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.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Dropping the Wheat, Dropping the Weight

At the risk of sounding self-oriented, I want to share something that has amazed me, in case it might help someone else! I have discovered that dropping wheat from my diet (generally--can't seem to excise every grain of it, but it's much less wheat) has impacted me more than I can say. I dropped it about 8 months ago, because it caused aches in my muscles, bones, and connective tissue, in other words, basically everywhere.
With the elimination of wheat, my aches lessened and then stopped. It took me a while to learn what else I could eat instead, and I still haven't learned it in detail, but I'm getting better at it. The surprise was that I have incredibly more energy than I had before, I'm feeling better, and though it took months to start happening, I'm losing weight--feeling good enough to exercise, and my appetite is so very much smaller than it was--I think the lack of energy caused by feeling so bad made me eat more to try to increase it. The smaller appetite has recently caused a much faster weight loss. I am just feeling the best and happiest (for that and many reasons) that I've felt in 20 years at least, and weigh less than I've weighed in 10 years, and just wanted to share that so that if it might benefit another, you have my report--if you're hurting or your appetite won't stop, dump the wheat and see where it takes you.
God is great! But of course, we knew that.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was, Alas, Frail Too

Wouldn't you know it--right on the heels of my including a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a blog post, I find that there's a blog article by Mitch Lewis, Bonhoeffer, Pacifism and Assassination, featured on describing his part in conspiring to kill Hitler. Now I realize that Hitler (like the rest of us but more perceptibly) deserved death, but Bonhoeffer's own writings show that he understood much better than I the importance of turning the other cheek in the extreme, against all odds. It shows the inconsistency and unreliability of man, that he can be famous, known for solid theology, and still live in a manner that opposes it. I know that, alas, many instances in my own life fall short of even my own limited understanding of God's truth.
It underscores the importance that we never put our trust in man...that doesn't mean to be mistrusting of those who by their actions you would deem trustworthy in a human sense; it doesn't mean that you have to go through life constantly, cynically expecting disillusionment from those close to you or in high positions, but it does mean that you don't hang your salvation, your soul, on any human being, and if or when they fall, you avoid following them into the pit. It does mean that you need to stand ready to rebuke, exhort, equip; to strengthen the joints that fail--you need to watch and help those who are weak as much as it depends on you. If they shove you away, that's one thing, but if they turn from their fall, you may save a soul from death.

What Wouldn't You Trade Hell For?

Society rarely gives an accurate, biblical concept of hell. The common notion seems to be that a person's "bad" friends will be there, so at least that will be some consolation; and that if bad people go there, then you can do bad things there continually without recourse, and Satan is there to host the event. To some that might sound appealing, something like a huge ongoing drinking party without fear of neighbors calling the police.
Throughout the Scriptures, God paints a very different picture of hell than what society pictures. I don't think most people would be able to so easily accept the idea of going to such a place as the biblical view. It is not a place to commune with friends; a person would be too occupied with the torment he was in to even notice them even if they were nearby.
Just as there is no heaven on earth, there is likewise nothing here to equate with the suffering and pain of hell. Picture the worst suffering you have heard of on earth and it does not equate--it simply cannot--with that of hell. I remember a news account about 8 or 10 years ago of some drunken teens walking in the dark through Yellowstone. As you might imagine, they fell into a firepot--though they pulled themselves out as fast as possible, they died. To me that is as vivid an illustration of a moment in hell as I can fathom anyone experiencing on earth--and they died in that short experience. Hell doesn't last only for that short time, but on through eternity, and the torment is ongoing. There is not the mercy of death there; that is past.
Unbelievers often say that they aren't ready to commit to Christ, which actually indicates that perhaps they aren't chosen by God, or their chosen time for salvation has not yet occurred. If it were only a matter of logic, it seems anyone could be argued into salvation...but it's not. If I were to choose an argument, though, I think clarifying what hell really is might be convincing.
What would you trade eternity in hell for? For anything, for nothing--were that possible. Trading that fiery furnace for an atom of matter or a momentary pinhole peek at heaven would be a worthwhile trade; keeping any habit or attitude that would knowingly secure your place in hell would be extreme stupidity.
On the other hand, the Scriptures assure us that the exchange would never be so meager; quite to the contrary! Instead, when a person accepts Christ as his Savior in faith, he no longer needs to live in fear of hell, but in full contrast becomes a child of God and an heir to heaven. He is made a new creation, equipped to serve Him, and gains God's approval. 2 Corinthians 5:20

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

What Would You Trade Heaven For?

Often we unthinkingly give the impression that we might know a bit what heaven is like, though we have never been there and though God tells us in 1 Cor. 2:9-10 that heaven is beyond our experience and our finite minds to imagine it; any understanding we have is given by His Spirit and still is beyond earthly words. MercyMe's song "I Can Only Imagine" is true and yet untrue in that we can imagine, but we can't imagine rightly. The lyrics ponder what it could be like, and yet we know they give nothing of the picture of it. The firsthand knowledge of heaven remains a mystery until we see it--even though in a sense our spirits know and anticipate its goodness, as in 1 Cor. 13:12. God has done many things to secure our place there and to prepare us for it, as Paul describes in Ephesians 1.
I recall the statement (though I don't know who said it), "The best thing an unbeliever will ever experience is life on this earth. The worst thing a believer will ever experience is life on this earth." It's a stunning thought, though we know it to be true. Still, we carelessly speak phrases like "a little bit of heaven," "heaven on earth," "I'm in heaven," "in seventh heaven." This discredits the awesome nature of our future hope. We do this even though there's been nothing we can even suppose is heavenly in our experience except the hope of salvation. We have
a hope and a future--but it's not promised on earth.
If there's one thought that would keep me from sinning against God, I think that would be it: "Is this worth trading heaven for?" There is nothing here that is worth trading heaven for--not any person, place or thing, no experience, no temptation. We are promised with
1 Corinthians 10:13 that there is nothing He will withhold to help us to obey Him. On the other hand, those temptations are worth trading in for heaven. Release to God all your earthly desires, give Him title to them. Psalm 37:4 tells us that if we delight ourselves in the Lord He will give us the desires of our heart--and I remember hearing that it means He will give desires, not fill desires...loving God doesn't entitle us to all we ever wanted, but what He teaches us to rightly want. I want to align myself with Him and there is nothing I can give Him that He hasn't already outgiven to me.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

We Have Every Help

I have a friend in Psalm 139. Back when I was pregnant with Tim, my doctor told me that she thought I would have to "terminate" that pregnancy...which of course I had no intention of doing, but it made the friends who knew me nervous. One pointed out that I should read Psalm 139, and while I was on two weeks' bed rest awaiting another ultrasound (why two weeks before the next one, I have no idea) I read it regularly. So its familiar and loving verses come back to me even now, almost ten years later, and assure me often--in so many contexts! Even today while I was on my morning walk around our cul-de-sac (500 steps each time around, 5 or 7 times), the verses came back..."You hem me in behind and before...such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to me, O God, and know my heart...lead me in the everlasting way." I wish I had it fully memorized (what a painful thing to have a frail mind), but all of it is familiar.
It holds the beauty of God's intimate care in creating us, and the fact that once He has done so, and launched us into our lives, He doesn't leave us there. He watches us, follows us, hems us in. The Scriptures elsewhere show just how much He does so: Jesus prayed for the people of that day in John 17, but also for us, and now intercedes for us; His Spirit intercedes for us; Paul writes his prayers to the Ephesians but more generally to the Gentiles and even more generally to all who would read the Scriptures, how we might be enlightened to know God's hope, riches and power "toward us who believe" and that we might comprehend the four-dimensional love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge and fills us to the fullness of God--who is in fact infinite. That's pretty full and overflowing!
He gives us the Scriptures, which most of us have available thankfully in their completeness at least in this part of the world...if only we were to access them to the fullest we would be proportionately more useful to God. He gives us circumstances in our lives that remind us of His goodness, such as answered prayer, the glory of His creation, the blessings that He rains down on us. He also gives us the fellowship of believers to encourage and help in that goal, to be iron sharpening iron and to use the Scriptures to benefit one another toward holiness. How can we respond to this except to love Him more and strive more toward obedience to Him? It shows the depth of our fallen nature that this at any time should be difficult. It isn't for lack of His availability toward us, but our lack of availing ourselves toward Him. Psalm 28:7

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Shouldn't Every Christian be Opinionated?

Today our church had a potluck, and in discussion at our table, it became clear that I had opinions on at least four prominent people who we discussed. One of the people at the table asked me, "You're opinionated, aren't you?" I have to admit I've had that said of me before. Can't deny it, wouldn't want to. In response I exaggerated my emphasis, saying something such as, "Every Christian should be opinionated." I think my answer further exemplifies what he was talking about. Still, the issue just may be how the opinions are expressed, because at this point I lost him. He turned to talk to someone presumably less vocal in their opinions even though I was trying to be funny.
Should every Christian be opinionated? Should every Christian be vocal?
A Christian without opinions...I don't even know what that is. We can't empirically prove that God exists, that Jesus is God, that we are saved and atheists are not, that the Bible is truly God's Word. There are many things that a person could properly assume a Christian believes, but that not even the most godly Christian can prove is true. Then I would say all these things rightly fall into the realm of opinion. I think it's true, you don't, but (to my chagrin) I can't make you believe it because of any set of earthbound undeniable facts. The Holy Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and we believe it, but if you don't believe in the Holy Spirit, (sigh) then I just have to throw my hands up and leave it at that.
How can a Christian stand firm for Christ without any opinion? Without opinion I can't say that sin is wrong, that living for God is right, that we should evangelize the lost, that Christ died for our sins, that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. I can't say that my children should follow Him, or that government shouldn't take the place of parents. I won't know how to vote on any issue.
For that matter, everyone is opinionated, even if they don't speak up. Unbelievers have opinions and no other unbeliever generally even questions them, that loving people are tolerant of all lifestyles, that abortion should be legal, that global warming is a real and urgent concern, that we should save the whales, that the spotted owl needs protection, that war is wrong, that everyone must work together to save the planet, that we should buy pink products for breast cancer funding, that we shouldn't litter. Some of these I oppose, and some I can go along with in a more casual way. I don't know what the standard of the unbeliever is except what the media promotes as the good, common-sense thing of the hour. It changes with the times.

I can only dare to take my stand on any item because I have a specific, unchanging, unapologetic, and right Standard in Christ. His Word determines my decision-making and my values and my opinions; He does not change like shifting shadows. Living by His Word has changed my life and given me peace and purpose; how can I not stand on it and against all that opposes it?
Not speaking up can be convenient for the moment, but historically, at times, the results have at times been disastrous. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” If only more people had dared to speak up in those days!
Ephesians 4:14-16 Paul exhorts us to know our doctrine, to be able to discern against deceivers, and to speak out against them; again in 6:10-18 He tells us to be strong and stand firm. How can we do this without being opinionated? That escapes me. And so I hold to my opinions and am glad for them, because many of them (not all) come from His love-letter to me (the Bible) and they help me serve my Savior who died for me. He was of the opinion (which escapes me) that I was someone somehow worth saving.