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?