Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Hanging out at home

Well, yes, I've been sick.


So, I really ought to be writing this post over on my lupus blog.

Except, I don't want to write about being sick.

The sunshine in this house is quite remarkable.

The other day I took a hiatus from my bedroom and wandered down to the family room in the late afternoon.  Jumbled circles of golden light bounced against the closed blinds over the doors to the deck, teasing to get in.  I padded down two steps, across the floor.  Quiet in my pajamas, I stood by the blinds watching the light play for a moment, then turned the rod to open the slats.

Brightness flooded the room.  I could have focused on the deck, which sorely needs sweeping, but I chose to gaze beyond, through the foliage.  Trees grow along the swale that is sometimes almost a stream running down to the lake.  We have a maple and some pines, while our neighbor, across the swale, has a lovely weeping willow.  Willow fronds dangled and danced, dappled and dappling, all interspersed with slanted light shining through.  Across nearby plains and cornfields, wind flies fierce, but trees and rolling terrain in our neighborhood restrain and tame the gales.  Gusts still whirl, of course, but not as ferociously.  I watched a group of willow fronds tossed back and forth in the breeze.  Jungle-like, yet quintessentially Midwestern, luminescent yellow-green foliage swinging loose and free, sparkling.

There are so many things I want to write about, but the ideas get tangled up in too many words.  I want to write about being present, about reality, about not living a virtual life, not worshiping images of things.  I want to write about how the Sabbath year for cancelling debts and the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25, Deuteronomy 15) demonstrate the same principle as the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).  But I don't have the words for it.  Or rather, I have too many.  So I skip to the punch: Truth illuminated.  Unmerited favor.  Grace.

Grace.  Light.  Beauty.

Dear Lord Jesus, please shed your grace on us.  
Show us the light, the beauty that is You, 
the wonder of Truth, the gift of Wisdom.

Here are a few pictures I took today,
trying to capture the beauty of light,
and one picture Shawn took
with quite a remarkable capture of light.
Please look for the light.




Sunshine on a sunporch
(I thought I was better today, so I dressed and tried to go out,
but I landed back at home in comfy fleece lounge pants,
with my Bible and my dog.)

He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the hearts of men;
yet they cannot fathom what God has done
from beginning to end.
~Ecclesiastes 2:25

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Very personal memories of God

God has graciously drawn me since I was very young.

I do not know why.

Why does He draw someone?  And why does someone else struggle so, to hear and to believe?

One of my first memories is of being a small baby, and being carried to my crib.  I did not want to be put into my crib, this I know.  I remember the feeling of dread, how I clung to the adult but was peeled off and placed in the barred crib despite my most passionate protests.  I remember remembering the horror of the ongoing routine of screaming and crying for someone to come back and get me, but nobody coming.  I remember the soft crunch of a plastic mattress liner under the sheet over the crib mattress, and the taste of the varnish on the wood of the crib.  I vividly remember the hot scratchiness of the screams that tore my throat, and the strain of clutching the crib rail, pulling myself up, striving, straining, flexing every muscle in panicked fury until I was in veritable pain.  And I remember a calm voice that spoke to me, although perhaps not in words, because I don't think I was verbal.  Maybe it was just an idea that washed over me from Someone outside of me.  "You don't have to fight," this Presence told me.  "It's okay.  You can just lie down.  It doesn't have to be like this."  I remember lying down, gently, almost as if an angel slipped me into a new position with comforting hands.  I clearly remember a comforting warmth that spread over me as I let go of my angst, my striving.  My tempest melted away in a blanket of warmth, and the next thing I knew, I was waking up to happy parents.

You may not believe it, but I remember this.  Somehow, I've always known it was God there that day, telling me, "You can just lie down.  It doesn't have to be like this."

I remember a day when, as a school-aged child, I sat cross-legged on the floor in the living room in front of the oak bookshelves that surrounded the descending staircase.  Green carpet, oak shelves, the World Book Encyclopedia volumes bound in black and white leather, the set of beloved Childcraft books.  I sat in that spot often, considering what to read next.  But that particular day, I felt the presence of God, and I wondered why I was so blessed.  Why did I have a nice, solid house and nice, clean clothes and good food to eat, when the world was full of suffering, starving people? Why did I get to go to church and learn about Jesus, when people all around the world had never heard of Him?  Why did I have a mom and dad who taught me about God?  Why did I have a bookshelf right in front of me with numerous Bibles in various translations at my fingertips?  Why indeed?  I thought of the maps inside the pages of the volumes of the encyclopedia, and I imagined all the distant places and people groups they represented, and I thought about the largeness of the world, even the Universe.  In those moments, the Spirit of God was doing something in me, opening my mind to a vastness beyond myself.  Not that I understood it, but I was aware of it.  I pondered the Universe, and how I was so small within it, and yet so inexplicably blessed.

I remember being a bit older, a young teenager, walking home from school with friends.  I was sharing about something that had happened, something I didn't like.  I don't remember the particulars, but it had to do with authority and punishment, and I was upset.  The others listened sympathetically.  They were kind to me.  Supportive.  "That isn't fair at all," they said.  "You don't have to accept that."  They admonished me to fight, to resist, to rebel.  It felt good.  I felt validated.  And then, suddenly, I realized the hollowness of it.  Although I do not remember the exact subject, the words, the details of the situation, I remember a sudden awareness that it was wrong.  I remember, accompanying the awareness, the curving slope of the green autumn grass down to the road (if you know Anoka, it was Green Street).  This part of the memory is as clear as the day it happened.  That Presence--the one that had been there since I was a baby--was suddenly in me again, and although the words of my friends had been soothing and affirming, I knew that I could not listen to them, that they were not right.  I had a fleeting thought about how it was a shame that I couldn't go on being validated, there on the green, grassy lawn.  The regret was followed by a chilling sensation as I understood how strong the temptation was to believe a lie.  I don't remember what happened afterwards, in my physical life, with the people.  I don't remember how the conversation may have closed.  All I know is that God was there, and He pointed me away from the alluring validation of my sin, from words and ideas that seemed so appealing, but were not true.  They simply were not true.

Those are three specific, memorable times when God communicated with me as a child.  To this day, I do not know why He did.

Why should I be blessed to be able to sense God's presence and respond to Him?  Why should I be blessed to love His Word, and through His Word, Him?  Oh, dear Lord, may others have this blessing.  Please open hearts, as I know you can, as only you can.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Jesus, the Word of God

Once I wrote a post called Sin, the Promise, the Law and the Word of God.  (If you click on that highlighted text, it will link you to it.) It is a piece wherein I hashed out some of my most frustrating questions, and somehow arrived at answers that I found satisfying.

It's a post where I explain my understanding of the story of the Bible, in broad scope.  Although it is not exhaustive, it tackles certain questions that often seem to go unanswered.  Sometimes we flail awkwardly with regard to the Law, or the Torah, not grasping what we should do with this ancient and original section of the Bible, and why it is in the Bible.

Over the weekend, Shawn and I visited one of our children's churches, and heard an excellent message on the Transfiguration from Mark 9.  (Okay, I'm sorry.  This is an abrupt transition.  Please bear with me.)

In Sunday's sermon, the pastor pointed us to Jesus, standing on the mountain where He was transfigured.  Mark tells us:

His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.  And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus . . . Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to Him!" (Mark 9:3-4, 7)

Other teachers have pointed out that the enveloping cloud signifies the presence of Holy God, just as it did on Sinai long ago in Exodus:

The Lord said to Moses, "I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you" . . . On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightening, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast.  Everyone in the camp trembled.  Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.  Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord descended on it with fire.  The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder.  Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. (Exodus 19:9, 16-19)

I saw for the first time the absolute parallel of what God was doing here.  It reminded me of a paragraph I'd written in Sin, the Promise, the Law and the Word of God:

The Law was the first revealed Word of God, but Jesus was the ultimate revealed Word of God (see John 1).  What the Law showed us in part on tablets of stone, Jesus showed us completely in a life lived in the flesh.  What the Law promised, Jesus fulfilled.

No wonder the story of the Transfiguration is repeated throughout Matthew, Mark and Luke, while John alludes to it in John 1:14.  This is a life-altering event, where God transfers the authority of His Word to the promised prophet that Moses had spoken of:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers.  You must listen to Him.  For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, "Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die."  The Lord said to me: "What you say is good.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.  If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account." (Deuteronomy 18:15-19)

Humanity could not face the presence of God and live, so Jesus Christ humbled Himself to become one like us, from among our brothers, born a human baby from a human mother.  He took on human flesh so He could bring us the living Word of God in a form that we could grasp.

Jesus said:

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.  I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. (John 5:24-25)
For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.  I know that His command leads to eternal life.  So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say. (John 12:49-50)
I and the Father are one.  (John 10:30)

Jesus is the fulfillment of every promise, the source of life, the true word of God, the hope of all creation.  Jesus is everything.  

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ.  And so through Him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God.  Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.  He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.  (2 Corinthians 1:20-22)

. . . through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending His own Son, in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.  And so He condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:2-4)

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. (John 3:17)

. . . which leads us to Romans 8:1 --

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!

So anyway, that is what I learned this weekend.  The Transfiguration shows us how God glorified His Son, Jesus Christ, and demonstrated that He was the promised prophet who would speak God's words.  Jesus is the one we must listen to.  Jesus comes to us with the words of life.  Jesus fulfills every promise and opens heaven to all who will believe.

And of course this leads us again to the gift of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, who comes to dwell in the hearts of every believer.  Jesus doesn't leave us as orphans, but sends His own Holy Spirit to abide in us, uniting with our spirits so that we are one with Christ, who is one with God. (John 14:18-20)

That, however, is moving on to another subject.

(All Bible quotes that I typed out in this post were from the NIV84; underlined emphasis is mine.)

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Saturday night

I'm feeling very thankful tonight.

Because this handsome, heroic guy

helped me clean windowsills today.

And by "helped," I mean he manned the vacuum.  Actually, first he used the central vac, until it wouldn't reach anymore.  Then he journeyed down and retrieved his vacuum from the basement, to finish every far nook and corner.  He did such a good job that when I came behind him with spray cleaner and paper towels to polish the next layer, there wasn't much left to wipe off.

We've had an incredible number of spiders this year, spiders and webs by the dozen, every single night.  I haven't been able to keep up.  Then I got seriously behind.  My windows were terrifyingly infused with cloudy white webbing, dangling black egg sacs, and the crusty remains of fly entrees.  Whenever I thought, "I ought to open up those windows and get after that," my next thought was immediately, "Nope.  Not when I'm home alone, I'm not getting after that."

My HERO helped me overcome this.

Spider-extinguisher.  Web-obliterator.  Insect-refuse-eradicator.  Rescuing hero and lover of my soul.

Thank you.

Fresh air blew through the house for the rest of the day.  The sills gleam, shining white.

It was a good day.  I will sleep well.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A question from BSF Lesson #2 (Romans)

In Bible Study Fellowship, we studied Romans 1:18-32 this past week.  This is the classic Biblical text that addresses the progression of rebellious man into increasingly destructive sexual sins.

One of the questions in our lesson was, "What are some of the reasons God links the sin of idolatry to sexual immorality?"

A number of people reacted to that question with confusion and disinterest.

It was a good question, though, and leads to a much better understanding of sexual issues.

In my attempt to share my answer, apparently I failed to be clear or convincing, because when I was done, one woman in the group said, "Well, I don't know what the question means, but I just think sin is sin, and that's all there is to it."

It made me sad.  I think this is part of the reason why it is hard to reach those who have been drawn in by sexual sin.  Telling them, "Sin is sin, and you are sinful," is not a productive approach.

On our lesson sheet, the BSF question: "What are some of the reasons God links the sin of idolatry to sexual immorality?" suggested we look up the following texts for "help" answering the question.

  • Genesis 1:26-27 (God created man in His own image, male and female in the image of God.)
  • Genesis 2:24-25 (Man and woman are to leave their parents and be united into one flesh; the first man and woman were naked and unashamed.)
  • Mark 10:8-9 (Restates that a man and a woman will be joined into one flesh, joined by God and not to be separated by man.)
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (Talks about who will not inherit the kingdom of God, and lists sexual sins, including homosexuality.)
  • 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 ("Flee from sexual immorality.  All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.  Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore, honor God with your body.")
I'm just saying, but in that list, the only texts that actually apply to the question are the first and the last.  The three in the middle only confuse the issue.  They may show Biblical evidence that homosexuality is contrary to God's design, but they don't bear any weight on why God links idolatry with sexual immorality.  The question was, "What are some of the reasons God links the sin of idolatry to sexual immorality?"

Besides pointing to some unhelpful texts, BSF left out some texts that would have been extremely helpful:

  • Isaiah 43:6b-7 ("Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth--everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.")
  • The book of Hosea.  (This book is about spiritual adultery, allegorically explained through human adultery.  Hosea 3:1 somewhat encapsulates the theme:  "The Lord said to me, 'Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress.  Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.' ")
  • Jeremiah 2-3, 13:22-27 (Graphic descriptions, comparing the idolatry of Israel to sexual unfaithfulness.)
  • Ephesians 5:31-32 (" 'For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church.")
  • James 4:3-4 ("When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your own pleasures.  You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God?")
  • Revelation 19:7 ("Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory!  For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.")
(All emphases were added by me.)

Maybe in reading these texts, you are starting to synthesize an understanding of where I am going, before I spell it out.  I hope so!  I want so badly to answer this question simply and clearly.

Here are my points:

1.  God created humanity in His image.  He even created both maleness and femaleness, somehow, in His image.  We are created in the image of God for the purpose of glorifying God by reflecting His glory into His creation.  Reflecting the image of God is a Big Deal.  We are only little mirrors, little moons, reflecting the sun. We have no business messing with or distorting the Image of God.

2.  God created the male-female relationship to mirror the God-humanity relationship.  God is a God of faithfulness, relationship and covenant love.  God is always faithful to His promises, His covenants.  God has made a covenant with His people.  Jehovah is the husband of Israel, and Christ is the husband of the church.  God keeps His covenants.  Likewise, it is God's desire that a man and a woman remain faithful to the promises they make to one another when they covenant in marriage.

3.  When we see physical adultery among the people of earth, we can understand the pain it causes.  This should help us understand the extreme devastation that results from spiritual adultery, when people turn away from the one true God and look instead to worthless things for their hope, satisfaction, peace, joy and sustenance.

4.   Sexuality can become an idol, when we look to it for fulfillment and pleasure outside of God's will.  When we try to use sexual intimacy as a replacement for spiritual intimacy with God, we are bound for big trouble, although we may not realize our predicament right away.

5.  Sexual sin is especially insidious.  When a murder is committed, a dead body makes the problem fairly obvious.  Likewise with theft, there is a visible loss of property; someone's means have been diminished.  When sexual sin occurs between two consenting parties, and particularly if there are neither betrayed spouses nor children involved, it may be less obvious what the problem is.  This is why 1 Corinthians 6 tells us, "he who sins sexually sins against his own body."  We may not be able to see, immediately, what the harmful result is.  It is an invisible problem, a damaged soul and spirit.  Nevertheless, the damage is deep.  When we depart from God's directions for sexual relationships, we lacerate our purity and faithfulness.  Thus, the image of God in us becomes disfigured.

After considering these points, we can reconsider the question:

"What are some of the reasons God links the sin of idolatry to sexual immorality?"

Here are some reasons:
  • Both idolatry and sexual immorality are about turning away from God and rebelling against His authority.
  • Sexual immorality breaks down the image of Himself that God designed within mankind.  Thus, sexual immorality reinforces fallen humanity's inclination to turn increasingly farther away from God and seek satisfaction, pleasure and happiness elsewhere. 
  • The definition of idolatry is: seeking satisfaction, pleasure and happiness in something other than God, while turning away from God (or sometimes even while trying to pay lip service to God on the side).
When sexual sin disfigures the image of God in man--the glorious image that man was created to reflect and display--man loses his worth (see 2 Kings 17:15, Jeremiah 2:5, Hosea 9:10).

It begins with a failure to trust God and believe that He knows what is best for us, even if something forbidden seems like it would be very pleasurable (remember how "good for food and pleasing to the eye" that lethal fruit in the garden seemed?).  As people turn away from the wise counsel of God, prioritizing their own opinions and desires, it is as though they turn off a light.

When you turn off the light, you are left in the dark.

That is what Romans 1:21 is talking about.  "For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened."

So, Romans 1:24-28 tells us three times that God "gave them over" to what they were seeking.  God never forces His way on us.  He will pursue you, because He loves you.  However, He will never coerce you.

God gives you what you want.  Woe to you if you want destructive things.  However, even in giving you over, God often opens your eyes to the devastation of your choices in time for you to see the resulting wreckage and repent.  He wants you back.  He calls you back.  He sent Jesus to get you back.

Here's one of my current favorite verses:

I will heal their waywardness 
and love them freely, 
for my anger has turned away from them.
Hosea 14:4

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What do you do?

What do you do
when you are just that tired,
oh so tired,
and your neck hurts
because you threw it out whilst fumbling a tiny pot of eye cream
during your morning ablutions?

When you are parched with thirst
but too tired to get a drink,
because it's so much work to find a way
to balance the glass
and avoid leaving wet rings on furniture.

When you need a walk
but a walk sounds ghastly,
 although you usually like walks,
but not today
in this sweltering Indian summer heat.

Too tired to type.
The letters keep coming up wrong.

Too tired to read, 
but perhaps you will try.

Too tired to initiate a project.
Too tired to make an appointment.
Too tired to carry the laundry downstairs.

Yet, the sun is high,
shining up a bright and fancy day
totally inappropriate for napping.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Words coming together

Many years ago, I started to pray for joy.

I did this out of selfishness and self-defense, primarily because I was afraid to pray for patience.  I'd heard stories about praying for patience.  "If you pray for patience," everybody said, "watch out!  You will get all kinds of trials, to test your patience."

Of course I wanted to avoid trials.  So I decided never to pray for patience, but to pray for joy instead.  I didn't think there could be a downside to praying for joy.

Well.  I had a lot to learn.  I could probably write a whole series of books about everything I've learned related to this.  And that is not saying that I learned everything there is to know--I'm sure that I've only learned a small fraction of what there is to know.

So, instead of trying to tell you "everything," I'm going to distill it to a few words:







Pride is the problem.  Pride is putting yourself first, focusing on your feelings, and working hard to control your circumstances.  Pride is not so much thinking that you are better than other people, although that's what we automatically associate with pride.  Rather, pride is assuming that your perspective is correct and your feelings are very important.  Most of us do this without thinking about it; it's so automatic, it's invisible to us.  That's Satan's favorite.  He loves to keep us blinded to our sins.  Pride is a sin--a very fundamental, basic sin--that hinders our relationship with God.

Dignity is what we should have instead of pride.  Dignity means that we have an appropriate, accurate view of who we are and what is called for in our behavior.  When we have dignity, we act with respect for others and respect for ourselves--true respect, dignity, acting with grace even in difficult circumstances--because this is who we are.  And who are we?  We are children of God, created by God, redeemed by Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  Dignity knows Whose we are, and carries His banner like an ambassador.

Humility is the opposite of pride, but it is inherent in dignity.  Humility is understanding that God is sovereign, and we are not.  Humility is realizing that none of us are the center of the universe, God is.  Humility is realizing that God does not need us, but we need Him, desperately.  Humility is understanding the way we have been born mutated by sin, and in need of repair by the Master Creator of the Universe.  Humility understands that God created people to glorify Him--to love Him and to reflect His glory into the created Universe.  Humility also understands that we--created men and women--have pridefully rebelled against God, and thus failed to fulfill His purpose for us.  Thus, humility understands that we deserve nothing from God except destruction.  When something is too broken to fulfill its purpose, the normal conclusion is to throw it away.

Grace is what God gives us in place of our deserved destruction.  We cannot understand grace if we do not understand what we truly deserve.  If we assume that we deserve heaven (or even just "all the good things"), then "grace"--under that assumption--simply would mean that God is nice and comes through to provide what we thought we ought to have received anyway.  But if we understand that God had every right and every reason to crumple us up and discard us, that He could have started over with a new, unblemished creation, but instead He chose to die for us, in our place, while we were sinners, so He could purchase us back from Satan and embark on a massive restoration project, then we begin to grasp what grace means.  Grace is undeserved, by definition.

We can't understand grace if we don't have any humility.

But when, through humility, we grasp the concept of grace, we arrive at gratitude. Thanksgiving.  Gratitude.

Gratitude arises when we receive something outrageously generous, something we could never have hoped to attain or afford, outside of an intervening miracle.  We are thankful when we brush the edge of destruction and the hand of God delivers us into life, instead of death.

When we are truly thankful, to the depth of our being, in the reverberating center of our hearts, then we experience joy.  Joy comes from gratitude and thanksgiving.

Joy is the fruit that grows in a grateful heart.

A grateful heart comes from an accurate understanding of what we deserve, and what we are not entitled to.  In other words, gratitude originates in humility.

Humble people experience joy, and (sadly) prideful people cannot.  That's another one of Satan's lies: "Have pride in yourself.  You are important.  You are where the buck stops.  You can call the shots, and anybody who tries to stop you from calling the shots is a bad person.  Seize your rights!  This is how you pursue happiness!"  But it simply doesn't work that way.  Satan is a liar, and pride will never bring you more than a flashing glimmer of happiness.

Pride is the pitfall.

Dignity is the escape route.

Humility is the cousin of dignity and the key to appreciating grace, which ultimately results in gratitude.

And gratitude leads to joy.

Words coming together.

In conclusion, here is a short analysis of the result of praying for joy: You will get the pride beat out of you.  But it's a really good thing.  It's worth it.

Also, you'll find all of this in the book of Philippians, in the Bible, if you are inclined to look.  I realized this today at church, as our pastor is preaching through Philippians.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Pride and Dignity

Our culture celebrates pride.  We are supposed to be proud of ourselves, our bodies, our traditions, our ethnicity and our choices.

I think when our culture glorifies pride, the assumption is that pride means feeling good about yourself and accepting yourself.  Pride is believing in yourself.  Pride is telling yourself, "I am a good person.  I am worthy.  I am deserving."

Although there may be a surface appeal to this philosophy, the Christian in me must protest.  There is a part of me that has a knee-jerk reaction that says, "This is wrong!  This is utterly contrary to the gospel!"  And it is.


Sometimes we Christians get the gospel a little bit mixed up, too.  Because in the self-deprecating idea that we are miserable, undeserving, stinking, low-down sinners, we lose the idea of the dignity inherent in the fact that humanity was created by God, in His image.

Created by God.

In His image.

The Bible says that everything God created was good.  God created us, and pronounced us good.

Original goodness preceded original sin.  How often do we ponder that?

We were created by God, for friendship with God.  We were created out of God's love, to receive God's love.

There is dignity in that.  We truly are special.  It's not marketing puffery.  God created us.   He did good work when He made us, and He was pleased with His creation.  He pronounced us good.  There is an intrinsic goodness in us that sin can never completely erase.

Ah.  Sin.

Sin originated in pride, flowing out of those who believed in themselves rather than in God.

God created all things good.  As He went through the process of creating, He continually examined what He was making and saw that it was good.  Everything was good.

Into all this goodness, God placed a man and a woman.  Then, He saw that His creation was not only good, it was very good!

In God's good creation there was a beautiful garden, and in the garden there were many different, beautiful, fruit-bearing trees.  In the middle of the garden, God placed a tree called, "The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil."  This is the first we hear of evil.

C.S. Lewis says that there is no evil that was not first something good.  Evil does not exist independently.  It is merely a perversion of what is good.  This is why, even today after so many years of living with the consequences of sin, we are shocked and appalled when we see news stories about heinous crimes that people have committed.  God created people for good, and it bothers us when people do horrible things.  "What is wrong with people?" we ask.

Sin.  That's what is wrong with people.  Sin came into the garden when Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The irony is that they already had the knowledge of good (Colin S. Smith pointed this out, and it is true).  God told them not to eat the fruit, because He wanted them to be protected from the knowledge of evil.  The only thing God had denied them was the knowledge of evil.  Who would even want to know evil?  Satan, the deceiver, came along and gussied up evil like a flashy prostitute, to tempt them. "Your eyes will be opened if you eat this fruit," he beguiled. "You will be like God, knowing good from evil.  You won't die!"

"You will be like God," he said.  And their pride rose up in their hearts.  God had something they did not have.  God was keeping something from them.  They wanted it.  They wanted everything.  They wanted to be like God, great and powerful and wise.  How could a loving God refuse to share something with them?

"You will be like God, knowing good from evil," said Satan.

So they ate the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and since they already knew good, they learned about evil.  They experienced evil.  Evil grabbed hold of God's creation with a power Adam and Eve had never imagined.   Winds turned harsh.  Gentle rains turned into violent storms.  Lions started eating lambs, and bacteria began to spread diseases.

"You won't die!" promised Satan.

They did not die immediately, that day.  But they eventually died, just as God had said they would, and Satan is a liar.  Before their own deaths, they saw other deaths.  Because they were naked, God made clothing for them from animal skins, from animals that died, animals whose deaths they witnessed, animals whose deaths benefitted them.  They also saw one of their sons kill another of their sons.

They ate the forbidden fruit, and they experienced evil.  They experienced sorrow and fear and death.

Thus, the curse of sin entered creation and contaminated all of creation.  Sin and death rule our world, and every person born arrives marked with the mutation of sin.

Yet, even in the earliest beginning, God made promises: "I will cause hostility between the snake and the woman, between her offspring and the snake's.  The snake will bruise the heel of the Seed of the woman, but the Seed of the woman will crush the snake's head."

The snake would be trampled, and the curse would be undone.


Because God loves His creation, loves humanity, loves people.

God values people, and from the beginning, He planned to rescue us, to go to unfathomable lengths to redeem and restore us.  He created us good, and He has perfect plans to restore us to goodness.

* * * * * * *

Pride says, "I believe in myself.  I can live perfectly well without God.  I can figure out my own standard for good and bad."  This is a lie.  It's quite obvious.  If all of us try to figure out our own standards for good and bad, there will be millions of different standards, and nobody will agree, and everybody will fight.  Life cannot be good if we don't have a universal standard for goodness.  It is hard enough to cooperate if we have a universal standard for goodness, but it is fundamentally impossible if we don't have one.  Meanwhile, Satan slithers around in the background, gleefully whispering to each proud heart, "You are the one who is right about this.  Believe in yourself.  Nobody can tell you what's good or bad.  Nobody has the right to judge you."

Unlike pride, dignity says, "There is a true goodness that I can aspire to.  There is a good God who loves me and wants to reveal this goodness to me.  There is a quest for true goodness that I can embark upon, and God will meet me and teach me, because He loves me.  I believe in God and His good plans for creation."

* * * * * * *

Pride says, "I am a good person."

Dignity says, "The Lord loves me, and He is in the process of purifying me for His good purposes."

* * * * * * *

Pride says, "I am worthy: worthy of respect, worthy of reward."

Dignity says, "The Lord Himself has redeemed me, at the price of His own precious blood.  Although I was of little worth, He saw my potential and bought me out of slavery to sin.  I am a fixer-upper, and He is the best renovation artist ever.  In the opinion of the God of the Universe, I was worth dying for, even in my sinful state, because He knows the plans He has for me, to make me valuable in His Kingdom.  His work in my life produces beauty in me and proves my worth to Him."

* * * * * * *

Pride says, "I am deserving. I deserve all the good things.  I should have comfort, health, happiness and approval."

Dignity says, "Although I was captive to foolishness, godlessness and sin, the Lord graciously saved me and gave me hope and a future.  When I deserved to be cast aside, He drew me into His arms.  He opened my eyes to reality, brought me to my senses.  He showed me the destructive end of sin, the dire consequences I had racked up for myself.  Then He graciously pulled me up out of the slimy pit of mud and mire, and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, so I could thank Him and praise Him and experience fullness of joy.  When I deserved hell, Jesus offered me heaven."

* * * * * * *

One of the greatest ironies of life is this:  Pride, while pretending to offer you dignity, actually robs you of your dignity.

Dignity comes from understanding that we were created in the image of God, for the glory of God.  Sin has thrown some kinks into the equation, universally staining us from birth, but under God's powerful hand we can be made new and pure.  This purity comes first through the forgiveness that is possible because Jesus took the penalty that we deserved.  Yes, if you want to talk about what we deserve, we deserve permanent separation from God--in other words, hell.  But Jesus experienced hell in our place, to save us from eternal damnation.  "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" He cried from the cross.  He died for us, taking our punishment on His own body.  By spilling His blood for us, He has enabled us to be declared righteous before God.  Then, when He rose again, He enabled His very Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God, to be poured out into our hearts.  The Holy Spirit works to purify us day by day, helping us to understand what is right and good, and empowering us to do what is right and good.  Dignity says, "I belong to the King of the Universe, and He loves me."

* * * * * * *

Pride denies God and refuses to worship Him, refuses to glorify Him, refuses to thank Him.

Dignity sees creation and gives thanks to the Creator, wondering at the mystery of His power, beauty and love.

* * * * * * *

Pride becomes darkened in its thinking, foolish and futile, fixated on defending its own wrong perspective.

Dignity sees by the illuminating light of the Holy Spirit and grows in knowledge and truth.

* * * * * * *

Pride casts aside the Creator and instead worships created things.  Eventually, pride worships mere images of created things, becoming more and more degraded as it worships increasingly worthless and harmful things.

Dignity aligns itself with the Creator and Redeemer and praises Him in gratitude, drawing worth from the Glorious One it worships.

* * * * * * *

Pride behaves in destructive, disgraceful ways that lead to shame.  Pride tries to battle shame by pretending that there is no shame, by claiming that shameful things are good, by lying.

Dignity is clothed in the righteousness of Christ, empowered by the Spirit of Christ, and transformed into the likeness of Christ.  Dignity bears the good fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Dignity walks in the power of Truth.

* * * * * * *

God offers us dignity, in place of our miserable, deadly pride.

But you, O Lord,
are a Shield about me,
my Glory,
and the Lifter of my head.
Psalm 3:3 (ESV)

Thursday, September 14, 2017


That's a bad picture, the one I put up at the top of this post.

Humility is not about posting bad pictures.  Yet, pride can be about only posting beautiful pictures, only showing what you want to show, presenting an image that only reflects the best light.  "The me I want you to see," that's pride (also, it's social media).

The Lord seems to be teaching me a lot about humility lately.  Although, by virtue of what humility is, one can never become exactly adept at it, or comfortable in it, or proficient.

What would it even look like to be proficient in humility?

One thing I've learned that humility is not: Humility is not pre-emptive self-deprecation.  A lot of us can fall into doing this, this pre-emptive self-deprecation thing.  We apologize in advance for our shortcomings, the ones we are aware of, in hopes that people will then go soft on us, understand that we already feel bad about ourselves, desist in looking deeper for further flaws, since they've already been presented with some really outstanding flaws to distract them.  Yes, I do this.  It's a self-protecting technique.  It rises out of insecurity, and it is not humility.

Humility is the opposite of pride.  Sometimes when it is hard to understand a concept, it helps to look at the thing opposite it, to determine what it is not.

Pride is believing that you are important.  This may not mean that you think you are important to the world, like a king or a queen or an army commander.  It means that inside your head, you operate under the assumption that your feelings are very important.  You may not consciously realize it, but you think that people ought to treat you as you wish to be treated, fairly and kindly and respectfully.

Unlike a proud person, a humble person does not assume that he is entitled to be treated well wherever he goes.  Instead, a humble person thinks about how he is treating other people.  He is much more attuned to whether he himself is being fair, or kind, or respectful than to how others are treating him.

It's tricky, too.  Because it becomes pride again if, while thinking about the other person's perspective, you start to focus specifically on how the other person perceives you.  It's not about your image in the other person's eyes.  It's about the other person's feelings.  You have to lose track of yourself, and attend to other people, if you are to escape pride.

This sounds pretty good.  The idea of thinking about the needs of others, and being able to get one's eyes off one's own needs, actually sounds pretty freeing.  In fact, I'm sure it is very freeing.

But it's also stinking hard.

They have always said, "Don't pray for patience.  You'll get all kinds of experiences that test your patience."

Well.  Let me tell you.  If you pray for humility, you may find yourself having experiences that humiliate you.  Humiliate, shame and embarrass, not necessarily in that order.

Still, if God has chosen to grow you in humility, you won't escape the process by not asking for it  (that would be the proverbial you, which is to say, me).  The same holds true for patience, and any other virtue.  God will do what He needs to do.

It will probably hurt a lot.  But it will be good, profitable, worth every agony.

If Jesus emptied Himself of all His divine glory and became a human with a body of skin, bones and blood, we need to be willing to empty ourselves of our ideas of what is due us.

If Jesus humbled Himself to death on a cross, we need to be willing to make personal sacrifices and pour ourselves out for the good of others.  (Oh how difficult this is.)

If Jesus was raised and glorified following His obedience, we can have hope that our faithful God will also raise and glorify us, after we have served in obedience, and there is great joy to come in the future, certain joy that gives us strength to carry on.

In humility.

This post is based on Philippians 2:1-11 and Hebrews 12:1-3.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

My new favorite Bible story

Back in the day, when I taught Bible study, I remember how my ladies used to laugh at me, because I was always saying, "This is my favorite Bible story!" or "This is my favorite scripture!"

Some of my favorites include:

  • Joseph (Genesis 37, 39-50)
  • Gideon (Judges 6-7)
  • David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
  • Elijah on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18)
  • How Jehosheba saved the line of David by saving baby Joash (2 Kings 11, 2 Chronicles 22:10-23:21)
  • Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3)
  • Esther (book of Esther)
  • Jesus raises a widow's son (Luke 7:11-17)
  • Jesus heals a sick woman and raises Jairus' daughter (Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, Luke 8:40-56)
  • The risen Jesus appears to Mary in the garden (John 20:10-18)
  • Jesus cooks breakfast for his disciples, after rising from the dead (John 21:1-14)
  • Jesus explains the Old Testament, incognito (Luke 24:13-35)
  • Peter escapes from prison (Acts 12:1-19)
  • Paul and Silas triumphantly get out of prison (Acts 16:16-40)
  • Psalms 27, 33, 37, 46, 57, 63, 73, 84, 86, 90, 91, 92, 103, 104, 111, 115, 121, 131, 139, 145
  • Isaiah 40, 53, 55
  • Jeremiah 31
  • Ezekiel 36
  • Hosea 14
  • Romans 5, 8, 12
  • Ephesians 1:1-2:10
  • Philippians 4 (or really all of Philippians)
  • Revelation 21-22

Well, that's not exhaustive, but I'll just stop.  (Although I'd invite you to read through those!)

You get the idea.  I have a lot of favorite parts of the Bible.

One of the greatest things about the Bible is that you always find new things in it, no matter how many times you reread it.

In my last post, I wrote about new things I'd seen in the parable of the Sower, how the Lord continually plants and replants His seeds of truth and righteousness in the hearts of men.  When the seeds don't germinate, He reworks the soil of the heart, plowing, tilling, preparing, making ready.  He patiently persists, knowing that every part of His process is valuable and important.

Still carrying these thoughts in my mind, I forged ahead in the book of Mark, and came across my new "favorite" story:

     They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.  He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village.  When he had spit on the man's eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, "Do you see anything?" He looked up and said, "I see people; they look like trees walking around." Once more, Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes.  Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.  Jesus sent him home saying, "Don't go into the village."   (Mark 8:22-26 NIV)

It is always beautiful and exciting when we read about Jesus doing a miracle of healing.  Jesus is our Healer, the Great Physician.  He knows how to fix the bodies He created.  I love to meditate on His healing power.

But I promised to tell you about the new things I saw today.  Here we go:

 . . . some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. . . (Mark 8:22 NIV)

Some people brought a blind man and begged.  This reminds me of a post I wrote some time ago, about some friends who carried a paralyzed man on a mat to Jesus for healing.  In both cases, we know nothing about the infirm person, except that he had a serious infirmity.  Was he willing and cooperative as his friends brought him to the healer?  Was he too lost in his malady to either cooperate or resist?  We don't know.  What we do know: People who loved him brought him to Jesus.  People who loved him begged Jesus to help.

Our intercessory prayers matter.  They make a difference.  This man did not ask for healing.  His friends asked for healing for him.  We can do the same for our friends.  We can ask for their physical healing, but we can also ask for their spiritual healing.  Our compassionate Lord heals people in every way.  He has special concern for those who are spiritually blind and cannot see or accept the saving truth that He offers.  We can bring these precious, blind souls into the presence of the Lord and beg for mercy and healing.

Additionally, these people begged Jesus to touch their blind friend.  Why did they want Jesus to touch him?  Jesus could heal with a word, or even a mere thought.  Jesus could even command a healing from a distance.  However, the people asked Jesus to touch the man.

Let's consider Jesus' response to this request.  Did He touch the man?  Well, first it says that Jesus "took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village."  There is the first touch: gentle leading, by the hand, to a new place.  Then, when they arrived at Jesus' chosen location, Jesus spit on the man's eyes.  How extraordinary.  Jesus actually bestowed some of His own bodily fluids on the man's eyes.  He did not need to do this; it was a strange grace.  I imagine that to the man, it felt something like eyedrops.  I imagine that the saliva of God is a holy, healing, soothing substance.  Jesus spit on the man's eyes, and the Bible also says that Jesus touched him.  In effect, we have three touches here: the leading by the hand, the soothing drops of saliva, and the deliberate laying on of hands.  Jesus responded by doing what the people asked of Him, and more.

Then a pause occurred.  Jesus asked the man if he could see anything.  The man gave an odd reply, indicating that he could see somewhat, but that his eyes were not completely right: "I see people, but they look like trees."

This reminds me of the post I recently wrote about a sunrise that sort of didn't happen.  Of course, it did happen; the sun always rises.  But that day, we didn't see the sun come up.  We waited and watched, but we didn't see it happen.  Nevertheless, daylight came, and we enjoyed a new day.  In my new favorite  Bible story, Jesus graciously administered abundant healing touches on the blind man, but the result was not immediately complete.

Here was a chance for faith to rally.  Sometimes God delays a result to keep us focused and dependant on Him.  Sometimes God chooses to display His persevering power, rather than His perfectly instant power.  Perhaps He wants us to see how He perseveres, so we will be encouraged to persevere as well.

Once more, Jesus put His hands on the man's eyes.  Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.  (Mark 8:25 NIV)

I find this incredibly encouraging, because Jesus kept on working with the man until his sight was restored.  Jesus didn't say, "Oh well, good enough.  You were blind, and now you can see some stuff.  What do you want, anyway?"  Instead, Jesus put His hands on the man's eyes yet one more time, patiently, persistently, lovingly, expectantly.  Jesus finished the job.

Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on until completion until the day of Christ Jesus.    (Philippians 1:6 NIV)

Jesus responds to intercessory prayers, our requests for the ones we love.  Jesus is not stingy in His responses: He goes above and beyond what we ask for, although it may come in a strange and unexpected form, like spit.  Above all, Jesus carries on until completion and gets the job done.

Jesus gets the job done.

Thank you, Jesus, 
that I can trust you because you are faithful and good.
Your will be done.
I look forward to seeing what wonderful things you will do.  
I thank you for the wonderful things you will do.
Thank you that you are totally faithful, good, wise and powerful.
You can and will get the job done perfectly.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Soil, rototillers, and hearts

Shawn and I have been trying to figure out how to tame the yard at this house, ever since we moved in four years ago.

The day we got to Illinois and, for the first time, laid eyes on the home that was destined to be ours, we arrived at our new address ahead of the realtor.  Thus, we were locked out.  So, we walked around the yard, and I held back tears.  The weeds in the landscaping towered over our heads.  The former owners had left two pots of red geraniums, and some white petunias planted by the front walk.  But beyond that, everything was overgrown and weedy, entirely unkempt.  We were looking at literally thousands of unforeseen dollars in landscape projects, were we to hire it done.

We've discovered that hiring a mowing service is more reasonable than hiring landscapers.  So this summer, we've been paying Luis to mow, and we use our evenings and weekends to landscape.

We also bought a rototiller.

We finally tamed the lower tier of this garden.  When we arrived in 2013, it boasted a solid, formidable crop of weeds, although the following spring a few peonies surfaced here and there.  This mystified me, as peonies need full sun, and this garden is in full shade.  We moved the peonies to slightly sunnier spots at the end of that season.

We have used the bed as a catching spot for all the leaves that continue to fall after the last leaf pick-up date each autumn.  Our soil is fairly heavy clay, so I figured any humus we could glean from decaying leaves would make it loamier.

Shawn turned the soil with a shovel a number of times.

At one point, we sprinkled a package of wildflower shade mix over the bed.  It came up in bursts of flowers and weeds, hopelessly entangled together.  At that point, there was no path through the bed, so pulling weeds was well nigh impossible.  Midsummer brought a lusty crop of volunteer maple trees, offspring from a profusion of maple seeds that had fallen in May.  At least it was green?

We piled more fall leaves, and turned the bed again the next spring.

This spring, we bought the aforementioned rototiller.  After turning the bed again, with a shovel, Shawn rototilled it two or three times.

And then, finally, we placed stones for a path.  This is the key.  You must be able to access your garden if you are going to be able to care for it.  After we got the stone path in, we planted a thoughtfully selected group of plants that should survive with minimal sun.  We dug, sprinkled bone marrow into the holes, placed the plants, patted them in with backfill, watered and mulched.
Voila!  A garden.

It's doing pretty well.

At the very back of our yard, bordering on an intermittent stream that runs through a culvert and down into our lake, this garden may not look impressive.  You have to understand what it was like before.  Layers of weeds, roots and rocks had stubbornly embedded themselves in layers of petrified landscape fabric.  I worried that Shawn might give himself a heart attack, pulling, yanking, tearing, slicing, digging and removing all the unsavory growth and debris.

Again, the rototiller saved the day.

Shawn rototilled numerous times, breaking up chunks of soil, sifting up roots and stems, chopping, lifting, filtering out detritus.  Our next door neighbor sauntered past and remarked, "Now that's work."

Eventually, we achieved hospitable soil, so we planted ajuga in the front row, daylilies in the middle, and black-eyed Susans along the back: tough, hardy, shade-tolerant plants.  We didn't mulch, so I go out and hoe every now and again.  Hoeing isn't so bad, if you don't wait too long between times.

I write about this because I came across the parable of The Sower in my Bible reading again the other day.  This time I was in Mark.

In case you are not familiar, the parable of the sower tells about a farmer who went out to plant his seed.  Some fell on the hard road, and birds came and ate it up.  Some fell among rocks, where there wasn't much soil--it grew quickly, but almost immediately withered under the scorching sun, lacking deep roots.  Some fell among weeds and thorns, and was choked out by the competition.  And some of the farmer's seed fell on good soil, where it grew to produce an abundant crop.

I've always read that parable and worried about what kinds of soil people might be, people with whom I try to share the truth about Jesus.  "Hard soil" that rejects out of hand?  "Rocky soil" that responds but quickly burns out, lacking deep commitment?  "Weedy soil" that produces some growth, but the growth is choked by competition, and fails to thrive or produce a crop?  What if I, myself, am rocky soil?  Will my faith fizzle under duress and be lost?

However, in working on our gardens this summer, I realized something:  Soil can be improved.  Farmers go out in their fields in the spring and pick rocks.  Laborers work hard, pulling weeds or chopping them with hoes.  Plows traverse the rows of a field, furrowing, disking the soil, breaking it up, preparing it to receive the seed.

In the case of our lower terraced garden, we planted it a number of times, reworking it between plantings, before we achieved a desirable result.  We kept at it, persevered.  Now we have pretty plants growing there, but we still have to go out regularly and weed.  We even installed a path so we can do this maintaining work!

Here's the transferable truth:  God doesn't only sow the seeds of His Truth one time.  The sowing goes on and on.  If the seed doesn't germinate, God may go back and do more work on the soil of a man's heart, preparing the ground for the next planting season.

This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and Jerusalem: "Plow up the hard ground of your hearts!  Do not waste your good seed among thorns."      ~Jeremiah 4:3 (NLT)

I'm not entirely sure, but I think the idea of breaking up unplowed ground and pulling weeds, applied metaphorically to the human heart, could indicate a painful process.  I'm not talking about the exertion experienced by the one who plows.  I'm talking about the pain experienced by the heart that is plowed.  Perhaps this is one reason why we should rejoice in suffering.  It is the preparatory work before the planting of truth, truth that will grow into abundant spiritual fruit--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control--beautiful characteristics that adorn the life of a believer.

I said, "Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love.  Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you."     ~Hosea 10:12 (NLT)

Our merciful God desires to save.  Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17).  The world was already condemned, but Jesus came, the great Rescuer, to bring life and hope.  The seeds of the Word are as infinite as Christ Himself; there is no end to God's supply of truth and life.  Jesus will not make one half-hearted effort to toss out the offer of salvation, and then abandon all those who were too damaged to receive it.  Jesus is zealous for the salvation of humanity.

Truth doesn't change, but hearts change.  Soil can be turned, crumbled, refined, enriched.  Praise God, even the rockiest of hearts can be plowed up and replanted!

Pray that the Lord will work miraculously in the hearts of those who need to receive His seed of truth.  Pray that God will supernaturally enable these souls to undergo productive heart-plowing, surrendering to the holy work of His perfect hands.  Pray that we who believe will be brave when our own hearts are plowed, and full of compassion and wisdom when others experience deep work in their hearts.

"And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you.  I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart."  ~Ezekiel 36:26 (NLT)

We've lived here for four years, but we never made much progress on the landscaping, until we bought a rototiller.

(End note:  I never explored the significance of the metaphors of paths and hoes, but these are also very important.  I invite you to think it through on your own.)

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Parenting with no guarantees

Recently I watched an online video called, "Gospel Parenting," by one of the Tripp brothers. (Confession: I don't know the difference between the Tripp brothers.)  It was really good.  Really good.  I agree with him 100%. (Confession: I only watched half, because it was incredibly painful.)

Why would a person watch parenting videos, after it's over, after it's too late?

Oh, the guilt.

Oh, the regrets.

I tried, I really did.  I loved my children wholeheartedly, and still do.  More than anything, I wanted them to grow up loving and serving Jesus.  I also wanted to get some sleep sometimes, and to have a reasonably clean, organized home.  I also wanted peace within family relationships: obedience, and siblings who did not fight with each other.  Wanting these things--rest, order, peace--sometimes resulted in selfish parenting, parenting from a heart that was personally unhappy with the way things were, rather than because I was trying to teach my children about the grace of God through Christ.

Mr. Tripp speaks about this other kind of parenting: parenting the heart, intentionally, with an emphasis on grace and redemption.  I actually tried to do this.  I read some Tripp books before it was "too late."  I tried to learn and implement grace in the way I related to my children, but I wasn't very good at it.

I messed up.  A lot.

And yet, I still hold out hope.

Because it isn't about me.  Even if I had been a perfect parent, which is an unfeasible goal, there would be no guarantee.  Because we do not save our children.  Jesus saves our children.  We can try to parent a heart ("Shepherd your child's heart," Mr. Tripp teaches) -- but it is only God who can change hearts.  Only the Father can draw a soul into His eternal kingdom.  Praise God, it depends on Him and not on me.

This is not to excuse mistakes and failures, but it is to hold out hope.  We have an almighty, sovereign God who loves the world (John 3:16) and desires that everyone would understand the truth and be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4).  If God is for us, who can stand against us (Romans 8:31). . . or against the children we love?

There is a thing.  I'm sure I used to fall into it myself.  It's this thing where we look around at the people with the prodigal sons and daughters, and we analyze what they did wrong, so we can be sure we don't do that.

We bring all these charges:
They let their kids eat too much sugar.
They let their kids watch too much TV.
They don't monitor what their kids are doing on the computer.
They don't let their kids get dirty.
They hover over their kids.
They don't pay enough attention to their kids.
They put their kids into too many extracurricular activities.
They work all the time, and don't do anything with their kids.
They don't have family devotions.
They make family devotions long and boring.
They spank.
They don't spank.
They punish for irrational things.
They are angry all the time.
They don't explain consequences clearly.
They think their kids are always right.
They don't follow through with what they say they will do.
They skip church.
They buy their kids everything they want.
They get their kids out of trouble when they should let them learn a lesson.
They let their kids take their phones to bed.
--And on and on and on--

It's a litany of explanations for parental failure.  We analyze and evaluate, and then we determine that we will not fall into any of those errors, so we will be assured that our children will grow up to be smart, beautiful, God-fearing, productive citizens with good jobs, who will always have the best of relationships with us, because we have parented so effectively.

But there is no guarantee.  No guarantee.

I've been on both sides: the side of self-righteous judgment of other parents, and the side of spectacular failure of my own.  (I am sure, under the sovereign rule of God, that this is no accident.)

It's the sin of Job's friends.  Job's friends looked at Job's suffering, and they were horrified to see his pain.  This is how their minds processed it:  "Job is suffering terribly.  I am not suffering the way Job is suffering.  I do not want to suffer the way Job is suffering.  Clearly, Job is being punished for a grievous sin.  I will not commit a grievous sin, because I do not want to experience such horrible suffering.  I will exhort Job to confess his sin and repent of it, so that God can end his suffering."

Do you see?  Do you see the parallel?

We want to know how we can control outcomes, so we look at other people's misfortunes, and we determine that we will not make the mistakes they made that got them there.  Like Job's friends, we want to consider the parents of rebellious children and assure ourselves that we have not made the mistakes that landed them in their predicament.

Job said again and again that he was blameless, that he had not sinned.  We know absolutely that he was not a sinless man, because all men are sinful.  There is no-one who is righteous apart from the grace of God.  Job was not implying that he was a perfect person.  What he meant was, "I've not done anything in particular that God is trying to teach me not to do.  I've not sinned more--and, in fact, I've possibly sinned less--than you, my friends."

This made his friends crazy.  Why?  Because they wanted to be able to know that they were exempt from the risk of going through what Job was going through.

As parents, we want to know that we have done all the things to make us exempt from going through what the parents of prodigals go through.

But there are no guarantees.  It isn't about our performance as parents.  There is no legalistic formula that parents can follow to get perfect kids.

Now, there is value in learning from other people's mistakes.  Certainly.  Similarly, we cannot take the truth that, "There are no guarantees," and use it as justification for not trying to do our best.  We have to try to teach and influence to the best of our ability, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes we will do well, and sometimes we will falter, and regardless of our performance, outcomes will vary.  But we have to strive--with God's help--to discern a good path and walk it, because our actions are what we, personally, are accountable to God for.  We are accountable for our actions, not the outcomes of our actions.

If we love our children and faithfully do our best to shepherd them, repenting of our errors and asking for forgiveness, God will be glorified in our efforts, regardless of how our children turn out.

If we parent selfishly and badly, and are unrepentant about our shortfallings, then that is on us.  Even if our children turn out well, growing up to love and serve the Lord, their success does not vindicate us.

I don't know anything.  What I thought I knew, I suspect was not right--at least, not entirely.  I know I was sometimes harsh when I should have been gentle, and I sometimes caved in when I should have stood fast.  At times, I cried when I should have laughed, and I despaired when I should have trusted in the Lord.  I also loved my children deeply, worked hard, poured out as much as I could, and seriously prioritized their needs.  I made intentional efforts to teach them about Jesus and to get them involved in places where they would be encouraged in the faith by others.  I prayed without ceasing.  I tried hard, and sometimes I still fell flat on my face.

All the advice I have at this point is based on what I wish I had done better:

  • Be gentle and kind.  Encourage.
  • Learn and model humility.  
  • Remember how much Jesus has forgiven me, and extend that same grace.  
  • Always hope, because God is faithful and good.  
  • Be thankful, and let thankfulness overflow in observable joy.  
  • Thank God for the future.
  • Trust God, because everything is in His hands.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

What's the matter?

People are hurting.

This world is a savage place, ripping souls and sending them forth to hemorrhage all over other broken hearts.

Children are cruel.  Youths are ruthless.

Adults may be better at hiding their daggers, while still using them.

Sometimes I just want to scream, "What is wrong with people?"  Why do families prey on their own offspring?  Why do children turn on their own parents?

We see it, you know, when a father pimps out his daughter, or a mother steals her child's psych medicine for her own recreation.  The gross selfishness is repulsive, nauseating.  The perverted personal indulgences make us cringe and gag.  We see it so clearly in the microcosm of a small family system.  We are horrified when a 20-year-old college student, whose father died in a tragic accident years earlier, goes home from school one day and kills his mother with a knife.

But on the larger scale, we all belong to the family of humanity, yet we prey on one another in ways we never even consider, those of us who think we are good, who still live selfishly: grabbing, hoarding, amassing, gloating, flaunting, rationalizing.

It isn't safe to live unselfishly.  It is reckless to give away our treasure to those who will not treasure it, who will use it for a short time, and then cast it on the rubbish heap.  Us and them, and we're all so flawed, so wounded, so selfish and afraid.

Yet, there is beauty.  God does not leave us without a remnant of His beauty.

Venus, the morning star, shining radiantly before
crescendoing birdsong,
dewy grass,
newly opened flowers,
blue sky,
cumulus clouds (glorious creamy dollops),
clean air,
shadows and dappled light,
forests of grand, quiet trees,
river stones,
the warmth of a young dog,
tiny eggs in a nest,
golden honey,
ripe fruit,
refreshing waterfalls,
snowy mountains,
vast oceans,
solar eclipses.

No wonder it's healing to escape into nature.  Immerse yourself in God's creation. He will heal you there, away from humanity and its byproducts, be they factories, fast food wrappers blowing down the street, or fractured bones from a domestic dispute.

Watch a butterfly on a coneflower and let the Lord restore your soul.

There is no answer in fretting, in anger, in taking offense, in being offended.

The most egregious aggressors harbor the most deeply damaged souls.

The only answer is to hold out grace, to give at great cost, to make ridiculous sacrifices.

The only answer is to do what Jesus did for us, and lay down our lives for others.

But it's terrifying, full of risk.  It will hurt.  They might not appreciate our gifts.

No.  They might not appreciate us.  In fact, they probably won't.

But they might, and if they do, it will make the world a different, better place.  A place of grace, which is the only way.

They might not appreciate us, but Jesus appreciates every cup of cold water offered in His name.  He is the one we serve.

We serve the gracious one.  He sees, and He loves us.

If God is for us, who can stand against us?

Dear Lord, please pour your Holy Spirit into us so we can spread your grace throughout the world.  Fill us.  Overflow from us.  Teach us how to heal by the power of your love.

Your kingdom come, your will be done.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Give us this day our daily bread

Being gluten free, I struggle to find affordable bread that I like.
Gluten free cornbread is more like normal cornbread
than most gluten free bread is like normal bread.

Bread nourishes.
It fills our mouths and our bellies.
"Filler," I've heard it called.
Bread lacks the protein of meat
and the vitamins of fruits and vegetables,
but it is packed with consolation.

Indeed, what is better
than a hunk of crusty fresh bread,
hot, tender in the middle and crisp of crust,
slathered with butter, melting--
or dipped into savory soup broth--
or sopping up a delicious marinara sauce
from the bottom of the plate?

Bread fills us, comforts us, and keeps us going.
It is gentle, settling to the stomach,
a buffer for acidic foods.
Toasted, with tea,
bread can be almost medicinal.

Jesus says that He is the Bread of Life.
He fills us, comforts us, sustains us.
He heals and feeds.
In love, He offered Himself for our benefit,
--a baby in a feeding trough--
that through the consumption of Christ
we would find life and fullness of joy.
(John 6:32-58)

Jesus promised that He would not leave us as orphans,
but that He would come to us,
that we would be in Him,
as He is in His Father,
and He would be in us.
(John 14:18-20)

Jesus is in us.
Like a lovely, thick slice of bread filling a formerly hungry stomach.

Give us this day our daily bread.

He fills us by His Spirit.

"I am the Lord your God
who brought you out of Egypt," He says,
"Open wide your mouth and I will fill it."
(Psalm 81:10)

"If you know how to give good gifts of fish and eggs to your children,
how much more will I give the Holy Spirit to those who ask,"
He says.
(Luke 11:11-13)

The Holy Spirit is Christ in us, the hope of glory.
(Colossians 1:27)

Something about this temporal life
forces the need for constant refilling.
Physically, we need to eat every day.
Spiritually, we need the Holy Spirit every day.
I do not exactly understand this.
Faith brings believers into the new birth of spiritual life
just as birth brings a baby into physical life.
But as a baby needs food to live and grow,
so we need the Holy Spirit, daily,
for our spiritual life and development.

Daily, we need to come into His presence,
feast on the scripture He illuminates for us,
remember the gospel story, remember hope.
In remembering hope, we grow in gratitude--
for life, for love, for forgiveness,
for His great salvation and His gentle compassion.
Hope leads to gratitude which leads to joy
which leads to confidence and power.
The power of the Holy Spirit.
The fuel of the Bread of Life.

Daily, we pray that God, our source of hope,
will fill us with His peace and joy
because we trust in Him--
and then we begin to overflow with confident hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
(Romans 15:13)

Jesus, the Bread of Life,
in us by His Holy Spirit
which He pours out on us,
filling us.

Jesus, let us find joy in each new day.
Fill us with your Spirit, fill us with the bread of life.
Sustain us with your joy, which gives us strength.
Let us walk in step with your Spirit today, strong and confident.

Give us this day our daily bread.

This post is a sequel to this post.