Monday, March 31, 2008

The Pastor Goes on Sabbatical

After 17 years of ministry at our church, our Pastor Ken is going on his first sabbatical coming up this month. I have gotten the impression that this is not fully understood by everyone; people haven't been saying anything particular that I've heard, but one person expressed that she had wanted to hear what the speaker from our denomination came to say (though he barely touched on the matter of sabbaticals--their purpose and what we were to expect to have happen through them). I asked Pastor whether people had supported or opposed it. He said they hadn't said much either way, which I think he supposed meant they didn't know what to think of it. I am supporting it entirely, because I've had the benefit of reading one of Eugene Peterson's books, The Contemplative Pastor, where he described the healing and focus and restoration that came from his church sending him on sabbatical. His lasted a year; Pastor Ken will be gone three months.
I think that people tend to think that such an amount of time "off work" is automatically time that is expected to be filled with travel and entertainment to whatever extent a person can afford it. However, that is not the general goal of a sabbatical, and Pastor Ken has resisted the idea of a trip when it was suggested--he is staying fairly closeby and intentionally not traveling during the time. It is a foreign idea to most of us, but a travel time would add its share of strain and distraction, disallowing the intended time to be spent in reflection, study, and prayer.
Pastor will have just returned from a missions trip that was productive but in all ways strenuous, and he was sick and tired even before he left. I don't expect that he will come back at all rested--probably all the more exhausted. He really needed the sabbatical for months before the missions trip happened. He is the one worker who is almost always physically present at our little church, and though we have another pastor (who works in construction part-time), and we also have capable elders, I get the impression that the bulk of the ministry falls on Pastor Ken--he does most of the sermons and pretty much sees about the running of the church, ministering to the people, and I think he tries to do more than he should be called upon to do because at times there aren't others doing all that needs to be done.
Because the church is small, I think people suppose that the pastor's job is small. If you contrast a small church with a large one, though, a large one has a staff of workers all through the week along with many volunteers and probably more funds for those things that the congregation can't do. Our small church has one full-time pastor, a part-time pastor and an elder board, and then a small congregation. There isn't the staff and there aren't so many people to do or fund the surrounding work. There aren't as many observers who notice the details of the things that need to be done. By the time you subtract the older and crippled folk, the moms who have lots of children that they homeschool, the men who work full-time, and the young people who are overwhelmed with just starting out in life, there are few left who have the time and focus to do the remaining work. The pastor walks in and out of his study and the things to do stare him in the face week after week unless someone does them. A person calls and the pastor answers the phone, rather than a receptionist. No one screens the calls. Someone knocks on the door, and the pastor goes to answer it. His job is probably enormously bigger than that of the pastor in a large church. I think the reason I notice this is because I've been a member of many larger churches, this is the first smaller church I've seen, and I know that the contrast would be staggering to the person experiencing it. It's ironic that the small-church pastor with so much on his shoulders realizes less recognition than the one with the huge support system around him.
Pastor says he needs to get away to re-evaluate, to hear what God has to say, to line his ministry up with God's priorities. I think that he gets pulled in a variety of directions, more than any person should. I am amazed that his temperament stays as calm and quiet and gentle as it does. I think mine would go ballistic in short order with all the daily demands that he faces!
Not only will a sabbatical be good for Pastor Ken, but it will be good for the church. If nothing else, it will help us just to see how big a hole is left when he leaves. I don't think it will be like the picture of removing a boat from the water, where the space the boat took is immediately displaced by water such that it leaves no impact. It will be more like having a huge tractor remove a tree from its soil--it will leave a gaping hole where all the roots, big and small, had become accustomed to the tunnels they had made in their surroundings, winding around rocks and clinging to anything stable. We will keep expecting the tree to be there, and keep falling into the hole. After a little while, we'll learn to bring a bucket of dirt to help fill in the hole. Perhaps by the time Pastor returns, the hole will be filled--there won't be another tree there, but the gap will be such that we're no longer getting hurt by falling into the hole he left. He'll be welcome back, of course, but perhaps in part because of our filling that hole, he'll be able to stand a little taller, digging his roots into some fresh soil. And we'll see him in the new light that comes with the refreshment of his time away and new perspective.
In pondering the matter of the sabbatical, today I googled "pastor sabbatical" and came up first with an article from Christianity Today called Give 'Em a Break--and I think it does a good job at presenting from a first-person description what the benefits are. It also adds some compiled suggestions for providing the money to pay for a sabbatical. Believe me, if our little church can do it, probably any church can!
A Review of the Video: Why You Should Give Your Pastor a Sabbatical, Roy Oswald, Senior Consultant with the Alban Institute quotes its presenter, Oswald, as saying, “90% of what a pastor does is invisible to 90% of the people 90% of the time.” For those who doubt the necessity of this sabbatical, I think perhaps this explains why they would wonder--the work isn't like building a visible brick wall; it's spiritual work. Eugene Peterson describes pastoral work as being like the angles of a triangle: time in prayer, time studying the Scriptures, and time working among the flock; he says that these aren't things that observers can evaluate as to whether they are being done or not. The time these things consume depends on the conscientiousness of the pastor. It's not much wonder that we might not appreciate this work fully, when we can't really see or evaluate the actuality of it.
Not only does the pastor need to do those three main things, but you can imagine how the natural earthly demands of a church, such as the maintenance of the building, might tend to worm their way into this triangle of responsibility and weaken the structure and focus of the pastor's work; every member of the congregation might have their unique opinions, requests, confusions, demands...and if (considering Oswald's quote) they don't see that the pastor has much work to do, they might be surprised and disappointed if he doesn't respond according to their expectations. This video review article is good also, in that it presents what a sabbatical requires of the congregation, and a list of its benefits.
Nine Marks (a website for equipping pastors) has an article about it too, Caring for the Pastor: The Sabbatical. This has good advice for the church, recommending constraints that make the most of the sabbatical time.
I hope that our church will discover all the benefits that comes from this sabbatical. I hope that they will consider providing one every few years from this point on. I hope and expect also that this sabbatical is just what is needed to restore Pastor Ken to a new energy and enthusiasm. I've never seen a pastor who deserved it more.
Today (4/6) Pastor was talking to us about his upcoming sabbatical. I thought of my closing sentence here when in reference to the sabbatical he said something to this effect: "I don't deserve anything. I don't deserve this sabbatical. I have never really felt right taking a paycheck from you." I've never heard this kind of talk from a pastor before--and he receives less pay even now for all he does than any other pastor of ours ever did, even the one 20 years ago who was having dinner at our house and complaining about his low pay--which wasn't all that low, to be quite honest; and that one didn't even really preach from the Bible, and he had a secretary besides.

The Attitude of Grumbling vs. Gratitude

I have to say lately I have not been in an appreciative mode. I've been pondering things that I see as needing improvement in my life, and complaining in my mind about them. This morning I woke up realizing just how bad it had become, and there's a big need for a turnaround. As if God has not blessed me! As if others don't have it much worse! (Even most others. Even people across the street. Even people with more money. Even people with...well, I'd hardly trade places with almost anyone. Probably anyone, if I knew all the facts.)
There aren't very many things I remember about my dad, and the things that I do recall are very random. For example, I remember that he used to say that if you envy someone, remember that you'd have to take everything about their life, not just the one aspect of which you are jealous. He wasn't a believer, but he realized the ugliness of envy and discontent. The other day, Tim was talking about a neighbor across the street, whose father works for an airline--and I'm not sure that Tim was discontent or envying particularly, but he was observing their ability to travel. The family goes on frequent trips to Hawaii and the like. Still, the mother works outside the home, the father commutes to the airport (about an hour one-way), I find the father quite disagreeable, and I wouldn't trade my kids for theirs with a billion dollars thrown in. Just the idea of the mother working was enough to put it in perspective for Tim, and that made me realize all the more how much I'm thankful for being an at-home mom. I don't stay home because we're so rich and can afford it (sometimes we really can't, but we do anyway); I stay home because we've seen first-hand how my working wrought havoc in our lives, and that was just at the beginning of raising kids. My being home has become a priority, and I hope that it will continue.
There are times when I've caught myself being grumbly and started listing in my mind the things for which I have to be thankful. They are many!
1. Jesus Christ saved me. Hallelujah! (This alone trumps any complaint I might have.)
2. I have a kind and loving husband, two children who I think are progressing well, a home, and too many trappings of American life. I suffer from over-abundance, if anything.
3. We have good health. Okay, I'm rather plump and have a weird little bump on my shoulder that's been there for years, and foot problems, but we don't have any big problems in regard to our health. And it's not because we deserve it--we aren't so incredibly fitness and nutrition minded.
4. We live in a beautiful part of a free country.
5. We have an amazing community of believing friends and belong to the most wonderful church around.
I don't think I'll go on. It might sound like I'm gloating or bragging, and I'm not. But slap me if I complain, would you? Any complaint of mine is just stupid and it's because of God's grace that I haven't been hit with a lightning bolt in recent times. God is great...but then I knew that. Really, I did. Okay, one more.
6. God is great! knew that, didn't you? Now go make your list of things for which you are thankful, will you?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

My Travels on the Internet

I love having internet access. I was thinking today how much it enables me to get so much done, to investigate things, to learn and enjoy. I'm sure every user of it has a different collection of favorite websites that they visit, and who knows just how much more we could get done if we availed ourselves of all that was there for our particular needs, but we just don't know the resources that we have at our fingertips.
Years ago, when the internet first came out, I had it already condemned in my mind as a place of evil, that there was so much filth available that I didn't want access to it in our home. So for years we went without. Then we attended a Missions conference in Vancouver, BC, and at one of the missions exhibits, a man spoke with me about its usefulness in just being able to communicate with people the world over by e-mail at a touch of a button. He described the internet as being like a big city--there are streets you know are safe, and there are streets you don't go down because of the dangers that lurk there. So we signed up for it, and since then we've been hooked. I thought I'd share a smidgen of the ways I use the internet, and hope that this listing might make your internet use a bit more useful.
I blog, as you obviously know. Go to and start your own blog! I recommend it. Studying the Bible, as I often need to look up a verse for my blogging or for other purposes, I go to is probably more excellent in the surrounding aspects of Bible study. If I need to know the meaning of a word, I go to, and there are various aspects of word study that I can do there. For an antique dictionary that contains biblical reference, I go to
My favorite search engine is, which I think might be because it's so catchy and easy to type, but whatever, I like it.
If Tim wants to watch a movie, I look it up on or to find a Christian review before he watches it. It has spared us a lot of grief in watching nasty movies. If I want secular information on a movie, I go to (internet movie database).
I listen to Christian radio shows any time of the day or night, even if they're not on local radio, by going to I can download them to my mp3 player. I also go directly to our local Christian radio station websites and can play them live from our computer--which means I could access any station the world over. I read magazine articles without purchasing magazines (I hardly ever buy one) by going to their websites. If I want to check some books out of our library, I go to their website (for us it's and browse through their online listing of books or videos, reserving any I want. Then when I go in, all that are available are on a shelf waiting for me. It's so nifty, I love it!
I find recipes by going to I find ways to fix things at I find medical advice by going to If I want to know where an item is cheapest in our area, I go to,, them on google). If I want to know the hours or location of a store, I can look online.
If I need an address, I go either to or I can find how to get to someone's house or other destination, or how many miles it is to someplace, by going to If I want airline tickets, I can go directly to the airline without needing a travel agent. If I want to know what the weather is likely to be, I go to, and I can even get an hour-by-hour and a 10-day forecast there...and not just for where I am, but most cities with which I might have any connection. If I want to know how our time zone compares with another, I go to and it clarifies what can be a rather confusing subject. For outdoor websites, such as for hiking and outings, a google search will turn up and various related sites. I remember when we were looking for the church we attend now, I found the map and phone number for it online too.
For job search, we've used,,, found specific companies and recruiters by using google. We also go to specific corporations and check out their employment links. Gary has an e-mail that is devoted to his job search, because he gets a lot of junk mail and besides, it's easier to keep things sorted out away from family e-mail. It works well to do it this way.
I like looking at real estate websites, and my favorite is though I also like,, and I look at for ideas on how to fix up our house, and will be looking closer at all their articles on how to make a house more appealing when it comes time to sell--and then again at articles regarding being a smart homebuyer as well.
Back when we thought we were going to move to Colorado (before we found the church that again anchored us into the area), I did a lot of research regarding what that area's like, even finding that it and our current location are almost the exact same distance from Katie's college. I looked at the real estate websites, and also the tourism ones. I still think it would be fun to investigate Colorado. I don't think we'll move there, though.
If I want to research a bill going through the state legislature, or give input to my state legislators, I can go to For federal legislation, go to These also have other helpful related links. Focus on the Family has, a website connected with its magazine regarding legislative and other community issues, and Family Research Council, at, is a reputable Christian organization with the same focus. Sometimes also I've gone directly to a corporate website to give them input regarding objectionable commercials. Just today I found out that the President's Council on Physical Fitness is putting on the First National President's Challenge, encouraging Americans to be more physically active--and their website is up by April 3. (It's not that I'm so athletically minded--I hope to get inspired there.) At MSN's money website (found it on google) I found out today on a life expectancy calculator that I am expected to live to age 84. Sounds alright to me, I think, but maybe I can be healthier for those years, or live longer, if I walk more.
So there you have a little picture into how much can be done online. It's good for rounding out (or slimming down?) or simplifying a person's life. Of course, you probably already knew that, or you wouldn't have found my blog. Ha. Well, may God bless you in all of it anyway. And of course, stay on the safe streets, will you?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Keeping the Faith, Walking Worthy is Worth the Sacrifice

Today I received a prayer request that referred to a tragic situation in a church, that a pastor had disqualified himself from ministry. How far that reaches in impact among all those who are affected by his wasted testimony, we will never know this side of heaven, but we know that there's nothing on earth that was worth doing so. You can see that Satan had a hand in this, no doubt seeing the far reaches of the man's ministry potential more than we in the human realm could know. Imagine what this man lost in the careless and foolish moment of weakness: Eternity, first and foremost. Well, we can't say for sure that he lost it entirely, but what a better eternity we know he would have experienced, if he had stayed faithful to his calling! Second, God's confidence in the man's work, that he might impact so many more souls in the remaining days that are allotted to him. Third, his relationship with his wife--her trust in him damaged beyond entire repair. Fourth, his relationship with his children and relatives--who see him close-up and know they can't depend on him to point them in the direction of truth, and who know too well what harm he did in all his relationships. Fifth, his church--no small consideration, that every member of the congregation and all their families will be disheartened, affected, weakened by this travesty. Sixth, the community around him--he will never have what he had before in terms of respect, testimony, and ministry potential among those who are watching. People who never would have considered his ministry before will see what he did and ponder it, all from a negative point of view, and Christ will in no way be glorified in it.
There are a number of spiritual aspects that the man had to disregard when he stumbled as well, a few of which include: The love that we should have in response to our God for the many ways that He intervenes in our lives; the greatness of the sacrifice that Jesus made for our sins; the provision of His word and His Holy Spirit who would enable us to stand firm if we avail ourselves; the privilege of belonging to Him and having a ministry that might glorify Him; and the unimagined splendor of our future reward. These things when listed are eternally significant and would seem unforgettable, but I expect that it would be the first work of Satan to short-circuit our remembrance of them.
It could happen to so many seemingly faithful men, as Satan seeks to attack and discredit their ministry. There are so many verses that address holding to one's testimony, to living a faithful life. The first that comes to my mind is that we should "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). That surely sums it up, but in case it didn't, there are enough more that they should overcome any temptation.

Back when I was new to the faith, we became involved in a Bible study that involved memorizing a number of basic but equipping Bible verses. The woman who helped with the study had put them to music, which helps me to remember the one they call "Assurance of Victory," referring to victory over temptation: "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man, and God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." I Corinthians 10:13, Assurance of Victory (the reference and the tag name were part of the song, it's hard to leave it without that nifty little tag). I still remember her voice singing the song when I recall the verse. I've had occasion to apply it, and believe me, the application of it can have amazing and even rewarding results. The victory in itself is a reward, and in eternity is a reward, and I have seen that in our lives here on earth, God at times sovereignly chooses to reward His elect for the sacrifices they make in obedience to Him.

In our study of Ephesians at church, we discussed Satan's temptation of Christ in Matthew 4:1-11, and there were so many applications regarding how Satan works against the Kingdom of God by doing what he can to trip us up! It is a great passage to ponder in any times that we are tempted. Psalm 19 is entirely helpful, especially vv. 8-14:

The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors?
Acquit me of hidden faults.
Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me;
Then I will be blameless,
And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.

We need to strengthen our spiritual leaders in prayer, encourage them and shelter them from the storms of temptation that would seize them; God's workers are foremost in the battle, and we can follow Paul's example as He prayed for the Thessalonians: "To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12. The seeming poetry of these words can lull us into thinking it's almost just a benediction, but I trust that Paul prayed every word of this prayer with passion, with a vivid awareness of the spiritual need of these people in fighting the good fight, and so should we. It would seem an easy battle on our part, just getting on our knees, folding our hands, opening the Scriptures and praying. The only things that make it difficult are the distractions that Satan sends our way and our weakness in falling for them. How weak we are when we fail to pray! And how can we expect strength and victory in our spiritual realm if we neglect so simple a calling as just to pray? How great it is that God has chosen to involve us in His Kingdom work in such an easy way, and to have its impact be so potentially great.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Can a Person be a Christian only on Sundays?

A lady I have been getting to know took me very much by surprise today. We were talking about changes in our perceptions regarding church and faith, and at one point, she stopped and said that she was just a Sunday Christian, not all through the week, and indicated that in that way she thought she was different (I believe she thought she meant in attitude alone) than I am...yet I think that comment betrays more than attitude. It took me aback so much that I didn't pursue that comment, and I intend to at my next opportunity. That type of comment would normally cause me to suspect that the woman was not even a Christian at all, but only fancied herself one because she attends church on Sunday.
We had a speaker come to our church a few Sundays ago, visiting from our church denomination's regional office. He pointed out that the building we're in on Sunday mornings is not the church. The church consists of all the believers who come on Sunday and disperse through the week--it even consists of all believers who aren't currently attending. It doesn't consist, on the other hand, of those who attend and don't believe. Because Jesus said that He would never leave us nor forsake us, that He would be with us wherever we go, our faith will impact how we live, think, talk, and walk all through the week. Our church is hardly summarized in our church building, or if it burned down, we would suddenly be faithless--and of course that's a ridiculous picture! We believe at home, we believe at church, and we believe everywhere else we go. Church doesn't stop existing six days per week because we are apart from one another. If that were the case, Christianity would never survive--and I suppose in some cultures, including ours, it may seem to be failing, but throughout the world, there are many vital congregations showing that Christianity is nowhere near extinction.
When I first knew Gary, whose father was a pastor but was not yet a believer, and Gary and I weren't believers yet either, I told him that it was strange that his dad was basically using Reader's Digest rather than the Bible when we went to his church one Sunday. Gary responded that it didn't matter much, because church was just a social club. I knew in my heart that that couldn't be true; even before I was a believer, I knew that Christianity had to be much more than a social club if it had persisted all these 2,000 years. It probably wouldn't have lasted much more than a year if it were only a Sunday hobby! Christianity has been under attack the world over, persecuted and prosecuted, burned and ravaged, suppressed, discouraged, misguided, counterfeited--yet God's Word and His church have lasted in spite of all odds, because the Holy Spirit has kept passion for truth burning in the hearts of His people.
My friend's comment took me by surprise, but it shouldn't have--I remember two instances where women that I had assumed were well-established in their faith suddenly had a new love for Christ, a salvation status that had not existed before. They both admitted that they had been in church, pretending all those years before, serving, being the nice person, fooling others but not themselves and not God, and without the sweet victory of knowing Jesus personally. I would never have suspected that they had pretended beforehand, but I could not mistake their excitement afterward! We should never assume that a person has a true relationship with Christ without good evidence. We should pray that those who might be pretending in our churches would let themselves be known, so that they might know the one true Christ, the one relationship that makes everything real and worthwhile.
Jesus lived, died and rose again on our behalf, and though we can never repay all that He has done, is doing, and yet will do for us, the least we can do is live out our passion for Him, alive and active every possible moment. I can't imagine going through a week dropping out of my faith-walk, only to pick it up again for one day and repeat that time after time. I hope that my friend meant something a little different than the sound of what she said. If she didn't, I'm still glad she said it. It might open the door to the most meaningful conversation two people can have.

God is Good, and His Mercy Prevails Over our Plans

Sometimes it is in verbalizing something that I come to realize the truth of it. (I guess what I mean is that I think while I am yet speaking or writing, rather than beforehand--not always the best habit, but it's often how my thoughts come together.) My brother and I e-mail back and forth sometimes, usually in a flurry for a few days, then nothing for weeks. It happened this way after Easter. I like to hear from him; he's the only one in my family that is so communicative. It isn't that we share faith, or much in the way of interests. Sometimes our sense of humor has similarities, and of course we know the family we were raised in, but that might be most of what we have in common.
So when he e-mailed me after Easter and told me of the Easter egg hunt he provided for his three teenage girls, as if it were a burden while I know he actually loved doing it (it was probably his idea, not his daughters'), I e-mailed him back about our strange yet perfect Easter. I don't think I realized just how perfect it was, how wonderfully God had known our needs more than we had ourselves, but in the writing of it, it became clear. Our God is good!
I think of Easter primarily as a day of remembering God's goodness, in Jesus' resurrection that assures ours; it is the greatest goodness, an intrinsic trait of God that manifested itself so powerfully and visibly in Jesus' rising from the dead. It is a goodness to which much of the world is tragically blind, and yet God in His abundant grace still provided it while all of us were still blind and dead in our transgressions. And God showed His goodness to us this Easter Sunday, not in causing us to celebrate it in the traditional way that we would have, but in the way that He Himself prescribed for us that day, in rest.
I had been busy for the previous week doing all sorts of cooking and having people over. Our daughter Katie was home from college and various people had called saying that they wanted to see her. She also wanted to get together with her friends from college a few times during that week (and I protested the irony in this, that she comes home to be with family and runs off to be with her college friends, but I am truly glad for the strength of these friendships). Altogether it was one of the busier weeks I've had in a while, of people coming by and Katie going places. Since Katie doesn't drive, there was more driving than usual. This is fine. I enjoy having her in town, and enabling her to catch up on rest, on homework, and on social life, which is for the most part the focus of her time when she is home. I joke that when she comes home she goes from sensory overload to sensory deprivation, but she is becoming so adept at the overload aspect that during this break she didn't allow herself to really enjoy the quiet as much as she did at Christmas break. But I digress.
Besides the added busyness of increased hospitality and providing for Katie's needs, I was also preparing for Easter. We had made arrangements for a family with five children (other than one on a trip) to come over for the afternoon after church. In my usual way, I prepared lots of food: ham, a potato dish, carrots, cole slaw, green bean casserole, and a pineapple upside-down cake. All of this in huge quantity to feed the masses. Also a bunch of bags of Easter candy for our usual pagan aspect of the day, an Easter egg hunt. I was glad that now we have a refrigerator in the garage, and I could put this food out there in an orderly way, rather than in the soggy and doubtful nature of coolers on the deck. Not only had I prepared this Easter dinner, but a couple of pull-aparts for a brunch at church, and then Sunday morning, I prepared a rice dish for this as well.
We enjoyed the church morning, and after that the brunch potluck, but just as it started we received some daunting news: the family we had invited had two members who were feeling sick. The flu has been going around the area, and it is a ghastly bug that hangs on and leaves a person with bronchial problems for a while--and I was picturing this as what they had. A horrible picture, especially with so many little ones. The other aspect was the picture of the refrigerator at home, so full of so many big dishes loaded with food. What could we do? We made plans to call another family on the way home, a family with seven children who could probably plow their way through most of the food we had on hand and who would enjoy an Easter egg hunt.
We called that family, but they couldn't come either; their goats were having kids, and needed attending for that time. Later I found out they had ten new kid goats. Glad it's them and not me! We went home still pondering who could come over. Once we got home, though, and walked through the door, a wave of exhaustion came over me. Not just a wave, rather, a flood. The lack of friends, of children running through the house was a mercy, a blessing, a rest. God is good. Three of us slept, Tim watched movies, and we had a restful afternoon, not even eating our Easter dinner, but finishing off some leftovers instead.
It also turned out that the family who came down sick had only a short-lived, light bug and recovered pretty much by the next day, so though they were sick for that time, it isn't as though our rest came at such a great cost to them as we thought. As it was, Katie came down with a sore throat a couple of nights later; maybe our mutual isolations were another mercy; it's good we didn't all join our germs together for a big germ-fest and get each other all the more bombarded while we were all so weak.
The next night, we had another family over who were already scheduled to come, and we had our Easter dinner a day late. It was wonderful to serve a big dinner with a huge rest between the day of making it and the day of serving it. I could not have (or rather would not have) planned it that way, but God in His wisdom and great love planned us a strange Easter that we didn't have the wisdom to plan on our own. God is good, and I love Him.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The American Christian Homeschooler and a Sense of Entitlement

Recently I blogged about how all cultures have their good and bad aspects. It was hardly an excellent piece; it was only a set of observations, rather rambly. I was thinking them up as I was writing; they hadn't consumed me and caused me to ponder long and research anything. So I was surprised when that article, of the many that I have written, became linked to a homeschooling website. My article only very briefly stated that one of the things that I don't like about other cultures is the control some exercise over parenting, that homeschooling for example is illegal in many places, but legal in every state here.
The determining factor that caused someone to link my blog entry to their website seems to be that very statement about the legality of homeschooling here. So I explored various links on their blog. The latest buzz on their blog is about the California issue where homeschooling is now under threat by their state judicial system. I had read a little about it, and at first thought it would blow over quickly. Now I am wondering whether it will be more of a lasting impact not only in California, but possibly throughout the whole country.
With the elections coming into swing, and the candidates from which we have to choose, my doubts about the future of homeschooling have been increasing. I am thankful for the many years that we have been allowed to do so; it has been a privilege, a wonderful window of opportunity for our family and a saving grace for many children across the country. Not only that, but I believe that it has been a boost for the less-than-ideal national resource of the intellect of our youth as a whole, and for the foundation of faith in Christian families across the country. For all I know, freedom to homeschool could still continue for many years, but I would be surprised if it won't be under strong attack.
The issue that struck me most vividly at the website that linked me was the abundant passionate commentary following an article they linked, these comments mostly by homeschoolers and also by a few who opposed them. My thought in reading them wasn't primarily about homeschooling at all, but about the sense of entitlement we develop by living in a country that provides far more than the average amount of freedoms. We seem to think that we are entitled to these freedoms--and a person could argue that we are entitled to them, by virtue of living in a country based on freedom, but the freedom to homeschool has been a recent arrival following the establishment of government schools. This entitlement, though, or any true freedom on earth, ought to be viewed as a temporary and unnatural blessing from our benevolent God, rather than from government. The Jews at the time of Christ were under oppression by the Romans, and the history of humanity has hardly been characterized by entitlement and freedom. I view freedom far more as a blessing that God chooses to bestow on a people for whatever sovereign purpose He might deem fit for that time; nevertheless, it is generally rare and fleeting that He might choose to provide such freedoms as we have had in the United States for these hundreds of years. What country on earth has enjoyed such freedom for such a long time as ours has, and such abundance and blessing? God has been good to us, but He is not required to continue in the same way.
What I found stunning were the indignant attitudes that were exhibited in these comments, many by people who professed faith, following the article I read! It troubled me to read the comments of those who would passionately defend the right to homeschool as an entitlement. A person could assume that many homeschoolers would be some of the most passionate people of faith, but many, though they refer to their faith, fail to exhibit Christ in their comments. So many instead exhibited their own wants, demands and fears driving them, with a combative and critical spirit, bragging about their own accomplishments. They ignored the fact that not too many years ago, homeschooling was illegal in every state. I realize our country was established for the sake of freedom, but it also is a country where even the freedom it stands for has in many ways been imperfectly realized; consider slavery and how long that lasted! We live in a country that was established in the name of freedom, but such a country is established on a very delicate principle. President John Adams stated such:
"We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the governing of any other."
October 11, 1798 in President John Adams' address to the military, from America's God and Country, Encyclopedia of Quotations, by William J. Federer, pp. 10-11.

We have reached a point in our culture where we have to question the reality of whether the Constitution is truly adequate to govern our present society. Is it? Or will our freedoms disintegrate and by necessity be replaced by stronger cords of government, where freedom is hardly the aim, in order to govern a people who for the most part will not govern themselves? The removal of faith from public education, from the media, from government, from the public square removed the underpinnings that secure our freedoms. It is really more awesome that we have had the freedom to homeschool than it is shocking that this freedom should be under attack.
I look back to Daniel, and how in Babylon they did all they could to adapt him to their culture, to intimidate him from exercising faith...and still he was faithful. We need to pray that our children can and will be found faithful even if they should be forced into a Babylon-type culture. No biblical account promises and guarantees that we will have earthly freedoms, or that the culture will accommodate our faith, or that the government will allow us to parent as we see fit. The same Bible we read has applied to families under every type of government and every flag in the world. The only thing that no government can really force us to relinquish is our faith, our ability to petition the God of heaven to help us in our time of need. Maybe it is His will that our children be tested as Daniel was! Perhaps we should be glad of it, that our children be tested, that they would have to decide where they stand. Maybe staying comfortable at home in a sheltered environment will make them complacent. God is sovereign and ultimately wise, and we must entrust our children entirely to His care. He knows what is best for our good and for His glory. Don't get me wrong. I hope that we will retain the freedom to homeschool, but if not, we need to trust the God of heaven who controls governing authorities, and in any case, we need to pray for our children and those authorities.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Bleak and Uncomfortable Trip for God's Purposes

Yesterday our pastor and one of our congregation members left along with a neighboring church pastor and one of his congregation members for a remote location I will not disclose at this time for their protection. Suffice it to say that it is not a part of the world that people go to have fun, and from the sound of it, it is far from fun to get there. Two plane flights and a train trip; they left midday Thursday and will arrive late Sunday (our time) from what I could tell. They are a motley crew in some ways: Our pastor had a flu a few weeks back that left him with an asthmatic cough, and I recently heard he also has kidney problems; not only that but the planning of the trip was pretty much his responsibility and as the necessary sequence of events did not fall into place because of matters that were in God's sovereign control, the preparations had to be made a second and then a third time even while he still wasn't feeling so good. I think this delay may have actually been a blessing in restoring him to health after his sickness, but it wasn't an easy or auspicious beginning. The other pastor has an artificial leg; both congregation members have backs that give them trouble, one has a bad hip, and the other has various food allergies including severe allergies to nuts. I think most of these considerations might have given me pause even if God had urged me to go; but He didn't.
Our churches had a prayer night a little while before they left, and the requests must have covered every possible aspect of the trip. One of my prayer requests is that they'd have good water to drink. Our pastor picked out that one prayer request as very unlikely, and the water was described as rusty orange coming from the taps. So I am praying for clean fresh water all the more for them during their stay. I would be delighted to find that in fact God had answered that prayer somehow, and I will be waiting to hear specifically what there might be in that regard.
I am a bit fidgety about the trip, which is weird because I just don't get fidgety. Considering these health problems, a lot could go wrong. So I'm keeping myself busy, but most of all, the best antidote to nerves is to pray. I hate the feeling of being nervous (so I just don't allow it in myself generally and thankfully I'm just absolutely not a worrier), so when I feel it, it is a perfect prayer prompt.
So last night I got on the computer and tried tracking just where they are, what times their time they will arrive places, and found out a little (very little) about their trip--mostly how tough a time they are probably having. First I found a website that helps people coordinate different cities' time zones and the times they all are in simultaneously. That was very helpful! Even with its very clear information I got confused, but after a long time I think I came up with a clear idea of what time they will be experiencing when.
I found their airline website, and it told at least the current status of their flight. It was still suspended in the air, a good thing, and to me all that means is that it is sustained by an unseen hand. Though I've read some about how aerodynamics work, it is still hard for me to fathom just how such a big object as a jet plane can stay steady up in the air that long. Of course, for God to perform that, it's no doubt as simple for Him as my holding a needle in my hand. And not dropping it. (Thankfully God is a God of grace, and that is not my middle name. Ha!)
I then found a train website that sounded like it might be the one they were taking. It had pictures, and the pictures looked good (though of course pictures of such things can and will be deceiving). As I looked longer it became apparent that this was a tourism train for absolutely crazy tourists, and it was prettied up and the website was so polished, and the prices were so unthinkable (in the thousands of dollars) that I knew it was not our group's train.
The next train website I found didn't have pictures. It had the right cities, and didn't have any luxuries expressed, though it assured us that the train was a decent, clean ride. That was a relief. (I had pictured chickens in people's laps, goats eating their lunchbags, and the like.) The fare was $17 per person for a quite long trip, which further convinced me that I had found the right website.
The site had lots more information, all about the city they're visiting, which sounded like it was promoting the city's industry to businessmen. The more I read the bleaker it sounded. I think there is very little of beauty there, though the city is rather large. When I've known people in the past to go on short-term missions trips, they generally go someplace with some redeeming features from a human standpoint, someplace that is fun or touristy in at least some way. They take a day or two out to reward themselves, looking at the sights and experiencing the culture. I don't think this is a planned part of the trip this time. There's nothing to see, from the sound of it. The very ugliness of it may be a form of beauty, perhaps, if you squint and look sideways. It's an uncomfortable place in a lot of ways. This is the third or fourth trip for our pastor, as I recall. He has made friends with a pastor there and looks forward to seeing him and his family again, and hopes to rekindle the friendships he'd made there in years past.
So I pray a lot for this group. I respect all the more fully their willingness to even consider such risks and hardships. I'm going to get a lot done while they're gone. I look forward to their safe and healthy return. And I do want to hear about the water.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Third-World Existence--er, Subsistence

Not long ago I blogged about how all cultures have their good and bad aspects. I realize in retrospect that perhaps my analysis of the lifestyles of those in foreign countries was quite flippant, due to unavoidable ignorance of never having really been in those places. I said among other things that they eat a healthier diet than we do. Perhaps I should have said that considering our abundance, we eat more poorly than they do--in that we load up on fats and salts and additives unlike most of them, and don't avail ourselves of the variety of fruit and vegetables that practically surround us; but on the other hand, those in third-world countries likely have less opportunity to get a well-rounded meal. I picture them eating more basic foods, like rice and beans, but probably not having the abundance of the meats, fruits and vegetables that we take for granted--or perhaps even decent drinking water.
Last night I noticed that Katie had asked me to answer a questionnaire for one of her classes, regarding the poverty of third-world countries; it brought to my remembrance an article that a friend had posted on her refrigerator years ago, and I googled to find it. The site that repeated it acknowledged USA Today as their source, but I could not find any more specific information than that about it, perhaps because of the article's age. In all my searching, I found a plethora of articles about poverty, many arguing different ways of calculating it. It reminds me of the saying, "Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it." Jesus said that the poor we will always have with us, and I can see that it's true...even if our poor are rich, comparatively speaking. (Googling can give insight into how much the average input into the internet is babble about meaningless things, and even googling to find this article about poverty gave me lists of so much meaninglessness. I have to say some of my blogging may contribute its share of this as well. Not only that, on the USA Today website, I found an ad: "Find and Compare prices on international poverty at")
The article I found, regardless of whether it is exactly accurate or up-to-date, is such a clarifying piece that causes the reader to realize that even if by American standards we have any lack, we live in ridiculous abundance when compared with most of the people of the world. Talk about perspective! I'm not sure of the authorship since I couldn't find specifics, but I think the content is worth repeating here:

Daily Life in Developing Countries
The differences between day-to-day life in developing countries and the U.S. are huge and can be very difficult for us to comprehend. Virtually everything – what people own, what they do for a living, what they do in their leisure time, what they expect out of life for themselves and their children, the way they think about themselves and others, the things they take for granted, and more – differs dramatically.
According to the World Bank, nearly 1 billion people live below the international poverty line of $1.08 in consumption expenditures per person per day in 1993 purchasing power parity (PPP) adjusted U.S. dollars. That's about $1.53 per person per day in today's dollars. Another 1.5 billion are only a little better off, living on less than $2.15 per day in 1993 PPP adjusted U.S. dollars. These are commonly referred to as the "$1-a-day" and "$2-a-day" poverty lines.
So what would it be like living on $1.53 per day? An article from USA Today may be helpful in putting things into perspective.

Get rid of your car and all of your furniture and appliances except one chair and one table – no TV, stereo, refrigerator, dishwasher, clothes washer, dryer, or even lamps.

Get rid of all your clothing except your oldest, most beaten-up shirt and pair of jeans. If you're the head of the family, you can keep one pair of shoes. If not, get rid of them too.

Remove the food from the kitchen. You can keep one small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, and a few potatoes, onions, cabbages or dry beans. You'll cook with firewood or dried cow dung.

Shut off the water, gas and electricity. While you're at it, dismantle the bathroom. Your new bathroom will be the local stream or pond. You'll get your drinking water from there too.

Move out of the house and into the toolshed. Your neighborhood will be a small village or shantytown.

Don't waste any time on newspapers, books and magazines. They'll be meaningless to you because you'll give up literacy.

Hold $10 in case of emergency – no bank account, pension plan or insurance policies.

Cultivate three acres as a tenant farmer. If the weather's good, you can expect $300 to $500 per year in cash crops. You'll pay one third of that to the landlord and another tenth to the moneylender.

No need to worry about keeping yourself busy in retirement, because you'll be lucky if you live past 55 or 60.

This was found at

Spring is Coming, Projects Beckon!

There's something about the time of year that determines my energy level. For the months after Christmas, it seems to drop--and this year I don't think it's because the holidays were so exhausting; I restrained my shopping like never before, and kept everything at a quieter pace. It's something about the wet, the cold, the wind that (even though we don't necessarily subject ourselves to it much) affects my outlook and subdues the force of my attack on projects. (Maybe it's also that the early months are the season in which I do our taxes, which are finally finished!) Spring is springing, the green is a little greener (not so brown and tamped down), and the brown is a little greener (the little buds in the trees). Things are coming to life, and I'm feeling much more motivated to paint and clean and sort and get rid of stuff.
Gary used to go on trips for a week every month with his work. When he was gone, I'd often attack a project and see how much of it could be done before he returned. It was good to have something to do, and to get something accomplished, and to have a time frame to encapsulate it. Now our church has a team of people going on a missions trip. I'm using that as my time frame, seeing what can be done while they're gone.
Last night I pulled some paint in from the garage, and started repainting our entry. Amazing how much a little paint makes things look better, covering barely noticeable marks and the plaster repair jobs at the corners! I'm resolving to paint as much of the house as I can in the next few weeks. Most rooms need it to one extent or another. That should keep me out of mischief and focused for a while. Don't stand still at our house, or you might end up with a coat of paint!
I've developed a to-do list with three columns, one for me, one for Gary, and one for us to work on together. (I guess I'm a list person. I also have a to-do list in a tiny binder, with one page for each room.) Now Gary is no longer safe. If he's horizontal, reading a paper (generally a horrible waste of time and energy), I will roust him with a project, if possible. If not, I'll threaten to paint him. Ha!
When the projects are done, we intend to sell the house and move into something smaller, something that doesn't need so much maintenance, so we can focus on more meaningful things than painting walls and the like. Maybe the housing market will improve. Our neighbor's house has been languishing on the market for months, and they keep dropping the price to no avail. Still, even if we have to sell for less than we want, we will buy for comparably cheaper as well. In spite of wanting to sell, another project to make progress on in these coming weeks is planting our vegetable garden. Never mind that we may never be able to harvest the good things that grow there. It calls as the spring grasses rise, the weeds claim their corners, the trees need pruning, and the compost beckons for stirring into the more useless Marysville soil. The ground is waiting, and I must work it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Can a Person Rightly be Silent Regarding the Gospel?

This is a new thought I've been pondering lately: We as American Christians, never having experienced persecution for our faith, and being expedient people as we are, have to be careful against having a too-bold approach in sharing the gospel with unbelievers especially when we are in a foreign culture, especially one where persecution is more the norm. Perhaps it is true here in our own bold culture as well, where people are for the most part walking in darkness and rarely seeing what is to them the unfamiliar light of Christ. This is a very new thought for me, and I am a very unlikely person to think it. I am the one who rushes in where angels fear to tread--too much of the time--and who knows how many people I've clobbered with my Bible (figuratively of course).
The Bible does say to be bold; it says to preach the gospel to every living creature...but it also says to be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16); to not cast our pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). Jesus and Paul didn't go everywhere and tell everyone everything about coming to salvation; Paul said things about the Spirit restraining him from certain places, such as Asia and Bithynia in Acts 16.
Many times I've heard people say they'd hate to have Jesus come back and have someone they had the opportunity to share the gospel with miss salvation because of their own hesitation. However, I think they put pressure on themselves that way that the Holy Spirit never intended; they end up walking in their own strength and awkwardly blind-siding someone with something the person is not prepared to receive, sometimes increasing the person's hostility to Christ. That's what I did with my brother Mark when I was a brand-new believer. He was visiting us, and I took every opportunity to share things with him that he was nowhere near wanting to hear. He was my captive audience and I clobbered him. At the end he said it was not worth it to visit us, and I haven't seen him since. That was about 17 years ago. Hopefully it could be understood since salvation was still such a new and exciting concept to me, and most new believers are known for such stuff. Still, I regret how aggressive I was, and it would intrigue me to know how things might have gone if I'd followed the Holy Spirit's leading instead...His quiet, gentle light might have been much more effective than my blaring searchlight straight in the face of one who'd known only darkness to that point.
So something inside of me is changing. I think I'm getting more aware of the track I should be on, and the feeling that comes with being off it. It's disheartening to me when I think back at how I pressured myself to do things, thinking that the bolder I was, the greater was my obedience to Christ. It was probably only my own feeling of urgency pressing me on, no doubt causing spiritual havoc in places. I increasingly want to walk in the Spirit of Christ and not in my own flimsy strength, not in the American boldness, and am hoping that I am developing an increased perception and awareness of the difference. Perhaps it will be a more fruitful and genuine walk.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Two Ways to Walk bring Two Different Results

How entirely different are the two purposes that exist in life: The first, to glorify God; and the second, to glorify self. The two reasons to exist can be so readily confused in the human mind, and people can be so oblivious or indifferent to the idea that there is something other than glorifying self.
The Bible makes it abundantly clear that the default tendency of humanity is to love self, take care of self, and glorify self. Even when we think we are being selfless, often it is for selfish motives: to make self look or feel good, to gain affection and acclaim for self.
Considering all the various religions that exist whose believers do not know God, but often think they do, it's tragic to consider that everything that those people do is a sham. The Bible is clear that "...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." If we don't believe in the true God, we are incapable of pleasing Him, and everything we do is fruitless, pointless, eternally and spiritually empty. Not only that, but if we do believe in Him, even if our theology is right, if we are in the wrong frame of mind and spirit, then we are doing the same as the unbeliever.
Think of the seemingly good work that is done in the wrong motivations: hospitals, heroic acts, donations, programs, missions work for the wrong purpose. All these sacrifices of time, money, talent, body parts, even lives...all gaining only momentary results and only pleasing self and Satan.
I believe that even doing what would be God's work for the wrong motives is the same as all the rest: even pastoring a church; even working as a missionary; even witnessing to a neighbor. If we don't do it through the power of the Holy Spirit, if we do it in our own strength, in our own judgment, then it means the same as the work of an unbeliever. I do believe also that God can use it for good, just like He can use anything for good; just as Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery for good. But work done without the Holy Spirit's leading isn't done in His power and timing, and I think it doesn't knit so perfectly into His plan or at least it doesn't please Him. It will not be likely to bring the amazing fruit as when it's done by walking in the Spirit. The worker working in his own strength doesn't build on the Church's foundation with anything but wood, hay and stubble (1 Cor 3:10-15), which will be burned at the end.
Galatians 5:16-21 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
The amazing thing to me about this verse is that it lists such a wide range of sins, including selfish ambition alongside the likes of witchcraft. Still, since I am conscious of this, you would think that I would be as fully committed to walking in truth as anyone, and yet I find myself being stupidly selfish a shocking amount of the time. I don't take every thought captive; I do things for the sake of being seen; I hope for approval of men; I am selfish in the utmost. I know it; I'm inside of me and have caught myself when no one else might suspect. Maybe Paul had some of the same trouble, though I know from reading his writings that he spent more time doing extreme things for God at complete risk of self than anyone I've even read about other than Jesus.
Paul wrote the following: Romans 7:18-25: For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.
For I joyfully concur with the law of God in
the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

Why is it that I receive comfort from the idea that Paul battled sin too, the idea that misery loves company? Well, Paul doesn't offer only that for my comfort, but something much better: the freedom and hope that comes in knowing Jesus Christ. Jesus will set me free from this body of death, and I praise Him for that. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Hollow Ring of Self-Esteem

"Good job!" is a phrase we teasingly, mockingly throw around our house, most often provoked by those things that are specifically questionable! It is thanks to the well-meaning team mother of Tim's baseball team a couple of years ago, who lavished this praise on every undeserving team player who might have been daydreaming, unskilled, or just had an off moment. A player would come off the field after striking out pitifully, maybe hardly even trying to hit the ball, maybe thinking more about the snacks after practice than about the task at hand. While I might be ready to console him with something like, "Maybe you'll do better next time," I couldn't blurt it before I'd hear, "Good job!" Startled, I'd look around to see who it was that she had addressed. What? What did she see that I didn't?
She was the benevolent bestower of self-esteem, and her intent was that no child should spend a second feeling the pain of doubt or inadequacy or failure. She thought she was doing them a favor, that pain was always bad and comfort was always good. If she was helping them do anything, she was helping them stay where they were, to stagnate, to remain in their inadequacy and never be dissatisfied with their present state so that they might pursue improvement.
That dissatisfaction with self is a good thing, not an evil; it gives a person a desire to improve; it's a motivator, painful though it may be. Disguising inadequacy is no favor, yet it's the trend of recent years to help children have self-esteem that is in no way earned nor deserved. A parent who gives a child false assurance is doing him harm rather than a favor, and a parent who withholds it is doing him good.
Today at the grocery store, Tim was looking at some huge chocolate rabbits, amazed at their size. I assure you, he never received one so large, though he has probably received them that were as heavy. Those he was looking at, though, soon earned his disgust: "They're hollow!" He suddenly lost interest and turned away. Better to know the reality of one's own lack and need, rather than trust in something that is not solid but hollow. Given false assurance of how adequate one is in childhood, a person will only hit confusion and failure, something like finding that huge empty bubble inside a chocolate rabbit, when in real adult life where no one cares about his self-esteem so much as his performance and substance.
My growing up years were marked by inadequacy (my ignorant version of awareness of my sin), and that inadequacy, that gnawing emptiness, did me a great benefit: It pointed to my need for Christ, for a Savior. Praise God that no one was telling me I was good enough! I wasn't. No one is good enough apart from Christ; everyone needs to know the truth of their own lack and their own sin, and at the same time, trust in Christ's sufficiency and grace, His forgiveness, His great sacrifice that will bring wholeness and healing to every person who will just trust in Him.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. Colossians 2:8

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Proxy Vote that Betrays the Heart of Evil

Without realizing it in composing this article, I found that this post would gather attention from various google searches, and as a result I located a website that probably is behind this campaign to end investment in companies that support genocide. I applaud their existence! Now my title links to Investors Against Genocide's website.
Click here also to find a Reuters article on how this vote came to be offered.
Click here to find the sad update regarding this vote.
Click here for Investors Against Genocide's list of suggestions regarding how you can help fight genocide.
I wonder how many things slip by me to which I should pay more attention. Today that matter was made clearer than ever before. We seem to get an awful lot of mail that is just too much for me to fully process on an everyday basis. Junk mail, things requesting or requiring a response, stuff I want to refer back to later...there's just an abundance of seemingly trivial stuff to sort through.
We have a regretfully small amount in a retirement fund for which we get regular mailings. It's through Fidelity. This name would make it seem like it was a company faithful to humanity, with great and honorable goals in mind. Today I sadly and clearly learned that this is hardly the case.
We got a little booklet today and a little form on which we were to vote on a couple of issues regarding the fund in which we have this trivial amount of money. Normally I don't even look at the details on these things; I figure they have us voting for people I don't know anything about and for financial details that are beyond my understanding. Some unusual urge prompted me to open the envelope and read the contents, with a group of names of people they recommended that recipients vote for, and then a matter for which they recommended voting against. The matter was not vague and technical; no, it was clear and concise and to the point. It was a shareholder proposal concerning "oversight procedures to screen out investments in companies that, in the judgment of the board, substantially contribute to genocide, patterns of extraordinary and egregious violations of human rights, or crimes against humanity." (This is the heading in the booklet--I already sealed the envelope so I don't remember the shorter phrasing there.) They recommended a vote against it, and in reading the small print in the book, it was clear that the vote was phrased accurately and a vote for screening was really a vote for screening, so the board lacked any conscience to the point that they didn't mind stating their desire to retain the right to invest in companies that don't mind supporting genocide and other crimes against humanity. They will be accountable at Judgment for every soul that they have had a hand in killing--may God be merciful and save them out of this darkness. (This is one of those prayers that I pray against my own inclinations.)
As a result, we ended up voting for the things Fidelity recommended against, and against the people they recommended voting for. There are a few sad aspects to this whole scenario: The likelihood that others also will have the tendency to throw the proxy material away and not read it to vote according to conscience; the probability that even if a screening against genocide investments should pass, that the "judgment of the board" will remain as tainted and evil as it is currently, rendering it ineffective; the fact that we've had a single cent invested in this company up to this point; the influence that these evil people have in their hands, using the money of other people; and the lost, evil and heinous nature of the hearts of the existing board. Still, God is in control, righteous, and just, and will not let this go unnoticed.
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?" The LORD said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand." (Genesis 4:8-11)

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Light Shines Quietly

Last night our church and its neighboring church, which are friends and frequently collaborate together, had a prayer meeting on behalf of the four who are going on a Missions trip together--the two main pastors and one congregation member from each church. I am thankful for the friendships that the churches in the area show for one another, and how amazingly they work together without conflict or reservation. The pastors of these two churches have known each other for years; in fact, the neighboring pastor is young and used to attend our church.
It was interesting watching and listening to the members of the team give their prayer requests and it was an insight to what was on their hearts. There were no main surprises in content, but between the pastors I saw such an amazing difference in manner and method that I had not seen made so evident, side-by-side before. It brought me back to where I had been before we started attending this church...and reiterated to me the differences between all those that had gone before and this one. It was odd to think that our neighbor pastor had in fact come from our church, so different was his approach. There was nothing specifically wrong with it; in fact about 10 years ago I would have preferred his outlook, his energy, and his boldness.
The young pastor had a bunch of bracelets in his hand and discussed with us how he wanted to share the gospel using them, how we could pray for their use, and how hard a balance it was going to be to go and teach English without being so bold with the gospel that the team would offend the authorities there to the point that they wouldn't be invited back--and yet he expressed his desire to obey God rather than men, not to be intimidated by the possibility of offense. He said that if Christ returned this year, he wouldn't want to think that he had not shared the gospel when he was supposed to do so.
I agree with his goal, but I see now like never before the way that Americans might be perceived overseas. I am more doubtful than ever of how effective an extremely bold approach is likely to be in the best of times. When launched by the thought of having to reach people before Christ returns, I think perhaps a person brings himself to be American more than Christian, and not only that but more so in the foreign country than he is in his homeland. He is so affected by the pressure he has put upon himself that he may not hear the still small voice of the Lord quietly telling him when, to perhaps even hold back, to not throw his pearls before swine, to be wise as serpents, innocent as doves...there are times to speak and times to be silent. (Years ago I would have protested, twitched, been aching to move away from such a proposal! And here I am making it.)
I am seeing also that if those unbelievers should hear him sharing the gospel in the public environment, in the classroom volume, in the English-lesson context, they won't understand readily in a self-applying way. They will be so shocked by his American boldness in a country where it doesn't pay to be bold that they won't hear the message; they will be looking over their shoulder to see if there's anyone in the room poised to haul him out of it.
High-volume, showy, clever is the culture my Christianity was raised in. It's why I like where we attend. Our pastor introduced me to the writings of Eugene Peterson, who in one of his books wrote a chapter called, "The Subversive Pastor." It takes a while to take it in, and yet our pastor is exactly that, and it is a pastoral approach for shepherding and evangelism that works more on the sly. The message of the gospel is presented far more quietly, in relationship, in discussion, in a slow and calm way...and the recipient hardly knows what came his way, but it brings about its work in a surreptitious manner. He works over the thoughts later that were presented, and realizes that they apply to him and to all the problems that he faces in his life, all the fears that he grapples with in the night. There is a huge responsibility in presenting the gospel to follow the Spirit's leading, to be consistent, to live it, to present Christ and not culture. I don't know that I have the intelligence to apply it consistently and well in my own life at this point, but I am observing and learning. My thinking is that if a person follows the Spirit's leading, He provides the proper application of it, but our job is to submit to and listen for that leading, and not our own, not the siren call of our American culture. The subversive approach is more in line with how Jesus usually dealt with receptive unbelievers, in a gentle, quiet, one-on-one way most of the time. I would have thought it too liberal years ago, too hesitant, too time-consuming, too quiet and easily lost in the noise; yet seeing the American Christianity that is more culture than truth, I've seen those who would be bold might speak the gospel clearly, loudly, cleverly, boldly, while often not really presenting Christ at all.
That disparity brings credence to the quieter approach, showing the light of Christ in our quiet relational discussions. Not lacking boldness; I think boldness means something different in America than elsewhere. Not withholding out of fear, but presenting when the time is perfect, when the gongs are not banging and the recipient's mind is able to focus, when the Spirit tells the believer to speak and gives him words to say that he would never have spoken in his own power. It isn't being fearful but wise, making the most of every real opportunity and realizing that God works in the whisper, in the quiet. He gives the thunder too, but we don't speak in thunder; we can whisper though. The light shines [quietly] in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Forgiveness and my MP3 Player

Now that I have my own MP3 player (boy, do I feel trendy! Though trendy for me tends to be about 10 years behind everyone else), I am able to listen continually to my choice of radio shows without walking away from the radio before they're done...I get them on, and have started branching out listening to more teachers who I have never heard before. Just lately I've listened to Roger Salter, whose name I had never even noticed until looking over oneplace's website. In the first few radio shows, I didn't hear anything I disagreed with, and in fact found him quite good; then in listening to one, I heard something that caused me to perk up my ears with questions, though I didn't specifically disagree.
It reiterated a comment of a lady, Caroline, in our Bible study class from the previous week, who stressed that you forgive another when they ask you for forgiveness. I had learned as a new believer that you forgive another whether or not they come and ask forgiveness. This all got me rather confused...imagine getting confused over the topic of forgiveness when you've been a Christian some 18 years. So I e-mailed my friend Caroline, and asked her to clarify. I know from experience that not forgiving someone can be a horrendous, self-destructive feeling and I would rather get done with it as soon as possible. This withholding idea seemed like an unworkable thought.
Well, the issue I had been dealing with as a new believer 18 years back was with an unbeliever, and in that case forgiveness takes on a whole different element: I knew that the unbeliever in my life would never have considered herself to have been an offense in any way; she would have been shocked at any suggestion in that regard. We have to acknowledge the unworkable darkness in which unbelievers dwell, and forgive them for unbelievers. They can't do anything else! Therefore, for our own health, for theirs, for the strength of our witness, we have to love them and cover their multitudinous sins, and forgive them. If we wait for them to ask forgiveness, we'll die before it gets resolved.
Caroline spent some time listening to Salter, read and copied some paragraphs by Jay Adams on the subject, and said that as far as she knew, Salter was spot-on. But this withholding forgiveness is for believers, who should be held accountable for their sins, so that they will acknowledge that they have sinned and then be restored. This isn't for every sin, Adams says, but for "those which throw the covers off"--which he further says are sins which break fellowship and lead to an unreconciled condition. I don't know if you've ever experienced what I did in hearing Caroline's response, but sometimes I ask a question, and when I get the answer, I recognize the rightness of it, as if I already knew it though I didn't seem to just previously. This was the case when Caroline responded to me.
On the other hand, the Bible outlines a specific process for dealing with the significant sins of someone who calls themselves a believer, when you know they have clearly sinned, and that is to go to them directly. The process is clearly outlined in Matthew 18. I hate to recall it, but my husband and I have been involved in going to such a believer in this way, according to this process, and without success. The Bible then makes it clear that more people of the church should be involved in the process with a hope of increasing the pressure to bring that person to repentance. We did involve others only after two or more discussions with the person, but I don't know that any repentance occurred as a result. (I kind of think that going through this experience is what made Caroline's response to me so recognizable.)
Our pastor made clear to us that when such an attempt is unsuccessful, the next step isn't to retain anger or bitterness toward that person, because to do so is condemnation, and that is God's prerogative, not ours. So rather than carry it ourselves, we give it to God, and we are again unburdened. So this rather old and slow Christian learned something in the process of listening to others; maybe my experience will clarify specifics regarding forgiveness for you, too. I knew that MP3 player would bring good things into my life, other than just looking cool with those little black wires up to my ears.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

If I Were Paul's English Teacher

In general I would never think that I could teach Paul a thing, let alone two...but since in fact he didn't speak English, I guess I could presume to teach him something there, though I don't profess to know English as officially as a certified English teacher. Often in reading his writings, I think back to school days and the red notations that would come back on my papers, and I dream of how I would dare to "correct" Paul, whose manner of writing would appall (forgive the awful nature of using this word here) his teachers...if he had the same teachers I had. I am in fact thankful he did not. Still, it's a little fun to poke a little Paul. And of course, I'm probably making mistakes or messing up the proper terminology, but it gives an idea of what I would expect to come back at me if I'd submitted this writing at school. For your benefit, I've toned it down from the crimson red to a rustier color, because the red was really overwhelming, as probably most school kids find it to be as well.
Since we are studying Ephesians at church, and I have been reading it to such a point of familiarity, I most readily draw examples from this short and wonderful book. Now, Paul has the advantage over me hands-down in that I know no Greek, the language of New Testament writings. Okay, so here we go, in Ephesians 1:10: "Paul, expand on this 'all things.' You use it various times in this letter, and yet you don't clarify what you mean. This is too general." I gather that in Ephesians Chapter 1:3-14 exists the longest sentence in the Bible, at least in the Greek (it got translated out in the English). I have to admit I'd have never known this if I wasn't told; I guess in reality a teacher reading the English wouldn't take such issue when it's hidden in the original language, but we'll pretend for this one that she--er, I--correct this important gaffe since it is very prevalent in his writings. "Paul, you have a bad habit of using run-on sentences, as you have done here. No one wants to read these; they get confusing. Please separate this into at least 7 smaller, more manageable sentences, and do this to all the many remaining run-on sentences in your work." Chapter 2:1: "Many of your sentences start with the word 'and', 'therefore,' 'for,' 'but,' 'so.' Please don't start a sentence with a conjunction. Also, if you are going to use 'according to' at the start of two of the segments, use it for all three since it applies to all of them; be consistent!" At 3:1: "You didn't finish this sentence. You got so excited about your subject that you digressed. Please finish the thought before you go on--and you wrote about something in brief? Where?" At 3:4: "You tell your readers to refer to another place where you have written, and yet you leave no footnote reference telling your readers where they can find this. This can only frustrate and mystify your readers." And at the end: "Paul, this has some high and weighty content in it, but your writing just doesn't do it justice. I'm afraid you're going to have to repeat this class if you hope to make a mark in the world."
I think you get my drift. If you are in high school and find that you have a lot of red marks on your writings, take heart. It may be the sign of good things to come, and I suspect God will be able to use you well as you submit to His least as well as you submit to those of your school teachers.

When we read the book of Ephesians together, my son Tim always stops us when we reach "But God..." and because our pastor was using this as something of an emphasis in his sermon series, he says, "As Pastor Ken would say, 'But God...' " in a dramatic fashion, and he chuckles a little bit, and we go on. Then when we read how Paul has written briefly, he chuckles again and says, "As Pastor Ken would say, 'In brief? Ha!'" So I have to admit that I didn't think up that "in brief" part on my own. I do enjoy my son's little fun-making aspect, and when it's my turn to read, I have learned to pause at those points and just let him do his little thing.