Tuesday, December 27, 2005

How do Others See Us?

I had an interesting conversation with my sister Allyson the other day. It was her birthday, so I called her; she's five years older than I am.
Somehow she realized I was on a cell phone. She was amazed that I had one! Now Allyson and I have seen each other only once in the last 7 years or so, last fall at my other sister's reception for her second elopement. She and I don't communicate often, since we don't really see things the same way and misunderstandings can readily happen.
"How long have you had a cell phone?" I told her I'd had one for years. Now it was my turn to be amazed. "Oh, we don't have them, I guess we're just crotchety"; I don't remember how else she explained it. I would have been sure that she would have had a cell phone before I did. But she did tell me that she had a PDA. "You know what a PDA is?" Well, I don't know where she thinks I live, maybe in a hollow log in the desert somewhere, but I know what a PDA is. I don't know why she'd have one and not the other; I don't know why she'd find it amazing I'd have a cell phone and then think I wouldn't recognize a PDA...whatever.
So I wonder, how does she see me? Why wouldn't I have a cell phone? I'm not a trendy person, and they did exist a while before I got one, but now I find it very useful. I don't go for all the gadgets, just the calling ability.
Along this same vein, my daughter and I were talking about how so many people her age see the same movie in the theater 3 times before it expires; the trendiness of moviegoing and clothes and gadgets and all those things is very attention-getting for them.
You know how every family seems to have a particularly strong tendency in one regard or another that gives them their own unique flavor, their essence as their particular stamp on the human condition. I have often wondered what ours is; how people see us. I wonder it about my sister, my daughter's contemporaries, and others around us. What do they see in us?
I would above all prefer that they saw Christ in us, not that they would be mostly struck by my flaws, or those in my family. They probably see a good many flaws in me. My goal would be that beyond my flaws, my love for others would make a new acquaintance ponder first, silently or aloud, whether I was a Christian... rather than proclaim, "She's strange! You say she's a what?!"
Christianity will make us strange. We have viewpoints that are downright antiquated to the unbelieving world around us. We have standards that they will never understand apart from Christ. Our habits may leave them wondering why we don't strive for such enjoyable things as they build their lives to acquire. We should be strange! Nevertheless it would be tragic if that were all. The eye-opener to help them see Christ shouldn't be our viewpoints, our standards, our habits, though they all should be reflecting our faith...it should be our love, our concern, our kindness.
I am aware I need to change my approach from human effort to His effect through me. It's slow and cumbersome because my pride gets in the way so often and stops me from allowing Christ to shine through.
How do others see our family? We may perhaps be seen as the family without trends. We don't go to many movies, or buy the latest clothes (though I don't think we're of eras long gone either)...How can people manage trends?! It escapes me. Our lack of trendiness wasn't ever on purpose, just by necessity and priority. I would have it be that we're the old-fashioned, untrendy "We're here if you need us, have Christ, will share" kind of people. It often takes some time to give that message, I think; but that's what I hope people would see in us.
I think what I would like is illustrated in an anecdote I read long ago about a little girl's conversation with her mother. She asked whether God was bigger than we were, and was told yes, He is. Then she asked whether He lives inside us, and was told yes, He does. So then she asked, increasingly confused, "Well, if He is bigger than we are, and lives inside us, wouldn't He show through?"
That's what I want to have happen in my life. That's how I see that we should be known--that the light of Christ should shine right through.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

God's Handprints

People will often say that it's in the valleys, rather than the mountaintop times, that we grow the most; it's there in the trials of life that we see God's faithfulness. This was by all means true about 8 years back, when we lost a pregnancy at 6 months along. God was so close we could sense His presence and His handprints on every aspect. I actually started writing this long before I finished; in fact the part that kept me from finishing was the pain of remembering. I realize though that the publication of this might help someone else to get through an ordeal they are dealing with. I would strongly recommend that in the process of any trial, you pray that you will see the hand of God in every aspect. I did so with this and it redeemed it like nothing else could.
We had lost a twin pregnancy at the first trimester just a few months before we found that we were expecting again. Of course we were glad to start again, but our excitement was tempered with the sobering memory of the last.
I was feeling sicker than usual pretty early into the pregnancy, and incredibly sleepy. We as a family had committed to helping with a campaign for governor that was going on at the time; I was a doorbelling coordinator for two voting districts. (I'm always great at biting off more than I can chew!) I was homeschooling our daughter for 4th grade, though for this period of time I was not able to do anything well. I remember opening my eyes from sleep with effort once, only to see her running her finger along a dusty bookshelf in her boredom--a testimony to both my lack of housekeeping and lack of involvement in her education for that stretch of time. Thankfully she was already a good reader and we had a good supply of books in which she was interested!
People would ask eventually whether I'd felt the baby move yet. I had, only passively, but I just answered in the affirmative. I was starting to grow concerned. Toward Christmas, I called to see if I could schedule an early appointment. The answering machine told me that the office was closed until after the holidays.
On a Sunday in early January, we were at church. The song that I remember that day was It is Well With My Soul. The story behind that song was a sad one. The writer had lost first his son in the great Chicago fire, then his four daughters in a shipwreck, after which his wife had sent him a telegram, "Saved alone." I was pondering whether God was bracing me to get through a pregnancy loss and still praise Him. The next day, I was scheduled to go in for a doctor appointment.
This Sunday almost all the women of the church were at a retreat. There were only a handful left, and while the men met for a Sunday school class, these few remaining women joined together to talk. They forgot for the moment that I was visibly pregnant. The topic of conversation they started with, somehow, was how women they knew had glorified God when they had lost children, whether in pregnancy or otherwise.
Suddenly they remembered that I was pregnant; I told them my concerns and the fact that the next day I had a doctor appointment. They all stopped to pray for me.
When I told the doctor that I hadn't really felt any active movement from the baby, she looked concerned. She took the doppler and tried to hear a heartbeat. She heard none. She scheduled me for an ultrasound later that day. I told her that I'd tried scheduling an appointment before Christmas but that they were closed. She looked puzzled. She said they hadn't closed except for Christmas day. I guess God wanted me to get through to January before dealing with any of this!
I went home to wait for the ultrasound appointment. It had been a bleak time: Gary's aunt had died from a stroke; then within a short time his uncle died in a motorcycling accident. We had some of the flowers from the funeral at our house. I don't know why I didn't just throw them away, but rearranging them gave my nervous hands something to do.
We had some new friends from working on the campaign, and they watched our daughter during the appointment. The ultrasound revealed no movement. The doctor recommended inducing the delivery as soon as possible, scheduled it and gave us some prescriptions.

While my husband went into the pharmacy to fill the prescriptions, I sat in the car and slowly and painfully went through the words of the song It is Well With My Soul again. The song's full meaning can only be grasped in the full story behind it, and I knew that in the saddest of times, still, the soul that knows Christ is secure. Joy and the ability to praise God does not depend on outward circumstances, no matter how personal, painful or intense. There is no suffering, no pain that Jesus does not understand, has not felt Himself. The words of the song testify to it:
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
"It is well, it is well with my soul."
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin--O the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin--not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul!
Praise the Lord, it is well with my soul!
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll.
The trump shall resound,
And the Lord shall descend,
"Even so"--it is well with my soul.
--Horatio Gates Spafford, 1828-1888
When we returned to the house of the friends who were watching my daughter, we told them what was happening. They listened, but later called us. They thought maybe we were making it up--that perhaps we were intending to abort a viable pregnancy, or that we were advised to make the wrong decision by having the delivery induced. They made many poorly chosen comments, and it only added to the strain of the situation. In their defense, we hadn't known each other very long and perhaps they thought they ought to prevent a ghastly decision. I have to admire their courage, however badly it came across at the time. They asked me to talk to a midwife they knew, and I agreed.
I called the midwife, and she only affirmed what we had been told. If we waited to deliver naturally, I could have some very bad physical ramifications. In fact I was already having some, since the baby had actually died a month before. My short-term memory was practically nonexistent. I felt horrible in general. I don't know whether the sleepiness was also due to this or just an extreme pregnancy symptom.
That midwife though was a blessing. She had been through so many pregnancy losses of her own and understood very well what I was dealing with. I could not imagine having suffered this pain so many times, but it enabled her to be understanding of others in that same trial (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). Without the referral of our mutual friends I wouldn't have had access to her assurance, and for that I was thankful.
Early the next day I was to be at the hospital to deliver. I set out to call a friend to watch our daughter; the first friend I called was going to be out that early in the morning already, to drop her husband off at work. I felt God's provision at work again here.
Ironically, I had to go through the maternity department to get to my room. I found that for this procedure, they made no hesitation to pump me full of pain-relieving drugs and who-knows-what else. I don't think I've ever had so many things going on in my system at one time.
They took many vials of blood for testing; during this, I remember a huge moan welling up from some mysterious place deep within me. I was stunned--I knew it had something to do with the grief process, but I'd never experienced it before, though I'd lost the twin pregnancy and various beloved family members. The woman drawing the blood must have seen such before. She looked compassionate and not at all shocked like I'd expect.

Because of all the drugs coursing through me, I delivered and didn't even know it. The young girl nurse who they assigned to me seemed ill-prepared to deal with this grim ordeal. She took the lifeless baby out of the room and since I had opted to see her, she brought her back to the room. Of course it wasn't the same as seeing a live baby, it was a moment I had dreaded but thought would bring closure and finality. We named her Mary Elizabeth because of the story of John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth's womb at the recognition that Mary approached with his Savior in hers. It testified to me regarding the spirit of the unborn, bringing me comfort that as David remarked upon the loss of the baby carried by Bathsheba, I would see her again in heaven someday, alive and well--in fact, she had beaten me there already.
Perhaps the worst part was signing the death certificate. I knew the irony that existed here: I wanted that baby alive, and she had died; those who abort wouldn't be required to sign such a document. Later I sent that thought to a legislator I know, and she presented this thought in a bill that she was working on...though I don't believe it helped the bill to receive approval, perhaps it brought someone to think on those things. A social worker came into the hospital room and helped us with various decisions that seemed to add insult to the injury we'd sustained: Burial or cremation was one of them. I talked to our pastor and he didn't see any biblical requirement either way. We decided for cremation, and afterward had to go to a funeral home to make the arrangements. The hospital wasn't the last stop in this trial. Still, at the funeral home the staff there were believers and that made the experience much easier than it would have been otherwise.
I remember for one ghastly moment on my arrival home thinking that I wanted another god, one who wouldn't put me through such a thing--and then I realized my unfaithfulness, my unthankfulness, my fickleness. God is good and loving, He did even this in love, and the verse that Peter said to Christ came to mind: "To whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). It was true. God is the only One through whom we can expect any good.
I was sick for quite a while afterward; had to undergo another surgery to repair some problems that occurred connected with this pregnancy; and my mind took months to get back to anything like normal. I still have forgetful times, sometimes mixing days up inexplicably; less often forgetting or switching people's names that I have no reason to forget. These memory lapses are distinct from the everyday lapses that everyone deals with, they are unique enough and stubborn enough that I recognize them as still remaining from that dark period. Perhaps that short-term memory loss was a blessing, enabling me to get through the pain of it. God had His reasons for every aspect of that loss, I know, and I can now thank Him for the many ways that He showed His presence in my life. I thank Him also for His sovereignty, that His purposes that we can't understand will prevail, according to His plan, His wisdom...even though we would never choose them on our own. Better His will than mine.

Come to Me, and I will Give you Rest

The first lesson I learned as a Christian was to give it all to God--and not to take on for myself those things that only God has the power to determine. I can only think of two times since then that I have been unable due to my own stubbornness to let my worries rest with Him; other than that they have been His--what a blessing! "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Matthew 11:28-29

One of the first amazing answers to prayer I received once I came to know Christ had to do with my crippled relationship with my husband Gary's mother. (For the purpose of privacy I'll give her a fictitious name; let's call her "Midge.") I don't mean any disrespect to her personally--at the end of my story you'll understand what I mean, and I understand if you disagree at this point.
For me, Midge was in so many ways at the time the classic movie mother-in-law, and I thought at the time that I could write a book on the oh-so-many stories I had to tell. Not a thin book. An authoritative tome! I had kept a stack of letters from her at the time, with which I could document much of what I said if I perceived the need. (Yes, I was bitter--to put it mildly.)
I tried to get along with Midge. How to gain her favor just eluded me. I do believe to this day that I was polite, tried to be pleasant, and managed to hold my tongue quite well. (However I know I also did many things that messed it up, mostly through no intentions of my own.) Midge had known her first daughter-in-law Janet and her parents for so many years, and had accepted her quite well into the family. But my family of origin didn't want anything to do with Midge, and perhaps that insult was one cause.
Looking back, I think Midge also expected that when we married we'd suddenly be financially set--maybe that we'd have some sort of inheritance or huge financial gift given us. I think so because she gave us a subscription to Money magazine one Christmas, and she constantly stressed the importance of a 401(k) (which I know is wise enough but we couldn't consider it at the time); there were other reasons as well. Maybe the fact that we were poor was attributed to me somehow. Whatever.
At any rate, hurt feelings were piling up, and it got so that if we anticipated a visit with them, I would have an anxious stomach-ache that would last until the event was over.
As I related in my last blog, I would bring the latest story to work, and I'd get sympathetic laughs from the hearers. There was huge pent-up hurt, and it was messing up my life and our marriage. Though we'd moved from Portland to Everett basically to create distance in that relationship, Midge was at the core of every meaningful discussion (read, "argument") that we had.
I remember at one point, while running errands, thinking that God was working so slowly on this problem, I suppose because I'd been dealing with it for 9 years. By now I'd barely come to Christ, but it seemed like my prayers weren't getting answered. It seemed to me as if God would answer other people's prayers but not my own. I dared become somewhat indignant in my prayer that day, which I don't recommend. God was gracious not to show me at that moment what He was capable of!
We were attending our first church, and though it wasn't a great church, there was for a short season a wonderful Christian woman, Judy, attending who was in charge of women's ministries. I attended a women's retreat there; remember I had lots of pent-up emotion and by this point I was a brand-new Christian. I sat down in the main room with all the other women; center seat on a couch between two others. All avenues out of the room were packed with women seated two or three deep.
We were handed song sheets as the first activity of the day. I read the title of the first song. "God will make a way." My eyes welled up. I read the words of the song: "God will make a way, when there seems to be no way. He works in ways we cannot see; He will make a way for me. He will be my guide; Hold me closely to His side; With love and strength for each new day; He will make a way; God will make a way." I couldn't hold it in any longer. Even now I have tears in my eyes remembering how directly the message of the song spoke to me. I had to leave the room; flustered, I got up from the couch. Of course my anxiety mounted because I had to disturb various women on the way out!
Well, suffice it to say that they didn't get to singing the song. Women crowded around me and tried to comfort and assure me. I so wished to be alone and was so mortified--yet it was so sweet at the same time; a new experience to be sure. I finally went upstairs and had my good cry, and regained my composure. A long while later I went down with the remnants of a strongly puffy face and sat on the steps listening, keeping what distance I could for the time being.
Judy spoke to the group; she was telling how when we give a burden to the Lord, we so often want to continue carrying it for ourselves anyway. The best way, she said, was to give it all to Him; don't hold back anything, don't carry it yourself. He will carry it for you. She asked us to take some time, then, for prayer, to give our concerns all to Him. That was so perfectly timed for my need. I had been carrying this problem with Midge (and no doubt making it worse by all my dwelling on it), and it was like I'd given Him three pieces of a 300-piece puzzle, and expected Him to work it out.
I went outside and sat in a solitary spot. It was such a relief to pray giving Him the whole thing. I told Him, "I don't understand anything about Midge; I don't know why she hates me so much. I don't know why I can't please her. I can't fix it. Please help me!"
Without my knowing it, Gary was that same day calling his parents to come up to Everett and work it out between them and me. He too was exasperated with the problems we had. So when I returned home, it was only a few hours before they were to arrive.
When they came we sat in the living room and discussed how we weren't getting along. Nothing was working: I asked Midge if we could go to counseling, and she flatly refused. I asked her why she hated me so much, and she stood up and yelled, with fists clenched, "Because you married my son!" Boy. I could only mutter that he married me, too.
I told her that the letters she wrote were hurtful and asked why she would write some of the things she did. She got angry and denied that she had written them. I brought them out. She went out the front door and I could hear her comforting Gary for the lousy wife he had.
Inside, Gary's dad was addressing me. "She's sick," he said. I thought to myself that even the last stages of cancer wouldn't justify the things she said and did. "She's got Alzheimer's. She's been diagnosed for two years." He'd kept it a secret for two years from anyone. I was the first person he told, because it affected me the most, apart from himself. Even their own three sons had not been told. Suddenly everything she had ever said or done to me was like various writings on a chalkboard, and it was all suddenly washed away.
In spite of the huge issue that I made of each thing that she ever said or did at the time, I hardly remember any specifics any more. I used to think that our forgiveness of others had to be in spite of remembering the offense; that God had an advantage in being able to forget our sins. Now I realize that over time, when we forgive others, the forgetfulness of the details comes as a blessing. That day, God enabled me to forgive Midge. I'm thankful that He gave me such a clear explanation; I hope I could have eventually grown to forgive her without it.
Imagine--she'd been diagnosed two years (and perhaps been dealing with it before I met her, 9 years before)! And yet, God chose the day after that prayer to reveal the problem to me. From that point on, she seemed to be aware that her influence had come to an end. She honestly was much easier and sweeter-natured any time I saw her from then on, though the trappings of Alzheimers gave her a whole realm of other problems. She lived about 4 more years. Though most of their friends were quite old, and she had been so unpleasantly sick for so long, she still had about 100 people at her funeral. This convinced me that they had known a Midge that I had never met--that once she had been a sweet, kind, loving and beloved friend to many.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

But I'm Not Finished Yet!

If you have ever felt frustrated at not being able to tell a person the whole concept of salvation and committing their life to Jesus Christ, my own testimony might assure you that whatever the Holy Spirit puts in your heart, whatever therefore you share in obedience, it is enough--even if it is only part of the whole. "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth." 1 Corinthians 3:6

No single person ever set out the gospel in any comprehensive, understandable way for me, yet you will see that my need for Jesus as my Savior became quite clear over time thanks to God's guidance, using both believers and unbelievers in the process.

I attended a Biology class at Portland State University. I still remember our professor explaining to our huge class the incredibly complex process of cell division. I was astonished. This wasn't a Christian professor and he wasn't in any way intentionally acknowledging God. He could not describe cell division without pointing to God's glory, though. I thought of all the cells, all over the world, throughout time, both plant and animal, dividing, dividing, dividing constantly. Almost always perfectly. Not even one cell could divide properly by chance. Though I had no doubt prayed occasionally, I never took the presence of God very seriously. Now I knew that there had to be a God. That was a crucial initial step, though not very close to knowing Jesus as my Savior.
When I was working at Boeing, a friend invited me to a Bible study at lunchtime. I was an unbeliever at the time, and anyone around me knew that I had issues--lots of them--with my mother-in-law most of all; my own mother also; and therefore all my relatives. Not only relatives, but health problems, money problems...lots of things. It was like I had sore thumbs poking out everywhere. Well, at this lunchtime Bible study they all discussed some deep theological matter (as far as I was concerned)--far beyond any of my understanding. At the end, all I could think to discuss with the leader had nothing to do with any of it. I asked him, "Why are there bumper stickers that say that Jesus is alive? He died on the cross!" Perhaps I thought I'd realized something no Christian had ever considered. I'd been going to a church for four years at this time, but it wasn't exceptional for its Bible teaching.
The leader looked at me, trying hard to hide his amazement at my ignorance. "Have you never heard of the Resurrection?" I wasn't sure, so he explained to me that Jesus was resurrected from the dead three days after He died--that was what Easter was about. So I said, "Well, then, didn't He die again? He isn't walking around today." He said, "Have you never heard of the Ascension?" I was pretty sure I hadn't. He explained that Jesus went up to heaven, alive, and sits today at the right hand of the Father. I remember clearly thinking at the time that I could believe that He was alive in heaven all this time--I knew at least that life in heaven had a different framework than life on earth. So I had a new, vital understanding--that Jesus was able to come to life from the dead and is alive today. These are pivotal truths! I could worship a live Savior, not a dead one. The idea of His rising from the dead was vital too, but I'm not sure how well I understood that. I didn't come to faith in Him that day; still in my mind it was a catalytic event that steered me in the right direction.
Another day I must have been sharing my life frustrations with a co-worker (I think I did that a lot...). She looked at me squarely and just said two verses that were also very key to my understanding; I've never heard of anyone else ever using them together. She said, "Satan comes to seek, kill and destroy." I thought about my life. Sure enough, Satan was in control. Then she said, "Apart from God, you can do nothing." I knew that nothing I had done to try to improve things seemed to have any positive effect. So the solution had to come from outside of me; it had to come from God. Actually the verse reads, with Jesus speaking, "Apart from Me, you can do nothing." It's that specific. I needed Jesus Christ alone, none of my own futile efforts.
My little daughter, almost two years old, was waking up at 2:00 a.m. every night; suddenly she started sleeping through the night, but I was programmed to wake up anyway. The first night I had lots to think about! I thought about what my life had in it; what was it worth? What did I have to give up? I never like getting the short end of a deal. I just wasn't sure I had enough of the whole picture. I went back to sleep.
The second night, as my daughter slept and I awoke, my brother Don's voice came to mind, mocking Bible verses. When I was probably about 14 or so, he was attending Portland State University (that same place I attended later). Someone would stand on the street corner and announce salvation verses to anyone who would hear. Don would come home and mock them to my mother. I wasn't even very aware that it had any impact at all on me, at the time. Now I was 29 and hearing it all over again. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." I don't remember which others any more, but I know they were basic to salvation. Don's mocking voice bothered me, so I prayed it would go away, and it did. The salvation verses, though, had done their work.
The third night I thought about all that had been happening to me. Somehow I knew something about a transaction that had to be made with Jesus. I wasn't conscious of my being a sinner, or Him forgiving my sins, but I was painfully aware of inadequacy, and for that moment it was enough to make me know how much I needed Him. I didn't know what would happen to me once I became a Christian; I didn't know what giving your life to Christ meant. It felt very much like walking off a cliff into darkness. The cliff had to be bad for a person to jump into darkness, and mine was. I know that I surrendered my life to Christ that night—I don’t know what my words were, but that was the start of my life in Him. I didn’t know just how significant that step was, despite my hesitation to take it…but I went to sleep in peace that night.
The darkness I expected in leaving that cliff turned out to be light after all! In exchange for my life riddled with sin, inadequacy, frustration, and sorrows of various kinds, Jesus gave me His grace, His joy, His peace, His love, and His Holy Spirit. What kind of trade is that?! It's an indescribable one for me, that's what. I owe Him for all eternity. That is a huge understatement. Maybe I'll go into that later.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A Little Like Joseph

I've shared stories from my life occasionally with friends, and they sometimes tell me that I ought to write them--so I've tried writing as in book or article form, and it just seemed lame. Somehow blogging is not so intimidating, perhaps for lack of an editor to tell me how lousy it is. Anyway, I'm intending to put these accounts of God's faithfulness into my blog site and I hope you'll find them faith-building and encouraging.

Ever since I first read the story of Joseph in Genesis, I recognized my childhood reflected somewhat there. I have four older brothers and sisters and a much younger brother in an unsaved family, and one of my early memories has to do with how my relationship with the older four took a bad turn. I was about 5 when my father came into some money. Before that my parents had struggled along, with many job changes and moves and all of us kids in tow. It seemed like a happy enough life for me all those early years, but with this financial change my father started upgrading his living habits.
Before, my brothers and sisters hardly ever went out to eat at restaurants; now, while they were in school and I was not yet, my mom and dad and I would go out to lunch--every day. I have to say I didn't get that big a bang out of it; I was young and they mainly talked to each other. It became ordinary and I was in fact rather bored. So one day after the older ones came home from school, one of them got the hare-brained idea to ask me what I'd done that day. They were all there hanging on to my every word (I have no idea why). "Oh, we went out to lunch..." I got no farther with my airy and unappreciative manner. "WENT OUT TO LUNCH!?" All of them were indignant, and thus began the Unspoiling of Me. That was my first experience with being not just a few years younger than all those who came along one per year like marbles out of a...well, out of something. I was now also something of an outcast for some time. Just practice for later! Ha.
I used to long to be nearly their age and able to remember their same memories and snicker at their same private jokes. They always sat in the back of our GMC Carry-All and get each other in trouble, pinching, getting each other to laugh or talk when we were supposed to be silent, or whatever. They often lined up outside the truck and got spankings. I didn't--not because I was angelic, but because no one helped me toward that end. I was almost jealous for the spankings. I only remember getting one spanking in my childhood, and my dad was afraid that he'd marred me for life. I don't remember what I'd done but I do remember his surprising remorse.
So last summer when I saw my brothers and sisters again for the first time in years, and they were still reminiscing and snickering, my sister turned to me and said, "I guess you wouldn't remember those things, would you?" I was suddenly aware of a new gladness, thankful for being those few years younger. Because, if I had been right in there with them, I might be still--with them, unsaved, drinking, swearing, smoking, living regrettably and ignoring the goodness of God. I'm all the more relating to Joseph now that I belong to Christ. They really have no use for me now that I have the favor of my Father! Though I'd like to relate to them from my perspective, that is, from faith (and I've tried), I would no longer want to relate to them from their point of view.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The importance of being…Cool

There’s a thought-provoking social phenomenon I’ve observed in the church and out—and it belongs out of the church. If there’s one thing that seems to be highly valued among many people I know (it’s according to a strange, cultural rather than Christian value system, applied by teens and adults alike), it’s that a person is cool. I doubt that many could argue this assertion with any conviction. And what is considered cool in our culture? It’s hard to fully define, but a “cool” person is one with a number of the more highly valued traits; maybe not all, but most of them in one package. “Cool” seems to usually be a combination of most of the following: funny; fun-loving; dressing to fit in; going to the right school; working at the right job; able to get together freely with others; able to view movies without overly much constraint; love of shopping and computer games; having a family of some social standing; having talent; being good-looking. We sometimes fail to place value on understanding of the Bible, and wise application in one’s life; loving God; desire for discipleship; a desire to love and serve others; an eternal view of life goals.

What would the biblical model of “cool” be? I can’t say this is my original thought but it’s one I heard about 12 years ago and it has impacted my view to this day: the biblical model would be the person who models: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control. Against such things there is no law (Gal. 5:23). That means that it would be far from God’s desire to put limits on those traits. You can exercise them to your fullest capacity and it’s only good...or rather, excellent.

A strange word picture comes to my mind every time I read this verse. I think it aptly illustrates the verse “against such things there is no law.” It reminds me of having been on Weight Watchers years ago (when I had the time to follow that program). I was allowed all the vegetables and fruit I want, but not the sugar, starch or fat—at first it sounded a bit confining, until I decided to go for the gusto on the vegetables. I ate a huge spinach salad every day for lunch, with no dressing. I ate and ate vegetables and fruit, and for the most part ignored the other aspects of the diet for the sake of simplicity. Before long I started feeling great. I had all four of my wisdom teeth out one day, and the packings started coming out way earlier than they were supposed to. I called the doctor; he had me come in to see what was happening. He was astonished. “You’re healing at twice the regular rate. What have you been doing?” I didn’t think at the time to connect it with my diet, but later I knew this was the only explanation. One day I went to a party at my brother’s house, and a woman there asked me, “What do you do to make your eyes look like that?” And again all I could figure was that it had to be the vegetables. Please don’t ask me why I didn’t keep up that diet. I don’t know except doing the food preparation seemed to take a lot of time that I lack these days. Look at me and you'll know I haven’t been on it for ages. (Sigh.)

The same is true of the fruit of the Spirit. Against such thing there is no law. You can be as loving as you want (in the godly way of course); you can have joy like a fountain, peace like a river, patience like…well, you live out the fruit in the extreme. Rather than being skinnier, more muscular, faster-healing, sparkly-eyed, you have a great witness, you bear lots of fruit, you cause others to notice God’s greatness through you. Everyone knows there’s something going on in you. And if you stop, there goes that remarkable essence—it’s gone. Showing all the fruit of the Spirit is actually the most extremely cool thing there is, as far as God is concerned. The first mentioned is love because it sums up the others. It’s the fulfillment of the law because it does no wrong to a neighbor (Rom 13:10)—and these thoughts are connected. I say them in opposite order to emphasize that connection.

Living according to the confinements of biblical advice can sound unwelcoming, duty-filled, unrewarding—but quite the opposite is true! His commandments and exhortations are given in love, for our protection and our good; we are to value the traits that are the fruit of the Spirit, and see godliness in them; to emulate them, encourage them, seek new ways to exhibit them in our own lives. It pleases God, it glorifies Him. It’s of eternal value. And it’s definitely the coolest thing on the planet.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Was Solomon's request the best?

The study of Ecclesiastes has brought me down a new path of thought...at least it's new to me! And I think it's applicable to every believer. Here's how it goes, and I've shortened it from the original (didn't want to bore anyone!), so if it travels fast, that's why.

Solomon had phenomenal wisdom; people traveled from other lands to visit with him because they had heard of the wonderful wisdom that God had given him. And yet, he wandered from God. How could he do so if he was so wise? Had he asked for the best thing from God, or just a good thing?
Jesus was asked what was the first and greatest commandment, and in response He said, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Mt 22:34-40) In 1 John we are told repeatedly that if we don’t love our brother we can’t love God either (1 Jn 2:9-11, 15-16; 3:10, 15-18; 4:8, 20-21). If we don’t love God, we are surely lost! These two greatest commandments are crucial if we are to walk as Jesus walked (1 Jn 2:6). Solomon chose better than many would have, but perhaps if he had asked God for better love for God and man, instead of for wisdom, then he would have stayed true to God to the end. He would have ended up having both, because God gives wisdom to anyone who seeks it (James 1:5), and loving God well, Solomon would have sought it. With love and wisdom combined, he wouldn’t have acquired a household of 1,000 foreign women to drag him down!
I have a hard time evaluating how well I love the difficult people in my life; and there’s always room for improvement. Jesus says, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Mt. 5:46) It is clearly not enough to love just the fun, the clever, the rich, the kind, and the beautiful people. We have to love the crusty, the inconsiderate, the ugly, the poor, the slow, the boring, the sinful people! But do we? Perhaps you've heard of reading 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 using one’s own name in the place of “love” (especially with one of our less favorite people in mind) to try to evaluate where love is and isn’t so well manifested. A similar thing can be done with each fruit of the Spirit (--- is loving, --- is joyful, --- is peaceful…). That can be convicting and yet, we can do more. We have been given one very promising resource to help improve one’s love for God and man. Solomon spoke with God and God was pleased to give him wisdom according to his request (1 Kings 3:10). How much more in God’s will can we be than to request a better love for God and neighbors, when those are His greatest commandments? James 4:3 says that God doesn’t answer our prayers when we pray with wrong motives; we can expect the inverse to be true as well—if we pray with right motives and a clean heart, we can expect Him to answer. He’s our Father and every good gift is from Him (James 1:17); He longs to give His children good things (Luke 11:11). So it just makes sense to ask Him to teach us to love better, and that He might point out where we’re failing. I’ve been praying some of that lately and as a result, realizing a few things (I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface) that I expect will improve my relationship to God and man. I sure don’t want those verses in 1 John to apply to me