Thursday, February 28, 2008

Problems with an Imbalanced Calvinistic View

After writing this, I want to clarify: as amazingly contradictory as these two aspects seem, I at the same time believe both are true and that they work together, and we all might acknowledge a human confusion could be understandable...but after writing this, I want to reiterate that I know that every person's every breath comes from God. Our ability to respond to Him by grace through faith comes from Him. Our ability to respond by rejecting Him comes because He gives that option. It's not by works of righteousness. We can't claim that it is from any good or wisdom in us, but it is all part of His plan. Still, He gives us the ability to choose Him or to stay in our sins. Does that make sense? If all the Bible is true, it does...if all that humans can clearly understand is all that makes sense, then it doesn't.
I can't say I'm extremely schooled in Calvinism, though our family has attended a very Calvinistic church for years, until recently; still, I'm feeling as though I understand its outworkings better the farther I am from it, sort of like I came to understand algebra better after I graduated high school and saw how it worked in life. Katie presently attends a college that is quite Calvinistic as well. As time goes on and we haven't been so close up to that teaching, more and more the effects of its teachings seem to clearly want balance.
Katie was talking to a schoolmate, who was discussing the Calvinist points of view with her, and Katie was telling her how she sees that both aspects in the Bible are true: God is sovereign, and man has choice. The two work together, mostly in ways that are beyond human comprehension. The girl was amazed. She wondered how Katie could believe that both were true; Katie said, "Well, because they're both in the Bible." The girl said she realized that was the case, but she actually stated that she only believed in the sovereignty of God, not the choice of man. I think there are many who in practice, as their faith works out in their thinking, tend toward this extreme, excluding the portions they don't understand that have to do with man making the choice of salvation. God does indicate that there is a choice; it doesn't appear to be separated entirely from man's will: "Choose you this day whom you will serve..." He exhorts men to search for Him: Prov. 8:17, Jer. 29:13, Acts 17:27 all indicate there might often be a searching process in the heart of a man toward finding God.
In a seemingly contradictory stance, many Calvinists, even while they reject the verses that support man's choice, would at the same time condemn a person for not believing the whole Bible, for example, if they believed in Jesus' work on the cross but not in the biblical creation account. How can a person say they believe the Bible if they pick and choose which part they accept? Never mind if I can understand it, if the Bible says it's true, how can I object if I claim to be a Bible-believing Christian? If I expect to understand the Bible before I can believe it, then I am in trouble when I come across every miracle in the Scriptures. If I expect to understand it before I can believe it, then I must first fully understand God--who is in fact bigger than the highest human understanding. It puts me in the position of having to minimize the infinite God to fit into my human brain's definable limits. If I, in fact, accept His sovereignty as a good thing, I should be relieved and thankful to realize that He works in many ways that are beyond my understanding.
For that matter, if God is so fully sovereign to the point that it excludes any choice on the part of man, what purpose is there in witnessing to unbelievers; what purpose is there in presenting the gospel? I am not here saying that God isn't fully sovereign, but that while He is sovereign, He also delights in allowing a person to come to Him as his own personal decision. He draws him, softens his heart, opens his eyes, but the person has to respond to the truth, to the gospel of their salvation. A person does have the capacity to reject God; that option is obviously open, or the Bible would not discuss it: James 4:4 says, for example, that anyone who chooses to become a friend of the world becomes an enemy toward God.
Another vital aspect of the reality of man having a choice is that if God is fully sovereign and man's response is only subject to God's plan and not one's own choice, how can a person be accountable for his own sin? How can God condemn a person if a person has no personal ability to respond or not? How can a person sin and feel any of the horrible guilt that should rightly result, if God is the one who orchestrated it, not the person himself? This was actually another thing Katie encountered in someone else at her college: he spoke of a time when he was deep in sin, but shrugged it off because it was "all a part of God's sovereign plan." How can he feel any personal guilt and accountability, any need to confess and repent? How can he have offended God if it was basically part of God's plan? This does not fit with the biblical view in any way.
In my Bible, a good while back, I wrote a couple of quotations that I think sum up the seemingly contradictory points that God is fully sovereign and that at the same time, man has choice, voice, and impact: Charles Spurgeon, when asked how he reconciled divine sovereignty and human responsibility: "I never try to reconcile friends." Augustine wrote, "We must pray as though it all depended on God, and work as though it all depended on us." If we believe that the Bible is true, we have to accept God's sovereignty and man's choice. We have to believe in the whole counsel of God or we are going to be stunted and imbalanced, and insensitive to the needs of the unsaved. If we think God's sovereignty fully trumps us and is blind and deaf to our will, it will surely affect how we live out our faith in regard to obedience, witness, and prayer; there will be no aspect of our life that it will not impact.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

All Cultures Have Their Good and Bad Aspects

I blogged a couple of weeks later (click here) about the poverty in other countries, and I think it improves on this, as it is a related thought. I admit that I lack very comprehensive knowledge about these things, but probably most of us know that we Americans have a ridiculous life. I think most of my assumptions are pretty safe.
I got thinking as an elderly East Indian lady walked through the park behind our house this afternoon: there are features about the people of most cultures of the earth that are admirable, worthy to be imitated, even though they may come about by necessity rather than choice; even though if those people had any realistic choice they might have changed to be more American in their ways...or not, if they thought of all the ramifications.

These are some ways that I admire other cultures:
1. Many of them are oblivious to stylish clothing. This is probably mostly from necessity, for lack of a mall on every third corner because there is no money to support such things; but probably somewhat from realizing how wasteful it is to discard clothing just because of what others might think rather than because it isn't useful any more.
2. Most of them eat more wholesome diets than ours. This is probably mostly from necessity or lack of opportunity to fill their plates with Burger King Whoppers and french fries. Anyway, it has its impact on their health in that they are less prone to heart disease, diabetes and all those diet-related illnesses.
3. Most of them get more exercise than we do. However, if they had more cars, they probably would drive more often than they do at present. They would probably think it was ridiculous how many Americans pay for memberships in fitness clubs and then spend most of the next year wishing they had time to use them.
4. Most of them live more simply than we do in every regard. I wonder whether they would keep their lifestyles rather than trade them for our consumerism-driven ways. Strangely, I often envy the thought of living in a hut with hardly anything. And yet, I sure enjoy having my daily showers and running water, besides electricity and heat. And internet. Still, I want to simplify--or at least, get simple. (That is, I sure wish someone else would do the work of getting my life simplified for me! That job is...complex.)
5. (A culmination of some of the previous points) Their countries aren't the biggest importers of all sorts of garbage-destined little useless plastic trinkets, fads, disposables, and other junk.
6. Their time and money isn't consumed by entertainment and (watching others play) sports, and the salaries of their people hopefully aren't as upside-down in this regard as ours are.

These are ways I don't admire other cultures, or other countries:
1. Many of them don't have freedom to worship as they please; in fact I got an e-mail today that advertised a shirt that would be illegal in 51 countries--because it has the Christian cross on it. I sure hope this is a freedom that lasts in our United States; but then, in those countries where Christianity is illegal, you generally know that someone who admits to, or claims, being a Christian is...really a Christian. Besides, in areas of persecution, Christianity seems to spread all the better.
2. Many of them, even if they do have freedom to worship as they please, don't have much access to the Bible and the truth of Christ. I think that we Americans could be considered in part at fault for that, while we spend so much money on sports and entertainment and stylish clothes and plastic trinkets, disposables, and other junk that could be spent on Missions. On the other hand, I think I've heard that Americans do send a phenomenal amount of financial and other help to other countries, either in the name of Christ or there are at least two ways to view that issue.
3. Many of them have their lives, their livelihoods, their opportunities in life, determined to one extent or another by their government.
4. Many of them have no freedom to raise their children as they please, or in China, even to choose to have more than one child. In many countries, homeschooling is illegal or unthinkable while at present in the United States it is legal in every state.
5. Most other countries lack the basic medical care that our country offers, and many areas of the world lack basic needs such as clean drinking water.

I'm sure there are more aspects that would fit into both lists, but for now these are the things that come to my mind. I am thankful to live in a country with such great freedoms and such livability as we have, but I wish I for one were better at making decisions that were more like those features I admire. I think I'm learning, little by little.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Fellowship and Unity Among the Churches

Tonight we went to a Pine Car Derby at a neighboring church. The churches in Granite Falls do something wonderful that is new to me in all our 22 years of attending churches: they work together, they interact, they support one another, they love each other's congregations, they fellowship together, they show the unity of Christ between congregations. The pastors feel perfectly comfortable with this.
In fact, they're going to work together to spread a compiled information sheet about all the churches to the residents in the area. Volunteer members from each congregation will participate, and it's not to compete but to collaborate.
I talked to one of the women, I think her name was Charlotte, from this church tonight. She was thinking aloud about other ideas that she thought her church might plan for the summer: fellowship gatherings by bonfires outside in the summer; a potluck and hymn-sing (I've heard of them, never seen one)...then I talked with another woman, a grandmother whose name I think was Diane (maybe not). She was just bubbling over with ideas for children's get-togethers, including an upcoming one that was actually in the works to happen in a couple of weeks with pizza and games. As we went out to the parking lot along with her husband, he was talking about how he'd like to have an overnighter by a bonfire for the kids in the summer, or something. You could tell they were all just bubbling with ideas for community fellowship, and it didn't seem that they'd been told to think up ideas, that they had been brainstorming and comparing notes, from anything I could tell.
Our church had a New Years' Eve party with dodge-ball in our sanctuary. People from other churches and from the English-as-a-Second-Language classes came. Our pastor gets together with pastors from the other churches for fellowship breakfasts, and the Community Bible Church congregation and ours get together for a number of gatherings during the year; in fact the pastors and two other congregation members are heading out on a missions trip to a very far and remote area (with no particular tourist appeal) within the month.
So what gives these churches freedom to fellowship between themselves when the churches I've attended in the past would never have done such things? I think it is the pastors' contentment with the size of their congregations. They aren't striving to be huge; they trust God in His direction of people to their church or others as He will. They are aware that knowing their whole congregation is a huge plus. They aren't afraid that they'll lose their congregation to another church, and they aren't intending to draw people from another church's congregation.
Tonight's Pine Car Derby was a very sweet and simple interaction between the two church families; it wasn't costly or ornate. It isn't that everyone showed up, but it was a great opportunity for fellowship. I got to talk with people from our church and theirs, and I think the unity in Christ had to be a blessing not only for those who visibly attended, but for Christ Himself.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I'm Tuned in, and Tuned out...

Well, it's like Christmas all over again! Gary gave me an MP3 player for my Christmas present, and I'm so low-tech and slow that I just now got around to figuring out how to get things onto it. I wanted it so that I could listen to radio shows or music while I wander around the house and yard doing things. I go to and there is a great variety of speakers from which to choose--you can go to their archives and get a whole list of downloads for each speaker. Now I have John Piper playing on it. I've read some of his writings, but I haven't heard his voice that I recall. So I will become acquainted with that, and go on to other speakers as well. Elizabeth George is on there. I only have one of her books, and haven't heard her radio show.
So it will be like an ongoing Christmas, opening package after package as I hear these speakers while I go about my dishes, my taxes, my plumbing, my laundry. (Well, sort of. I'm very close to done with the taxes and plumbing, praise be to God! Dishes and laundry, well, those are job security.)
I gather you can even find language lessons that can be put on these things. So if I go around speaking Portuguese, don't think of it as miraculous. (Don't hold your breath, either.) And there are Scripture recordings for them as well. Maybe there are other "books on tape." I'm just starting to ponder the possibilities! Oh, and besides, did I say, you can listen to music?
One glitch--I haven't got anything to carry it in, except my pocket, so I find it turns off what I'm listening to, and perhaps goes on to the next thing. I'm going to have to find a solution to that (I think there are things you can fasten to yourself rather than carry it in a pocket), or it might become too much of an aggravation.
So if you're talking to me, and I don't answer, look at my ears. If they have little wires leading to them, I'm sorry, I've been tuning you out. It may make me less tolerable--it may make me more so. If I listen more and talk less, that may be an improvement.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Parting is Sweet Sorrow...

Our friends Lanae and Scott came over tonight with their three boys. I got to know her by doing the Excellent Wife study with her a couple of years ago. Her husband's in the military and so we don't see him as often as we see each other, but now they're looking to move away to Denver, and so our friendship is becoming all the more fraught with the dread of parting and we think of new ways to increase our getting together before it happens.
Our boys have hit it off--they go to music together once per week and she and I will take turns being with them and taking them for the afternoon, and at our house, when she picks her boys up, they all stay for dinner. It's been great for all of us! And though Lanae and Scott are quite a bit younger than we are, we just all get along so well, the conversation is constant and though they may intend to go and get the kids home for bedtimes, it tends to run on for another hour before they actually leave. This parting thing has been something of a pattern for Tim; he's made friends with various military family boys, or just other boys that have moved far away, and this is probably the closest family that he's been having to face that with so far. It's tough.
Perhaps this potential for parting makes us value friendships all the more; I would say it makes us appreciate our time with this family all the more, though we've been happy for their friendship and how easy it is from the time we got to know each other. Scott says that on his ship, there are co-workers who are suddenly realizing he won't be there any more, and their friendships with him that had been quite casual are suddenly becoming closer. It's a strange phenomenon, that we sometimes have to realize we're going to lose a relationship to start appreciating it.
The good thing is that we will probably keep in touch by e-mail, by phone, and maybe they or we will be able to visit, and they are talking about moving back when he's done in three years' time. It's still hard to lose them. Today's conversation was marked by a lot of their plans to get rid of furniture and belongings (I relate; we're doing the same thing) and the other natural concerns that come with a change of location and job position. I think I understand better now when Stacia next door gets edgy when I talk about us moving (though as time progresses I realize that preparing our house and scaling back our belongings is likely to take more work and time than I was thinking). But we're not moving to Denver--probably just closer to our church about 15 or so minutes' drive away. It's funny though. A year ago we were almost all-systems-go to move to Colorado ourselves, before it was the destination of our friends--though we had our sights on Colorado Springs rather than Denver. I had already spent significant time reading about it online (Colorado Springs was rated the most liveable city in America), looking at for the area (real estate prices there were about half what they are here), and I'd called various places regarding moving equipment and alternatives to figure out costs.
Instead we fell in love with this church we're attending, our whole family did, and now we can't think of unfastening ourselves for such a move as Colorado, though being sort of close to Lanae and Scott and their boys (for that three years) would surely be a plus if we did. I'm sure glad we're not in the military and subject to having them plan the course of our geographical locations. Granite Falls may just be stuck with us; how could we leave now? In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. (Prov. 16:9) I'm glad that's the case, He definitely knows better than we do what is best. His sovereignty often (read: nearly constantly) trumps my intentions, and it is a very good thing.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Things That Bring Visitors to my Blog

I love to look at what brings people I don't know, or who don't know me, to my blog. I can look at my sitemeter and find out what Google search has brought them to view it. Then I wonder what thinking brought them to make that particular search.
The most prevalent is a search for something along the lines of "before I formed you in the womb I knew you." I suppose many of these are studying the Bible and are intrigued by this passage. How amazing it is to think that God knows us before we are even formed! This should cause a person to ponder the extreme love that God has for us; imagine how much we love a newborn baby we barely know--God has known that baby actually, the Bible says, since before the foundation of the world. And His love is perfect, complete, and infinite.
Some come looking up air-soft pellet guns. This makes me laugh some, because it's so incidental in my life--not really in our lives at all, though Tim has been pleading and haranguing me and finding any new angle to change my mind about letting him have one (he doesn't know, but I'm kind of softening on this one). The blog entry that readers might reach about this might not even have to do with air-soft guns but about the size of the earth in relation to the sun, and how enormous God's creation is.
Some come looking up bb guns. That's a humorous blog, since the only one I ever knew to shoot another person (other than with air-soft guns) was a pastor. (Not our latest one, but a few years back.)
Some come looking up Bonhoeffer, which somewhat concerns me because I blogged about him with really minimal knowledge about him. I quoted him, a quote that I've known for eons, it seems...without having read his writings...and then read an article about him, and blogged on that. So that might end up less than satisfying to the reader.
I find also that my siblings have looked up a family friend's name on Google and come across an entry I wrote about him--the first Christian I remember ever knowing, a Japanese man...who beat us at being kind. It made an impression on me! But I guess my blog made some impression on my family, because I note that it's been accessed three times, always by places where my family lives. I guess they weren't that interested in the rest of my blog, because only one of them looked anywhere else on it and hasn't been back to it since.
Someone recently looked up planarians' feeding habits. Believe it or not, they found a blog entry about it. I love that one. I hope they enjoyed it too--it has to do with contrasting focus on something a bit disgusting in contrast with focusing on the glory of God. I still remember vividly the occasion that brought me to write that one.
One came to look up cornual pregnancies; that one I particularly prayed for, because when my doctor thought my last pregnancy was cornual, she was recommending that I terminate it. That was the pregnancy that was Tim, who is now 10 years old, now playing in the basement with two of his friends...and who God knew before the foundation of the world.
My hope is that some of these people, even one, might read something here about God's goodness, His great wonders that He has done, that He has even chosen to do some of these great things for me, and that they might know that He would do great things for them as well. If only one person realizes the goodness of God as a result, not one letter that I have ever blogged would be a waste. And He is in all ways infinitely good, He's shown it in every aspect of my life.

One Plants, One Waters, and God Gives the Increase

Katie called today just as I was leaving to take Tim to his music class. She had been doing "outlines," an assignment where she takes a book of the Bible and analyzes it chapter by chapter. This semester she is doing Romans. "Mom, reading Romans makes me just fall in love with the gospel all over again." Wow. Who could want to hear anything better from her daughter off at college? And I have been pondering similar things. How in Ephesians so much of what God's great power and love have done on behalf of us, not because we were any good but because He is everything good...I have already blogged about how my life response pales so badly in comparison to what He has done for me. It seems that I could by now have done some great and amazing things in response, but I can't think of much of anything remarkable. I'm living what seems to be an ordinary life, in response to such a spectacular God.
While Tim was in his classes, I skeetered out the door and back into the car to pick up a library book, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, by John Piper. The sentences at the start of Chapter 3 hit the nail on the head: "Christ does not exist to make much of us. We exist in order to enjoy making much of Him." That's exactly right. It isn't that I need to have a tv ministry or a radio ministry or teach classes or be known by mankind in any way (not that any of these are my idea of significance, more a one-to-one kind of thing), but if only I could say I knew that I had directed people away from sin and toward living a life in Christ, I would think that then my life could show why God had chosen to do such a saving work in me. (Not that I need to understand this, but I sure would find it encouraging!)
Still, just the other day some people who had done missionary work were telling me that it's something of an American idea to quantify how effective one's ministry is by how many come to Christ through it. In reality, I know this to be true; I don't think less of missionaries who never see anyone come to Christ through their ministry, but I can only admire their faithfulness in spite of not seeing the fruit. One plants seeds, one waters, but God gives the increase. I know that the man at Boeing who unlocked my brain from misunderstanding to understanding about Christ's resurrection and ascension probably doesn't know I came to Christ as a result.
In my conversation with Katie, we discussed how it's easy to see how a person can think they've become saved all over again each time they feel the renewed joy of it; children especially seem to experience this, and it's definitely a dry time when a person can take salvation for granted. All the more joy, though, when we see the new life in a person who we've personally impacted!
I can only pray to stay faithful when I don't know what is happening in the hearts of those around me...any who I might impact in any way...and pray that any good seeds of God's truth that I have the privilege of planting might get watered, and increase, and spread further...though I may never see much of the result this side of heaven.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Passion and Obedience

Last night during Bible study I was commenting how Paul's statement, "You did not learn Christ in this way" seems so emphatic that it's like it's double-underlined...and so I got thinking about Paul. Too bad that they didn't use punctuation in those days! I think if they had, his emphasis on so many things would have seemed so much more obvious to the average everyday reader, so emphatic, so passionate, so zealous. Of course, also, if I knew the original Greek, maybe much more of that would already be obvious to me. We tend, I think, to read the Bible quietly, as quiet seems to be the reverent manner. I suppose it is reverent, yet I wonder how true to Paul's way of communicating a quiet reading can be.
I love Paul's passion. I love his determination, his tendency to only be dominated by the Spirit of Christ and nothing else, except as the Spirit dictates. To be useful to God when a person is so determined, we have to be dominated by the Spirit. If we're not obedient to Him, how can we be useful for anything He has set out for us to accomplish? We have to belong to Christ and live like we are fully committed to Him. If we are determined as Paul was, and not living obedient to God, we're all the more useful to the devil and opposing all the more what we would otherwise promote.
Paul had seen something of heaven; he'd heard the audible voice of Christ; we can see how that launched him into an unmatched work for God. We are to follow those who follow Christ, and as Paul followed Him so closely, so clearly impassioned for Him through what he had experienced, if only we could match him step for step, really following the example of Paul.
So here I am, going from doing dishes to taxes to plumbing to laundry, and not often seeing the steps of Paul very clearly to follow in all of this work. The other day I was quite overcome by a sudden, intense longing to be done with it all, to be in heaven, to never have to deal with the mundane things of life, to no longer have to slog through the mess of my earthly possessions, to be in heaven; it was like my face was pressed up to the "glass darkly" which is all through which we can see any small glimpse of heaven. I had to go upstairs and go take a shower and try to pull myself out of it, it was so intense. It did pass, but the remaining impression was how ordinary my living is, how much I long to do something excellent for God. How much I long to, but how? But when? In my everyday life, step by step, surrendering to His will, it may not seem much to anyone else. God sees all that I do and what goes on within me. Maybe if I can stay obedient and do this to His glory, He will give me greater things. Maybe even if it remains so small and confined, my life can amount to something in His sight, so that He can say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I'm Slow, But I Get There Eventually...

I hope that being persistent is a worthy compensation for being slow. Normally I have a number of projects that I work on, and when I hit a wall on one, I leave it for a while to marinate while I work on something else, meanwhile pondering the problem with the first thing. Right now is no exception. For weeks I have been pondering the re-assembly of our bathroom sinks after having our counters replaced. It should never have taken so long. A plumber could do each in 15 minutes or less, I'm sure, but I got puzzled by some metal parts I got for the drain, thinking they might work better than the plastic ones we had before. I kept thinking that the flange was supposed to tighten better than I could make it do to the lower part that pokes up through the hole of the sink to connect with it. It remained loose and I thought the plumber's putty was causing the slippage; it is slippery stuff. It took me so much of this time to go back and try again and again, only then to find that there's a big nut (a metal one, not the human one) on the underside of the sink that I can tighten and the whole thing is solved. Now I just need to assemble them--which took a couple of trips to the hardware store because now I have another inch that the drain has to reach, so an extension is in order.
Meanwhile, I'm working on our taxes. I've never deducted college expenses before and there are at least three ways to do it. Katie wants this expedited so we can complete her Fafsa--but life goes on and I have to ponder it while I do other things. It percolates in my head while I work on the drains, and while I do the dishes, and while I make dinner...but that's how I work. There are always plenty of projects that I can re-try while the others wait.
My mom used to complain that I never finish anything. I think if she'd only waited a few more years, some of my projects would have been done and she could have found I wasn't so bad after all. I have finished cooking a huge number of meals since then, for example. And thankfully, those didn't take weeks for me to figure out.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Cold, Sand, and Flashlight

Barnacles and sea slugs, anemones and shrimpy bugs...okay, so I'm not a poet. Still, these animals are on my mind! We were nose-to-er...who-knows-what with them last night. Gary found a blurb in the newspaper promoting the WSU Beach Watchers starlight beach walk in the extreme minus tide. It's not typical for Gary to pick up on those types of things, but this time he did with great enthusiasm, asking everyone he could whether they'd want to go along. We only got one taker, Richard, a friend of Tim's.
Richard was admonished by his mom not to go swimming...she said he would if she didn't tell him not to. He was wearing the full-height rubber boots, and had his head lamp so he wouldn't have to carry a flashlight. Ready to go! I promised her we'd keep track of him and not let him get washed away.
It didn't take long after we'd arrived for the boys to head off apart from us. We walked in the wrong direction looking for them, so when we turned around and finally found them I was a bit perplexed to see them in water up to near the top of their boots. It took three times telling them to get out of the water for them to get all the way back onto the sand, hesitating like toddlers would because they were loathe to leave it. I could envision them losing their footing and falling in, and me being responsible for the resultant hypothermia. After a thorough explanation of why they needed to stay with us, we continued and saw everything we could find of what the sand and pilings were willing to share with us.
There wasn't as much sea life as we might have hoped, since it's not a beach full of very big rocks, but we looked at those things we could find and talked with the volunteers who were so happy to share what they knew of the animals. I told them the things I remembered seeing at Coos Bay when I was at a camp there, the pycnopodia and the gumboot chiton (I always think of footballs when I see them), little octopi and ceramic crabs. When I told them that some of the students at our camp had been talked into putting their tongues on the anemones, they laughed. I guess they knew the resultant numb tongue; they were too kind to ask any of us to do the same. (That was one of the few occasions in my youth that I exhibited any wisdom, was in not trying that little experiment. I guess I've always valued my power of speech a little more than I might.)
Strangely enough, there were anemones that appeared to be fastened not to rock, but to the dense sand deposits in the area, among the sea grasses that grew there. All of these anemones were tiny, whereas on the rocks they grow to quite a bit larger. I think it shows that this sand was an unfavorable place for an animal intended for the solid grounding that only a rock can give--either the stress of being less-fastened kept them small, or after reaching a certain size, I imagine they might be too big for the sand to hold them any longer, and they would wash away before maturity. It was the only place that my mind could imagine to connect with life in Christ. We are intended for life on the Rock. The shifting sands will keep us small and we will not withstand the storms, but lose our footing and be washed away.
Even though the fauna of the area was limited, I think the boys enjoyed it. Perhaps they would have been happy with the outing even if we hadn't found anything; just getting out and poking around in a cold, messy area by flashlight in the dark of the night was right up their alley. Seeing a few critters that weren't native to their neighborhood habitats was just a bonus. Still, next time (and I hope there will be a next time soon, it was very much fun), I think we will go to Mukilteo Beach where the sea life is said to be much more plentiful.
I wish we were more prone to get away and do these things! Viewing more aspects of God's creation brings a greater awareness and appreciation of His wonderful works. Besides the fact that it's just plain fun.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Knowledge, Love and the Building of the Church

This post was inspired by a number of circumstances in my life, as you may observe--the last being a call from my daughter, telling of a prominent Christian speaker who was tearing down the beliefs of other Christians, even calling their salvation into question, based on his view, which they don't share, of the Scriptures.
Tim will often ask me, pondering the thought processes of some animal that has caught his attention, how smart that animal is. "Mom, how smart is a barnacle?" And not knowing of any way to assess the intelligence of such an animal, even though I suspect its intelligence to be quite limited, I don't know how to answer him. So I say something to the effect that, "It is just as smart as God intended it to be--it has all that it needs to live its life in its particular surroundings." It's true. It's smarter than I am about how it needs to go about living its life--I would never know how I could fasten my head permanently to a rock and shovel food from the ocean into my mouth, as I recall being told they live their life. (How anyone knew that the glued-on part was the head or that the feathery part that came out was the foot, I remember wondering at the time that someone told me that at an oceanography camp I attended as a kid. I think someone must have assumed something along the way about these strange animals.) The important thing is, the barnacle knows what it's doing and can survive the toughest storms because it does just exactly what God intended it to do--no more and no less.
In my last entry I blogged about joy and how my emotions seem to outpace my knowledge or wisdom; just lately I have been reading A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, by Eugene Peterson. It's a book covering the Song of Ascents, the Psalms that the Hebrews sang as they would go up to Jerusalem for the feasts. I find many of these psalms amazingly comforting, something in which the soul can rest--and the further explanations given expand on this, such that I often have to pause to ponder and pray, because they address an issue of one kind or another in my life. In fact I'm wondering whether that has been the catalyst that has brought the joy that I've been experiencing lately; probably so, because even in the reading I feel it.
The latest psalm it has covered is Psalm 131; in NASB it says, "O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD From this time forth and forever."
The writer is, forgive me for the simplicity and perhaps seeming insult, like the barnacle I described above. I don't mean it as an insult, but as an illustration of a proper response to God's design. The writer is submitting himself to just what God designed for his life. He's not seeking out knowledge or wisdom that is beyond God's design for his life, beyond his functioning point. He finds contentment in knowing enough, in being what he is supposed to be, and he rests.
I realize that in my blog entries, sometimes I grapple with things that are on the edge of (or maybe beyond) my understanding. I am inclined to ponder them to a point and realize that there's much beyond what I can fathom, but what God gives me is useful for my life. It's important to ponder God, to wrestle with the truths that are in His word such that a person can properly apply the Word to his life and live it out in obedience. But I don't know that we are all called to be much beyond that, theorizing and concluding things that aren't necessarily specified clearly in the Scriptures.
In John 17:33, in Jesus' High Priestly prayer, one of the priorities that is uppermost in His mind is that we as believers are unified. It is one of the things He most cares about when He prays to the Father, or else in that prayer He no doubt would have said something that mattered more. He wants us to know it, too, or it wouldn't have been included in the Scriptures. Unity is of uppermost importance to God. In Ephesians 4, the unity of believers is described as imperative for the building of the Church, which I believe is central to the will of God. When we wrestle beliefs out of the Scriptures that aren't clearly there, and those beliefs separate us from other believers, that tears down the unity and is destructive to the building process. Not only is the building of the Church described in Ephesians, one of the great things that Jesus has accomplished that is described there is the tearing down of the dividing wall between the Jews and the Gentiles, before the start of the building with Himself as the cornerstone is even mentioned. What we need is to function the way God wants us to, basing all that we believe on what the Scriptures clearly say and allowing for the different interpretations that don't conflict with these. To separate with other believers based on our own unsubstantiated theories is to build up a new dividing wall; it appears to me that it smacks directly against the will of God. "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up"--and it's vital that we love and build up others, and work toward building up the Church as a whole, rather than let ourselves be puffed up to our own glory.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Purpose of Joy

Joy is a subject I've been pondering lately, seeing as I have been experiencing the abundance of joy coming in a rather roller-coaster mode lately. Not great low dips, but great high heights, such that I can't contain it, beyond measure--and I can't fully account for all of it (not that the quantity of joy given is something that can be accounted for), so it makes me wonder at the function of joy. Why did God make joy--what use can it be? It seems of all the emotions the least functional, but also perhaps the most sought. I think it is something that God gives as a reward, a comfort, an expression of His presence in a believer's life.
I try to imagine what life would be like without joy, and it's pretty unthinkable--boring, lifeless, unresponsive. We recognize our need for God in knowing our lack of joy and we long for it, long to know Him; we know He lives in us because He fills us with joy. It doesn't have to do with our circumstances (though I think that's something we have a tendency to forget), because even though we may have little happiness per se, we may still have abundant joy.
If I had as much power in my knowledge stores as I do in my emotions, I would be well-equipped. If I also had as much wisdom as I do emotions, I could do anything. But it seems that my emotions are the most abundant of these three things (though wisdom is available from God for the asking, and I ask Him for it frequently). Perhaps this is the purpose of joy: it is God's stamp that He is working, that He sees, that He loves and cares. It doesn't directly empower me, and yet it enables me to rise above circumstances and ponder and worship God rather than just wallow in selfish thoughts; rising above, then, enables me to ponder others and get a proper perspective that any difficulty I face is not the only one out there, nor is it the worst. So joy is a power of sorts, and helps me to soar on eagle's wings, as God has promised; joy enables me to persevere and to stand firm whatever my circumstances, to seek to do His will, to glorify Him in all my being.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Tim Turns Ten

Today our house is surrounded by a number of wild, crazy males bearing arms. Well, they're 9- to 12-year-old males bearing Nerf guns and toy light sabres. Last year, I planned out Tim's birthday party in detail, to the point that I had gathered enough game ideas that I was sure that I could keep them busy for the duration of the time that they were here. As I went along it got more and more frustrating trying to keep the attention of the boys so that I could tell them what came next. It was increasingly evident that they didn't want to play games, and so to my surprise, what they chose instead was to go down into our basement and play on our foosball game table. They went down and for the remainder of the time kept themselves perfectly happy just hanging out together.
So this year, we didn't plan any games. Tim and I cleaned the basement (you have no idea what that means unless you've seen the "before" picture--suffice it to say, we're getting rid of about 5 bins of toys and accumulation), and I planned food...lots of food! And the boys couldn't be happier. We left the Nerf guns and light sabres, yoyos, bongo drums, and jenga blocks in easy reach, and put out the card table to fill with food. The boys played on the foosball table for a brief time, and then went to Nerf guns--first inside, then when they got too warm they went outside. They kept themselves busy for quite a while, then came in for cake.
I think they enjoyed themselves--they kept thanking me, whereas I thanked them in return. What's a party without guests? They made it. I love seeing Tim get older; life gets easier, and I think that's a nice return on the work of raising him to this point. In spite of the fairly wide age range, and the fact that not all of them knew each other to start with, they were all relating well all the way through. I am blessed! God is great. He keeps showing me, even though I already know it.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Obedience is Impossible!

The challenge about obedience is that it is impossible for me to do by myself. I remember a little three-year-old girl visiting and I asked her to go into the house because I couldn't watch her continually on the sidewalk. Her answer, convincing enough in her own mind, was, stamping her foot on the sidewalk, "But I don't WANT to!" Even though it sounded childish and unconvincing to me (and very reasonable to her), at the same time, it's the chant that I continually hear in my own mind when I am called to obedience. God doesn't call me to obedience in the things I already want to do; He calls me to obey where I don't want to. That's the thing that makes it obedience.
I remember one of our first churches, where one of my main impressions was that grace got trampled on quite a bit. People would continually say, "But we live in an era of grace." Hallelujah that we do! Still, in the New Testament, grace is not a reason to disobey and think that we are getting away with it. "Shall sin increase that grace may increase all the more? May it never be!" says Paul in his emphatic manner. May it never be! I should never trample on grace.
God calls me to obey in loving Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. The next thing is that I am to love my neighbor as I love myself. He says elsewhere that I am to honor all men, that I am to respect my husband, that I am to consider others as better than myself, that I am to obey authorities, that I am to forgive others 70 x 7 times. Then I quarrel, "What if they're not acting honorable?" "What if he's not acting respectable?" "What if they clearly aren't 'better' than myself--by what I can see?" "What if they've shown no remorse, no repentance, what if they haven't asked for forgiveness?" "What if the authorities are unreasonable?" God doesn't give me an out. He doesn't say, "...if they're worthy...if he's respectable...if they're better than you...if they're repentant...if they're reasonable." He just says to do it. He, after all, is the ultimate authority in my life, and He says to do it.
Obedience is hard--nay, it's impossible! I can't do it in my strength, because even if I do, then it's outward obedience and I'm chafing inside. I can only do it through Him. Nothing is impossible with God. So I must ask Him to help me, and then, only then, am I able to obey. Only then am I treating others as I want to be treated and fulfilling the second greatest commandment, to love my neighbor as I love myself.