gospel, but even then I knew I played a part in a holy calling: “to make God’s message fully known” (Colossians 1:25).

As I went through the presentation, Kimberly smiled and nodded, playing the part of supportive, interested listener. I finally reached the part explaining two circle diagrams. One circle had Christ on the throne inside the life and self surrendered to Christ. The other had self on the throne and Christ outside the life.

“Which circle best represents your life, Kimberly?” She pointed to the circle with Christ outside.

 

(you can read the rest of the post HERE)

Let the Bible Be Your Primary Source of Spiritual Nourishment

Hello from the IF:Gathering here in Austin, TX. What an honor to spend time with so many Christian women leaders of similar heart. This global gathering of women not only includes the 2500 attendees here in Austin (tickets sold out in four minutes!) but over 2000 IF:Local groups all across the U.S. and around the world. It’s estimated that 500,000 people viewed the event last year. God is raising up an army of courageous women to link arms and live for the glory of God and the good of others.

Part of my contribution will be on stage Saturday morning with Margaret Feinberg, Rebekah Lyons and Esther Havens as we dive into John 15. Time will be limited so I thought I’d expand a bit on the four color clicky pen method of reading the Bible here. I’m also taping IF:Equip videos with Jeanne Stevens and wanted to include the part from 2 Timothy 3:16 about Scripture in this post.

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I usually have my Muji pen for journalling (seriously, such a great pen from Japan), a meaningful Starbucks gift card for underlying, and my four color clicky pen. What I like about using the four color pen is how it helps me read with intention. It’s like mining for gold or precious jewels. As I read I am asking, “What does this passage teach me about God? What do I learn about His character, His heart, His ways, what He loves, etc.”

Underline in GREEN: anything you learn about God’s character, I also underline prayers in the Bible like Col 1:9-12 and I box names of God in green (e.g. Father, LORD, Shepherd, King, Living Water, etc.)

Underline in BLUE: anything that is our part–things we are to know or do

Underline in BLACK: consequences of sin

Underline in RED: promises of God and any other extra special verses

Sometimes I combine colors, sometimes I circle repeated words. My encouragement is to become familiar with and make your Bible your own.

2 Timothy 3:16 reads, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”

  • teaching=to know
  • reproof=to stop
  • correction=to change
  • training in righteousness=to do

Hope you find this helpful as you study God’s word. We are blessed to have countless resources, the internet, and wonderful devotionals, but remember nothing replaces the written Word of God. If you have never read through the entire Bible, I encourage you to set a goal to read it through. Begin in the gospel of John.

Let the Word of God be your primary source of spiritual nourishment.

** You can view IF:Gathering 2016 for free online through midnight Monday, February 8th.

IF:Gathering Racial Reconciliation Roundtable

Greetings from Austin, TX. Amazing city. Amazing food. Amazing people. Took part in the IF:Gathering yesterday and the day before. Click the link to sign up to hear the sessions. Powerful weekend. The leadership and women I met were humble, down-to-earth, Kingdom-minded warriors. Warm. Welcoming. Brave. Courageous. I’ve always held strong to the belief: you become like those you are around. Grateful for every woman I met. I want to be more like them, because of how I saw Jesus in their lives and in their eyes. I was invited to contribute. Taped several mini Bible studies for IF:Equip and an interview on unity and diversity.

IF:Equip bible studies

IF:Equip bible studies

Yesterday, in a remarkably intimate setting, even though surrounded by 2000 in attendance at the venue and over 20,000 women watching live stream, seven of us discussed the elephant in the room: racial reconcilation. We began unpacking issues of awareness, ethnic diversity (or the lack thereof), racism, unity. The 20 minutes onstage continued for another full hour of taping as we continued to share stories of discrimination and barriers. We sat around a table, looking into each other’s eyes. Through conversation we risked and brought our stories into this space of grace and truth. Our perspectives of the God we love deepened through exposure to each other’s stories.

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Among the many “God’s perfect timing moments,” my article for Today’s Christian Women, “Rocking the Small World Boat” went live right in time for the conference. In it I share about awareness and included resources and tips to help further the conversation. You can click the link to access the article. TCW graciously unlocked the article so IF:Gathering and IF:Local women would have access to the resources.

I’m still turning over in my mind the content, the names, the faces, the experience. Anticipating how God will move, trusting Him for movement in the right direction.

Changed lives. Changed world.

 

Did you participate in the IF:Gathering? If so, I’d love to hear your feedback!

 

Offering Everything Back to Him

She asked me to tilt my head forward, combed my wet hair straight through to the ends, and then looking at me while we both faced the mirror she said through her smile, eyes twinkling,

“It’s long enough to donate, you know.” 

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Wow. It would be like coming full circle!”

She threw her head back laughing, and with her warm, Alabama accent she declared,

“That’s exactly what I was thinking! Full circle.”

Last Wednesday, the official release date of “Warrior In Pink,” I had an appointment with Jesslyn to get my hair cut. The same Jesslyn who has always, always cut my hair. The same Jesslyn who knew I was pregnant before I knew because she could tell the texture of my hair had changed. The same Jesslyn who gifted me with the sassy magazine haircut when I was diagnosed with cancer and knew I would go bald. The same Jesslyn who came over to our house to shave my head when the harsh chemo meds began taking over my body and my hair began to fall out. The same Jesslyn who styled my crazy “muffs” when curly chemo hair grew back.

Fighting back tears I replayed in my mind those milestone moments with Jesslyn.

Full circle.

And how wonderful. How absolutely appropriate to donate my hair back to someone who would be walking the now familiar road of cancer treatment.

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And symbolically the donation of my hair reflects the place the book holds in my heart. I’m seeking to offer everything back to Him.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things…

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Cancer has altered my hair from stick straight to wavy curls. And cancer has altered my heart. The One who remains unchanging through each and every twist and turn is the One who has sustained, provided, led, and loved with perfect faithfulness.

To Him be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:36

We are blessed to be a blessing.

He is worthy of our all, our everything.

Willful, Will-less, or Willing

Sometimes when I speak I find myself sharing things I didn’t plan on sharing. Weird audio-visual mishaps take place, derailing my train of thought, and I’m left scrambling on the inside. But sometimes those unplanned things end up being exactly what someone needed to hear. I’d chalk that up to the Holy Spirit’s work and the prayers of our ministry partners and friends.

Just a week ago I stood in front of a room packed with over 400 college students representing 40 campuses across the country. Our annual West Coast Epic conference took place down in San Diego. I had spent the past two years speaking at the East Coast conference so it had been awhile since I experienced conference west coast style (you know, things like the emcee Olympics event in Sochi, a staff zombie flash mob, students sharing in the form of spoken word, creative art, string quartet, rap, the lip sync contest sing off, etc.). What an incredible weekend filled with incredible students learning about our incredible God.

Epic West Coast Conference

Darrin, wearing the conference director hat this year, led the 50 or so staff in a time before the students arrived of personal evaluation and surrender. Symbolically pouring out a vial of water representing our lives poured out to God, he asked the staff to pray and add their “lives” to a glass vase as an offering to God: willing to go, do, say and give whatever God asked. And from this place of surrender the staff welcomed students who arrived from everywhere. Some alone, without knowing a single person, some with their posses and school flag (Arizona! :-) ).

So with this as the backdrop I went up on stage to deliver the first talk. The cordless microphone gave us all sorts of trouble; weird feedback, popping, and the like. My staff friend, Duncan, came up to the stage halfway through the talk and unwound the long cord and handed me a handheld mic. I lost my place in my notes and ended up skipping an entire section of the talk. When I looked at Gilbert, the time-keeper, I realized I still had more time. So I summarized, and went on to share, but not from my notes, about a willful, will-less or willing heart.

Turns out, based on questions and feedback, most people wanted to hear more about what I hadn’t planned on sharing.

I first learned about these three postures of the heart in a class I took at Talbot Seminary. (One day soon I plan to return to resume the Master’s degree I will eventually earn–at the age of 86).

Okay, so here goes:

A willful heart: says “I’m going to do this.” It is characterized by striving and depending on my own strength.

A willful heart may come from a place of wanting to live a life pleasing to God, but this life is spent trying to muster up willpower to charge ahead. Willful hearts can feed into pride and legalism. If convicted of sin the response of a willful heart is “I will do better. I will try harder.” When my heart is willful, I’m trying to live life in my own effort, and trying to be obedient in my own effort. Willful hearts can lead to burn out. Sometimes after all the striving and the inevitable disappointment, it leads to

A will-less heart: “God’s going to do it all. It doesn’t matter what I do.”

Will-less hearts are the “whatevah” (hold up the “w” with thumbs and pointer fingers). It’s a passive place of who cares, “God’s going to do what God’s going to do so what I do is inconsequential.” When my heart is will-less, I stop being engaged, I give up and my thinking is “why try.” I become cynical. When I sin my attitude is “Oh well. At least it’s forgiven.”

The heart is not changed or transformed when we are willful or will-less.

Rather than a willful or will-less heart, God asks for

A willing heart: “God I am desiring to grow. I will do whatever it is, but on my own I can’t.”

The willing heart recognizes our inability to live the Christian life on our own and expresses our dependence on God’s power. The key to the willing heart is really the issue of being yielded. It’s not about signing up and being a missionary in a foreign land and eating bugs. It’s the willingness to go if God asks. It’s the willingness to stay even if you want to go. It’s about a life surrendered, laid open. This is the key to the Christian life. This is how God’s Spirit is unleashed to empower believers to live the Christian life.

Our lives, a poured out offering to the Lord

God, I am willing to go where You want me to go, do what You want me to do, say what You want me to say, give what You want me to give.

The last morning of the conference students were invited to sign a card and symbolically pour out their lives to God.

Willing hearts.

One hundred and eighty-three students expressed willing hearts.

This new generation of leaders, through the power of the Holy Sprit, will change the world.

Do you have additional thoughts to add to this conversation?

When God Says No

“If ever we needed prayer, it is now. The pain is indescribable.” I read and reread Maegan’s post on Facebook in absolute shock and disbelief. No. There must have been a mistake. This can’t be. None of the thousands upon thousands who rallied in prayer the past several weeks expected the story to end this way.

Rain fell steadily from the normally bright blue skies here in Southern California the first Saturday in December. Our family, dressed in dark colors, joined hundreds of family and friends, filling a church to capacity. Love and sorrow flowed through the aisles as we gathered to honor and remember Josiah Robins. Heaven joined us in our grief.

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Family and friends were gifted only two short decades with this young man of character. Our lives intersected with Josiah’s family through our friendship with his aunt, uncle and cousins. Jonathan and Josiah had AP Lit class together their junior year. Michael played the game “Heroscape” with Josiah and his cousins late into the night. Two words I most associated with Josiah: kind and grounded. Josiah’s quiet strength and the unstoppable love of his extended family influenced people all across the country. We wept as we collectively celebrated a life so full of promise, suddenly cut short.

Early in November a motorcycle accident in Arkansas sent Josiah to the emergency room. After realizing the extent of his injuries, the doctors had him airlifted to Tulsa, Oklahoma. He spent his final weeks in the ICU. A star athlete throughout his young life, his healthy body made steady improvement even as his underwent surgeries including having both his legs amputated.

As word got out, the faithful rallied and prayed. And God heard prayers for Josiah, his siblings, his mom, his extended family at all hours, from coast to coast and around the world. We prayed in faith, asking and believing God for complete healing and restoration. Everything seemed to point to answered prayer.

Then a stroke.

Then he was gone.

God said “no.”

I’ve struggled over the outcome of how I thought Josiah’s story would end. In fact I haven’t written a blog post since his death. I’ve turned over a thousand times in my mind the way his short life abruptly came to a close and I can’t make sense of it. Josiah’s death wasn’t the result of gang violence, or alcohol or drugs. His life brimmed with possibilities. As a young African-American man, son to a single mom, big brother to his three younger siblings, his life stood in stark contrast to poor choices he could have made but didn’t. Instead, he leaned into God and with fierce loyalty he purposed to love and protect his family. He chose to live a life that made them proud. Grounded, he rose out of the difficulties he both experienced and witnessed, like gold.

I just don’t understand.

Looking for answers I return to my coffee stained, tear-stained, well-worn Bible. More than looking for answers, my eyes search for Him. And I have learned and continue to learn His ways are not my ways, His thoughts are not my thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). I cannot fully grasp all of who He is, but still I seek. In the pages of my Bible I catch glimpses of His heart. And of His mysterious ways.

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In Mark 5:1-20 I read about Jesus and the man from Gerasenes possessed by a legion of demons. The demons torment the man day and night causing him to cry out and gash himself with stones. When Jesus confronts the demons they ask him to send them into the pigs (v12-13).

He says yes.

The townspeople, familiar with the demon possessed man, find out about the deliverance and get scared. They ask Jesus to leave (v17).

He says yes.

The man who had been demon possessed, now calm, clothed, and clear-headed, asks to accompany Jesus (v18).

He says no.

Jesus loved the man He rescued and restored. But unlike the first two petitions He responded “no” to the man’s request. I realize how resistant I am to hear “no.” I unconsciously equate “no” with absence of love or favor.

When God says “no” to us He never stops loving. His “no” is never cruel or petty or haphazard. His good purposes cannot be thwarted. So I am left scanning the pages wondering who Jesus wanted this man to meet in Decapolis (v20).

This side of heaven, because we exist in the confines of time, we don’t see the outcome of each story. More often than not, especially the longer we walk the earth, we find ourselves with more questions than answers. Since we cannot see past the ups and downs and the twists and turns of life we have to wait for more of the story to unfold. Josiah’s aunt, my friend, Kierstin, shared at the memorial service, “Josiah’s death is not the end of the story.”

And while I believe Kierstin’s words to be true, my heart grieves deeply along with the Josiah’s family and friends of all Josiah’s missed milestones: his college graduation, awards, travels, birthdays, wedding, children. Holding both the grief and the hope, I can’t help but think God’s “no” to our prayers for Josiah involves so much more than we know at this point.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks the Father if it’s possible for the cup of suffering and dying on the cross to pass him (Matthew 26:39).

God says no.

Even to His Beloved Son.

What is your reaction when God says no?