Tuesday, June 30, 2015

About laws and hearts

I'm weighing in late on this.

I debated whether I would say anything at all.

Of course, for a person who takes the Bible seriously
and believes that it is the inspired Word of God and the source of all truth,
it is disturbing that our nation is legalizing things that are sin in the sight of God.

This does not make me angry, only sad.  I am sad that people cannot see the beauty of the way of Christ.  I am sad that people are so blinded by their present feelings and conditions that they cannot look ahead to the promise of perfect and complete fulfillment in the future.  Jesus wants to free us from ourselves, yet we want to cling to all of our "selfness" as hard as we can, not understanding how this limits us.  As C.S. Lewis explained, we are so busy playing with a stick in the mud on the street corner, we cannot imagine why a person would leave to go on a holiday at the seashore.

There is no such thing as a "Christian Nation."  We need to get this straight.  God never, never said, "I will create a country and call it the United States of America, and it will be my country, and the people living there will be holy."  He did not say that, did not even hint at it.

Of course, as Christians, we are morally obligated to vote our consciences which, I hope, would be shaped by the truth of God's Word.  However, it is not for us to become angry and vindictive if the majority of people do not agree with us.  We are not called to go out and say, "You are disgusting and bad and stupid, and you are all going to hell."  This is not our calling.  We should not say these things, and we should not even think them.  God makes it quite clear in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 that we are not to judge those outside the church; He will take care of that.  It is His job, not ours.  We are to live holy lives of love and bring glory to God.  We are the salt of the earth.  We need to bring the vision of the seashore to those wallowing in city gutters.

How do we do this?  I am not sure.  But I am quite certain that we do not do it by being angry, unkind and insulting.

We need to stop being surprised when the culture at large departs from Christian principles.  Matthew 7:13-14 tells us that the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and this is the way the majority will go.  The road that leads to life is narrow, and the gate small, and only a few find it.  God's people are not the majority.  We are a rag-tag band, few and weak and only viable because of the Spirit of God at work in us.  As we walk the narrow road, we should be careful not to drive away any who might join us.  I do not think God is pleased by those who would stand at the little entrance to the narrow way and holler angry epitaphs at people who pass us by.

There has never been a Christian nation.  The nation of Israel was the nation of God's special, chosen people.  He called them personally, through their ancestors, and gave them His Law so they could live holy and protected lives.  It didn't work, particularly.  Of course there was always a remnant, and there still is.  That's what we are, we the rag-tag band, the minority, the aliens and strangers, the remnant.  God preserves for Himself a remnant (Romans 9:27, 11:5).  We are growing into the Kingdom of God, like a mustard seed, through faith and the power of the Spirit at work in us.  The Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, not an earthly one.  There never has been and never will be an earthly nation that will successfully follow the Lord and His ways.

If the Biblical history of the ancient nation of Israel proves anything, it proves that laws are insufficient to control behavior, even laws straight from the Lord Himself.  Laws are powerless.  Only the Spirit of God bringing life and light to our souls can affect our choices and make us righteous.  Only through Jesus can we access the power of the Spirit.  Only God Himself can fix the human condition.

Laws do sometimes affect our perception of the difference between right and wrong, and as they are passed and repealed, people become more confused about how to live well.  For instance, most American Christians did not drink alcohol during prohibition, because it was illegal.  Now it is legal to drink alcohol if you are over 21.  Does that make it right?  Many people think that it does, that it is a fine thing to do.  So, if marijuana becomes legal, does that mean it is also a fine thing to smoke marijuana?  How do the laws of the land contribute to the public definition of right and wrong?  What about abortion?  Abortion is legal, but many people do not believe that it is right.  I think that even some people who are not Christians are horrified at the idea of ending a life in the womb.  Yet, it is perfectly legal and people do not go to jail for doing it.

As Christians in a democracy, we need to recognize that our governmental laws do not reflect right and wrong.  Laws reflect how the majority of citizens decide to live and relate to one another.  They are simply a barometer that shows the condition of the heart of the nation.  The majority may make decisions that are contrary to scripture.  Actually, the Bible tells us that this will happen.  The Bible tells us that we will be hated and persecuted for our beliefs.  The Bible does not tell us that we have a right to go around fighting and loudly condemning sin in fallen man.  I suspect that we fight because we are afraid of what will happen to us, afraid that we will be persecuted.  But the Bible is all about standing firm in our faith in the face of persecution.  Perhaps it is in embracing the suffering that comes to us, in sharing in the suffering of Christ, that we will be able, finally, to make a real difference.

We should expect sin in fallen man.  Our responsibility is this: "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us." (1 Peter 2:12 NIV).  Stricter laws will never cure a sin problem.  Only changed hearts will cure a sin problem, and the best way to change someone's heart is by knowing and loving him.

Lord Jesus, please show us how to live lovingly and peacefully in a world that suffers from sin.  Please show us how to share the light and life and hope that we have in You.  Please make us beautiful and holy and pleasing to You.  Please shed Your grace on us.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A surprise for somebody!


Read below to learn how you can win a free, personalized gift 

from me.

***Contest closes at noon tomorrow (6/30/15), Central Time.***

I never mentioned this, but I'm trying to write 8 posts per month.

If I'm going to make my goal this month, I have to write today and tomorrow.

Unfortunately, I have neither time nor material.


I'm going to do a reader survey with a  GIVE-AWAY!

Tell me your favorite family game, and you may win a surprise!

Here are the rules:

  1. Please post a comment below, telling me about your favorite family game: what is it, and why do you like it?
  2. Then click on the "contact" tab above and find my email address.  Send me an email and answer the three following questions:  What is your favorite color?  What is your favorite candy?  What is your favorite thing to do for fun?
  3. If you have trouble making my comments section work, you may just send the email, but if you only send an email, please also tell me what your favorite family game is, in the email.

One lucky winner will receive a surprise gift in the mail.  I am not saying what the gift will be, because I am going to try to buy something special and tailored to be a treat for the individual who wins.  I will explain how the winner was chosen when I reveal the winner, but every participant is guaranteed a chance to win.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

A surprise in the mail!

Yesterday Shawn came home from work, as usual, and brought in the mail, as usual.

There was a package for me.

I had not been expecting a package.  I had not ordered anything.  Last weekend was Fathers' Day, not Mothers' Day.  I could not imagine what this package could be, although it looked like a book.  Books are one of my favorite things.

Open the drawer, lift out the scissors, slice through the yellow envelope lined with bubble wrap...

It was this book!

Of course I remembered filling out an online form to see if I could get selected to review the book, but I didn't know I'd been chosen.  How exciting!  Things like this don't happen to me!

Shawn--being in sales--was totally impressed by this marketing concept.  I ran upstairs to the computer and checked back at Emily's blog to see if I could learn more about what I was supposed to do next.  I found that I was supposed to have received an email by June 18th, telling me I'd been selected.

I didn't remember receiving it.

Shawn and I walked the dog (the one that can walk without going into cardiac distress).  Shawn told me I should do a gmail search for Simply Tuesday.

This morning I did the search, and sure enough, the missing email surfaced.  "Congratulations!  You've been chosen to be part of Emily's launch team!"

Well now.  This is pretty exciting.

I have a book to read.  I'll let you know what I think of it, soon!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Family E-union!

We had a wonderful Fathers' Day.  I enjoyed it so much, I felt a little guilty.  I hope my joy did not infringe on Shawn's day.

Shawn and Jon sang a duet in church.  Jon played the piano.  How does it work out that I reap all the benefits on these deals?  On Mothers' Day, Jon played the piano and sang a solo, and I got to enjoy it.  On Fathers' Day, Shawn had to do half of the singing himself, and again, I got to enjoy it.

Then Jon came over and grilled us delicious steaks.  I put a cherry pie in the oven (Shawn's favorite).  And the high point of our day: a GROUP SKYPE with all the kids.

Don't forget Jon! He's the tiny face between Shawn and me in the bottom panel.

And this is so typical.  As I checked through the screenshots I'd taken, of course I found one where they all pulled faces.  How did they all know to do this in the same picture?  It must have been the one where I said, "One, two, three... smile!"

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Fireflies and the seasons of life

Last night between 8 and 9 p.m. Shawn took the dogs out.  When he came in, he said, "You have to come out with me, and see the fireflies."

Each of us holding a leash, we wandered back out, along the periphery of our yard, and watched the silent, arching gleams of yellow-gold brilliance that appeared randomly against the black-green thicket of brush, the swale where the water runs down into our lake, the grove of trees on the north side of our home.  Often the illuminations darted off the edges of the corners of our eyes, only to disappear by the time we would turn to see them full-on.  Once in awhile we'd catch a criss-crossing profusion of glowing bugs right before our faces, a rare treat, pops of light that slowly fade as the tiny creatures continue their aimless journeys through the evening.

The flashes made Schubert nervous.

Piper didn't notice anything.

Shawn got a mosquito bite.

We went inside.

We fixed some tea.  Decaffeinated.

Although it is still on the early side of summer, I think we are in the autumn of our marriage.  The children are gone.  The evenings are quiet.  The meals are small.  The house is tidier than it ever used to be.   Golden leaves, and russet, quietly rustling under the sun.

It is always sad to say good-bye to summer, all the promise and hope of spring fulfilled and finished.

Summer is a hard season, a season of beauty and life, growth, production, bounty and perhaps a vacation at the seashore.  Blooming flowers, and nights too hot to sleep.  Limbs that ache from working outside, and picnics with beloved friends.  Summer is when we mow, water, weed, pick, pickle and can.  In life, summer is when we expend ourselves nurturing our children and our careers.

Autumn is when we hope to see our hard work packed away against the threat of winter, sparkling jars of many-colored preserves lined up on the shelves of the root cellar.  In life, autumn is when we watch our children launching, our role at work shifting to management and mentorship, our investments ripening for when they need to be opened and used.

It can be a time of beauty and satisfaction, or a time of fear and dashed hopes.  I suppose it is usually a mixture of the two.

May God sustain us and help us, today and always.  May we experience a blessed autumn, and a long one.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Strategies for waiting, commendable or not.

The other day I was driving up a country road.

Driving up a country road means that I was driving north.  I don't know if I've mentioned how much I love that about the Midwest.  It's a grid, a huge, flat grid of roads going north-south and east-west.  Often, you can see for miles in the distance.  Sometimes you can even sight your destination when it is barely a pin-point across an expanse of land.  The obvious benefit to all this: it's pretty hard to get lost.

That's beside the point, though.

(This is the road in, I think, Kentucky, 
which is not really indicative of the distances 
you can see in--for instance--Illinois.  
But it is the only picture of open road that I have.)

I was driving along, heading north, and I realized that I had a song running through my head: "I spied a young cowboy, all wrapped in white linen, all wrapped in white linen, as cold as the clay." Morbid song, catchy tune.  I hummed along, not really thinking about it.

And then.  Then I noticed that I was driving behind a Jeep Laredo.  Of course that was where the song came from.  The Streets of Laredo.  Apparently I had read the back of the car, but it had not registered, except to plant a tune in my mind.

Our minds are so weird.  Well, anyway, mine is.

My flowers are not growing very well.

My canna lilies are not up at all, really -- just some tiny, blackish-purple pokey looking things that you can hardly make out amongst the mulch.  They may or may not grow and bloom.

My zinnias are not thriving.  One that was not doing too badly, I stepped on.  Shucks.  I tried to tilt it back upwards, and I guess time will tell whether I cracked off the stem.

My alyssum is doing better than most of what's out there, but it looks sort of weedy.

The cleome is bizarre.  One of the plants is growing fairly well; the other two seem stunted.

The cosmos are also stunted, it seems.

The snapdragons are tiny.  They almost seem to be smaller than when I first planted them.

This is not for lack of rain or sun or heat.  We've had plenty of all those.

I can't remember what my garden looked like at this point last year.  We were in the thick of getting ready for Lulu's wedding, bless her heart.

Sometimes it's hard to have faith when you're waiting for something, especially when you're waiting for something you can't control.

Maybe it's not so bad to let your mind drift unconsciously over to a very hummable country western song now and then.  Maybe it anesthetizes the waiting process.

We can plant, water, weed and fertilize, but in the end, it is only the Lord who can make anything grow.  Flower.  Flourish.

I have a notebook I am keeping about a certain matter of prayer that is the current theme of my heart.  I used to write quite often, but now I write more reservedly because it is getting full, and I want God to solve this before I run out of pages.  He whispered to me the other day that it might take more than one notebook before we get to the end of this.  I didn't like that.  I feel like I could handle it if it spreads over two notebooks, or maybe three.  But what if it takes seven, or twenty-four?

Today is a stormy, rainy Saturday.  After two weekends of road trips, we are blessedly at home.  Perhaps it would be a perfect day to lose myself in a good book.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Good slavery

Shawn and I recently visited Biltmore, the Smokey Mountain summer retreat of the Vanderbilt family.  It is an Appalachian acropolis.

Whilst touring the palace (yes, it is a palace), I was struck by how well their servants lived.

Mr. Vanderbilt had an enormous bedroom with walls covered in gold-encrusted burlap.  Mrs. Vanderbilt's bedroom was slightly smaller, oval and feminine, but still bigger than my living room and dining room put together, and crowned by a much higher ceiling.  However, the servants' bedrooms, in the basement, were nice rooms, cozy, comfortably proportioned, equipped with beds, nightstands, wardrobes, chests of drawers and sometimes even a chair.  It was cool and comfortable down there, and even the lowest rooms seemed to have nice windows, high in their walls.  They were near to the kitchen, and the stoves, so it would have smelled good and felt warm in winter.

I have thought, on more than one occasion, that it would be nice to be a servant for rich people.  I would like to be a servant with basically one job, working on a team with other servants whose jobs supported mine as mine supported theirs, a community working together to accomplish big things.

Maybe it's bad, but I don't have much yen to be the boss.

However, it would be important that the boss be a good boss.

A boss, or master, or king or lord (or whatever you call the one at the top) needs to be good.

What makes a boss good?

Well, a good boss has a good attitude.  He cares about the people who work for him.  His profits become their profits.  His aim is to work things out so that their work is productive and the results are bountiful.  When the results pour in, he gives back, generously, to thank and benefit those who have worked for him.

A good boss is also smart and perceptive.  He knows his workers and treats them with kindness and respect.  Not only does he recognize their faces and learn their names, he even knows their likes and dislikes, and how they are particularly gifted.  A good boss can get good results because he is skilled at assigning the right task to the right person.  He understands how to make the most of each individual's talents, which increases quality and productivity while also keeping morale high and temperaments happy.  A good boss also remembers to give credit where credit is due, to say thank you, and to commend and reward exceptional work.

A good boss honestly cares about his workers.  He doesn't just pretend to care.  He visits them in the hospital, sends gifts on birthdays, offers a break when he senses that someone is burning out.  In doing so, he builds intense loyalty.

If you work for such a boss, you love your job, because he has worked you into a job that is individually suited to you.  You have no desire to leave.  You take pride in what you do, and feel an appropriate dignity in your position.

In the Bible, Romans 6 talks about slavery to sin as opposed to slavery to righteousness.  Sometimes Romans 6 calls slavery to righteousness "slavery to God."  Being a slave to God is a wonderful position to have, because God is the most kind and loving master one could ever have, and also the most mighty, abundantly wealthy, indescribably generous.  He lets us choose to follow Him; He never forces or coerces us.  God gives us everything we need for life and godliness.  He lavishes so much love on us that we are not called His slaves, but His children.  He promises us His Spirit, His transforming power, His holiness, and even eternal life.

Conversely, slavery to sin is based on traps and deception.  Once trapped and deceived, slaves to sin become stuck in a hopeless cycle of hatred, discord, rebellion and strife.  Misery now, death later.  That's what it is to be a slave to sin.  No relief from guilt and shame, except the fake relief that comes from "escaping" into more sin, which always leads to more guilt and shame, and death.

People think it's bad to have a boss, but the fact of the matter is, everyone has a boss.  Life is a boss, hunger, need, the bank, the credit card company.  A small child proclaims, "I want to be the boss of myself," but he does not realize that nobody is truly ever the boss of himself.

You'll have a boss.

If you're blessed, you'll get to pick your boss.

If you're wise, you'll choose Jesus.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Home and hope and better things

I spent twenty-five years living in New York, and never really feeling at home.  I used to think this was because I was in New York, and not Minnesota.  Now, I suspect there is a time in your life when you start to seek your identity and your place, and if you undergo a major geographical move coincidentally with this internal crisis, you have an especially difficult time figuring out where you belong.  Even though I have reached an age when some people are thinking about retiring, I am not sure what to become when I grow up.

So I got myself a little part time job, and I kind of like it.  Compared to other jobs I have had, I think this is a good one, although I might not recognize this if I hadn't had some jobs that didn't work for me.  I hope I don't get fired, because I'm not very proficient yet (actually, not the least bit proficient).  But it is a nice job.  I don't have to carry a lot of supplies back and forth, or do work at home, and those are two very nice features of a job.

This morning I was driving to work (how odd it feels to say that).  I drove down one freeway and merged onto another.  While doing so, I checked the traffic behind me in my rear-view mirror (this is generally a good thing to do while merging).  Behind me, I first noticed that the road was clear.  Then I saw a mother goose leading her fuzzy goslings in a festive, waddling procession across the asphalt expanse of highway.  Then I saw a huge semi approach from behind, bearing down on the goose parade with its gargantuan, muscular cab.  I watched as the truck swerved slightly one direction and then the other.  Presumably, the driver was trying to figure out how to minimize the damage.  Another car sped into view on his left, filling the other half of the road which mercifully crested so I couldn't see what happened next.  I wrenched my eyes off the mirror and out the windshield, focusing on what was ahead rather than on what was behind, feeling sick and sad, trying to tell myself that there are too many geese anyway (and not quite able to believe it).

Sometimes I am just tired of this world and all the tragedy, disappointment and destruction it holds.  I am tired of cancer and car accidents, sexual predators and stock market crashes.  Tired of weeds and thieves and sleepless nights.  Tired of denied insurance claims, and lies, and wars, and waste.  Sometimes I just don't want any more of it.

You know what I'm really tired of?  I'm tired of worrying.

Of course, there is a cure for all of it:  God.

We have to have faith.  We have to put our faith in the ultimate victory of the Lord who created us.  We have to believe that there is a better world coming, and if we hang on, have faith, love Jesus, cling to the good, think about the pure and lovely, follow the narrow path, we will arrive in the Promised Land, the real one.  There will be an eternity of paradise.  There will.  There really, really will.

We just have to get through this life first, and somehow do it with grace and love, radiating God's beauty to the devastation around us.

We are broken, but He is fixing us, and when we get there, we will be flawless.

We are sinners, but He forgives us, and when we get there, we will be pure.

We are under attack, but He protects us, and when we get there, we will be safe.

We are miserable, but He comforts us, and when we get there, we will be filled with joy.

We are lost, but He seeks us, and when we get there, we will be home.