Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Does this woman never stop??? Elisabeth Elliot to the rescue again! And today I am so thankful to be rescued. Actually, that was my exact prayer yesterday: O Lord, please rescue me. I left the house around 5:00 in the afternoon for no reason but to be alone for a minute and "blow the stink off," as my mother used to say. I drove to the gas station to buy a pop just for something to do, but really, really, something more sinister was brooding in my soul.

Some people are chronically unhappy – they seem to make a hobby of it. It seems like they complain just to have something to talk about. Worse, maybe they complain just to have something to think about. Although I've only known a few people like that over the years, they got my attention: at some point it became a tacit ambition of mine to NOT be one of those people.

But yesterday I was depressed. I guess I wasn't chronically depressed – that would be tricky to do all in one day. But I was deeply depressed, and I realize now it had been sneaking up on me for quite a while, nibbling at the edges of my consciousness, moving in little by little, until yesterday it announced its presence undeniably.

Actually, speaking of being chronically unhappy, I'm embarrassed to realize that I've blogged about this before…even more than once. Maybe that answers the question of why some people seem to make a hobby out of unhappiness and maybe I fall into that mold more than I care to admit. Because maybe it isn't a matter of being chronically unhappy; maybe it's more just that we are such DUMB SHEEP, and learn SO SLOWLY!!! We have to have the same lesson repeated over and over and over again, with a slightly different emphasis each time, because the same weakness in our understanding and character and faith keeps rising to the surface. I don't think I'm chronically unhappy by anyone's definition. But in my inner world, this issue does pester me on and off quite regularly.

The great advantage I have is that the Lord is always there to reorient my thinking when I get off-kilter. What do folks do who don't have Him to point the way?

So, I've talked before about my fear of becoming useless. Yesterday, BOREDOM was mixed into the equation. Every day I am imprisoned in the house because I have to drag my crabby youngest daughter through her schoolwork, a tedious chore because she wants nothing to do with me…until she needs my help. Even then she wants nothing to do with me and snippily shoos me away the moment the light bulb of understanding goes on. Not fun. I'm way beyond taking her prickliness personally – I've already raised one teenage daughter, and I've been one myself. But yesterday, rather than being afraid of being useless, I felt like I actually was useless, and my imagination could conceive no end in sight. The only things I had to occupy my vacant mind were a dirty kitchen floor and a broken dryer. My creativity was engaged only in finding new places to hang wet towels. And as much as I love the work of 7th grade math, the thrill of finding the prime factors of two disparate denominators in order to determine their lowest common denominator, the awe of how easily the fractions can be added when the process is followed – as exciting as all that is (especially compared to washing the kitchen floor), it's no fun with a hormonal 12 year old.

So, emboldened by David in the Psalms, I asked God, "Have You forgotten me?" Noooooo, He hasn't forgotten me. And I said, "Please rescue me."

Well, He rescued me through E.E. this morning. What she says in the devotional below is true: my problem is that I fall into greediness! I begin to want more than what God has ordained for my life. And that greed of doing more and being more stifles my thanksgiving. Not only that, like E.E. says, if we take the bait of feeling like we need to constantly be doing more, being more, if we try to accomplish that long list the world would hand us (even the Christian world), we neglect God's short list for us, "Do this [boring, tedious, unrecognized task] for My sake." Satan tempted Jesus with the lust of doing more than the Father meant for Him to do, and Satan tempted Eve with the idea that she could be more than the Father intended for her to be. Elisabeth Elliot says, "When there is a deep restlessness for which we find no explanation, it may be due to the greed of being – what our loving Father never meant us to be. Peace lies in the trusting acceptance of His design, His gifts, His appointment of place, position, capacity." Oh, it's so true! Thank You, Lord, and thank you, E. E.!

And in retrospect, yesterday, albeit tedious, was fruitful. I had the privilege of being a part of resolving crises in each of my older childrens' lives. (Well, to be technical, I helped resolve a crisis in one's life, and avert a crisis in the other's.) Youngest daughter got through her schoolwork well yesterday, and, happily, is improving daily in both the quality of her work and in her independence in doing it. I gave #3 son an awesome book to read, which he devoured. I put a good dinner on the table at night, and began another awesome book myself that I'll be able to discuss with #2 daughter. The only one who suffered from my internal disquiet was poor T, who didn't get the attention he deserved after a long day's work. Oh dear. Well, today is a new day, isn't it?

I better get to draping more wet clothes around the house and put away the ones from last night. (Repairman can't come until tomorrow, and we were completely out of bath towels!) But I hope you do take the time to read E.E.'s devotional below. She has such wonderful insights and writes so beautifully!


Author: Elisabeth Elliot
Source: Keep A Quiet Heart
Scripture Reference:
Numbers 11:4 Colossians 1:24 

A New Thanksgiving

Those who call Thanksgiving "Turkey Day," I suppose, take some such view as this: Unless we have Someone to thank and something to thank Him for, what's the point of using a name that calls up pictures of religious people in funny hats and Indians bringing corn and squash?

Christians, I hope, focus on something other than a roasted bird. We do have Someone to thank and a long list of things to thank Him for, but sometimes we limit our thanksgiving merely to things that look good to us. As our faith in the character of God grows deeper we see that heavenly light is shed on everything--even on suffering--so that we are enabled to thank Him for things we would never have thought of before. The apostle Paul, for example, saw even suffering itself as a happiness (Colossians 1:24, NEB).

I have been thinking of something that stifles thanksgiving. It is the spirit of greed--the greed of doing, being, and having.

When Satan came to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, his bait was intended to inspire the lust to do more than the Father meant for Him to do--to go farther, demonstrate more power, act more dramatically. So the enemy comes to us in these days of frantic doing. We are ceaselessly summoned to activities: social, political, educational, athletic, and--yes--spiritual. Our "self-image" (deplorable word!) is dependent not on the quiet and hidden "Do this for My sake," but on the list the world hands us of what is "important." It is a long list, and it is both foolish and impossible. If we fall for it, we neglect the short list.

Only a few things are really important, and for those we have the promise of divine help: sitting in silence with the Master in order to hear His word and obey it in the ordinary line of duty--for example, in being a good husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, or spiritual father or mother to those nearby who need protection and care--humble work which is never on the world's list because it leads to nothing impressive on one's resume. As Washington Gladden wrote in 1879, "O Master, let me walk with Thee/In lowly paths of service free...."

Temptation comes also in the form of being. The snake in the garden struck at Eve with the promise of being something which had not been given. If she would eat the fruit forbidden to her, she could "upgrade her lifestyle" and become like God. She inferred that this was her right, and that God meant to cheat her of this. The way to get her rights was to disobey Him.

No new temptation ever comes to any of us. Satan needs no new tricks. The old ones have worked well ever since the Garden of Eden, although sometimes under different guises. When there is a deep restlessness for which we find no explanation, it may be due to the greed of being--what our loving Father never meant us to be. Peace lies in the trusting acceptance of His design, His gifts, His appointment of place, position, capacity. It was thus that the Son of Man came to earth--embracing all that the Father willed Him to be, usurping nothing--no work, not even a word--that the Father had not given Him.

Then there is the greed of having. When "a mixed company of strangers" joined the Israelites, the people began to be greedy for better things (Numbers 11:4, NEB). God had given them exactly what they needed in the wilderness: manna. It was always enough, always fresh, always good (sounds good to me, anyway, "like butter-cakes"). But the people lusted for variety. These strangers put ideas into their heads. "There's more to life than this stuff. Is this all you've got? You can have more. You gotta live a little!"

So the insistence to have it all took hold on God's people and they began to wail, "all of them in their families at the opening of their tents." There is no end to the spending, getting, having. We are insatiable consumers, dead set on competing, upgrading, showing off ("If you've got it, flaunt it"). We simply cannot bear to miss something others deem necessary. So the world ruins the peace and simplicity God would give us. Contentment with what He has chosen for us dissolves, along with godliness, while, instead of giving thanks, we lust and wail, teaching our children to lust and wail too. (Children of the jungle tribe I knew years ago did not complain because they had not been taught to.)

Lord, we give You thanks for all that You in Your mercy have given us to be and to do and to have. Deliver us, Lord, from all greed to be and to do and to have anything not in accord with Your holy purposes. Teach us to rest quietly in Your promise to supply, recognizing that if we don't have it we don't need it. Teach us to desire Your will--nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. For Jesus' sake. Amen.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

John Piper, The Pleasures of God

I do not like poetry. Bleck. My philosophy is why be scrimping with words when we have so many good ones to choose from? And they're free! Why not use as many as possible? (Actually, I'm most committed to this philosophy when I'm doing the writing. I adhere to a much more moderate stance when someone else is writing.)

In addition, poetry requires no end of trouble to ferret out any semblance of meaning. If you've got something to say, by all means, make yourself clear! Get to your point and use as many words as necessary! Spare us the painful puzzles and symbols and guessing games.

The past month or so, however, I have been ever-so-slowly making my way through a book recommended by my older son, John Piper's The Pleasures of God. In chapter 3 he talks about the pleasure of God in His creation. He quotes a stanza from a poem written in 1751 by Thomas Gray called, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard." It is pithy, not too difficult to understand, and I must admit, I love the thought so much that my antipathy toward verse is, for the time being anyway, somewhat mitigated.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

I get that, and I love its meaning. Actually, John Piper expounded further upon the meaning:

Gray had been moved by the thought that on the bottom of the ocean there
were beautiful gems that no human eye would ever see, and that in distant
deserts millions of flowers would bloom, blush with vivid colors, give off a
sweet fragrance, and never be touched or seen or smelled by anybody but

This is what moves the psalmist in Psalm 148:7, "Praise the Lord you sea monsters and all deeps!" He doesn't even know what is in all the deeps of the sea! So the praise of the deeps is not merely what they can testify to man. Creation praises God by simply being what it was created to be in all its incredible variety. And since most of the creation is beyond the awareness of mankind (in the reaches of space, and in the
heights of mountains and at the bottom of the sea) it wasn't created merely to
serve purposes that have to do with us. It was created for the enjoyment
of God! (p. 89, The Pleasures of God)
Of course I love that verse because I am, undoubtedly, the flower that blushes unseen. I'm not sure how much sweetness is getting wasted exactly, and I prefer to see myself on a hidden mountaintop than the desert, but the sentiment still applies. Even I do not exist for any reason but to please God.

My worth is in no way connected to that rousing chorus of adoring masses constantly badgering me, as flattering as that has always been. =)

Thank you, John Piper!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Abide in Christ

I find myself with a little more time on my hands these days now that #2 is off to school. Odd, really. I never would've thought she took up that much of my time during her years of high school, but her absence is noticeable. So now it's just the younger two kids. They keep me busy, but for the first time in I can't say how long, I don't feel like a ping-pong ball.

I remember days before #3 and #4 came along that I ran a pretty organized little house. I made to-do lists every day, organized my shopping around a meal plan and put time into our dinners, cleaned semi-regularly, took pride in doing a scrupulous job with their school.

Then things began to ramp up. It got really chaotic there for awhile; to-do lists and meal plans were long forgotten. Total survival mode.

Now I'm back to just two kids to care for and to-do lists are slowly creeping back into the picture. But what has happened to me? I don't want to plan meals and cook and clean. I've gotten a little spoiled with all the running around I've done over the years. Being a ping-pong ball is a lot more fun than cleaning and cooking, that's one thing. In my heart I'm resisting the discipline of it, the plain, tedious, never-ending, repetitiveness and thanklessness of it all. 

When the kids were little, there were lots of hugs and kisses and giggles and surprises to go along with all the work; I was the center of their universe, and they were the center of mine. Now it's just work, with two teenagers and a husband.

On the upside, however, I have more time to be deliberate in my walk with the Lord, and I've come to be impressed yet again with my need to ABIDE in CHRIST. Andrew Murray, through his book by that name, has come to be my best friend. No kidding, and I'm not the weepy type, but more than once I've melted into tears as I've read his book in the morning. Morning after morning, it's like Andrew Murray himself has been privy to the private musings of my heart, and through his book he whispers into my ear strength and encouragement to keep on keeping on in my quest to abide in Christ. 

Of course I know in reality it's the Lord Himself who has been privy to the private musings of my heart, and uses A.M.'s book to point me in the right direction and correct my faulty thinking.
It has been a thrilling journey so far, and I feel like I've barely crossed the starting line. But I'll tell you right now, it has completely decimated any idea I ever had that I love God. Very sobering, this is. 

It's never easier to imagine that you love God than when you're too busy to pay any attention to your thoughts or affections. You just whirl through your day like you're the ball on the end of a string being swung over a little boy's head, collapse into bed at the end of the day and wake up the next morning only to start spinning again. Slow down for a few weeks and I challenge you to look at what's growing inside your heart. I won't speak for you, but I know I've got a regular garden of stink growing there. The flowers look bad, smell bad, have deep roots and poisonous fruit.

One answer to that is to just keep spinning. Don't stop to look! And if life does slow down on you like it has for me, by all means, keep the radio or TV on to block out any internal rumblings! Put that iPod into your ears and join more committees, for heaven's sake! Prayer groups, Bible studies, the PTA, it's all good.

Honestly, and sadly, I do know that some Christians would advocate that path. They say, "Why should I introspect? I know that everything in me is bad, and Christ has died for all that sin. So let's ignore all the yuck and just get on with the work of the Kingdom." Sorry, but the stink does manage to permeate all the layers of nice clothes and make-up. Besides, only as we're connected to the Vine are we fruitful. And our desire is to be fruitful, right?

I want to be fruitful. And I also want to know Him. Do you mind if I wax romantic here for a moment? I want to feel His breath on my face, smell its sweetness, and see the love in His eyes as they look into mine. I know He loves me, but I want to experience it. I want my whole being to be consumed with His presence, and I want my every motivation to spring from undistracted devotion to Him.

I understand the danger of unchecked introspection, because there is no healing for sin within myself. No point in dwelling on it and self-flagellating, but there is also great danger in throwing a blanket over it and pretending it isn't there. There is only one thing to do for it, and it is very important that it be done: I must humbly present the sludge of my soul to Him, and say, Lord, please help! I cannot even conjure up a desire to repent from the sin on my own! Even that comes from Him.

So, Andrew Murray has helped me. As I walk this path and every day through his book he has an answer to the trouble of the day before, I know he walked this path before me and he arrived at the place I want to be. I don't say he "achieved" it because Jesus did all the achieving for us; I say he "obtained" it: he reached out and successfully took hold of the same thing I want. He was a person with a sickly soul just like mine, and he found Christ to be true, not just by faith, but by faith and experience.

Over the years I have agonized over many books with this same message of abiding in Christ, of experiencing the joy of walking more closely with Him. It was only a few weeks ago though, that I was rereading a book called They Found the Secret, by V. Raymond Edman, and stumbled upon this passage in the chapter about Andrew Murray. (p. 115-116) 

"Though all around thought me one of the most earnest of men, my life was one of deep dissatisfaction. I struggled and prayed as best I could. … One day I was talking to a missionary…he said, 'Brother, remember that when God puts a desire into your heart, He will fulfill it.' That helped me; I thought of it a hundred times. I want to say the same to you, who are plunging about and struggling in the quagmire of helplessness and doubt. The desire that God puts into your heart He will fulfill. … I have learned to place myself before God every day as a vessel to be filled with His Holy Spirit. He has filled me with His blessed assurance that He, as the everlasting God, has guaranteed his work in me. … With the deepest feeling of my soul I can say that I am satisfied with Jesus now..."

Andrew Murray's words were a salve to my anguished soul that day. The book, They Found the Secret, is a compilation of the spectacular encounters with the Holy Spirit of many Christian giants, like John Bunyan, Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor and more. It's a bit of a double-edged sword. They confirmed what I suspected, that my life with Jesus could be more than it was, but it also set up the (quasi-) expectation that I could have an encounter like that, or that an encounter like that necessarily preceded a deeper walk with Christ. 

But Andrew Murray's experience was not spectacular; it was a story of daily presenting himself before God, and seeking moment by moment to be conscious of His presence and to be pleasing to Him. And yet, as his book, Abiding in Christ, has helped me understand, it's not my effort to obey that will draw me into closer fellowship; somehow it's about focusing my thoughts and affections on Him moment by moment, and giving my consent for the Holy Spirit to do His work in my life. What He has begun, He will bring to perfection. He doesn't need my effort as much as my consent, my submission. A concentrated focus on Him and letting go of myself at the same time.

Here are a few excerpts from Abide in Christ that have encouraged me in the past few weeks. They barely scratch the surface of the wealth in the book, of course! But it's a taste anyway.

(p. 31) First fix your eyes on that for which He has apprehended you. It is nothing less than a life of abiding, unbroken fellowship with Himself to which He is seeking to lift you up. All that you have already received – pardon and peace, the Spirit and His grace – are but preliminary to this. And all that you see promised to you in the future – holiness and fruitfulness and glory everlasting – are but its natural outcome. Union with Himself, and so with the Father, is His highest object. Fix your eyes on this, and gaze until it stands out clear and unmistakable: Christ's aim is to have me abiding in Him.

(p. 32) I dare not speak to you about abiding in Him for the mere sake of calling forth a pleasing religious sentiment. God's truth must at once be acted on. Oh, yield yourself this very day to the blessed Savior in the surrender of the one thing He asks of you: give up yourself to abide in Him. He Himself will work it in you. You can trust Him to keep you trusting and abiding.

(p. 44) And if you ask exactly what it is that you now have to believe so that you may abide in Him, the answer is not difficult. Believe first of all what He said: I am the vine. (John 15:5) The safety and the fruitfulness of the branch depend on the strength of the vine. Do not think so much of yourself as a branch, nor of the abiding as your duty, until you have first had your soul filled with the faith of what Christ as the Vine is. He really will be to you all that a vine can be – holding you fast, nourishing you, and making Himself every moment responsible for your growth and your fruit. … Ask the Father by the Holy Spirit to reveal to me what a glorious, loving, mighty Christ this is, in whom you have your place and your life; it is the faith in what Christ is, more than anything else, that will keep you abiding in Him. A soul filled with large thoughts of the Vine will be astrong branch and will abide confidently in Him. Be much occupied with Jesus, and believe much in Him as the true Vine.

(p. 45) And then, when faith can well say, "He is my Vine," let it further say, "I am His branch; I am in Him." I speak to those who say they are Christ's disciples, and on them, I cannot too earnestly press the importance of exercising their faith in saying, "I am in Him." It makes the abiding so simple. If I realize clearly as I meditate that now I am in Him, I see at once that there is nothing lacking except just my consent to be what He has made me, to remain where He has placed me. I am in Christ.

(p. 114) Let each day have its value from your calling to abide in Christ. As its light opens on your waking eyes, accept it on these terms: a day, just one day only but still a day, given to abide and grow up in Jesus Christ. Whether it be a day of health of sickness, joy or sorrow, rest or work, struggle or victory, let the chief thought with which you receive it in the morning thanksgiving be this: "This is a day that the Father has given; in it I may, I must, become more closely united to Jesus." As the Father asks, "Can you trust Me just for this one day to keep you abiding in Jesus, and Jesus to keep you fruitful?" you cannot help but give the joyful response: "I will trust and not be afraid."

(p. 121) Believer, when striving to find the way to abide in Christ from moment to moment, remember that the gateway is to abide in Him at this present moment. Instead of wasting effort in trying to get into a state that will last, just remember that it is Christ Himself, the living, loving Lord, who alone can keep you and is waiting to do so. Begin at once, and act by faith in Him for the present moment: this is the only way to be kept the next. To attain the life of permanent and perfect abiding is not ordinarily given at once as a possession for the future; it comes mostly step by step. Avail yourself, therefore, of every opportunity of exercising the trust of the present moment.

I am greatly encouraged by Andrew Murray's words. But you see why I say that I have come to know how little I love Christ. You start paying attention, and you too might discover many moments in the day that you don't especially want to focus your attentions on Him. For me it's toward the end of the day when I want to chill, just decompress from the day's exigencies. I do not want to think about what He wants – only what I want! I want to eat (lots), watch TV, play computer games, just "turn off" for awhile. Or sometimes I get my mind set on about 8000 calories of pizza and ginger cookies, and I don't want to think about Him then either.

But I am upheld by the knowledge that He loves me. My fellowship with Him is grounded in His love for me, not my love for Him, so I will not despair. And He will bring to completion the work He has begun in me (Philippians 1:6). Besides, it was His effort that saved me in the first place; will it be my effort now that allows me to grow in Him? Not likely. (Galatians 3:3-4)

So every day I will present my garden of stink to Him, the Master Gardener. I will open the gate, walk Him through it, and ask Him to clean it up. And then I will turn from the sin, lock my eyes with His, and abide in Him.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Elisabeth Elliot on Fear

How fun it is that the very day after I posted "Lines in Pleasant Places" (which, truthfully, was more about "fear" than any sort of "lines"…deliberate obfuscation), Elisabeth Elliot's e-mail devotional was about fear. Two others soon after than were also about fear. I've cut-n-pasted them below.
Oddly, the one at the bottom where she ever so briefly alludes to lying awake in the early dark battling unruly imaginings, that's the one that comforts me the most. I love Elisabeth Elliot, and somehow it cheers me to no end to know that, like me, she has sometimes let her thoughts get the better of her!


Author: Elisabeth Elliot
Source: A Lamp For My Feet
Scripture Reference:
Hebrews 2:14-15 

Freedom from Fear

There is a sense in which every form of fear is essentially the fear of death. Jesus came to deliver us from that in all its forms. "He became a human being so that by going through death as a man he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might also set free those who lived their whole lives a prey to the fear of death" (Heb 2:14,15 JBP).
I know people whose lives are totally controlled by fear. There is no bondage more powerful and crippling. Fear takes over the mind, coercing and circumscribing all its activity. We know where that spirit of fear originates, and we know the name of the enemy who would hold us enslaved. In the name of our God we must tread down our enemies, including all the nagging "what ifs" of our lives. To those frightening possibilities Christ answers, "I will never leave you or forsake you." Let the very worst thing come to pass--even there, especially there, his hand will hold us. If we go into darkness, He is there, has been there before us, has conquered all its powers. That's why He became a man. That's why He died. That's why He rose again.
My Lord and my God--forgive my fears. Deliver me from bondage by the power of your resurrection.


Author: Elisabeth Elliot
Source: A Lamp For My Feet
Scripture Reference:
Psalm 27:1 Proverbs 19:23 

Fear God and Fear Nothing Else

The world is shaking with fear. "What will become of us? Where will it all end? What if Russia...? What if cancer...? What if expression...?" The love of God has wrapped us round from before the foundations of the world. If we fear Him--that is, if we are brought to our knees before Him, reverence and worship Him in absolute assurance of his sovereignty, we cannot possibly be afraid of anything else. To love God is to destroy all other fear. To love the world is to be afraid of everything--what it may think of me, what it may do to me, what may happen today or tomorrow for which I am not prepared.
"The Lord is the stronghold of my life--of whom shall I be afraid?" (Ps 27:1 RSV).
And yet, Lord, the truth is that I am often afraid. I confess it. All the weight of your promises seems sometimes to be only a feather, and the weight of my fears is lead. Reverse that, Lord, I pray. Give me the healthy fear that will make light of all the others--"The fear of the Lord is life; he who is full of it will rest untouched by evil" (Prv 19:23 NEB).


Author: Elisabeth Elliot
Source: A Lamp For My Feet
Scripture Reference:
Psalm 3:3-5 

An Encircled Shield

Different phases of life have different sets of fears. A newborn baby demonstrates fear of falling and of loud noises. Swaddling clothes, used for thousands of years, are still wound tightly around the babies of the Quichua Indian tribe of Ecuador. As soon as a child is born his arms are bound to his sides, his legs straightened in a neat firm package. When this is removed the baby feels insecure and cries.
Adolescent fears about popularity, pimples, and peer pressure give way to adult anxieties about responsibility and life's major decisions.
As we grow old we are beset by the fear of aging, which may bring us weakness, pain, dependence on others, loneliness. We wake in the early dark and find ourselves the targets of many fiery darts of fear. We may think we are on guard, and suddenly a dart comes at us from an unexpected angle. We can't cover all the possibilities. We dodge and duck, but some of the fears get to us--unless we take refuge in the Lord. The psalmist calls Him "my encircling shield, my glory." No need to stare into the darkness, allowing our imaginations to torment us with the "what ifs"--"Now I can lie down and go to sleep and then awake, for the Lord has hold of me" (Ps 3:3,5 JB).

Monday, July 5, 2010

A. W. Tozer and a Question

Here's an excerpt from an A.W. Tozer devotional book called Mornings with Tozer. This is the August 13 entry:

I know whom I have believed. 2 Timothy 1:12

I must ask this question in the context of today's modern Christianity: "Is it not true that for most of us who call ourselves Christians there is no real experience?"

We have substituted theological ideas for an arresting encounter; we are full of
religious notions, but our great weakness is that for our hearts there is no one

Whatever else it embraces, true Christian experience must always include a genuine encounter with God. Without this, religion is but a shadow, a reflection of reality, a cheap copy of an original once enjoyed by someone else of whom we have heard.

It cannot but be a major tragedy in the life of any man or woman to live in a
church from childhood to old age and know nothing more real than some synthetic
god compounded of theology and logic, but having no eyes to see, no ears to hear
-- and no heart to love!

Well, for one thing, this eloquently expresses my frustration with big church functions. It's the real encounter with God that's missing. And I believe that all the social activities of church in the name of fellowship, all the service opportunities, all the accolades for those who pour their time into the busy-ness of church -- all this works to discourage any real encounter with God. It explains more clearly than I could why I get depressed at the thought of throwing myself into church service.

But I didn't begin this post with that in mind. I began this post to ask a question that I do not have the answer to:

Is there any hope for a believer who has spent decades in church, but seems to have lost that "knowing" of God that Tozer talks about -- is there any hope he could encounter God anew?

Well, I have the answers in Hebrews 4 and 6. I just don't like those answers.
What I want is a real-life experience of someone who appeared to fall away from his walk with God for a time, but came back stronger than ever before with deeper understanding and renewed love for God.
I wonder if a person can appear to fit the descriptions in Hebrews 4 and 6, but doesn't really. Only God knows his heart; we can't really know what's going on in the depths of his being, can we?

A completely different scenario from this is the person who grew up in a church and happily adopted his church's culture as his own, very compliantly followed all (or at least most of) the precepts laid out in the Bible (and many which are not but are proclaimed by his sect as the only righteous way). Either he never understood the concept of a personal walk with God, or never wanted to bother with it very much. But he was not one who had "once been enlightened" or had "tasted of the heavenly gift" or been made a "partaker of the Holy Spirit." (Hebrews 6:4)

This is the person Tozer is talking about in this passage I think, the person who can easily miss the idea of a personal encounter with God.

I did meet a woman once who fell into this category and came to know the Lord in her middle age. In her testimony she says she always thought she was a Christian. She grew up in the church and her entire social life had always been in church; she had always agreed with everything the Bible taught. She didn't describe what brought her to the place of "encountering" God personally, but somehow she came to understand that all those years she really hadn't been a believer. Maybe just a very compliant unbeliever?

I also know someone who would scoff at this honest woman's claim. He would point to Romans 10:9 and say if she had confessed with her mouth Jesus as Lord and believed in her heart God raised Him from the dead, then she was saved whether she knew it or not, whether she had some mystical experience later on or not. Personally, I'm not so quick to dismiss her experience. But I do see his point and have to admit that these are thorny questions.

We can't deny Romans 10:9, or add to it. Yet if we continue down that path too far we completely eradicate the personal experience of knowing our Creator at all. Christianity becomes a religion of head-knowledge.

A better educated person than I would have lots to say about this. It wouldn't even take a theologian probably -- just someone who knew the Word better than I do. Anyway, I'm not interested in a lengthy discussion. Intuition tells me that the truth is somewhere in the middle, and I'm walking on dangerous ground to make judgments about the salvation of other people -- that's God's business.

So I don't want Biblical defenses for one position or another. I'm just sad tonight and want to know if there is hope for my friend whose seed appears to have fallen either in rocky places or among thorns.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Baseball Dust and Dragonflies

These are good days. I think for the rest of my life I will always love baseball dust and dragonflies. I love the poof of dust as the ball hits the pitcher's mitt. I love the pigpen look, dust from head to toe, as the kids get up from a slide into the base. I love the fog of dust swirling about any play in the infield. And I love the innocuous dragonflies buzzing about our lawn chairs in the hot summer sun, minding their own business, oblivious to the drama unfolding on the field before them.

Our younger son, we'll call him R, has been blessed with a fair amount of athleticism, and he shines on the baseball field. What a rush it is to watch him do well! To see great line drives into the outfield, heroic diving catches at short, to watch his uncanny ability to know just where the play is at every moment. It makes me dizzy with pride to hear the other dads yell things like, "Way to go, R! That kid is a vacuum out there! He's just a vacuum!" To hear the coach describe R as his rock, always dependable. Oh, it's just plain too much fun.

My younger daughter, let's call her L, has also been blessed with a sizable portion of athleticism. She had been dancing at a local studio for a couple years, but we stumbled into a Cecchetti ballet class last October. We visited a Grade 2 class, and although she'd never has done Cecchetti ballet before, the teacher invited her to stay. In the end, she passed her Grade 1 test in December, and tested for Grade 2 with the other kids in the class in March. She passed her Grade 2 test with a better score than anyone else in her class, Highly Commended, which is apparently pretty good.

No baseball dust or dragonflies in our ballet studio, but that familiar thrill is there. I love to peek in the window of the studio during the last 15 minutes of class to watch her glide across the floor, looking far more graceful and beautifully rhythmic than I ever could dream of looking.

Now there have been far more sports players in my family and T's than there have been ballerinas. So it shouldn't surprise me too much that there's a lack of appreciation for this fine art. But through the grapevine I caught wind of a remark made my one of my sisters. She said, "So what exactly is she going to do with all that ballet?" Huh?

What exactly did her daughter do with softball? What did my other sister's kids do with swimming? What did my brother-in-law do with being all-American in football, or T do with his black belt in karate? And what will R ever do with baseball? In the end, nothing. It's enjoyable. For a season it has its place; it builds confidence, character, friendships, physical fitness, discipline, knowledge and experience in an avenue that suits their abilities. It fills kids' time productively and keeps boredom and mischief at bay. It gives them a sense of identity at a time when they're searching for where they fit into the world around them, who they are. But in the end, most kids do nothing with their childhood passions. The purpose of the passion is fulfilled in the pursuit, not in the end. And that's a wonderful thing! It means that the star as well as the average kid benefit equally.

Not all of us get to experience the thrill of fine motor coordination and all the blessings it brings to youth. (I was one of those. Any athletic ability my kids have came directly from T's gene pool!) L and R are effortlessly coordinated and strong. My older son is also, but my older daughter...well, if she's athletic, she's hidden it well. We tried her in every sport under the sun and none really stuck. People gravitate toward what they're good at, so I'm pretty sure sports just weren't her thing. She's a writer, a thinker, a singer, a campy, outdoorsy kind of gal. Great with kids and academics. Just not the athlete.

It's sort of sad to think of the kudos she's missed out on because of it. There aren't cheering audiences for writers and camp counselors. No dads shouting on the sidelines, "Way to go, girl! Look how she engages those kids! Woo-hoo, can she build a campfire or what!"

It's not fair, you know. I'm not complaining, but I do want to point out that it isn't fair. It's an intrinsic inequity in our society that athletes, especially athletic children, are applauded so highly, while non-athletic children are left on the sidelines, literally and figuratively.

R, L and my older son were drawn to athletics because it came easily to them, and because it came easily, they enjoyed it and were good at it. No virtue involved. Often there's virtue and character involved in the development of athleticism, but much of the beautiful grace we admire in a natural athlete is exactly that: natural. In reality, often the more praiseworthy qualities are exhibited in the mediocre athlete because he's had to persevere and practice long hours without the glow of glory and when success was not guaranteed.

"For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7) A little out of context, but perfectly applicable, don't you think? (I think Paul is talking to the Corinthians here about spiritual knowledge they had received, not natural gifts.)

We do that a lot, don't we? We praise beauty over virtue. (And athleticism is nothing more than a form of beauty, isn't it?)

In our case though, I'm especially happy for R to have been blessed with some natural ability. He's an unassuming, quiet guy, not the first-born boy, not the first-born girl and not the youngest. He has that sometimes irksome middle position in the family, which has too often resulted in his being overlooked. So now, with older son off to college and older daughter ready to go too, maybe it's his turn to capture a bit more of the limelight.

Anyway, I bring this up because we're just finishing a wonderful weekend of tournament baseball. The weather was lovely, our cooler was packed, the lawn chairs were comfy and umbrellas kept the sun from being overbearing. We had neighbors and other parents to chat with, the dragonflies were buzzing happily, and all was right with the world. The players showed up Friday morning squeaky clean in their sharp red, black and white uniforms, but looked comically unclean within the hour.

I'll keep it in perspective: his athleticism is a blessing, not a virtue. But in the meantime, I'll still thrill with every well-placed throw, every great catch and every crack of his bat!

In Conclusion (an addendum)

In my last post I discussed at length my fear of my own growing obsolescence as the kids need me less and less with each passing year. After rambling on for what must seem like centuries to the poor, unsuspecting (yet stalwart) reader, I proved myself unconvinced by my own arguments by repeating the original premise in full whine: But I'm worthless!

What occurs to me is that I suspect that I'm worthless because I am worthless. That is to say, what I have to offer Him is worthless. I have nothing of worth to offer Him except my faith and obedience. There is nothing I am that He needs. My faith is precious to Him and my obedience is pleasing to Him. Other than that, it's all dross.

"I am small and despised, yet I do not forget Your precepts." Ps. 119:141

One line in that last post is particularly true, that life has indeed purged me of any lingering fantasy that there exist unmined treasures deep in my soul, only waiting to be discovered, only wanting time and opportunity to be developed. Hey, I've looked. I got nothin'.

The only good inside there is God and His Word and any truth from Him that I allow to reside there. The minute my own thoughts and flesh creep in, the neighborhood starts to go bad.

"Why do you call Me good? There is no one good except God alone." Luke 18:19

"Great peace have those who love Your law; nothing can make them stumble." Ps. 119:165

It doesn't say, "Great peace have those who do lots of great stuff for God, who throw themselves into lots of great ministries." It says, "Great peace have those who love Your law."

I'll go where God leads me, and who knows what that will mean for my future. But for now, I will love His law and strive to obey Him, and it will be enough.

Thanks for listening!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lines in Pleasant Places

Today's lesson is about fear. Have I talked about this before? Maybe I have, but I'm going to talk about it again because I've found something new to be afraid of: Uselessness. It's not really a new fear; it's been weighing on my mind for years. But it's hitting a little closer to home these days.

More and more my thoughts turn to my own future as the kids get older and more independent. My joy in them knows no bounds. I'm so proud of each of them I'm obnoxious and have to be careful to keep my mouth shut. But this could be the last summer, really the last few weeks, that my oldest lives at home at all on any permanent basis. Hopefully he'll get an internship this winter semester which will continue on through next summer, so he'll continue to live at school. Then he'll be a senior and graduate, go on to full time work and get a place of his own.

My second-born is off to college in the fall. That leaves my precious younger two home, and they still keep me plenty busy for now. But the writing is on the wall. This wonderful chapter of my life is coming to a close.

What has been plaguing me the past few weeks is that I haven't made any plans for my own future. After all our planning and imagining, plotting and contriving, hoping and dreaming for the kids' futures, it's an odd concept: my own future. But really, I do hope to be around for awhile; there is a future for me even after kids.

T's hopes and dreams for my future are easy. Somehow manage to turn a few bucks, and be completely available for play after that. Bike rides, friends, vacations, boats, beaches, restaurants. Give him fun and he's happy. Give him a playmate to enjoy all that fun with and he's even happier.

But beyond fun, I'm not prepared for anything useful. For some people, fun is useful. (Enter T.) But the thought of endless diversion without usefulness fills me with anxiety and sadness. Certainly I'm not prepared to re-enter the workforce. That can be remedied with education maybe, but even work isn't useful if T is making enough money and doesn't really need my help. ("What?!!??? A little help would be just fine!" I can hear him saying. I just mean that God has provided for us amply without my help because that's the way He chose to do it. God doesn't need my help to provide for this family. If He chooses that I should go back to work when the kids are gone, I will happily go. I just don't want to work because I have nothing else to do to fill my time.) But even beyond employment, I can't bring myself to be able to care much about anything except what relates to my family right now.

Even regarding church involvement, I'm afraid I've become a little jaded. We attend a very large church, and there's always plenty going on, plenty of service opportunities. But the thought of jumping into all that depresses me. In truth, I don't believe in much of it, in its eternal profitability. It just strikes me as unnecessary busy work, work that serves mostly to make the people involved feel important somehow. And so much of it seems to distract from the message of the Gospel, from the love of Christ, rather than promote it. All these big "events," all the hoo-rah: decorating, promoting, organizing, setting up, budgeting, food, chit chat, chuckle-chuckle, forced smiles, happy, happy, all for Jesus! So much frantic effort, but it's for Jesus! I'm pushing 50 years old, have been a Christian for 25ish years, and have never, never been aware of anyone coming to know Christ in any meaningful way or growing in their walk with God through these types of events.

Even kids' Sunday school at our church is loud, frenetic, chaotic; there are sound systems and dancing, games and crafts, toys and prizes, matching t-shirts and bright colors, all high energy and fun, fun fun. Their motto is, "We're the best hour in a kid's week." Vacation Bible School, or in our church a week of day camp, is more of the same, just taken up yet another notch. Bible verses and stories are all a part of it, of course. But whatever kind of kid can be touched in his heart by the Word in that environment doesn't come from this family. Ouy!

All that is so much a part of the fabric of the American evangelical church, it's hard to imagine Christianity without it. Even with all my cynicism, if it weren't there, maybe I'd go looking for it or try to be a part of creating it. Somewhere, somehow, maybe it does serve some kind of purpose, fills some kind of gap. I just don't think it does as much evangelizing as they'd like to think it does.

Actually, come to think of it, for about 13 years we were a part of a small church that did not have the resources for all that whizz-bang. The pastor emphasized the importance of developing personal relationships for the purpose of sharing Christ. Of course. Yet there was definitely a lack of momentum there somehow.

So maybe at least a little whizz-bang has its place. I won't throw the baby out with the bath water.

But I'm getting off track here. What will become of moi when the kids are gone?

Well, I ran down that bunny trail because church involvement seems like a no-brainer when the demands of my family grow less. But I just can't get excited about it; the thought of it absolutely leaves me depressed. Is it because I just don't love God, only myself? Is it because I've made an idol of my children/family? Is it because I'm incorrigibly unsocial and selfish? Maybe. I need to consider those possibilities.

Or could it be that church involvement is simply not God's will for me right now? Certainly He would give me a desire, some smidgen of inclination, for what He would have me do, wouldn't He? And maybe it's a matter of timing. Whenever I've jumped into church involvement in past years, it has always involved my family making significant sacrifices for my effort. It's always ended up being stressful.

And another thing: clearly, as a wife my role is to follow the lead of my husband, and T has never been a church-y kind of fellow, at least since we've been married. (Hello! I married him under the auspices that he was very church-y! We got to know each other as we were neck deep in campus evangelism and fellowship.) Is it okay to just relax and trust that God's will for me is found in the leading of my husband? Is it God's plan to produce fruit from the relationships T has been fostering all these years? And as my time is freed up, I have the privilege of being a part of it. Do I just relax and go with it?

These relationships are not overtly evangelical. In fact, they're quite worldly. Yet T is a believer, and, while he would never fit into a Baptist circle (smile) -- he allows himself way more latitude than most believers are comfortable with...even more than a lot of unbelievers -- he does trust God and he honors Him in some very important ways. He prays, trusts God more and more with his work, has always honored God with his finances, has taken on the colossal task of supporting this large and expensive family alone all because he wanted his children raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord through homeschooling. In addition, he's been faithful to me and the kids, and he honors his mother, both relationally and materially.

Sometimes the image comes to mind of us out in a vast sea on a large, sturdy ship. I stand against the rail with my legs braced and my arms quaking with effort as I grip a fishing pole. T is attached to the end of the fishing line, acting as bait. Sometimes he's out far, and sometimes he's closer, but he's attached to the ship because I hold on and keep my feet firmly planted on board. Do you get it? The ship is God and His truth; the ocean is the world. T is a part of the ship, attached by the fishing line, but he's out there in the world attracting others.

Well, he's attractive, there's no doubt about that. He's fun and funny, the life of the party and everyone wants to be around him. The question is, is there, or will there ever be, any spiritual fruit? Will others jump on board because of him? Or do I cling to this image out of desperate, daffy optimism, because I have no control in the matter anyway?

And that's the crux of the matter: I have no control anyway. I can relax, or I can tighten up in fear and consternation, but I have no choice but to go with it. As the kids grow older the image has to change a little. They were my excuse to stay on board. Without them, that fishing line will more often have to be secured to the rail somehow, and I'm going to have to jump onto the end of the line with him, out into the vast, worldly ocean, social bunny that I am. (Eye-roll, please.)

But hold on. Back up. Who says I have no control? Who says I can't forge a new path, blaze a new trail? Choose a new career, conquer a new world, make a name for myself, prove my worthiness, put the unmined treasures of my soul on display for all the world's benefit? Well, to begin with, I'm pretty sure there are no unmined treasures in my soul. Somewhere along the line, life has purged me of that particular fantasy.

But besides that, while no exact Scripture references pop to mind immediately, I've always operated under the idea that that's a pretty un-Godly perspective. God is my commander-in-chief, and I want to go where He directs, and no where else. Well, here you go, how about John 10: to paraphrase very roughly, "My sheep hear My voice and follow Me. They do not know the voice of strangers, and will flee from them." This dumb sheep does not want to wander off on her own; she wants to follow only the voice of her Shepherd, thank you very much.

Now that should be the end of the discussion, shouldn't it? But no. Heaven forbid I should just be content with that! And the good Shepherd has been kind enough to give me more words of encouragement than just that too.

Last week I was encouraged by 2 Peter 1:5-8, which says: "For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."

In the end, that's all I want, isn't it? To be effective and fruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. As long as I make every effort to supplement my faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love, God promises I will not fail to be effective and fruitful. Amen! I will rest in that promise!

And this morning I was reading Psalm 16:

"I say to the Lord, 'You are my Lord; I have no good apart from You.' ...

The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
Their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
You hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.
For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.

You make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence there is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore."

That about says it all, doesn't it? The lines have indeed fallen for me in pleasant places. The Lord is the one who gives me counsel, even in the night; He will instruct me in the way I should go. He is at my right hand, therefore I will not be shaken. He will not abandon me. So my heart is glad, my whole being rejoices and I dwell securely. He has made known to me the path of life and I will be joyful as I live in His presence.

He will not abandon me.

And most importantly, the sorrows of those who run after other gods shall be multiplied. Unless it is God who leads me to start a new business, or throw myself into some worthy ministry, or go back to school, or pursue any other of the myriad of options that taunt me, aren't I just running after a false god, looking for false fulfillment?

He hasn't abandoned me yet. Up until now He has always been there to show me which way to go. What reason would I have to suppose He would leave me unguided and bored and useless once the kids leave?

(Shhh, don't tell, but it's maybe because I suspect that I really am useless and have nothing to offer the world or the Kingdom. Well, for being useless, He's kept me pretty darn busy for 20+ years. I guess He can still find something useful for this useless servant to do. His hands aren't tied because the kids have left home. But now we've come full circle...see 2 Peter and Psalm 16.)

I do manage to get bent out of shape and complicate things, don't I?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hello again!

So happy to be back! It's been too long since I've even visited this, my sweet little blog sanctuary. When I come back after a long absence I feel exactly like I've sunk myself into a big easy chair with a cup of coffee and a good friend. Ahh!

By the way, in reference to my last blog entry where I was annoyed with a friend, I'm happy to report that she and I both put on big girl pants. I came to see things from her perspective, and whenever the topic came up in conversation with other moms, I spoke compassionately of her situation and respectfully of her decision. She, on the other hand, is reconsidering her decision and admitted to me (not knowing I was ever irritated) that she's a little ashamed of her weakness this past year in this area. (How's that for cryptic? But don't worry -- the details aren't really that interesting.)

Our summer is off to a running start. I got my older daughter up to camp yesterday for the first of a series of camp stays for her. This is pre-camp (basically a work week). She'll come back in a week and head back up the next week for 3 or 4 more weeks.

My older son's time is filled up with work and his Crusade summer Bible study, which we are happily hosting. The younger two kids have golf, baseball, ballet and lots of friends in and out all day. In general, lots of chaos, lots of people, lots of fun. Occasionally the chaos threatens to undermine my peace of mind, but I resist the urge for order and peace because I know this is a blessed, and all too short, season of our lives with all the kids and their friends around.

If all goes as planned, this will be the last summer our oldest son comes home. Hopefully he'll get a business internship during the winter semester of school this year, which will extend into the summer months and into his senior year of college. Our older daughter goes off to college this fall, and as I already mentioned, will spend much of her summer off at camp doing her counseling thing. That will leave us with only two kids at home this school year.

The change won't be as dramatic as it sounds. The older kids have become more and more independent as the years go by, and most of my time is taken up with the younger ones anyway. My heart is no less wrapped up in all four, but these are pivotal years for the younger ones as they make important choices about who their friends are going to be, really who they are going to be as they begin to establish themselves in the social fabric of the world outside the family. And of course, the heart of all this is the question deep within their hearts of whether they want to take on the mantle of Christian faith to which they were introduced as children.

That's the big question. That is the only real burden of my heart. The first two seem to be off and running with their own pursuit of God. Could anything be more wonderful than that? The big question is still out there with the younger two. Especially during these years when I'm feeling pretty locked out of my younger son's emotional life. That's fine. It's normal. It's just unnerving.

The passage of Scripture I pray through for him is Isaiah 41:17-20. I don't have it memorized, or right in front of me, but it talks about God providing water to a thirsty land and raising up trees in the wilderness: the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive, the cypress, the plane, and the pine. I'm praying for him that God would provide six good, Godly friends for him, one for each tree listed, and that he would be the seventh tree. That in the wilderness of his public high school there would be seven strong, God-fearing young men banded together, standing against the forces of unrighteousness assailing them.

It's almost too much to believe. But I do love the end of the passage: verse 20 says, "...that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it." For the glory of His name, maybe God would choose to do this.

Here's the thing about my precious younger son: he has this wonderful way of always seeing the best in people. If there's something negative to be noticed, he just clams up, won't go there. So beautifully un-girl-like. It means he's very defensive of his friends, even the ones that his dad and I can see clearly are very likely not going to be making the wisest choices through their high school years. He has some really nice friends, and he has some questionable friends -- still nice I'm sure, but a little less constrained by common ideas of right and wrong, less impressed with the bounds of authority. Which ones will he ultimately choose to hang with during high school when independence is difficult to withhold? He himself has a bit more of a creative streak than his older brother did -- my generous way of saying he is also a little less constrained by authority, is a little curious about what's at the end of the leash. He's never done anything terribly wrong, just on the edge.

But another thing about this kid: he's one of my more spiritually insightful children, which just brings tears to my eyes. When he was homeschooled we'd read Bible stories together; not only would he remember every detail of the stories from previous days, he could always see "into" the story, what the story revealed about God and His character, His love for us as His people, how He dealt with His people, etc. He has always had a soft heart for God.

So I pray a lot for him during these years. I'm happy to pray because I see the result of my prayers for his older brother and sister. God absolutely did not answer my prayers for them according to my agenda, He did not put into effect my plan. Hello? Like, wasn't my plan a pretty good one? Apparently not. But the heart of it was that they love Him and desire to serve Him with all their hearts, that they seek His face, and that has come about. Oh thank You, Lord.

So I will continue to trust Him with the hearts of my younger two children. In all of life, it's the only thing I really care about, that my children know Him, love Him and serve Him. Gotta stop this now or I'll cry...then I'll have to go clean my contacts.

I'll be back soon because I have more to say. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Big Girl Pants

So today I am thoroughly annoyed with a friend. So annoyed that I really don't think I care to be much of a friend with her anymore. Cordial and friendly, socially cheerful and chatty, but not friends.

 How's that for fine Christian grace and compassion? (Well, to be honest, cordial, friendly, socially cheerful and chatty is all we really are anyway. I'm just saying I'm ready to be sure we're never more than that. I'm ready to harbor secret dislike and disrespect behind my friendly smile.)

My real issue is that her issues are getting in the way of my agenda. I want to say to her, Put your big girl pants on already! It's not all about you, if you haven't noticed! And if you would for just one minute quit thinking so much about your tender wittle baby girl self, you'd realize that!

In a little while, one hour to be exact, I'm going to be taking my youngest to a home school meeting where I'll have little to do but chat with other moms while I wait for the meeting to be over. Oh, the thought of venting my frustrations to another mom who would understand my position! Nothing like some good old gossip to clear the brain, to cleanse the soul. Okay, well yes, it would actually dirty my soul, but be a fun catharsis nevertheless.

Well, of course, the Bible in the bathroom this morning opened its very self to James 3, which jumped off the page and did a dance right there in front of the toilet. Such a spectacle was hard to ignore. So I will not be venting to the other moms this afternoon. I did vent to my husband last night though. Do you think that counts? Isn't that a little like talking to yourself? (Sometimes it is exactly like talking to myself…)

I do not hold out much hope that this gal will be putting on big girl pants any time soon, but I will put mine on and keep my fat mouth shut. That is a good start. In the end, the big girl pants will stay on better if I wrap my mind around extending some grace and not harboring that secret dislike and disrespect. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah – one thing at a time.

James 3
Controlling the Tongue
1 Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.
3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. 4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. 5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.
But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. 6 And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! 11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? 12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can't draw fresh water from a salty spring.
True Wisdom Comes from God
13 If you are wise and understand God's ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don't cover up the truth with boasting and lying. 15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God's kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. 16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fiery Trials

So, I mentioned a post or two ago that I've been reading Elisabeth Elliot's A Chance to Die: the Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael. Very slowly, I might add, but sometimes that's the best way. Gives one time to digest, you know?

Well, friends, I wish I could be completely transparent, but you'll know what I mean when I say that sometimes things are hard. Some things in life shake us to our very core.

As believers it's a precious place to be, really. It takes us to the feet of the King; it teaches us to prostrate ourselves before His throne, to cling to His promises, to cry out in fear and desperation, to pour out our frustration and bewilderment -- and then to receive His comfort and assurance. At times like this, suddenly Scripture comes to life. Passages that can be debated to death in the arcane discussions of seminary classrooms suddenly jump from the page and reach into the very soul to provide reassurance and courage, to bolster a flagging faith. They leap out of the book to lift our chin, to train our eyes on His with a firm reminder to not look at the wind and the waves, but only at His face. Look at Me and do not be afraid, He says.


But I get ahead of myself. Sometimes things are hard.

The other morning God lead me to read 1 Peter 4 where it says, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. … Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good."

This passage on that day was a balm to my agitated soul. Don't be surprised, He says! This is not outside of My will. It's a part of the plan, darlin', even if it looks a little messy for awhile. I've still got it under control.

I believe it was God who helped me connect what appears to be a messy and precarious situation in my life with Amy Carmichael's experience in India. I'm telling you, for her it was just one crisis after another and a lot of hard, grueling labor along the way. But her work there was surely God's will, wasn't it? In the comfortable old U. S. of A. we can easily forget that while sin definitely produces grief, godliness does not guarantee ease of experience. And that is okay. Suffering in God's will has a joy of its own as long as you can be confident that you really are in God's will, that you're doing exactly what He has asked you to do.

As it turns out, I'm happy to report that there is a plethora of Christian pop psychology skulking about that could be applied to my circumstance. Scads of books line the shelves in Christian bookstores with smiling authors looking out at us promising to help break the bondage, gain the blessing, draw healthy boundaries, deliver tough love, give healing a chance, experience emotionally healthy spirituality. I'm happy to report this because it gives me an opportunity, figuratively speaking, to spit on the whole stack of those books. Aren't I mean? Just nasty, I am.

I have an idea though. Let's play a game. Let's imagine Amy Carmichael talking to Hindu priests, not about the salvation of Jesus Christ, but about breaking the addiction cycle. Maybe that would have been more effective. Yes, yes, and let's picture her, rather than listening to God's step by step prompting to establish the Dohnavur orphanage and rescue thousands of little girls from temple prostitution, teaching them about the true Savior, instead teaching classes to those same girls on establishing healthy boundaries. And sewing. Let's write into her legacy the many personal retreats she could have taken, reprieves from the endless stream of dirty diapers especially during outbreaks of dysentery in the nursery, so she could attend seminars on emotionally healthy spirituality.

Aw, am I being unfair? All I know is that in my experience, "Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie." (Psalm 40) Is it too bold to say that in the end much of that pop Christian psychology amounts to nothing more than going astray after a lie? We attempt to sidestep the rough road of discipleship by indulging and massaging, examining, proclaiming, and inflating ad nauseam our own egos. But there is no answer there. No hope, no peace, no purpose, no comfort. Only more anguish as we look inward rather than upward, frantically searching for a salve to relieve the torment of our souls, a salve only the person of Jesus can provide.

"You have multiplied, O Lord my God, Your wondrous deeds and Your thoughts toward us; none can compare with You. I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told." (Psalm 40) This is the joyous proclamation of one who has eschewed the pop psychology books, and instead clung to the person and promises of Jesus Christ. Only one who has been willing to look into His face, hold His gaze and agree to trust Him, to obey Him, to believe His promises, can utter those words.

I think I've been cruel here, and I'm sad as I reread this. I'm sad because there are women in my circle of acquaintance who devour these types of books. One woman in particular whom I love dearly (although I don't know her well) has attached herself to one of these books, even one that I mentioned above almost by its very title. She seems to believe this book is her salvation and must therefore be of great value to all her friends, so she is giving away copies of this book to everyone she knows. I don't know her well enough to understand what suffering she believes this book will alleviate, but it breaks my heart to imagine her reading this blog and being hurt because I've been unfeeling about her pain, derisive about her hope for an answer through this author.

But still. The answer will be found upward, not inward. Neither will it be found 'side-ward,' so to speak. I'll explain...

Last night I went with a friend to a church function. As I shuffled my way through the throng of 1200 people and chatted with the handful of people I knew, a sad sort of joy took residence in my heart because I realized that I was quite alone in my difficulty. No one could know, and cynically I recognized that no one would care if they did know. In the end, we Americans are pretty self-absorbed. We're happy to hear each other's troubles here and there occasionally, but if the trouble is deep, pervasive or just too hard, we'd rather not be drawn in. And if it's really too hard, we prefer to turn the whole problem around to be the victim's own fault somehow; somehow they brought it on themselves. Perversely, there's comfort in believing that. (Prudent use of the pronoun 'we' here, by the way. I include myself in this indictment.)

I exchanged pleasantries with one family there that we have known and been friends with for almost 25 years, since we were all single. We have kids of similar ages and for awhile the kids were friends. But our families have drifted apart over the years. Without saying too much, it's been a case of them just not wanting to know, not wanting to be involved. What does that mean about our "friendship?" What was it ever? It was a charade. Honestly, as long as their relationship with our family served them well, they were happy to maintain ties, but when we couldn't fit the paradigm anymore they moved on to families that could, that served their purposes better. It's ugly of me to think this way, and maybe I'm not being entirely fair. But it is hard for me to bump into them without feeling an ache. The superficial pleasantries we exchange now are at least not masquerading as anything more meaningful these days. How's that for comforting?

(Time out. Get a grip, girl! Holy ravioli, have you ever heard such a stinking load of self-pity? Puh-leeze (eye-roll). How much responsibility are we supposed to take for one another anyway? Grow up! They are busy raising a family, which you well know is an all-consuming task. Our burdens are not theirs; they've got burdens of their own that they're not asking us to help carry. So quit feeling sorry for yourself and get on with the task at hand.

Right. On the other hand, as friends who were there to see the avalanche begin its descent down the mountain toward us, it would just be nice to be asked every once in a while how we're doing.

It's still a stinking load of self-pity, I know.)

But you know where I'm going with this, don't you? There is One who will not abandon us when the going gets rough. And with that thought I floated through the night, all warm and fuzzy on the inside. He's the One with all the power and all the answers anyway. My soul can be at rest in the complete confidence that He understands all the intricacies, He guides the outcome, and He will hold my hand through the rough waters.

But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel,
"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!
"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.
"For I am the LORD your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I have given Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your place.
"Since you are precious in My sight,
Since you are honored and I love you,
I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.
"Do not fear, for I am with you.

Isaiah 43:1-5ish

Can't say I understand that entire passage. Arcane seminarians can wrangle over Cush and Seba, Egypt as a ransom, the other peoples being exchanged for my life. The parts I do understand are good enough for me, and I drink them in like the deer pants for flowing streams. This Christian life will not be without fiery trials – do not be surprised! Amy Carmichael would have been stunned to imagine anyone thinking otherwise. But as long as my suffering is according to His will, I will entrust my soul to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Knitting Kids, a mini-thought

I have learned in the past two months that I really don't like to knit. I embarked on what seemed to be a not very ambitious project in the beginning of December, to knit my D#4 a pair of leg warmers for ballet. Learning to knit on circular needles was not a big deal. Relearning how to cast on, how to purl and how to bind off was easy. But oh! The process was tedious.

I think I don't like to knit for the same reason I don't like to dry and curl my hair in the morning: you just have to keep going and going and going, and wait and wait and wait while you keep going and going and going. And so little seems to get accomplished for such a long investment of effort! (I'm being a little dramatic here with the hair comparison. I don't really have that much hair -- I'm just impatient to get going in the morning.)

And then you can't even know if you're going to like the finished project until it's all done and bound off and tried on! You can guess at the size as it drops down from the needles, you can decide if you like the look of the stitches and the color of the yarn. But the real fit has to wait until nothing more can be done about it if it's wrong.

Such has been the case with the one leg warmer I've completed. I like the color, like the stitch pattern, but it's a little too baggy, so it falls down her leg after she's worn it awhile. And it's too short by about 4 inches, but I ran out of yarn. How was I to know that I should have bought 3 skeins of that yarn instead of 2, that each leg would require one and a half skeins rather then just one? I couldn't have known until I was done.

So now I have another skein that needs to be knitted into another inferior warmer for her other leg. I asked her if she'd consider being a one-legged ballerina, but that doesn't seem to be an option. Either I knit one for the other leg, or I throw the first one away and consider the whole project a bust. Hm. I'll probably start knitting.

But anyway, as I knitted away, arthritic thumbs crackling with every stitch, I couldn't help but think about the parallels between knitting and raising kids. It does at times seem to go on and on forever with very little to show for a large investment of effort. It's hard to see the importance of the millions of little tasks along the way. But they add up to create the whole in the end, and the integrity of the whole will depend greatly on the soundness of each "stitch" along the way.

And we can see hints of the final product as we go, but the end result will have to wait.

That thought comforted me as I knitted. I have confidence, however, that I am going to be much more pleased with the end result of raising these four kids than I am with that leg warmer!

Monday, February 1, 2010

My Hero, Elisabeth Elliot

I love Elisabeth Elliot. Right now I'm reading a book by her entitled A Chance to Die, The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael. I love the book because I love her. Amy Carmichael is to E.E. what E.E. is to me I think.

Anyway, I look forward to blogging about A Chance to Die sometime soon – next time I get a day to myself maybe, so don't hold your breath. But I'm still optimistic it will happen, because I do love the book.

But I mention E.E. because soon after I published my last blog entry, I read my daily e-mail devotional from E.E. She discussed, of all things, time alone. See why I love her? It was so pertinent to our most recent conversation that I have to copy 'n' paste it here for your perusal. Here we go: (By the way, she seems to take the long, round-about road to get to her point in this essay -- just like I so often do. Ahh, yet another reason to love her!)

Author: Elisabeth Elliot
Source: Love Has A Price Tag
Scripture Reference:

Junk Food

If you're hungry, the airport in Fayetteville, Arkansas, is not a good place to be. The selection of "snacks" in the vending machine is impressive, but there is nothing at all that one could call food. You can insert your quarters, nickels and dimes (no pennies) and get chocolate chip cookies, potato chips (plain), potato chips with "bar-B-Q" flavor, potato chips with sour cream and onion (artificial) flavor, potato "Stix," pork rinds, corn chips, "Cornies," "Pub Fries," "Cheddar Fries," "Cheetos," "Cheese Smackers," and things called "Doritos," "Bugles," "yammers" and "Dunkums."

Alongside that machine is another one offering brightly colored aluminum cans of sweet fizzy stuff with which to wash down all those snacks or, I suppose, to Dunkum. I don't like to contemplate what state your blood sugar or your nerves or your sanctification would be in if your supper comprised a Tab and a package of Jammers, but on second thought, a look around the boarding lounge of almost any airport--at the facial expressions, the behavior of the pre-school-age tots, and the remarks overheard--give a clue. We are a nation "overfed but undernourished," to borrow the title of Curtis Wood's book.

Junk food is not nourishment. It's easily available (if you have the right coins). It is packaged up in eye-catching wrappings, presumably untouched by human hands. It can be transported to plane, to beach, to movie theatre, to school, to bed. It can be grabbed in a moment, wolfed down on the run; and there are no preparations to make, nothing to clean up except greasy fingers. It does away altogether with the ritual of eating--the laid table, the attractive presentation of a dish, the fellowship with others, the leisure to enjoy. In a world that has lost or discarded nearly all other rituals, what will become of us if we do away with even this one?

But worst of all, junk food feeds (feeding will make you fat) but does not nourish. Nourishment makes you strong. I sat on the molded fiberglass seat in Fayetteville, waiting for the small plane which would take me to Tulsa, and wished for a few crunchy fat Bing cherries or a slice of the wheat-honey bread that I make regularly at home--real food.

Don't misunderstand. I like potato chips. I like Cheetos. I haven't tried the commercially packaged pork rinds, but I certainly enjoyed the kind the Indians gave me in South America--fished out of a cauldron of hot fat bubbling over an open fire in some jungle clearing, eaten with a chunk of steamed manioc or a plantain roasted in the ashes.

We are people of our times and culture. Because of the "schedule" I seem to be obliged to keep, I am always looking for ways to use my time more efficiently, and one of them is to listen to tapes while I do my hair and face. I switched the recorder off the other day, disgusted with what I told my husband was spiritual junk food. A man was rambling on about his own feelings, his "meaningful" experiences, and how he got in touch with himself, with other people, and with God. No doubt he was telling the truth, but there wasn't a single reference to Scripture, and not much there that would nourish me.

Christian bookstores usually carry some real "meat," if you can find it. It is not likely to be up front where the paperbacks, the tapes and the records are, which display on their jackets color photographs of the author, the speaker or the singer, often taken in an open meadow, in a soft, misty light, and with a few wildflowers. (Are there any analogies here artificial color, perhaps, or flavor? What about preservatives? I understand preservatives are used in foods to give a longer "shelf life." The booksellers have thought of some tricks, I'm sure, to keep their wares in the public eye for a few weeks longer, but no trick takes the place of quality for preserving a book's shelf life.)

Tastes are developed. Solzhenitsyn, in his speech at Harvard a few months ago, deplored the "TV stupor" in which Americans live. He spoke of the decadence of art, of intolerable music, of mass prejudice, spiritual exhaustion, material luxury, and a morally inferior happiness. He is right. Alas, his own experience of totalitarianism and concentration camp gives him the perspective and the authority to judge our society. We must hear him.

Doctors have been learning of the physical exhaustion that can result from artificial or refined or highly sugared foods. Might not one cause of the spiritual exhaustion which Solzhenitsyn observes be the spiritual junk food we consume? What shall be done for the child fed on the snack-pack, the soft drink and the TV dinner? Will he never choose, let alone enjoy, vegetables? Will the Christian whose spiritual sustenance has been limited to the mass-produced, who is accustomed only to "snacking," whose tastes have been conditioned by the majority, ever choose what is truly nourishing?

What it comes down to, with regard to spiritual things, is that we ought to learn to do some of our own cooking. Granted, it is much easier to grab a package. But sometimes we ought to start from scratch.

Let us start with silence. That may be the hardest thing to achieve in our world. But it is not impossible. For one thing, it takes the will to be quiet. It is possible to be quiet on a crowded subway or in the kitchen when the bacon is frying, the washing machine is running and the baby wants more milk. It is easier by far to be quiet when things around us are quiet, and for most of us this means getting up early.

I was in my study this morning before the traffic had started up on Route 1A. No sound came from the road or the house. Only the sweet susurrus of the crickets in the grass and the cawing of a crow in a beech tree broke the silence, yet it took also an act of the will to be still and know that He is God. My mind races quite naturally over things done yesterday (burying a beloved friend's beloved little dog, getting my sister from the hospital, swimming in the ocean, writing a page or two) or things to be done today (writing more than a page or two, having a friend to tea, getting my mother from the airport). Be still. It is a command. The Hebrew word used in Psalm 46 can mean "Shut up."

The great books that have been spiritual meat and drink for me have been produced, I feel sure, out of great silence. Men and women of God have learned of him by being quiet and allowing him to speak to them in their solitude. They have been willing to be alone, to shut up, to listen, and to think and pray over what they have heard. In our modern world most people choose noise. Go to the beach or a forest camp and find portable radios, television sets, record players. Sit down in a waiting room and listen to what Malcolm Muggeridge calls that "drooling melange" of Muzak. People want noise. They would far rather discuss than think, talk over their problems than pray about them, read a paperback about what somebody else thinks about the Bible than read the Bible.

We cannot stand stillness. Yet we need it. I wonder if the popularity of transcendental meditation is due to this felt need. Whatever may be said about TM's being a religion or not, the measure of success it seems to enjoy could be attributed in part to the simple fact that its devotees spend a certain amount of time daily in motionless silence. That can't hurt anybody.

As one of those who write the stuff that is for sale in the bookstores I referred to, I know that responsibility is laid upon me to provide real food. So I speak to myself--I must do my own "cooking." It is not fast food that I ought to provide for my reader. I must feed him, but in order to do that I must myself be fed. What I speak or write must come out of silence where only a still small voice can be heard.

I speak also to my reader. Seek what is good for the soul, even if it doesn't come in paperback. Read an old book once in a while. (Try P. T. Forsyth, The Principle of Authority, or Luther's Letters of Spiritual Counsel.) And once in a while lay aside the books and the tapes. For a set period of time be alone, be still. "The man who lives on me will live because of me," Jesus said. "This is the bread which came down from heaven."

Copyright 1979, by Elisabeth Elliot
all rights reserved.