Saturday, December 29, 2007

Two Lefts don't Make a Right

This Christmas our neighbors Dean and Stacia came over for dinner--they're like an aunt and uncle to Katie and Tim. Tim especially has made lots of connections with them; Stacia works at her computer and watches out the window as Tim plays outside. Over the nearly five years we've been here, she's seen him dress up in myriad outfits imagining himself to be a soldier, spy, cowboy, animal--sometimes we're not too sure what he is. But he gets lots of laughs and attention from them as a result. They've also alerted us when the neighborhood got a bit threatening for Tim. He's one of the youngest kids out there; as a homeschooler (read: perceived as different) and with no siblings playing with him, he's vulnerable to attack from them whether individually or as a gang, and Stacia has saved his skin a number of times. They've also taken him to Denny's, to Boeing Family Days, and other outings.
Overall they're just extremely nice to both Tim and Katie; they spoil them rotten. When Katie came home from college for the Christmas break, Stacia had made a cute big sign on our door to welcome her home. So with it being Christmas, and them being over for dinner, they pulled out the presents they'd brought along for the kids. (My present, since I kept telling her not to buy me ANYthing, was The Incredible Mr. Limpet, a Don Knotts movie I'd given her after it failed to sell at our garage sale. Oh, goody. Really, Stacia. You shouldn't have.) Tim opened up a certificate from Dean for Best Buy--not $10, not even $25, but $50! Dean wanted to get him some games to play. Well, he was happy and thankful, in a "boy, that was nice" kind of way.
Well, that would have been more than enough (really, Dean), but you should have seen Tim's (chicken-pox-spotted) face, his shaking hands, his excitement welling up from his toes, when he opened a second package, this from Stacia. She and I had seen it during the after-Thanksgiving sales. Tim had been hounding, no, badgering, no, what is that superlative? Well it escapes me, but he wanted me to buy him this thing badly. I'd been telling him, no, the TV ads were deceitful, it wasn't going to work like in the ads, it wasn't worth the money, how could they think this mass-produced monstrosity could sell? Every time we were at a store that would carry them, he'd run over to that shelf and gaze at them. Stacia thought it was terribly funny and told me she was going to buy it for Tim and didn't care if it didn't work. No amount of talking could dissuade her. She'd heard about them, told me what they were really like, and then I had even less faith in them. What were these wonderful things? Potato-peeling gloves. Oh, the joy. You take a potato, cook it 5-6 minutes (anything can get a peel off a potato after that long), and take these gloves covered with fishtank rocks, and rub them all over the potato. The potato is practically guaranteed to be peeled within 8 seconds.
So why haven't we tried the gloves after a number of days have gone by? Well, maybe by now we would have. We can't. They're two left gloves! Ha. I told you, these things are never quite like they show in the ads.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Why Might I Choose Not to Drink Alcohol?

A couple of nights ago, we had some friends over who we've known about 20 years. Before dinner I served a festive but non-alcoholic drink, an imitation Old Fashioned. I didn't make them with any precision; I poured orange juice, cherry 7-Up, grenadine syrup (maraschino cherry flavoring, that is), and a few drops of Angostura bitters along with a maraschino cherry over ice. They're good! And it's good they're non-alcoholic, they go down so quickly and easily. I think our friends enjoyed them.
The next morning, knowing that I had made a non-alcoholic version of an alcoholic beverage, Tim was asking me questions about wine and beer. It reminded me of when we had our German exchange student here for 9 months. She wondered why we didn't drink; in Germany there was no association of faith with not drinking as there seems to be in the United States, she said.
I know that the Bible doesn't specifically ban drinking; we are told not to drink too much wine, and over-indulgence is the clearest problem that comes with drinking. Having a little of most anything can't be too bad, and Paul recommends that Timothy have a little wine for his stomach. Jesus' first miracle is that of making water into wine. So I know it's not forbidden. Having too much of even water can be deadly.
When we stopped drinking, we did so at the urging of a church we attended while I was running a ministry there, and they wanted all those in any leadership positions to abstain from drinking to keep others from stumbling. It wasn't a difficult transition, and we've just never gone back. For the purposes of our family, it makes sense for us not to drink. Gary's mom was hit by a drunk driver when Gary was 12, and it changed her life and those of everyone around her. Alcoholism is too prevalent in our society and causes too many problems, and considering these things, we just don't see the need to embrace it again.
I think this is one of the issues that makes some people think that they would never want to become Christians, thinking that they can't drink or do any of the things that they find enjoyable in life (a misconception). I know I didn't stop because the Bible banned it (since it doesn't), but for the sake of those around me. It was easy for me, and if God wants it to happen in someone's life, He will provide the strength, the means, and the joy of obedience that comes with it. God doesn't call everyone to all the same specifics of obedience, and He never makes a person do something of which they are not capable. He may not call you to do so, though again, He might.
Drinking, or any other aspect of life, shouldn't be considered a reason to hesitate to commit one's life to Christ. God will bless the believer in every act of obedience. There is nothing I could lose that isn't His to take already. He's given me all that I have. As Job has said after giving up basically everything of value in his life including all his children, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." (Job 1:21)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Christmas recipe from me to you

Here's a present from me to you--my grandmother's shortbread recipe. It's a Christmas tradition in our family. When I took some to our dentist's office yesterday, our dentist broke his year-long diet to eat one (to the delight of his staff--they were tired of it I guess). Wow! So I share it with you because it's one of my favorite things, always reminding me of my grandmother who has been gone about 16 years. I miss her.

Nana's Scotch Shortbread
Very easy to make. (Don't be frightened by the soft dough--I roll it out on a cutting board and put it in the fridge until just before cutting the cookies out and putting them on the cookie sheet.)
1 c. butter (2 cubes)--never use margarine
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. corn starch
Pinch salt

Mix thoroughly. Roll out about 1/4-1/2" thick (use a mixture of flour, powdered sugar and corn starch for flouring the board and rolling pin to avoid a floury taste). Cut in about 1" squares. Mark each square with rows of dots using the tines of a fork (I think this is actually to avoid air bubbles on the surface--but it's the traditional design. It's always reminded me of the windows of the apartment building my grandmother lived in.) Since it rolls out in a round shape, some of the cookies will be kind of triangular. The smaller cookies should go in the center of the cookie sheet, and the points of the triangles should be directed toward the center, because they cook first. The thickest and largest cookies should be those closest to the corners of the cookie sheet. These cookies don't spread much, so you can put them fairly close together. Bake 10-12 minutes until the outside corners of the edge cookies turn a little bit golden brown. Don't wait for them all to turn dark, that will be overbaking--they may be fairly white when you pull them out but shouldn't look moist. Store them in a cookie tin or other sealed container, at room temperature, and not with other cookies or they will absorb the flavors. They develop a mellow taste with time; I like them new or old.

Labels and Biases, Begone!

Quite recently I tried to express in a blog entry (that I thankfully didn’t post) that as a new believer, the Scriptures influenced me thoroughly enough that I was supposedly not vulnerable to the merely human biases and labels and presuppositions that surrounded me. As a new believer, I had carefully examined and discarded many of the opinions and ideals that I had mistakenly adopted up to that time, and then unthinkingly assumed that the changes that would then occur must therefore be biblical. Strangely enough, during the same time that I was pondering how to express this supposed freedom from biases, I was also pondering how to express the exact opposite idea, just how much my attitudes toward others had in fact been influenced by others in non-scriptural ways. I didn’t realize until this writing just how obviously juxtaposed and contradictory these two concepts were—and thanks to various scenarios that have opened my eyes in recent months, I know that the second view is in fact the truer one.
Somehow (and I am not sure exactly how), very early in my walk of faith, I concluded that the only true Christian was a conservative one, assuming that that the more extremely and thoroughly conservative one’s political leanings, the more they somehow helped to underscore and verify a person’s godliness. I also remember being very carefully taught to suspect, if not in fact reject, the profession of faith of Charismatic Christians; also the validity of certain authors, books, and churches. After some observation of the lives of those who promoted these ideas to me, the lack of regard for truth in their own walk made me more likely to question their views--but it took some doing, because as a result I also had to question my own.
I found that I had walled myself into a fortress of adopted beliefs that I had built brick by brick. I was now enclosed in a small spot where there were few who possessed this faith that was now humanly defined by something more than the biblical concept of salvation; every political stance had a sometimes inexplicable spiritual significance; the walls I had built were high and strong, and the love that Jesus would have me display was more and more difficult to live out. The air in that fortress was heavy and I was suffocating in it.

When I visited the church that had been most vocally criticized, I found that its teachings were stunning and the ministry it was performing appeared to be powerful and effective in reaching the lost for Christ. I got to know a 16-year-old Charismatic Christian whose passion for Christ seemed to far exceed that of most other believers I had met around her age. I also greatly enjoyed two books by Eugene Peterson, an author that I later discovered had written The Message, a book that I had heard strongly ridiculed numerous times.
These experiences help me realize the vital importance of adhering only to Scripture for the purpose of evaluating the teachings, the faith, and the ministry of those who profess faith in Christ. Adopting the biases, the prejudices, the opinions of others without discerning for oneself can only build walls of suspicion, if not hatred, and will prohibit us from living out our faith to the utmost. Though I will continue to hold to my pro-life views as primary indicators of my political choices, I can no longer state unequivocally that I am in all ways conservative. That, along with all other ideas, needs to come under the scrutiny of Scripture, and I hope to open my heart and mind to believing, living, and loving others in such a way that pleases God, and discard the labels and biases that had formed my views for so long. I no longer care to build the walls that confine, reject, judge and condemn, but with God’s help, to tear them down and leap over them.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Improving on Graciousness

I find that blogging is one outlet that helps me analyze puzzles and come to conclusions. When telling my daughter so, she said she does so too. This is one of those blogs for me; I'm trying to become better equipped against the challenges that today's sermon provided.
Today at church the sermon was about God's grace to us; then in the second service, during which we have prayer time and discuss the book, Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy, we read the chapter that covered God's grace to us. One very sweet man acknowledged a time, humorous in retrospect, that he found his patience tried, struggled against the impulse to take revenge (that was the funny part), and learned another picture of God's grace in the process...and all the while I was thinking how creative we are in thinking up ungracious responses. I said so; even while I said it, I could feel a deep blush rising up from my neck to my face as I recalled in my mind many instances lately where I had been so creative.
That very creativity is sneaky and entangles me in my unguarded moments. Because the scenario is new every time, at times trivial and at times monumental, and because my heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), I can easily trick myself into thinking that ungraciousness is the right response. In fact, it can take another person to point those things out to me, so strongly deceived I can be. Sometimes the magnitude of it, though it is sin all the time, can be so lacking, so trivial, that it must be for God dealing with me as with a two-year-old. If I were able to have it all pointed out, if I could write a book on it and review all the different ways I had allowed myself to be ungracious, had tricked myself into thinking I was right when in fact I was wrong, I think reviewing it would hardly help me; I would still be challenged by such new and different scenarios so frequently and justify my evil responses stunningly. This is where my cleverness is most excellent and needs stunting.
How do I train myself against such a tendency? I hate to think how long I've been a Christian, and how I still need to ponder, analyze, and review the right means to avoid falling into this trap, become more armed and clever against my own sinfulness. How do I become more gracious in responding to others?
The opportunity to share God's grace is certainly often bound up in a spiritual battle. This battle can make or break my Christian testimony in how I live out my faith toward unbelievers that surround me, so it is vital that I learn how to be more gracious. Ephesians 6 is the first thing that comes to my mind--to put on the full armor of God, praying for God's help before the specific need arises, before the battle begins, and to remember that I do not wage war as the world does, but that my weapons are the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, and prayer. Also 1 Corinthians 10:13, about avoiding temptation--that God will provide a way out--is another, but I have to realize it's temptation I'm facing (even the temptation to rely on my own strength) and be quick-witted enough to pray for God's help in order to apply it. I find that occasions where I am least gracious are those that happen quickly and least prayerfully. Those times when I "rush in where angels fear to tread" are doubtless my most unguarded occasions. I need to remind myself of where I would be without God's grace to me, without His salvation, if I were still stuck in the wretched bondage to sin--then I could look at others through His eyes, see their incapacity and have mercy. In these things I need to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5)--not forgetting that I was not saved because of my own righteousness, but by God's grace.
Since these weapons that God has provided have the power to demolish strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4), I am foolish not to use them; I cannot win a spiritual battle without them, and will waste too many opportunities to share His gospel of peace.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Appreciation is a Learned Thing

Last night we got Katie home from the airport, from college where she's been since August. She has come to appreciate, having been away from home, the soft comfort that doesn't exist in the dorm environment; the solitude she can have when she wants it; the home cooking--though she admits the cafeteria food is good there (they have what I've been told is a "world class chef") she says home food is just different; the ability to sleep in; and we went to the grocery store on our way home and she said, "real apples!", and at home she was amazed at the size of the bananas on our counter. She notices odd little things that I never would have expected. But she appreciates it all in a new way and that's good to experience from a parent's point of view.
There's a parallel world going on next door. Derek, the 18-year-old son of my friend Stacia, recently moved out to live with a friend and his single dad, and has come to realize what he had at home and had not realized until he had rejected it. Now when he comes home there's none of his stuff in his room, and there's a whole new set of rules. Stacia loves to relate the different ways that his homesickness is showing. He ate well when he came home to visit for dinner tonight, like he's not eaten for many days. He offered to do some jobs around the house.
Though it hasn't all been a fun separation for Stacia, she's enjoying many aspects of being at home without having to consider the cares of a teenage boy. I was over there today. On the way out, I just had to tell him something. "Derek, if I was your age, I would never have moved out from your mom's house." He used to compliment me for what kind of neighbor I was, but I think that outspoken comment changed his mind--I've never seen that particular look on his face before. He knows he blew it, but he's not particularly ready to admit it, or to have others recognize it. Maybe I shouldn't have said it. I asked Katie and Tim on the way home, "Should I not have said that?" They both thought Derek had blown it, and that it was okay, he needed to hear that others saw the truth of it.
It's amazing how we don't realize how great we have it until something we took for granted is taken away or we see something to contrast with it. We have it so unbelievably good throughout America. Most adults, most teens, most all of us are pampered to pieces and really have no concept of how good our world really is and how tough it is almost everywhere else. It's been good for Tim to see what Katie's and Derek's new perspectives are. Even if it makes him appreciate a tenth of what he should, it's a good thing.
When Katie was 7, we took her along on a very short-term missions trip to Floritos, a community just a few miles south of Tijuana. (Now that I write about it, I think, "Was it really only three days?"And yes, I think it was. I don't think I've ever heard of any other missions trip that short.) We were there to help people by building shacks for Mexican families to live in temporarily so they could commute across the border until they could get a more permanent place to live. There was no electricity (except what people pirated from overhanging electric lines) or running water. It was truly a third-world type of environment. The wonderful side of it all was that the people were incredibly sweet; they had a great love of their children that they could hardly afford to raise, and they were so thankful for a one-room shack with no floor that they all squeezed into as a shelter from the night. They had nothing and they were so thankful for the questionably beneficial work that we had done there.
The soil dust was about a foot deep; it flew everywhere and covered everything as we walked through it. We found out later that a man we thought was dying of cancer later got re-diagnosed as being infected with an amoeba from this soil. When it would rain, the soil would turn to a sticky muck. Nothing grew there, it was dry and grey and ugly. After only three days, I understood the idea of wanting to kiss American soil upon one's return--only God's provision would ever provide me with a better staying power to persevere like so many missionaries do for years in those places.
Katie learned more about appreciation there in three days than she could have learned in a year any other way; we all did. Oh, to be able to take Tim along on such a trip, to be able to do it again. But developing our appreciation is not the reason to go; to share the love of Christ with those in the countries of the world is the right reason. Our enhanced appreciation was just a great side benefit of the whole scenario.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Dark Wet Blanket

Today I have been in what is for me a very unusual mood--somewhat restless, unsure what matter is bugging me. The day is dark and wet, and my mood is like a dark wet blanket. Why would that be? I should be in the happiest mood possible! Katie is coming home tonight from three months away at college, and Christmas is coming; that should be all the excitement I need, and yet the fact that I should be excited only seems to make my dark attitude all the more unnerving.
Tim and I came home from getting him some black dress shoes and a black tie for a concert in which I believe he may be playing the recorder (consider yourself warned, bring some cotton). We went from thrift shop to outlet store to discount store and finally found them. It frustrates me to buy them for one wearing when he may never need them again--but someone will be able to use them next year if he doesn't; I guess I'll sign it off to contributing to someone else's cause (sigh). Still, overall today should be a happy and cheery day.
I came home and put the heat on and the Christmas music on the cd player. Tim made me smile when time after time, he'd say, "I love that song!" and asked me at one time why we don't just play Christmas songs all year long. He takes after me, that's what it is. It blesses me, to know he has the same love I did as a kid. He came over, knowing my dark mood, and gave me a great big series of hugs. I always need hugs, and since Katie is my main hugger, I've been lacking for them all these months; Tim's usually less huggy and more bombarding, but he has definitely been discovering the art of the hug as well. He does so in a strong, solid way; he hasn't learned the gentle art of not breaking his mom in the process.
Normally I kind of like having the lights off, or at least I don't think of turning them on; Gary, the opposite, turns them all on when he comes home. I turned them on and that made the place a little cheerier.
Still the empty feeling remains and I'm a bit fidgety; I know that external sources of cheer are just that--external; the real issue is very much internal. Whatever is the matter...such a strange feeling. I'm glad this is unfamiliar for me. There are no doubt many who are well-familiar with such feelings, and I am thankful to usually be coasting along over them. It could be that those frowning faces in stores and on sidewalks are feeling this way inside.
The thing I'm thinking is that it is a "poor in spirit" kind of thing...maybe I'd be well-off to feel it much more often. Thinking on last night's conversation about belongings, feeling a little defensive but convicted this morning, I blogged about it in one vein, but the problem is not fixed. I am a rather reckless consumer perhaps--frugal in many ways, but the proof is in what we have here at home, and so I have to say somewhat reckless. Shopping for the shoes and tie, and the prospect of doing what remains of my Christmas shopping (I've hardly started, and the time is short) only made me think about it more.
I believe that at one point that was perhaps too brief, as a newer believer and more aware of people in missions ministries, I was more careful in what I bought, more aware of the needs of others elsewhere in the world; this care has apparently subsided, yielding to more selfish considerations. How did I let it happen? Well, the thing has happened and I must get back on track. I think the worst thing is that at one point I knew it, and since have fallen away from it--it would be better to gain some new obedience rather than have to regain lost ground. As far as it depends on me, I must not be reckless, I must take what I have and with it do God's will.
That was how last night's lesson at the Foundations study that our pastor did at our house seems to apply to my life--"Follow Me"--follow Christ, as He does God's will and not His own. In fact, it was what the pastor gently addressed with me...and I have to say, he lives it himself. There's no one who can call him materialistic, not from anything I've seen. I can't shrug it off and say, "Well, there's this about him...well, I remember this other thing..." No, it applies to me all the more visibly because I've seen it consistently applied to him. All the more effective his impact, all the more convicting the conversation. He lives on less than any pastor I've known, has a smaller house and an older car, and is content; I've never once heard him complain. To have more such examples! To have more people willing to address sin issues in such a way! That would be a potential for growth in the Church.
It's a big resolution, to be free from recklessness in adding unnecessary items to our household, to not only be frugal but careful in my choices; it's a resolution I really must relearn and keep.

Come and Get it

Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Luke 12:15
Have you ever seen one of those shows where someone has a house that is so chock full of junk that they have little hallways and tunnels between the piles? Our house is not like that, really, but it gets too close too much of the time, and seeing those shows is a warning siren to me that I need to go right away and sort through and drag out five boxes per day to give away soon. Belongings have something of a hold on me. I hate to say it, it sounds so stupid, and it's embarrassing, but it's true. Anyone who's been to our house knows we have entirely too much stuff. I'm combing through it to get rid of things, because as has been pointed out, stuff can own you; you end up a slave to it, serving it by sorting, cleaning, arranging, pulling out, putting away. It's really ridiculous how much time can be spent on stuff and it becomes so much a part of life that you don't tally it and realize how out of proportion it can be.
I protest, "But I didn't buy all of it, much of it was given to us," or "Really, I didn't spend as much as you might think; I bought on clearance, or at garage sales..." and maybe I don't even remember buying it. The effect is the same, I'm serving it. What a headache! I really don't know how much freedom I would have if it were gone. Getting rid of it is a servitude process too--first sorting through it, and then getting it into boxes, and then out of the house. For us that means that it waits in the garage or basement until we can haul it off or have someone pick it up--which means even though mentally it's not ours any more, it's there to trip over until it's gone.
I hardly ever go to garage sales any more (learned the hard way how dangerous they are); haven't bought books and music lately except specific needs for homeschooling (and homeschooling has a way of justifying a book-stuff mentality), but still stuff comes in. A kind neighbor has given me at least two big boxes of just curriculum, half of which is either over Tim's head still or stuff he'll never be interested in, it's not his learning style. So even though it came my way with good intentions, and without having gone and dragged it home, it's mine to sort through and hand on to some other unsuspecting soul. That is typical of the battle with stuff that I deal with too continually. Seems like we end up with triple the battle that others do, and I'm not the most alert soldier in the fight.
We intend to move this spring or summer into a smaller house. I like that idea, and hope that it will give me impetus to really clear it out for good rather than have it all squished into a smaller space. I have a fear that the battle against stuff will still be an ongoing battle, a typical American battle of overabundance fought or lost on so many fronts, like the battle of the bulge. With God's help, I can do it. By the way, you want some free stuff? Come and get it! Remember to bring your truck.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Real Christmas Carols

I love Christmas carols. So far I've only found one of our Christmas cds--Steven Curtis Chapman; and though I like it, I've played it now until I really want to play others before I go back to it; I think that's part of why I have a hard time really feeling like it's Christmas yet this year. One of my main memories of Christmas growing up in a non-Christian household was lying on my back next to the stereo and playing Christmas records--sometimes over and over again in rapid succession, to the chagrin of my mother--and I knew the songs by heart. From these songs, the Christmas story was the story I was most familiar with in the Bible before I ever read it.
Of course there were assumptions in some of the songs, like that there were three kings, when actually there were three gifts and who knows how many kings (or Magi). There were no donkeys mentioned in the Bible story (and being a mother I can say I can't imagine riding one for miles just before delivery; I'd rather waddle). I've heard it likely wasn't really winter, because the shepherds were out with their sheep on the hills, which happened only in the warmer months. But overall, the songs paint a very sweet and quiet picture of that time (leaving out, of course, Herod and his bloodthirst), for the most part fairly accurate.
I remember also being a bit mystified, intrigued, by the last stanzas of two songs--O Little Town of Bethlehem and Away in a Manger. These shared the gospel as well as anything I ever heard in my childhood: "O Holy Child of Mary, descend to us we pray; cast out our sins and enter in, be born in us today; We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel." And then, somewhat less clearly, "Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay close by me forever and love me I pray; bless all the dear children in Thy tender care, and take us to heaven to live with Thee there."
In those days the Christian Christmas songs were pretty much the norm; these days, I can go shopping, hear Christmas songs everywhere and never hear any of the Christmas story. I remember a little friend of Katie's hearing our songs on the player, and saying, "Why don't you have any of the real Christmas songs?" What she wanted were the secular ones like Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman.
So I love the real real Christmas songs; I want to play them constantly during this season. If I could only find my cds! I don't know where they got off to, but I'm going to continue the search. I'm thankful to the writers of those great songs. Who knows but it might have predisposed me to be receptive to the gospel when the time came.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Mary's Joy

In light of this coming Christmas, I just wanted to highlight the joy that Mary had that accompanied her obedience to God in agreeing to her unique role as the mother of our Savior and Lord--I have always found the part of the story before Jesus' birth intriguing, and there are so many inspirational elements to it. It has been proposed that Mary feared the possible dangers that accompanied this adventure, in view of her not yet being married; but none of that is ever shown in Scripture. To the contrary, her immediate answer to the angel Gabriel, after discovering the means by which it would happen, was one of complete willingness: "Let it be unto me as you have said." The Scripture gives no hint that her will struggled in the slightest against this great unknown, this mystery, this unique privilege.
There's a very practical way that I find to understand her confidence, apart from just her simple faith and obedience: Would God let anything happen to the mother of the Savior? She would be the safest person on the planet, you can be sure. Who knows how much she pondered that thought if at all; I think her willingness was more simple trust in God to protect His servant, or even further, it was her willingness to endure whatever it took to obey Him for what might be the most profound purpose to which any mere human has been called. It seems to me that I've heard that Jewish women all desired the role that Gabriel delivered to her; but also I imagine that God had created Mary uniquely for that role at that time, and instilled in her heart a sweetness and vital trust that might surpass that of any other woman in history.
Not only did she respond willingly to Gabriel, but Luke tells us that when she received that great greeting from Elizabeth, who was about 6 months along with John the Baptist, Mary broke out in a song of her own composition yet Scripture-based, praising God and delighting in the coming of her Savior, and calling herself blessed. All in all, reading the words of this song (which is referred to as the Magnificat), it is a delightful thing to ponder her condition and the mood of that song. It is also important to recognize that in this song, she calls Jesus her Savior. She knows that she needs the salvation He makes available, as does anyone else.
She was not the only one delighting in His presence on earth; not only Elizabeth, either, who could only know through the power of the Holy Spirit that Mary came to visit because they were both expecting and were parties to the most monumentous event in all of human history! Not only Elizabeth, but her tiny baby, still unborn, who leaped in her womb, rejoicing at the recognition of his cousin Jesus' presence. It shows that the unborn baby has a spirit, and that for the sake of this event, God instilled in John the Baptist a recognition that had nothing to do with mere human sense, but even as an unborn baby, he was filled with the Holy Spirit, as Gabriel had promised his father Zacharias. What a delight it must have been to these two women to visit together and ponder what was to come. I would be fascinated to somehow review their conversations that are unrecorded in Scripture regarding all that they were experiencing and expecting, and what they must have said about the angel Gabriel.
Zacharias' prophetic song, also, is filled with joy at God's deliverance. Other than Zacharias' initial doubt, these families, once assured by Gabriel, didn't anywhere in the Scriptures show fear, distrust, or hesitation. It was a delight to be used by God for such a great purpose as to bring His most indescribable Gift to earth. Perhaps no family before or since has ever been so filled with excitement and anticipation as they were at that time!
Joseph also treated Mary in the gentlest way possible considering the initial confusion he faced, and though little is recorded of his response to the angel of the Lord who explained the situation to him, it is all one of obedience and lovingkindness.
At some point a star even appeared, shining down from heaven, so clearly pointing to Mary, Joseph and Jesus that it directed the Magi from other countries to their house--it existed primarily, perhaps, to guide people to the Savior, but wouldn't it also show that God had singled this family out as His, not to be messed with? If a person had it in his heart to persecute them, and then saw that a star from heaven so specifically shone down on their home, it could only strike fear into his heart and change his mind. Who would think of sending such a star, who would have the power to exercise that thought, except the One who had called all the stars into being? As a result, their safety was all the more assured. God had put His divine stamp on their presence among the people.
In all this story, all I see among Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth and eventually Zacharias is sweet faith, delight, and obedience.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Chewing the Cud

"My mind instructs me in the night..." I've always wondered at that tiny phrase. It sounded like a good thing but for a mind to instruct itself seemed puzzling. Now I think I understand it a little more, as my mind was doing its best to act as teacher in the wee hours of the morning. One of the first things I did on rising was to look online to research the digestive tract of the sheep.
"The first major difference between the herbivore and the carnivore is the sheer amount of food the herbivore is forced to eat. While a carnivore can usually manage with one small meal a day, the herbivore must eat so much that it is continually eating and its stomach is never empty." (1) Isn't that interesting. And so for us who ever try to thrive on snatching the Scriptures in quick moments, or speed-reading to go on to the next thing, or reading while our minds are miles away, we must be downright emaciated. Think how we'd thrive if we ate like the sheep we are?! Continual eating...we'd stay in the grassy slopes and never on the rocky crags.
"(Sheep) need peace and quiet to ruminate. Healthy sheep and goats spend a third of their life, ruminating, which is belching up a ball of grass from the stomach, chewing it and then swallowing it again (commonly called, 'chewing their cud')." (2) Something here reminds me of Psalm 23. I think there's also a pretty clear parallel in our meditating on Scripture.
"Animals that have been on a high plane of nutrition, with abundant VFA production, have long, luxuriant papillae well suited to promote absorption. In contrast, animals which have been under nutritional deprivation have small, blunted papillae, and require time on a high quality diet to allow for development of their papillae and absorptive capacity." (2) People who have been fed a regular diet of solid preaching and Bible study can eat the solid meat rather than a baby's milk, because they are ready for it. If they have been deprived, then their spiritual digestive system, so to speak, is stunted.
"As a sheep grazes, the grass passes straight into the first chamber of the stomach, the rumen . This has a capacity of some four gallons. When the rumen is full, and the sheep has an opportunity, it regurgitates small parcels or 'cuds' of food back to its mouth for chewing and further mixing with saliva. The saliva of a sheep does not contain amylase necessary for digesting starch, so this 'chewing the cud' must merely be to aerate, macerate and mix the saliva more thoroughly to aid digestion of the grass." (1) I went to bed last night with my spiritual food in the first stomach, I guess. No wonder at 3 a.m. I was up chewing my cud. Lovely.
The matter which I was pondering was back to the matter of my post just previous regarding a puffed up composition which I was glad I hadn't posted (did I make myself clear there? Ha.). The person with whom I had interacted was our shepherding pastor...all the more I had felt foolish bugging him with my mess...and he very kindly called to check on me, must have suspected I wasn't doing well. He asked how I was and I answered "Mortified." (Something like a teen girl might say, "Oh, I just died...") The more accurate answer might have been, "Sheepish." Wouldn't that have put it in perspective? On considering that in the night, everything fell into place. When we remember we're sheep in the first place and inherently prone to foolishness, when we've been caught and our curly locks have been cut off, and our pink embarrassment shows through, we should be relieved that it's expected of us to mess up here and there. That's why we need shepherds. If we would never mess up we wouldn't need a Savior, let alone a shepherd.
Our pastor very kindly brought me back up to a standing position and encouraged me to try again at the point I was attempting...the other point, the one that had nothing to do with my self. Still, I was struck by how awful it felt for my pride to have been noticed. Well, in the cud I found that this was another form of pride--the idea that "I should be above pride. Pride should have no place in my life--other people, yes, but never me." Okay, that was painful. Once I acknowledged it, I could go on, and I feel much better now. Good when my expectations of myself are in line with reality...good and low. Pride is painful, I discovered. Being humbled should bring relief. If it doesn't, there's more pride to deal with than has been recognized.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Good Thing I Didn't Post it!

Oh boy. Did I get carried away. I started a blog entry, and not until I passed it along to someone did I in rereading start to realize how puffed up it was. Just as I received an e-mail from them gently pointing that out, I was sending one that was realizing it.
So I went on a walk with my neighbor friend Stacia, two rounds on the cul-de-sac. I told her about it at the start...and then later told her again how I still felt mortified. She told me, "I know you. Soon as you see them you're going to go up and tell them how embarrassed you still are and they'll go, 'Huh?' having forgotten the whole thing." She's right, they might. At first I thought they wouldn't, but then I remembered that God has helped me to forget things others have done, as I even posted not long ago. I'll pray for His work in that regard.
Stacia's and my walk was longer than usual--because I was short enough already, but I'm only a couple of inches tall now. Ha! Pride goeth before a fall.
At least Stacia pointed out one good thing. I hadn't posted it. So you'll just have to wonder what I said. Whew.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Craziness of Christmas--and some Meaning too

I spent much of the day involved with getting Christmas decorating up. Let's not think about what a silly expenditure of time that may be; it's part of the festivity and merriment of the season, especially in a home with a young boy, and with a girl coming home from college. I can hardly not decorate!
For some reason, every year when I put the lights on the tree, that Russian men's dance song goes through my head--I guess I get a bit dizzy going around and around the tree, and it really is kind of energetic and helps me to enjoy the process that generally doesn't end up extremely perfect. I'm an imperfectionist, if you must know; a good-enoughist; an inadequatist. It was good enough. I only stop this short because otherwise I would spend an inordinate amount of time and frustration and an inadequate amount of skill to accomplish an insignificant amount of impression. Jesus is my adequacy, and He doesn't put electric lights on trees, that I've ever noticed.
Last summer I helped someone set up an estate sale of his mother's things. It was really a very humble little sale, but at some points it was fun and I came home with some treasures in the process. One set of treasures I really had in mind to give to a friend at the time (and no, it wasn't you), but after a while I fell in love with them myself: some well-worn, well-loved ornaments that are probably 50 years old if not older. They are mostly somewhat scratched red balls, and those that at one time had a glitter design now only had the design and no glitter. But I love them increasingly; they were the first I put on the tree. Once they were up, most of our family ornaments (and we have entirely too many) just didn't seem so important. I thought Tim would disagree, but he entirely agreed with me. We put up a few of our favorites and that was it. I'm hoping that Katie will agree and we can rid ourselves of the baggage of most of those other ornaments for lack of anyone's interest. Stuff is losing its hold on me, in places. Hallelujah!
Stuff in other places still has its hold. We have too many little knick-knacks for Christmas...but I know that I would still hear protests if I got rid of any of them. We remember each occasion, who gave us what etc. and memories are as important as the items themselves.
Christmas is a strange time, considering that the holiday is not one of the Jewish feasts or anything prescribed in Scripture; we celebrate it by doing things that we really have to stretch to connect with the event of His birth; and those things that we do really distract from "the true meaning of the Season"--that elusive meaningful celebration that everyone talks about and one might suspect few find. I have to say I only recall one year that we really got into the Advent celebration consistently enough that it was a really main highlight of our Christmas celebration. This year we are running late, too, even though I've had our Bethlehem-shaped (it's round, made of black metal that looks like a silhouette of a Bethlehem skyline) "wreath" out for a couple of weeks. I think I'd better go try starting it up after all; no time like the present to try to make some sense out of this craziness. Besides, we do it with a tea party going on alongside (doesn't everyone?), and Tim loves the sugar. I know he'll do all he can to help.

Run With the Horses

I'm reading a book this week, Run With the Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best, by Eugene Peterson. It's about Jeremiah, and about standing alone against the crowd, as Jeremiah did so faithfully throughout his life, strengthened by God who had set him apart for that very purpose. I love those kinds of stories. I love Peterson's writings; it's his second book that I've read. I wish I could write like Peterson, that I were so well-read as he, to draw on so many thought pictures from others as he can. As it is, generally mine come from my own life--but still sometimes I think they illustrate my point well enough to relate. (Yes, consider yourself warned.)
When Katie was in 3rd or 4th grade, she knew a girl whose last name would be known for miles around here, and because of this fame, the girl enjoyed attentions of a crowd of fans everywhere she went. Awana meetings ended up being all about this happy child--who could sit next to her, and who might receive some of the wonderful attention this girl might bestow. Katie was, for a season, included in this group. Then one night the crowd decided to tease and embarrass a more awkward little girl who had never been included. Katie could not stomach it, and she spoke up. Well, the next thing they did was naturally to turn on her. Katie didn't care, and I never once heard her speak in regret for having stood up to them even though the result was a lonelier path. She was glad that the division line was clear and that she'd ended up on the side she had taken.
I never taught her that; I don't know that it can be taught except by the Holy Spirit. It is one of those times that makes a person glad to be a parent. Since that time, I have found a book that I have read more than once to 3rd and 4th grade girls--The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes. It is about that very scenario, and though it isn't a specifically Christian book, it relates in little girl terms a very clear Christian truth about the importance of standing up against the crowd.
Probably everyone has seen people join with a crowd who they know is doing evil. Even if they hesitate, they go against their better thinking, in the hope that it will benefit them in the end; their silence against sin cages them and it's nearly impossible to free themselves. It is a nauseating scenario and can only bring regret. So I admire Jeremiah. Not only do I admire him for standing against the crowd, but for staying with the job of speaking out against their sin for years and years on end--even when people continually turn on him, laugh at him, take revenge and humiliate him. He is faithful to the purpose for which God made him, and cares only to work out His will against all cost.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Corkscrew Encouragement

When I was preparing for Thanksgiving, I got some flowers from Costco for a centerpiece. The hardest part was gathering a container and some oasis, the foam stuff that holds the flowers in place, from the garage. The flowers were really pretty cheerful, complete with a branch of little peppers and some corkscrew willow branches. You would think they would all last forever, they looked alive, except the branches, which looked lifeless.
Here a couple of weeks later, though, the flowers were fading and the little peppers had shriveled. The surprising thing was that the seemingly dead branches were starting to sprout tiny green leaves--and when I pulled the arrangement apart to compost it, I found that the branches had even developed little roots! I now have four new corkscrew willows in the making, sitting over my sink. I hope they make it to the more temperate spring weather so I can plant them outside.
I love corkscrew willows. We had one in front of our house when I was a teenager. Even though it always dropped little branches all over the yard, it was my favorite tree we ever had. A couple of silver thaws tore it apart more or less, but it recovered and it was always pretty. I've always wanted one. Now I have four!
You find promise sometimes in the least promising places--and sometimes the places where you might have the highest expectations, the biggest disappointments occur, as would have happened if I expected those pretty flowers to take root and last as plants--they sure seemed more lively than the branches, but how deceptive that was! Actually, I'll have to find recipients for the other three trees. I only need one, especially now that I know the branches can start new plants so well. If you want one, you just have to stop by and get it! And allow some time to have some coffee and visit a while.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Christmas for an Orphan

There is a family at church who really lives for children (not that other families don't, but this family takes it a step or two further than most). They have some children of their own, but they have also adopted one and they have another two foster children that they intend to adopt. Not only that, but they have suggested to the congregation an idea that I think is a wonderful way to do something meaningful for Christmas, that fits right in with this love for children.
I have to say that Christmas shopping is a lot more fun and interesting when buying for someone who has significant needs than for people who really need less things and are more likely in need of a moving truck to haul their excess stuff to a charity. So this idea of theirs fulfills something of a selfish need of mine--that of filling a meaningful need at Christmas. Okay, enough of the why.
We have done a similar thing through another organization at a previous church, but I'm thankful that it's been brought up again. She brought a bunch of boxes into the church that we are to take home and fill with needed items to be shipped to orphan children overseas as a Christmas gift. The boxes are pre-printed with the Virginia address to ship them to, a small list of suggested items etc. The organization's website is
I checked out this organization, too, since I am not familiar with it. This is a good idea with any charity that claims to give in the name of Christianity: go to (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability) and type the name of the organization in. For World Help, I found that 89% of the money they raise goes toward program expenses, 4% toward fundraising, and 7% toward administrative expenses. ECFA doesn't rate their organizations, but simply accepts or rejects them as a pass/fail status. While they don't emphasize percentages as the deciding factor, I've heard a rule of thumb that if an organization spends more than 15% on anything other than the intended cause, it's something to beware of.
I was thinking about what to blog about, and this seemed as good a subject as any. If you will, I suggest you go to the website and see about ordering some of the boxes for your church or other group. And on the odd chance that you were going to buy us a Christmas present, please do this box instead. I'll be happier for our having less excess stuff and some child overseas will be overjoyed.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Divine Intervention

I remember being in a high school composition class and writing a story where I hadn't really thought out the end from the beginning of my writing. I had my main character in an entirely unsalvageable spot--I don't remember what, probably hanging from a branch on a cliff or something of the sort. Since I had not thought out the solution ahead of time, I was stumped. My solution finally was that the character was dreaming and woke up in bed, safe and sound.
My teacher was disgusted. He said something to the effect of, "This is a writing practice that is called 'divine intervention'--a solution so unrealistic, contrived or disappointing that the reader is let down and the power of your writing is lost." It was true. I knew that the solution was very anticlimactic.
Still, it reminds me that in the reality of my life, divine intervention has been anything but disappointing and anticlimactic. God has reached down out of time and space, from the realms of glory, snatched me out of my impossible situation and set me on a rock. Divine intervention has been so amazing, so out of the expected and believable that the unbelievers around me can't object that God really has responded to me in such a way; they can't claim that I am no different than what I was before--so they either have to reject me or accept God. Unfortunately most reject me, but it is Jesus Christ who they reject ultimately.
I remember my brother-in-law giving us tickets for my birthday to see him and his singing group perform down in Lynnwood. We went, and among the songs they sang complete with smiles on their faces was one called, "It Ain't Necessarily So." This song discredited the stories of the Bible, such as Noah and the ark, and Jonah and the whale. How can an unbeliever believe such amazing stories? They're amazing because God has suspended the usual order of the universe in order to perform His will in His power. It isn't something that most people have observed, or if they have they may have explained it away rather than attribute it to God. I remember telling him that the ramifications of that song are enormous--it makes God out to be a liar; if it weren't so then nothing in the Bible is believable and all humanity is hopeless. My protests fell on deaf ears, nay, dead ears; he doesn't have any problem considering God a liar and humanity hopeless--it's his deplorable condition; he hasn't received God's grace, yet.
Until a person experiences it for himself, I can see that God's grace and mercy in a person's life falls into the same category as the miracles in the Bible. People who have never seen God act thus tend to explain the miracles away in scientific terms until there is nothing really out of the ordinary in them after all; and yet, sometimes the changed person is the best argument for God's truth that exists. How does a person change his ways? How does the addict become free, the angry, violent person become gentle, the whining complainer become joyful? God can make it happen, and He does. The unbeliever can't deny it, and so he has two choices: he either responds to God or rejects the Christian. It's his choice, but the choice is clear and the benefit is as visible as the changes he observes in the Christian.
I thank God for His intervention in my life. It is hardly disappointing, and I didn't do anything to deserve it. It was bestowed on me for reasons that I can't fully understand, out of His lovingkindness, and I would never go back to my impossible situation. His intervention is available to everyone who will accept it; there is no better option than to accept what He so willingly bestows. "Praise be to God for His indescribable gift!"

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Peace on Earth

A number of years ago, my daughter Katie and I decorated some candles as gifts. We cut out a Bethlehem scene out of tissue paper and attached it in layers around the base of some candles, adhering it with paraffin; then Katie wrote "Peace on earth" over the top, in the sky over the city. The candles were well-received by family. This favorable reception of these candles by family members who usually show an intrinsic dislike of all things Christian indicated their misunderstanding that I unfortunately had done nothing to dissipate: that they might have peace on earth, and it would be a good, biblical Christmas thought for them, and they need not attend to any lack in order to receive it.
The problem with the words "peace on earth" alone is that when the phrase is taken out of context, people seem to think that the Bible teaches that they can achieve peace on strings attached, so to speak. There is a little-noticed phrase that goes along with the verse "peace on earth" in the Bible...the entire verse, said by angels heralding the birth of Jesus Christ, is "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased" (Luke 2:14). Well, what does that "men with whom He is pleased" mean? Is it important? It isn't a very long phrase, there aren't any very complicated words in it. Seems like it can't have that big an impact, considering.
Still, the matter of peace rests on that little verse. Can't we really have peace on earth just by waiting long enough, by educating everyone, teaching them to get getting along something that can be learned? When will nations all agree, when will people within those nations all agree on the things that matter most? Even in these modern times, the local portion of the newspaper has regular reports of violent crimes and of legislators in conflict. You'd think with all the time we've had to educate ourselves, we would be doing better at living peacefully.
I remember my growing-up years. Three brothers and two sisters and myself. We were raised by the same two parents, and yet among the six of us existed six different ideas of what mattered most. The thing that mattered most to Vicki might be Vicki, and to Donald might be Donald, and to Allyson might be get the picture...and I know for certain that the things that mattered to myself were definitely matters of my self. Vicki might want her side of the room uninvaded, and Allyson might think that they could share the whole room equally...or maybe Daddy brought home some presents that differed slightly, and someone felt slighted in the receiving of theirs. Maybe one person wanted to play a Mitch Miller record, and another wanted to play Allen Sherman instead. How could they ever reconcile those many ideas of what mattered most?
Of course kids have their own way of achieving that end--whoever was the strongest, or yelled the loudest, or could get Dad or Mom to side with them won. Still, there were hard feelings. I'm not sure there was ever peace except maybe when we were all asleep and couldn't even appreciate it. So surely adults are would think.
Now we all rarely gather as adults, partly because we all have our own opinions and not everyone wants to ponder those of the others. When we do get together, if there's not an argument, then someone has learned to hold their tongue. Does that mean there is peace? I don't suspect there's much peace in the hearts of our family when we all get together. Some carry baggage of unforgiven grudges from childhood, or the pattern that was developed back then is too hard to break by meeting one day every few years, and might not be much worth bothering with. So the thoughts are held silently and relationships are not revised, or healed. Maybe we aren't even really sure why we don't get along, we just don't.
If a family cannot achieve peace who all has similar blood coursing through their veins, similar genetic makeup and upbringing that a person would think might make them compatible, how in the world can whole neighborhoods, communities, cities, counties, states, countries ever hope to get along? There's not a chance for world peace in this existing system, with each person having such individual ideas and priorities!
So what could that verse in the Bible really mean? Will there be peace on earth? Yes, and there already is! But it isn't nationwide; it's certainly not worldwide. There's the occasional household that has peace, because individuals in that house have peace. Peace on earth exists in the hearts of individuals who know Jesus, because He is the Prince of Peace. Well, how is it that people who know Jesus might fit into the description "men with whom He is pleased"? Does the Bible teach that believers in Jesus are the only people who have God's favor, and are therefore acquainted with peace?
Seems like God would be pleased with anyone who doesn't murder, or hate, who gives to good charities, and who is generally nice. What more does He want? How can a person please God? Since all this has to do with the Bible concept of peace on earth, it is appropriate that we look to the Bible for how a person pleases God, and what does not please God. I think the answer would surprise most people: "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) That pretty much clarifies the only way that true peace can occur: It doesn't occur in the hearts of those who do good just because they want to be good. It occurs in the hearts of those who know that God exists and that He will reward those who seek Him--those who have faith in His Son. His Son Jesus...the Prince of Peace.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Forgiveness, Forgetfulness is a Good Thing--or Rather, a "God Thing"

I got to give my testimony tonight...though when I started I could feel a bit of blushing rising up my face, once I got into it, I really enjoyed the privilege. It isn't only for the benefit of those who hear, but a good reminder of where I was and what God has done for me.
My biggest sin issue I recall being aware of and needing to overcome was bitterness, grudges, unforgiveness. I was bitter at many people, at some for their sheer mean treatment, and at some for perceived unfairness. There was one about whom I recall thinking I could have written a book, a large book, cataloguing the many crimes against me that she had committed. To think I would have thought anyone would want to read it! That boggles my mind now.
My biggest offender was the wife of a pastor. (Not a believing pastor or a believing wife--but I didn't know that at the time.) So one of my first responses was to look in the Bible, of which I knew nothing, to find a justification for how I felt about her--that would have been the ultimate, I thought. I believe that was my first real impetus to read the Bible, and I don't think I had accepted that Jesus could save me at that point. Pretty unholy, but there it was. And I have to say, I found nothing in the Bible to help me in that goal.
Once I came to accept the salvation offered by Christ, I slowly realized that those bitternesses were a huge and awful burden. They weren't a burden to those against whom I had grudges; they were my burden, and I carried them everywhere. I'd take those burdens into my lap and look at them, mulling them over, reminding myself of their every detail. I'd mutter and ponder and think what clever things I should have said, and how they might have responded then. It took way too much mental energy; it drained me, and I realized after a while how these burdens ate away at me, at my mental health, probably at my physical health; I don't know how much I realized they were horrible for my spiritual health. After a while I wanted to be rid of them, I wanted to forget them. But how?
How does a person forgive another who has wronged them? How about when the wrongs have been very cruel, and many, and long-persisting? How can a person go on and forgive? It was a puzzle for me at first, when I first realized I had to have some release from the prison full of nastiness. How could I think to forgive?
After I accepted Christ, I wanted to read the Bible--this time to know Him, to know everything I could take in. I read it for hours every day for a long time, and though my housework was suffering in the process, I was learning and growing, and coming to realize the vast cosmic offenses that I had committed against Jesus Christ, who loved me all the time that I was acting in pure selfishness. I realized He had forgiven me, died to do so, though it seemed there was no gain in it for Him. How or why He chose to do this still isn't fully clear to me, except that His love is a whole lot bigger than mine!
After a while I was able to contrast His forgiveness with my lack of forgiveness; my big sins against His holiness with her sins against my selfishness. There became less and less justification to keep track of all she had committed against me. Still, I struggled with the idea that I could forgive while I still remembered so many things. They'd come back to mind, and I'd have to deal with them all over again. That was one of the first things I learned about forgiveness--sometimes you have to do it over and over and over again for the same incident.
It seems almost comical, and it is very telling to me, that I could think of writing a huge book regarding anyone's sins against me. God is gracious. I remember back then, telling my brother that thanks to God's help I could forgive, but unlike Him, I couldn't forget. God could forgive sins, but He could also forget them, and I thought of that as an unchangeable contrast between Him and me.
Over time, the wonderful thing that I have discovered is that God has helped me to forget. Not only forget the woman's sins, but the grudges I was harboring against so many! I honestly don't remember enough to write out a small article enumerating them. Once in a while a few specific things might come to mind because of some specific reminder (and they are so trivial now as to be comical!), but by and large the memories are lost. Lost and good riddance to bad rubbish! In the extreme. Hallelujah! God is good. But of course, we knew that!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

We're all a Mess...

We're all a mess. I'm beginning to conclude, we're all a mess. Wonder of wonders--I knew it, but am knowing it more. Of course, we're all sinners in need of a Savior. We're all very little people trying to grasp hold of a very big Truth, and none of us have a perfect handle on it. Luther, that hallmark of the Reformation, had his flaws, his odd character traits. Yet people accept his stand for truth, and brush his flaws aside. As I blogged earlier, Bonhoeffer had his flaws, his inconsistencies, but he's promoted because of what he had right. There are some who are approved, and some who are not, and where the dividing line lies depends on the individual. I've been working on a reading list, but all the writers are of course flawed. What determines where the line of acceptability is? How do we know whether to accept the teachings of an individual or not? How do we accept the good and throw out the bad teachings, or do we instead not take on any of them?
The one source we can turn to without hesitation is the Bible. That is The One Gold Standard of Truth, and the only thing that can mess it up is our reading of it, how we take it in--or not reading of it so we can't take it in at all. We need to make a habit of testing all influences around us, knowing that we are all sinners, all the other books we are reading are flawed, all speakers, all the influences that flood our culture. A person could take extremes to perfect the information that he receives, in eschewing writings other than the Bible; or he can receive them, praying for the Holy Spirit's help in discernment of what is to be accepted and what is not. Depending on the Holy Spirit, all writings are acceptable for screening; all writings can be evaluated with His help, and the learning, the discipleship, the iron-sharpening-iron that we will receive may be broader than if we consider too many categories suspect.
Psalm 146 tells us not to trust in man, not to trust in writing, no source other than the Scriptures is fully reliable. We test everything against God's Word, and we are helped. One major test the Bible gives us in evaluating teachers is to watch how a person's grasp of truth is lived out in their lives. Is there an effort to live according to Christ? Has the person gladly made sacrifices along the way? Is that person teachable, humble, and honest? By their fruits we will know them, the Bible tells us, and I have found that it is a good qualifier. I praise God that just because they have their flaws, we aren't forbidden all these resources, all the learning and thinking and writing of men who have gone before; we have His help to pick and choose, and can then do so in confidence and eager expectation.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Um--I Think I Can See into the Future!

I am hereby predicting that, unless Jesus returns for us within the next two years, my son Tim will soon learn the love of reading and learning. I think he will become more self confident, more active, and generally happier. I think this will happen within the next two years, and there will be some noticeable change within the next week. Wow.
I don't remember ever being in the predicting mode quite like this before! How did this come about? Perhaps it had something to do with having taken him to an eye doctor in Lynnwood today. He had been to an eye doctor in Marysville and was prescribed a pair of glasses, but they did nothing to improve his ability to read. Tim can read quite well, but not for very long. A paragraph and a half, and he tires out. I found out through the homeschooling grapevine that kind of doctor only does certain tests; it isn't as complete a checkup as some people need.
So I took him to Nancy Torgerson at Alderwood Vision Therapy Center. For the last number of years, I had heard glimmerings of how helpful this mystery eyedoctor in Lynnwood was (I didn't know her name), and I pictured this older lady, heavy-set, grey hair, wise demeanor. When this bright and cheery and fairly young (well, I found out she's about my age--so, young comparative with the older picture I had) little lady invited Tim and me to come into the room, I thought she was an assistant. Not so! She was Dr. Torgerson herself, and she cheerfully started in asking Tim questions about what he liked and didn't like in school. Then when she found out what his reading problem was, she centered her attention on a few possibilities, using various tests...and just a few minutes into it, she had it. She said that he was completely unable to focus. (I'm not sure how that works--he can do fairly detailed drawings, and he does read to a point--and if he can't focus I'm not sure how he can tell anything on the eye chart--though he does falter pretty fast at the smaller letters.) She said he's tired even before he starts to read. I can't even imagine what that's like, but it makes perfect sense in the context of our homeschooling troubles.
I told her what my pre-conceived notion of her looks was, and she laughed and told me that someone else had said the same thing not too long ago. Something about having been in the business 20 years or so, maybe...but I think it has something to do with having a knack for solving people's learning problems, and making such a difference in their lives that you become a legend. Usually, legends are old, but not in this case!
She said that when she started school, she was going to become some other kind of doctor, and then talked to a friend who was retiring from work as an eye doctor and still loved her work. The woman advised her to take on this specialty, where she could help people with their ability to learn. That sounded good to Dr. Torgerson. So she switched avenues, not even returning to the school she was attending, but having all her belongings shipped back to her home. Then she pursued this line of work, has been at it ever since, and I'm so glad!
So she prescribed Tim some glasses and told him he can only tell others that she prescribed them if they're cool looking; if they're ugly, it was "Dr. Murphy" who prescribed them. She said they'll help him focus and they'll be therapeutic in that they'll help his eyes not just focus for the moment but learn to focus without eventually needing the glasses any more. I have a feeling we can find a cool pair of the glasses--we're going to look the day after Thanksgiving, most likely. I can hardly wait to see how well my "predictions" come true!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I'm a Little Strange Lately...

I have hardly been able to contain my excitement lately. Life is so good! God is so great! And that is basically why I am excited. What more does it need to be? Of course, life is always good, because it is from God and we have so many good things going on that we don't even notice, and because of that alone we should be so happy...but now we're at a church we're thrilled about; Katie's doing well at college; our home life is really good; I'm getting rooms decluttered and more usable; my health is good and I'm losing weight--therefore I have a great deal more energy. Not all these things have always been true--in fact, most of them are something of a change. I feel like jumping through ceilings, I'm feeling so good.
It might be that my natural state is a little on the exuberant side. Back when I was a kid my brother used to call me naturally high; my sister-in-law used to call me hyper when I first knew her. I think those traits were tempered by various issues over the years and the highs and hypers kind of went into hiding. But lately there are times when I just have to move to use up the energy--I barely remember being like that!
So when just everything is going so well, then all the tiny things make me all the more happy. I got a package off to Katie today, so I get to anticipate her calling me having gotten it. We're getting a new fireplace in today, and even though we might not have gotten it just for us (we're fixing the house up so we can move into a smaller one), until we sell we get to enjoy it. Tonight we're hosting a little class here--so I'll make a dessert and coffee. We're anticipating a great Thanksgiving. Then there are the after-Thanksgiving sales--my only thing with that is that I normally go with Katie, but won't be able to this year; maybe Tim. Then there's Christmas coming, which I can hardly believe. Life is good.
Besides that are the things we really don't think about much: living in a peaceful land, having the freedom to worship God, having bodies with all the needed parts in their proper places. Having heat, clothing, a roof, food. We aren't suffering from horrible addictions. We're at peace with God--through Jesus Christ. That is the crowning touch of all. Even if the other things weren't all true, peace with God through Christ would be enough that we should be excited--we who trust in Jesus for our eternal hope have all our sins forgiven and are spared eternal punishment; not only that but we are given heaven besides. That is enough to leap through ceilings about! When I think of it, back when my health was really good about 20 years ago, I didn't have Christ. Therefore, I am now in the best condition overall that I have ever experienced. So if you think I'm a bit strange lately, maybe I am. The one thing that makes me a little more sober is that you couldn't be so strange along with me! It's really your option--what do you have to rejoice in today? If it isn't Christ, then you can change that--pray to receive Him and have Him change your life and fill it with joy. 2 Corinthians 6:2, Behold, now is "the acceptable time"; behold, now is the "day of salvation"!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A New Binder is Needed...

On my homeschooling bookshelf I have a binder that is called, "Masters to Copy." I often look at the binder and think how deceptive that title is, how I wish it were more what it appeared. It is only a book where I keep papers that I tend to want to copy. If it were only a resource to find out about those who most excelled in this life, and how to imitate them! That's what I think of when I view that binder, and what a great thing such a book would be in people's lives.
Today I was reading about Jonathan Edwards, and found that he indeed had a very similar resource to my ideal--he made himself a book of 43 pages, a list of all the writings he had read or would like to read of people whose thinking he admired. With all the time that has passed between the writing of those books and our being able to read them, the language difference might be more of an obstacle to us than it was to Edwards. Still, it seems that it would be a worthwhile pursuit to either attempt to read Edwards' list of resources or create one's own. I'm not sure whether today we'd have as easy a time (not that he did it easily) of compiling a 43-page list of writings in a readable vernacular that would be worth reading...whether for the lack of admirable modern-day writers, or for our ignorance of them. Still, I think it's a project I might pursue. Jonathan Edwards' writings themselves would be a good place to begin: His Religious Affections, and Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, are most famous...but there are various sermons too. I don't know how long that would take.
Our church is very much a reading church, I've found. I've had a number of books handed to me to read, and often found that they support one another in their content--always pointing to our need for full reliance on God, and His full sufficiency. They aren't light and modern reading, but slow and worth pondering; I find myself rolling the thoughts over and over again to really grasp their full meaning. It's interesting how a thought that seems knowable can be restated in such a way that it grabs your attention and makes you realize you didn't know it at all. There are chapters of Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy that I re-read and even having read them find the same thing happens--I learn again in a new way. I think it's because these writers have pondered the Scriptures in a very meditative way and plumbed them to find treasures that few know so well. That is the type of master that I want to copy, the type I want to include in my book--one that points to their Master and mine; as I think of it, I am more compelled to do it--now I need a new binder.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sing Him a Song of Gladness

"Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves!"--Knowles Shaw
Last night I pulled out a hymn book because I wanted to look up some Thanksgiving hymns. Those old Thanksgiving and harvest hymns bring back to mind some of the paintings you see once in a while of beautiful farm scenes, and people "bringing in the sheaves." I love it! And I hate it--not the songs, not the memories and images, but my ignorance. I can't read music. But I read the words, and the tunes come back to me, some of them, haltingly because they are too little a part of these days and I haven't learned them well. Still, considering how short a history I have in the faith (well, I'm getting old and it's getting longer), I know a lot of songs that sing His praises. Hallelujah!
I was looking in the hymnbook from the start this morning. Of all the first songs, I knew the majority of them. Sometimes humming too many tunes is like smelling too many perfumes--your senses get muddled and you can't remember how this latest one starts. A little persistence and it comes back. They bring rich memories with them. Though the first church we attended didn't teach much in the way of Bible, the one thing these songs bring back is how many hymns they sang--all in a little white church with a steeple in Mukilteo. That building has been converted to a house now; the church itself has moved to a new building that doesn't have that beautiful traditional feel. So it is truly a memory, one of those that is no longer a reality. It was my first exposure to hymns in any expansive way. Still, even an unbeliever gets some exposure...
As I looked through this book, I noticed one song that I had on a Cat Stevens record growing up: Morning Has Broken. I don't think he sang it from any faith but just because he liked it. There were some from old movies, one with Judy Garland in it--Meet Me In St. Louis--the song was God, Who Made the Earth and Heaven; the other was Bing Crosby singing, Faith of our Fathers. Then Wonderful Words of Life reminded me of my time in Bible Study Fellowship, where we heard hymns I have never heard sung elsewhere. These songs work similarly to one of those electronic probes that a doctor might use on a brain to elicit a nerve response--they bring up thoughts and scenes long forgotten! And even though Christian history in my life is only 18 years, I have already have a long heritage, millenia old, from "my" people, "my" family who God has given me, including the likes of brother Martin Luther and sister Fanny Crosby who wrote their passion for God down to be shared in song with future generations.
How wonderful it is to be now on the side of faith, to have rich treasure troves of song books that show the history of others who have been impassioned to write about their love for God and His for them--how wonderful that they've been written down, even the tunes that I can't read, so they are never lost. We have much to sing about! In contrast to the unbeliever--what might they sing of any eternal love, hope, gladness, about how they were made, or any of it? The only atheist hymnbooks would be songs about sin, and though they sing heartily, nay, lustily, the beauty of it is just not the same. I've always intended to put a huge long list of Christian songs inside a cupboard door or on our fridge so I could just glance at it and suddenly have a song that's been silent too long going through my head.
And so we should sing--continually, gladly, thankfully, with all our hearts. I hope that this Thanksgiving you might make it part of your celebration of God and all His goodness, to sing Him a song of gladness.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Normalcy isn't Something I Necessarily Seek

I was at a friend's baby shower tonight, and so glad to see a bunch of my friends who I only see occasionally! It's a real encouragement. One I hadn't seen for about six months, and she and I are making plans to get together. That is all the sweeter, because she'd initially made friends with Katie, but now that Katie's gone to college, she's talking of lunches or whatever in my direction. Something gained...friendships are a part of sanity to be sure, especially in the faith...iron sharpening iron and all that.
Another friend, somewhat younger than I, turned to me and asked me some questions about what I'm experiencing with my health. I told her and she said, "Oh, good, then I'm normal." I was quick to tell her not to base her evaluations on me! Who said I was a barometer of normalcy? That's a scary thought! A good portion of the world who thought they had it all together would suddenly have to regroup and head out on an entirely different course!
No, I told her that normalcy isn't actually something I necessarily want people to expect of me. There's a lot more freedom in being thought of as a little bit crazy, a little bit of a screwball. You get to do more fun things, act more funny, say more offbeat comments, and people just pass it off as just you being nuts again. If you're usually trying to be normal and something weird comes out, you'll worry a lot of people, and someone will make an appointment for you somewhere that you don't want to go.
It isn't that I want to start wearing bright purple, or red floppy hats or anything; and there's a lot that's abnormal or insane or immoral that I just don't want to be associated with. But spontaneity and unpredictability, which many wouldn't consider "normal," is my idea of how to joyfully live life, a little more funny--er--fully.

God Answers Prayer!

Today as Tim and I were doing our homeschooling, we started as always in prayer. In the last year or more the prayer has included that God would help us to love Him more every day and one another more every day. Tim commented during our study, "It seems like our family is getting closer." I concur--these days I feel incredibly blessed, more so than ever before, with the closeness of our family and the unity among us. I reminded him that we had been praying for it. He was surprised, so I told him again how we said it and he recognized that indeed it was so. It was, in a way, all the better that he saw the result before he was aware to watch for it.
It was a scriptural prayer, following the two greatest commandments that Jesus described: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. I think a good start is with the family. If you can't love your own family, how can you extend farther? God has really answered this prayer. I've noticed it in many ways, some of which are beyond words. One, though, is that while Katie is at college, Tim has missed her more vocally than anyone. He often spontaneously says how much he misses her. While she was here, his appreciation was not so great. If that is the one benefit that came from her leaving, and I highly doubt that will be the only thing, it will have been worth it, to bind a brother and sister in love.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Little Statement of Appreciation is Long Overdue

Rarely do I blog much about my husband Gary. Why is this? Well, perhaps because he is gone much of the day and when he's home he's usually tired and quiet--and working, most of the time, lately, on his computer. But I was thinking this morning and I want to give him kudos for having put up with me all these years. It hasn't been easy.
We've been married going on 25 years. Because of the life circumstances that we've gone through, it's been a bumpy ride. First number of years were heavily impacted by my mother-in-law, who neither Gary nor I knew how to cope with. She had been in a severe car accident when Gary was 12, was on pain medications the rest of her life, and her husband said she had never been the same from that time. I'm sure I never really knew her as she had been. Even when we moved up to the Puget Sound region from Portland, primarily to increase distance between her and ourselves, it seemed that she managed to be part of every conversation, which in effect made her part of many an argument as well.
We were not Christians and had no roadmap to cope with this--and it in fact was one of the biggest burdens that drove me to Christ, so for that I am thankful. In the Bible it says that affliction is good, that we might learn His decrees, and I can and will testify that this is the case!
There were also matters to do with job changes--I think Gary has had about 13 of them since we've been married. That has really built our faith. I don't fear the times between jobs like those who've never been through it, because I've seen that God does provide for His own. So in the process also, we had our share of financial struggles. Again, I've seen that God is our Provider and there's really no earthly explanation why our heads are above water financially. He is good!
We lived in an old house in Everett, and though it wasn't because of the house itself (just a couple of blocks from a hospital--good thing!), I associate that house with lots of illnesses and troubles: tough pregnancies, c-sections, loss of two pregnancies including twins, anemia, colic, a broken foot from a car accident, the death of various relatives...the list goes on. Gary's seen me lying on the couch physically unable to cope with basics of life for more time than I'd like to recall, and he has helped me through so much!
Gary's and my temperaments are opposite, and as dogged as I can be, that has not made it easy for him. I can be stubborn, opinionated, bossy, and there are times when I just don't know when to quit pushing buttons. Had Gary not been the type of guy who clams up (much to my frustration), we might still be arguing today on our first argument ever.
Considering that we knew nothing of Christian faith when we met, God has been so gracious to me. We had a neighbor in our old house who was on her second marriage. Her first husband had been a drug addict, and her second was an alcoholic. I was spared these awful things and many more, not because of any wisdom I had but simply God's grace. The thing that drew me to Gary was that he was kind and gentle (not traits that are the core of my being)--and I valued these traits because they are so different from anything I was familiar with in my family.
And so I am thankful for Gary, for his kindness and gentleness, for his ability to put up with me all these years without complaining about my figure, my housekeeping, my attitude, my many flaws. He's more than I deserve, and God is gracious.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Problem of Church Size

I saw a lady today who I knew slightly from our previous church. She too had changed churches, a couple of years before we did, and was talking about the difficulties she had with the adjustment she was making. We'd changed churches after 6 years; her family had moved after 13 years. That's an investment! And she said she was a person who struggled with making friends, so for her a church change is all the more fraught with emotion and difficulty. Not only that, but they started in Lynnwood and ended up in Monroe at a daughter church start-up--so she hadn't only started getting to know people in Lynnwood, but then had to readjust to a new location over again. Still, I liked the reason she had to readjust: Their church had a policy of starting a daughter church any time they had more than 150 members. There's wisdom in that! There's more right in a small church, in my experience, than in a large one.
Since starting to attend a church that has about 80 people attending, including kids, I've come to appreciate the high level of fellowship and the close interaction that the congregation has with the leadership. It's important, it helps church growth and accountability, and I'm thankful to see that the leadership isn't lesser quality just because the church is small.
Still, Americans seem to value and take pride in anything large even if the size is crippling--reminiscent of the humorous style legendary of Texans. It would seem that a church can justify more pride and puffery the more members it has. I remember being in a mega-church start-up that on its first day had 800 people. That wasn't enough for the pastor, though--I remember him mentioning one morning that he'd counted the cars in the parking lot, in the context of church growth. Yikes! Even he jokingly admitted that it was more like a religious mob than a church.
In fact, when we walk around through our cul-de-sac, occasionally we talk with some neighbors who have recently started attending a seeker-friendly church in town. We talked about our churches, and we were telling them what our church was like and describing the ministry of our pastor, who prayed with us even on our first Sunday, and came out to visit us shortly afterward. With pride, they said they had never spoken with their pastor. They thought they were impressing us, and they were, but not as they intended. Shortly after that some friends came to our church and when we had coffee together afterward, they too proudly said they had never spoken with their pastor. Appalling! Not only appalling that they never had, but that they could feel that this was more ideal. What is happening to the churches in America? This is a grievous sadness to me. How can a shepherd rightly lead his flock if he doesn't even recognize his own sheep? How can he know what they are really up to, if he has never spoken with them? It could be that these people enjoy the anonymity, the lack of accountability that comes in such a huge church. They're under the radar, and they can live like the devil if they want to.
Our pastor recently showed me an article about the Willow Creek church and its recent "repentance" of its failed discipleship methods. Knowing that I like to blog, he suggested that I write about it. Not having followed the history of this church, I know so little about it that I couldn't write well about it, but found I kept referring to my own mega-church experience; it was all I had to relate to it. I didn't know how much I had pre-conceived notions regarding what traits the mega-churches are almost bound to share. Still, Willow Creek's old approach did sound rather familiar, in its small groups and the distance and delegated levels between pastors and congregation. What struck me as ironic was that the church found that its methods were not working--by questionnaire. Not by individual contact, not by the pastors' discussions with their congregation members. I think a big church will always have these unfortunate big church traits, and I can't imagine it was what Christ intended.
So I applaud the Lynnwood church for recognizing the importance of keeping its size within manageable limits and not seeking for visibility and enormity. It's a humble approach, far more in synch with the "out of the salt shaker, into the world" scattering that Jesus had His disciples go and implement.