Thursday, December 17, 2009

Disillusionment is a Sign of Misplaced Trust

Earlier this year, I found myself disillusioned, and only had myself to blame. At the same time, though I knew that rejoicing in Jesus Christ is always possible, always desirable, and always justifiable, I had a hard time really experiencing that joy like I generally do. In the front of our church sanctuary, there were banners that had Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! on them, and I would ponder, "Am I experiencing joy? How do I rejoice always? How can God expect that from me even now?" Usually my faith is a supernatural high for me, but for that season, the high was nowhere. Joy was something I had to reach hard for. I don't think my struggle was at all unique to humanity, though it was unusually dark for me. Life is full of things that can drag us down, and of course the enemy is always aiming to do anything that will pull us down and keep us at our worst. In spite of this, we need to remember that our hope, our joy, and our strength is not in the things of this earth. Sometimes it is too easy to forget; it would be easy to suppose our hope, or our joy, or our strength might be in people, or money, or circumstances. We might think it's in acclaim, or other forms of human successes, or in merely being treated generally well. In all those cases, we would be wrong. God wants us to rejoice, no matter what our circumstances, our disappointments, our sadnesses. We are to be joyful in the midst of it, in spite of it. How can we do that? It's because all of what we rejoice in should not be here on earth, but we can rely on the promises of heaven that are so beyond our understanding and especially our deserving. They stand firm, they are sealed away for us. No human being can come between us and what Jesus has done for us. Our sadnesses and sorrows have nothing to do with any fault in the promises and truths of God; they are in a separate category, untouchably holy and perfect; His truths and promises are ever-reliable. We should rejoice and exult in the goodness of God; focusing on that instead can help to draw us out and away from present circumstances, and we can glorify Him even in the processing of our pain.
I don't often find these lows, but this year has been full of them. Though I've oftentimes been disappointed by people, usually that disappointment was from people in whom I never really had put too much trust, and so it didn't bother me so much. I think my problem this year was in trusting a human being too strongly, which God warns us against doing.

We could think that people who don't trust other people are cynical. I don't think this is true; I think when we don't trust people, and we do place all of our trust in God, we are walking in obedience. We tend to want to trust people because they are here where we can see them; we feel that we know them because they are so physically present to us. The Scriptures clearly and repeatedly tell us not to trust people, though, and I feel that God has been pounding that into my head just lately. There is actually more kindness in not putting our trust in a person; when a human being lets you down, it is just because it's the way our flesh is made; trusting in humanity puts too much responsibility and pressure on a person, and no human is infallible. The Scriptures say,
Psalm 40:4 How blessed is the man who has made the LORD his trust, And has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood.

Psalm 116:11 I said in my alarm, "All men are liars."
Psalm 118:8-9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.
Psalm 146:3 Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.

Proverbs 29:25 The fear of man brings a snare, But he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.
Jeremiah 17:5
Thus says the LORD, "Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind And makes flesh his strength, And whose heart turns away from the LORD."
Actually in the writing of this, I was looking only for two verses I've quoted here, but found the others I listed, and included them because they too emphasized the need to trust in God and not man. So it isn't just a couple of verses; God reminds us again and again to trust only in Him. Jesus didn't trust mankind, either, as He walked the earth; and He made us!
John 2:23-25 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.

I know that I am not reliable. I would not want someone putting their trust in me to the point that I could ever disillusion them or cause them to stumble in their faith. While we are very fallible and weak, God never fails us.
2 Timothy 2:13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.

Psalm 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
1 Peter 1:24-25 For, "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever." And this is the word that was preached to you.

Another thing that I learned in the midst of these struggles was just how loving and gracious God was to illuminate the Scriptures all the more brightly when I was feeling the greatest darkness. I know that a random reading of the Bible is not generally the best way to really plumb the depths of God's goodness, but oftentimes I needed to just open my Book and see what God's seemingly random message was for me that day. Once at 2 a.m., unable to sleep, I came downstairs and opened the Psalms with fumbling fingers and bleary eyes--turned at "random" to Psalm 4, and I knew in reading it that God's hand was there for my assurance. The message of that Psalm, in my own paraphrase, is, "I have everything under control. Now go to bed, rest your mind, and sleep. Trust Me." It wasn't because I was so very continual in my reading, or praying, or obeying...not that I was very neglectful either, but I definitely wasn't excelling. God just knew my frame, and my need, and always, stunningly, had the right Psalm for me, always had the right consolation, the right perspective readily available. He didn't have me turning to anything of judgment or correction or condemnation, though I know there are passages that could easily have seemed to express those things to me. It wasn't because I was so good, or right, or at all perfect. It was in spite of my frailties and because of His goodness; it certainly wasn't because I didn't have plenty of areas that need correction; it was because of His supernatural Word that performs His will so perfectly, and because there are times when He stands close to comfort His own, and to be the very Heavenly Father when we need Him the most.
So the key is to love and not trust others; follow others as they follow Christ; turn from following their path when they don't follow Him, and speak up to them when they stray from the path. It isn't to be cynical, but just to remember Who it is who can be trusted, who we all are who can't be trusted, and to love people, remembering the frail humanity that we all are. I think trusting rightly in the Heavenly Father, who loves all of us in spite of our frailty, brings that joy that was so hard for me to grasp for that season.
New American Standard Bible (NASB)Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

No Matter What we do, the Meaning of Christmas Shines Through

This Christmas I have heard so many (meaningless) sources giving what they consider the "reason" or "meaning" of the season...things such as Santa, and food, and decor...all of which completely miss the point; you'd think even a secular person would realize how hollow those things would ring on their own. I was telling my neighbor Stacia how our tree has been up since around Thanksgiving and it still is not decorated. She was saying that Katie could help us when she gets home tomorrow; that's true and I'm glad for it. Still, if the tree were not decorated, if there were no presents, or carols, or cookies, or friends over, if there were no outward celebration of the holiday, still the goodness of Christ would remain. There would be nothing we could do to eliminate His goodness and hope, even if we meant to squelch it. The advent of that miraculous birth, that perfect life, that sacrificial death, and that marvelous resurrection all bring joy to those who would trust in the hope and enjoy the peace that come because of His momentous birth! The glory of that would sneak in under the doors, through the computer, through the phone lines; it would emanate from the sunlight coming in the windows. It would come in through things natural and things man-made. The quiet of the snow, the provision of the rain, the slipperiness of the ice all would sing glory to the advent of Christ.
So the performance of having everything perfect is not such a high-pressure impact on the joy of the season. I can do the things I love to do in order to celebrate; the traditions we hold make a continuity between years past and present; but it's not crucial to the "reason for the season." Without that pressure, the performance is pleasure, not pain. The remembrance of Christ, the little things that reflect His glory, should be a pleasure to implement. And so it is. I can make the cookies, the foods for feasts; buy the gifts, wrap them; decorate the all the things that anyone else will do; but if I am not joyful in the midst of it, or I'm despairing over a neglected tree, I've clearly forgotten the goodness that it all is supposed to represent. The goodness is there in spite of me.
The symbolism of each thing may be something of a stretch. Tim asked the other day what lights have to do with Jesus, and it seems pretty direct to say that since Jesus is the Light of the world, the lights should be symbolic of Him. Yet He is pure, which should be white light, and so many Christmas lights are colored instead. Our world doesn't perfectly glorify Him, but He shines in the darkness anyway. The candy canes have their legend too. I'm not sure that the tree is exclusively Christian; I've heard conflicting stories regarding the source of it. But since it only goes up for Christmas (at least in the context of our family's celebration), it also comes to reflect Christ in spite of its seeming obscurity. It doesn't matter that our Hindu neighbors also have a tree in their window. It just reminds us of their confusion, and that's a good thing. We need to keep people's confusion in mind and pray for opportunity to clear it up, for the words to speak at the right time. The increase in those opportunities is also a part of the glory of the season.
Christmas will come whether I'm with it or not. Joy will be there for the asking even if I get cranky and stressed and don't access it. Eternal life will be available whether we've ever celebrated a Christian holiday--it isn't because of what we do, but the Baby grown into the Man on whom we place our hope. Hallelujah! God is so good! Don't stress the little stuff; enjoy that cosmic event that happened on our little sin-flawed planet 2010 years ago. Merry Christmas!

There's a Fine Line Between Condemnation and Expulsion

In my Bible reading lately I have noticed that there are a number of instances where on occasion a believer is called to shun another who calls himself a brother, when his actions would seem to deny his faith. I'm sure that doing so could easily be mistaken for condemnation, and so in my mind this morning I was puzzling over the distinction since I know that God does not give us a place to condemn others. Eventually I came up with some symptoms that might indicate the difference. First of all, I need to capture the verses that prescribe this cutting off of fellowship for what we should hope would be only a short time. And for myself, I have never been in the position to specifically "shun" a brother; I see this as something that is done as a church discipline with the involvement of the church elders. Still, a lot of these distinctions have their more limited applications in various aspects of the Christian life on occasion, so I think that clarifying them is useful for all of us. Perhaps many of us experience condemnation at times (even through no fault of our own), and can see the usefulness in this clarification on that end as well.
1 Corinthians 5:1-13 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.
But actually, I wrote you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.

At the price of what would be a false unity, we need to divide with those who are not following Christ.
1 Corinthians 11:19 For there must be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.
The symptoms of condemnation I came up with would be seen after you have done everything you can to turn the brother from his sin and it seems to have availed nothing, and you stop having fellowship, eating with him, or getting together with him for any reason other than restoration. The symptoms of condemnation might include:
1.) contemptuous and unloving attitude. Shunning the person from fellowship could be done either in a contemptuous and unloving way, or in a loving and caring way. If it is done without the goal of reconciliation, that will be obvious and will further alienate the person.
1 Corinthians 16:14 Let all that you do be done in love.
2.) anger. James 1:19b-20 says, But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
3.) putting up hurdles to avoid reconciliation. Then lack of reconciliation is not their doing, but our own.
4.) lack of concern and prayer for the person. This expresses an unforgiving and judgmental attitude; we close ourselves off from engaging the Holy Spirit in reaching the heart of the person.
5.) unhappiness at any good that the person experiences, and rejoicing when they experience hardship (except with the hope of restoring them to obedience). Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
6.) a feeling of certainty or even hope that the person is destined for hell. This is surely not the place of humanity, but God alone determines who goes to hell.
7.) considering the person as dead even while they live. I have seen parents whose children embrace a homosexual lifestyle call them dead though they are physically alive; this is not what the Scriptures call for. They might well be spiritually dead, but they still need prayer, concern, and attempts made to reconcile them to God.
If we have a condemning attitude, we need to take care to avoid having condemned ourselves in the process, having the plank in our own eye as we try to remove a splinter from that of our brother. Rather, we should have an attitude like that of the Apostle Paul, not giving up but seeking restoration:
2 Corinthians 2:4-11 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you. But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree--in order not to say too much--to all of you. Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.
Galatians 6:9
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.
1 Corinthians 15:58
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

Restoration and forgiveness should always be the goal of expulsion, continuing in prayer in hopes that the Spirit might bring it to pass:
Galatians 6:1-2 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
Ephesians 4:32
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Matthew 6:14
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
So there is the sum of what I came up with; I think it's clearer in my mind, and I hope if you shared my confusion I might have helped you also.
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Can Christians Judge Others?

A while back, a friend of mine brought up the question whether a Christian should judge another Christian. It often comes up when someone thinks that you're treading on their toes, and sometimes people have a point, that you really have no place determining for yourself what their status is. I think there are times when you should, and times when you shouldn't, judge another person. The quote that usually is used, taken out of context, is Matthew 7:1, "Do not judge so that you will not be judged," which I believe is referring more to a condemning attitude that might be leveled toward your brother. Or then, John 8:7, "He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her." (And then Jesus, sinless, chose not to cast it.) This is also in the context of condemnation; the men were exploiting the woman as a manipulation to test Jesus' response. But elsewhere there are other references. You know, don't you, that you don't take one or two verses and make a whole theology on need to look at what's called the whole counsel of Scripture. Doing so gives a more balanced view, and sometimes there is a passage that sheds light on how those others are really intended to be applied. I think that the confusion that is so prevalent regarding judgment brings us all to stay more silent than we should, rather than helping one another where we may be weakest, and we might so need a little human intervention. I think we all need our brothers to speak up at us now and then!
So a couple of days later, I was reading with my son Tim, and just "happened" (as it so often happens) upon a verse that answered that question that my friend asked about judging others. Who appoints us to judge anyone? Why, God's word does, actually. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 says, "I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people. I did not at all mean the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolators, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolator, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what do I have to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves."
We have to judge in many ways. We have to be able to discern and determine for ourselves how our own walk is, who we can imitate and follow because of their faithfulness to Christ, and who we must not imitate or follow because they aren't adequately following Christ. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses in their walk; everyone gets discouraged or distracted or confused at times. But when we judge that someone is straying, and we address it (in love, of course, 1 Corinthians 16:14 Let all that you do be done in love...), then we have the capacity to strengthen the knees that are weak (Hebrews 12:12-14). In fact, addressing sin in a brother is, as I see it, how to demonstrate our Christian love for one another, in a potentially eternal life-saving way. James 5:19-20 says, My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his ways will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. Of course we will be considered enemies of some when we do so, but that is just very much worth the risk when you consider the potential for good. One proverb has assured me through this, because more than once I have been thought an enemy before for being so judgmental as to speak up for wrongs I see being committed. It is Proverbs 27:6: Faithful are the wounds of a friend; deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. A Christian who lets a brother progress in the wrong direction unaddressed for fear of his response is not a friend, but an enemy. To whom are you most faithful? If you address a sin problem in a brother even to your own detriment and the end of that friendship, you have been a faithful friend not only of the brother, but of God Himself. If you don't address a brother's sin because you don't want to risk the loss of an earthly relationship, you are not being a friend of your brother or of God, but only of your own selfish desires.
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

Friday, December 04, 2009

23 Reasons it Seems God Shouldn’t Love Me (...and Don't Suppose There aren't More)

I was pondering some of the many reasons that it is strange that God could love me, because there are many ways in which I fall short of His glory.

1. I was conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5). I have nothing good in me apart from Him (Romans 7:18).
2. I was an enemy of God (Romans 8:6-7; James 4:4).
3. I think like a sheep (Isaiah 53:6). That means I tend to be stupid and vulnerable, I wander off a lot, I can’t handle anything very complicated, and I can’t see things from a very high perspective. One kindness God has given us sheep, though, is the ability to recognize our Shepherd’s voice (John 10:3-4); another is that He lay down His life for us sheep (John 10:11).
4. I often fail to tap into the amazing power of the Holy Spirit Whom God has given to all who believe in Jesus Christ. This leaves me working in my own strength and acting as if I weren’t a believer at all. I am often, if not always, in some way prideful and God knows exactly what’s going on in my heart at all times (Psalm 139:23; Acts 1:24; 1 John 3:19-21), so it's nothing I can keep secret from Him.
5. I spend time, money, energy, and thought on things that don’t matter. (“It’s all gonna burn,” says our friend Ken Slaker. And he’s right, 2 Peter 3:10.) And not enough on things that do matter.
6. I have often remained silent when I ought to speak and spoken when I ought to remain silent (Ecclesiastes 3:7; James 3:8-11). And then when I speak, I often don't think it through properly first.
7. I often mutter to myself when I have a problem I’m trying to work out. Isn't that a sign of insanity, or mental instability? In that case, I'm insane or unstable. Sorry.
8. I am often inconsiderate and unloving, sometimes to those who I say I love the most.
9. I can be unforgiving and remember things I should have forgotten. This is not Christlike. Thankfully with enough time I tend to forget them, but not as soon as I should, and more because of forgetfulness than goodness.
10. I forget things I should remember (such as so many of the reasons that should be listed here that I forgot—but, that is likely a mercy to anyone who might read this!).
11. I have done evil things that probably any average person would say would be unforgivable, and that God wouldn’t forgive if it weren’t for Jesus Christ giving me grace and faith.
12. I often think of reasons why I shouldn’t help somebody who seems to need help, rather than reasons why I should help them.
13. I’ve left many disagreements unreconciled.
14. I am a pretty messy housekeeper, disorganized, and a packrat (sometimes just out of indecision or unwillingness to spend time on sorting them out). Sorting things out boggles my mind. Our yard’s usually a mess too. Our van usually needs washing, vacuuming, carpet cleaning, and decluttering.
15. I don’t have extreme money sense. Maybe for lack of extreme money; maybe it’s why the lack of extreme money. Maybe both.
16. I am frugal, and fight a tendency to being stingy. And sometimes I lose the fight for not fighting hard enough.
17. I am short, and overweight. Some people think being short in itself is a character flaw. At least I can't take blame for that one aspect!
18. I get PMS sometimes and get cranky without even being able to explain what’s bugging me.
19. My face sometimes breaks out, I sometimes have bad breath, and other such unappealing health facts happen to me. Ask Tim.
20. I’m a slower walker than tall people. Ask Vonna and Brenda.
21. I tend to leave a lot of projects unfinished. Ask my mom.
22. It’s hard for me to think outside of my own life to bring others into it for the sake of witness or fellowship or friendship.
23. I am dismally poor at convincing anyone of anything, even if it’s very true. So…maybe you don’t believe any of this list. Or, I have a feeling, this list will be the exception.

So. If God shouldn't love me, does He anyway? I believe He does. The evidence is in His word...He says He loves me (Jeremiah 31:3; Romans 8:35-39; Ephesians 3:16-19); He sent His Son Jesus to die (Romans 5:8; Ephesians 5:2; 1 John 4:10), taking the penalties for my sin upon Himself (1 Peter 2:24). He has sent His Holy Spirit to let me know who He is, to change my heart, to understand His word, and to intercede on my behalf (Romans 8:27). Why does He love me? Because He is good, even though apart from Him I am not. He is kind to ungrateful and evil men (Luke 6:35, Matthew 5:44, 45). He gives grace. He takes a new believer and takes his hardened heart of rock and replaces it with a soft heart (Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26). It's beyond explanation. I don't know why He loves me or how He originated this whole plan. I'm thankful though to be a part of it in spite of myself. Hallelujah! He is great beyond my understanding.

New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

My Work Life isn't a Challenge for Just Me--and it's a Good Thing!

The last couple of months has been the beginning of a new phase in my life. For two months I have worked at a very strenuous and low-paying job in a nearby deli, and now I have given my notice to quit for the preservation of my health. I am going to continue to look for other work and will probably be working at least part time for the next few years at least. It may be typical of what is in store for me until I'm 80, for all I know! It challenges some unstated assumptions I have lived out in my life, and I don't know what God is trying to do this year. He's definitely got my attention; it's been a long time since I've faced so many tough issues in rapid succession.
My long-held assumption, in spite of the realities of our finances, has been that God wants me to stay at home and be a homeschooling, homemaking mom, in spite of my less-than-stellar homemaking skills. He has provided that I would not have to work in spite of what would in plain terms seem inadequate finances, and just lately that has changed some. Well, so far I'm still homeschooling, but it's been sandwiched in tight between work and sleep. God has provided for me to stay at home and homeschool for the last 20 years, which is all but 3 months of my Christian life. A month after I became a Christian, God made it clear that I was needed more at home than at work. A few months ago, it became clear that our family needed me in the workplace as well.
I'm not sure whether God is trying to show me something in this economic necessity, though I think He is. If so, it might be just how creative He can be in my life, giving me new vistas, new communities to interact with, all with the hope of glorifying Him. It might also be for the sake of showing my family something, and I'm not sure what that is either. Perhaps it is to challenge their assumptions in some regard.
One group who I think might be more heavily impacted than I would have expected is the homeschooling and Christian community around me. I was relating to my friend Vonna this morning that there have been a few whose mental gears I could almost hear grinding through the concept of my working. Was it that I had fallen into some financial sin? Was I out to prove something, to fulfill myself? Had someone in the family gambled away our savings? Was I unable to trust God for His provision? Didn't I know the Bible passage that clearly says that a woman should never work outside the home? (Somehow that passage doesn't come to mind for me right now; I can't find it, can you?) Maybe instead they were hoping that they would never come to that extreme a need in their own family's life, sort of like a pregnant woman hopes she will never need a c-section. Some, I think, were actually wishing they could extend their usefulness outside of the home to increase their family's income, but their home responsibilities were too great. And until this year, I don't think I could have done it either...sort of like I once thought I could never endure a c-section (though now that I've had two, I'm thankful for their existence!).
I've been surprised at the positive response from my family toward my work. Until just this year, Gary has always made it clear he wanted me to stay at home. This year the need was obvious for me to work. And this is the first year I remember him ever calling me a "great" wife. It was just a passing comment and I don't remember the context--maybe I was too stunned--but anyway, I'm pretty sure my willingness to work when needed may have helped him look at me that way. Katie facebooked me from Israel when she found I was working, "I LOVE you!" And Tim? He says he feels a little more normal, having a working mom. All the kids he knows outside of church have moms who work, most of them full-time.
I don't mean to say in my comments about gears turning that I think the Christian community around me has been condemning. I just think their thoughts of working moms have been challenged just a little. Surely they know I'm not out to "fulfill" myself (especially in my most recent job!). Many have offered to take Tim into their homes if I need help, or give him rides places; I've taken them up on some of those offers, too. What a dismally lonely experience it would have been for Tim at times without the help of loving Christian friends! It is an arena, though, where I think God is working to expand the views of those around us.
There is at least one Christian family ministry, and there are probably many, that would say that a married woman needs to stay at home under the protection of her husband, and an unmarried daughter likewise needs to stay at home under the protection of her father. I differ with this to some extent. Perhaps I am looking at this primarily as a product of my culture; I don't claim to be untouched by the present-day world around me. But I have seen Proverbs 31:10-31 used as an argument for a woman to stay at home, and I fail to see the clarity of that message. To me, it is more an impetus to feel free to be productive in the marketplace, to be a witness for Christ, to show diligence and responsibility, rub elbows with unbelievers, to bear witness to His goodness in words where a fitting opportunity arises, but without words, in all other cases.
So I have been around only non-Christians in the workplace. Only a couple of times I have known customers to be Christian by things they've said. In the workplace, I've heard swearing (though far less than I expected!), seen that my co-workers are smokers, drinkers (in their time off); they manipulate, complain, gossip, embrace Halloween, flirt, shirk responsibility (though all less than I'd expect). There are many things that happen there that you wouldn't see so much in church. I don't know what they've seen in me; I do let little Christian-ese sayings emerge once in a while, more to remind them that I'm Christian than anything else; I might say "hallelujah!" when things go right, and one time when I made a mistake, I said that I repent in sackcloth and ashes, all taken by my co-workers in a spirit of good humor. There is one man to whom I've had the opportunity to clearly witness. He finally got exasperated and told me the workplace was no place for that, though he'd brought up the subject. So I treated it lightly when he brought it up again, asking him if saying the word "Christian" was off-limits. And he was good-natured in return. I still hope for more opportunity with any of them, though my time is short there. If it weren't such hard work that my body can't take it, I would stay there. I love those people! I love them because God loves them, but also He's helped me to love them myself though they don't fit into that "Christian" mold. They are hard-working. My, they can do what I can't, sticking with a hard, low-paying job. I admire their diligence and their appealing attitudes. They tend to be encouraging and helpful, and I have no complaints except for the extreme physical demands of the work. Overall, it's been a great experience being there, and I'm thankful for this tiny and unrealistically pleasant glimpse God has given me of our unbelieving world.
I'll be finding another place to work. There will be new attitudes and probably less appealing co-workers, probably some who are downright difficult and cranky. But I may be working for who knows how many years, and I might as well grasp the idea of loving the unloveable, loving them to Christ. I hope that is what God has in store for me. He has me hemmed in to this place, and I am happy to walk in obedience on the path He has given me. I hope to see the fruit of it as I walk. And I hope that other moms will not fear the idea that God might have them work someday too--just like a c-section can actually be a very good thing! I've given birth to a whole new era in my life, and it's a surprisingly good thing--a very good thing. Hallelujah!
You have closed me in behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high; I cannot attain to it. Psalm 139:5-6
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

How Well Does God Know Us?

There are such a lot of Bible passages that explain just how well God knows us, and how much He loves us. He knows our thoughts, our coming and going, how many hairs are on our heads (Matthew 10:30)...and yet, I have often felt that when He was telling those who read His word over the centuries, He was talking in what I would call "crayon talk." That is, they only knew the visible, they didn't know anything about cells, or genes, or the "human genome" that most of us today have heard of but only a handful might claim to understand well. I think God was telling people of all generations in a fairly amazing intimacy how well He knows us--but I think He was saying it only in terms they could understand, while He knows us far and away much better than that.
So I was thinking of some questions I am convinced that God knows the answers to about every one of us--and it's a fun thing to ponder, when you think about how He truly is omniscient.
He knows, of this I am convinced, about all of us, without having to ponder or count on His fingers:

1. Your human genome in detail, just what each portion represents, and if you were able to ask Him how many of each molecule it contained, He would immediately be able to answer.
2. How many red blood platelets you have coursing through your body at this moment.
3. Who taught you that wierd expression you come up with when you are puzzled.
4. Why you pronounce "orange" the way you do in one context, and another way in another.
5. How many worksheets you filled out in 3rd grade.
6. How many paperclips you used in 10th grade.
7. How many times you used "I never" in any sentence in 1983 (substitute another year that works for you).
8. The date that you first thought about God.
9. How many times you tripped over your shoelaces.
10. The reason you do or don't like parsnips--just what molecule or other thing it is that makes your tongue go bananas when you taste them.
11. Why you have that scar on the inside of your left ankle.
12. How many moles you have.
13. How many times you've thought that you hated someone.
14. How many crushes you had in kindergarten.
15. How many times you clipped your left big toenail in 2004.
16. Where that ring is that you brought home from the dentist when you were 6.
17. How many times you have said any word that has 4 letters in it. Just what those words were, even if they weren't swear words.
18. The name of all your grandmothers 44 generations ago, and how many times each of them sneezed during their lifetimes. (Just 8 generations back, you have 256 grandmothers...I was too tired to go back 44 generations and figure that out, but I assure you, it's a lot.)
19. How many water molecules you've had to drink that were also drunk by the donkey that talked to Balaam.

Of course, the list could go on forever. I just thought I'd get you started. Whatever item it is on the list, God knows it already, even if He didn't expect the Israelites to understand modern-day scientific lingo. Well, just so you know, I'm not telling the whole story. God did make it pretty plain that He knows us well. Read Psalm 139:
O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,"
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day
Darkness and light are alike to You.
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother's womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand
When I awake, I am still with You.
O that You would slay the wicked, O God;
Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed.
For they speak against You wickedly,
And Your enemies take Your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate You, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
I hate them with the utmost hatred;
They have become my enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

See, the Israelites knew we all have hair, and many of us have quite a bit--and the number changes as we go through each day, since some 80 hairs fall out every day and some of those grow back. So that's amazing enough, for our human minds to comprehend. Still, no matter how much we know God knows us, and according to Psalm 139 He knows what our thoughts and words are and where we go to hide, and what we looked like before we were born, we still have a tendency to think we can hide anything from Him, or that He's not paying attention to us. It isn't that the things I listed are foremost on His mind, but if asked to recall them, He would be capable of doing so. His thorough knowledge of us in terms of life in these days was just an additional thought I was pondering as I was trying to go to sleep, and I knew I'd sleep better if I blogged it so you could think about it too.
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

Friday, June 19, 2009

Respectable Sins

Since Katie came back from college for the summer, one of the side benefits is that she has some decent reading material to lend me, and when I am too tired to be physically productive around our house, I can sit and read and hopefully learn something. The most recent that I have finished reading is Respectable Sins: Confronting the sins we tolerate, by Jerry Bridges.
A friend who knows I read this book had been wanting to read it, and she asked me what sins I found it bringing to light in myself. At which point I felt rather stupid, because I'd just read the book, probably too quickly, and I couldn't remember the specific points where I felt it applied to my own life. How unteachable is that! I think I can attribute it to the fact that some issues were distracting me, and I was reading it as much to give myself a mental break as to learn something.
So I looked back into the book, and rediscovered that list of sins that presently apply to me. The oddest one is anxiety, because until maybe the beginning of this year, I could honestly say I was hardly ever troubled by it. Yet I find myself fretting over things that I should be able to hand over to my ever-more-capable and sovereign Lord, and leave my worries to Him. It's logical, and I know it, and I pray for Him to take care of my trouble, and then I pick it up again and carry it. It's as if to say I don't trust Him to be able to do well enough without my pondering it. I think it comes from wanting to work out unworkable knots in my brain. This is a good picture, like the fable of the Gordian knot, an unworkable knot that was supposed to be a test of a man's qualifications to be the next ruler--the man was supposed to undo the strings of the knot. Everyone would try to untie the knot without success, until some man came along and sliced it with his sword and then he could take apart the little pieces of rope with ease. It was such a stunningly simple solution that a person's mind protests that it's not fair. Still, if he was not told it was against the rules, it was fair enough and he outsmarted the knotty problem.
It's similar to how we have it with our unworkable problems--and if we have access to the sword that slices through it, it is surely the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; we also have access to the Person who best wields that Sword, though--if He actually needed it. Recently, our sponsored child in Uganda, Herbert, sent a letter that had one Bible verse in it, not knowing my recent tendency toward anxiety. His verse was 1 Peter 5:7, Casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you. Imagine the goodness of God that He put that in the boy's mind to include that verse in his letter, and the comforting weight it carried when it arrived for me to read. It was a gentle and loving conviction, just as the Spirit supernaturally works.
The next sin (sequentially within the book) was discontentment. We were wanting to sell our house and get into a smaller one; it would be better for our finances and for the availability of time that is presently so devoted to maintaining the house and yard. We moved into this one for the sake of hospitality, and because it was near our previous church. Within a week of moving in, I discovered something about that church that eventually was the reason we left. For the last couple of years, we haven't hosted many guests, and our guest room had become a storage room full of clutter. So when I realized that the goal to sell had become a contentment issue, I started praying asking God to show me why we were staying here. I cleaned out the room and restored it toward the purpose of hospitality, removing clutter and putting beds back in, cleaning the sliding door down there and pressure-washing the patio. Already we have had one night where we hosted four girls Katie invited home from college; another night we hosted a fellow from Illinois who was headed toward Alaska to work in one of the fish-processing places up there. It has been a fun opportunity, and I am expecting that God is willing to fill the room frequently in times to come, or He might not have kept us here. In addition, the children in the neighborhood who had previously been incited to gang up against our Tim have changed their tune since the meanest two moved away, and since we got a basketball hoop. They now are coming around to play with Tim, and I'm hoping that instead of thinking of Christians in a bad light, they might come to realize we're not so bad after all, and we might have a forum in which to share Christ. So that contentment issue has turned around significantly just recently!
There were other issues too, such as lack of self-control (in parenting issues more than any other area, I think--I give up too readily when I'm challenged, most of all). There are other issues too, but perhaps they are to be brought to light on another day. This author wrote the book well, but I think I need to read it over and over again to get the most out of it--it will hit different areas depending on what I'm struggling with at the time.
The most convicting book of all, of course, is the Bible, and that's where we all should turn on a daily basis to let it do its refining work--that Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Though the Spirit's conviction of sin in the light of Scripture may bring pain, it generally still comes as sweetly and gently as Herbert's letter did. The Spirit humbles; He never humiliates. When the Spirit is at work, He knows just how to draw that person in love, because he is His creation. When we bear the fruit of the Spirit, we are only reflecting what the Spirit shows us, and when He works, He works with the characteristics listed, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we experience those things, we are experiencing His goodness, whether in His word, or in another person's work in our lives.
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Substance of Truth

Just recently, the truth of what I say was questioned. It eats at me, and I'm going to have to further address it before I can be settled, because if there's anything I don't like, it's being called a liar. Anyone who has been around a liar knows the difficulties that result. I have had my share of time dealing with lying myself. I remember for years thinking that I had a strange way of remembering things differently than I heard that they occurred. Then, probably when I reached about my Tim's age, 11, I realized what I was dealing with was that a person in my life was telling lies and that's why they didn't correspond to what I had experienced. Oftentimes, when the confusion started, I would observe that it went from bad to worse, that one lie would lead to a more incredible one. In one way my discovery was a relief, because suddenly my life started making so much more sense, but in another way it was troubling, because I realized that I couldn't rely on what I was being told--ever. Even when I was being told the truth I had to doubt it. I've always likened it in my head to walking in a big pool of Jello. Isn't it great that the substances we walk on tend to be so solid! Because if it weren't, we wouldn't be able to stand upright, we wouldn't be able to direct our own steps, we would sink in the mire and not be able to get where we were going, at least not without great trouble. I take exception to being called a liar, because I developed such an abhorrence of it growing up.
So great is the confusion when dealing with a liar! If they lie to you once, everything they say after that lacks credibility and it can be a very long time again before they might again establish your trust. Maybe they will never be trusted again. You might as well not communicate with them in the meantime, because it's pointless and confusing. You can't establish anything you do based on what they're saying, because chances are, it won't turn out right. You yourself will be more prone to error when you trust in the words of a liar.
The flip side to lying is great. When you don't tell lies, even the most fantastic thing you say will generally be believed because you are not in the habit of wrecking your credibility; you have developed a reputation for honesty. If you promise something and fulfill it even to your own hurt, then your promise will be relied upon in future times. Others will generally trust you and your own path will be easier because you don't have to establish the things you say; they are already established.
The funny thing about a liar is that they establish their own murkiness in life and don't ever rise above it. Because they lie, they suppose that others lie as well, and they don't ever know the goodness of trusting others and being trusted themselves. The person who doesn't trust you when you tell the truth might well be a liar themselves, because they don't have the delight in being able to trust any aspect of the world around them. They don't live on a foundation, and they don't see any foundation under others either. Their lives are filled with doubt and confusion; they don't know anything different.
Truth, on the other hand, is one of the hallmarks of Christianity; it is one of the things for which Christianity is famous. The gospel is the good news of the Bible, and I think it's telling that the word "gospel" has come to be used as a synonym for truth. I have tested and tried the truths of the Bible that can be used in everyday life; I have found that the things I have been able to apply are true and foundational. I have read various different aspects of the Bible and where some would say they contradict, I instead see how different aspects can complement each other and work together in His truth. I see this because in my testing God's word, it has proven itself to be reliable, so even the more confounding things can be trusted and should bee seen in that light. I guess a love of truth might also be why I like to see things more in terms of black and white rather than in shades of grey: black and white are absolute and definite; shades of grey are cloaked in mystery, indiscernable edges, and doubt. I like absolutes! And God's word is absolutely true. It's like the old hymn says: "On Christ the Solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand." I don't have to doubt any more; He has given me a sure foundation on which to stand and I can be certain of Him. I love this all the more because I know what confusion and uncertainty comes with doubt and lies.
John 8:31-33 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Persecution in America--We Should All Live as to be Counted Worthy

Today on facebook, two friends posted a news clip about a couple in San Diego who were questioned about the ligitimacy of a home Bible study, and instructed to go apply for a costly permit. I am busy today so I will not take long to post this, but I have to express my thoughts; they burst within me. I am struck by the indignation that seems to the usual response from Americans who are attacked for their faith--have they not read 1 Peter 4:12-13? It says, Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. I hope that I live in such a way that people who reject Christ will know that I believe, and that they will view me as they view Christ...that they come to view Christ more accurately and favorably, but if not, that I would encounter the privilege of being likewise rejected for His sake, for my identity in Him--and that I not react in indignation but glad to know that I share in His sufferings.
The founding fathers no doubt meant well when they gave us our first amendment rights for freedom of expression. For the most part, I'm thankful for those rights; I don't know what it is to live without their protection. But perhaps those men did us a disservice, in that we American Christians stay immature, thinking more that we are entitled to freedom of expression than that we should count it all joy when we find that freedom squelched.
It seems that our citizenship is in America, not in Heaven. Our heavenly citizenship means that we are just sojourners here, it is not our home, we are aliens to those around us. If we feel comfortable here, at ease, not challenged, then we have to question whether we are living for Christ, whether we are strong enough to endure when real persecution should arise.
Bible verses such as 2 Thessalonians 1:3-5 and Philippians 1:27-28 regarding persecution would indicate that persecutors are gathering judgment upon themselves, so we can know that when we are mistreated it isn't being ignored. When the expression of our faith brings on persecution, knowing that we have lived in such a way as to we should count it all joy as in Matthew 5:11-12, because we are counted worthy to be considered such. We have joined in the persecutions that our Lord Jesus suffered as in Hebrews 12:2, enduring the cross, despising its shame...for us. That is a believer's privilege!
And so I resolve today to live, with God's help, as one who is primarily heaven-bound, forsaking my American rights if necessary for obedience to Christ, not bound to an American citizenship and its rights, as much as looking forward to seeing Jesus face to face. Hallelujah! Amen!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

How we View Affliction Makes all the Difference

I don't remember how many times I've heard people reflect on the bad hands they've been dealt in the past that make it hard for them to process the present. No doubt I've done it myself (no doubt I sometimes still do it), and when I'm aware of it, I shy away from behaving such any more. It's too easy to use the past as an excuse for not responding biblically, for not growing in Christ, for shying away from relationships, and for whining and complaining about what should have been, when none of this is what makes for healthy interaction in the body of Christ. We sometimes use past victimizations as a crutch; we continue to use the crutch long after the injury should have fully healed. Christians of all people should not consider ourselves victims--I don't care what nasty experience we've had that would seem to say otherwise. Probably most of us have been persecuted, mistreated, misled to some degree...but God in His sovereign wisdom orchestrates our lives and has knowingly and lovingly allowed all these things for our good and for His glory.
One of my hallmark verses is Psalm 119:71, because it validates every difficulty that ever entered my life: It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes. I am pretty sure I would still be a lost sinner without hope if it hadn't been for the crucible of affliction, so I am eternally grateful for those things that I found intolerable in the days before I came to know Christ. I am pretty sure I would be a weak, shallow and unsympathetic Christian if I never had affliction from the day I came to know Christ, so I am grateful for those things that challenge my faith ever since becoming a Christian. I'm not saying that I am continually victorious in my view of these things, but if I continually bemoan them, I have not realized their value, and still have a great deal to learn in that aspect of my life.

Every difficulty I endure has the capacity to do me good, in that it should send me to the cross, to put every offense at the foot of the cross and seek His help in learning forgiveness, in learning healing, in learning to understand others, to have empathy, to sympathize with others in their weakness, to reach out to the hurting and the lost, to help the helpless, to heal others' wounds. Affliction should bring me to prayer and Bible study, seeking God's word on every act that confuses me or causes me to stumble. Affliction should bring me to seek counsel when I can't put the pieces together myself. Affliction should cause me to turn to the Scriptures and prayer rather than my own wisdom in resolution of conflict, in anxiety, in trusting God's wisdom and His will, and in setting my own priorities. It should make me more careful that I don't leave a wake of damage behind me which would hurt others like I may have been hurt.
Every difficulty I endure has the capacity also to bring glory to God, in that those who see how I respond might realize that it is only by God's strength that I can respond rightly. My response as a Christian should not be the same as that of an unbeliever, lashing out, attacking, gossiping, and complaining to everyone who will listen. If it is, I am not walking in the light but am walking in darkness.
So those difficulties that would seem to be designed by Satan to damage me can be turned to God's glory in bringing attention to His goodness and His healing power, to His capacity to bring believers through these things and when they have come through, to be better than they were before. If we use these difficulties as excuses for why we can't function well in the present day, for why we don't have a good understanding of biblical truth, for why we are staying where we are and not growing, then that's what they are: excuses. They are not valid reasons to spiritually flounder and wallow in our self-pity. Those things should change us for the better, not for the worse. They should not weaken us, but strengthen us, making us more fit for God's service, better able to glorify Him in the things we think, say, and do, and in who we are becoming. We should become better aware of just what the Bible says regarding our experiences, equipping us to discern truth from error and to comfort and counsel others. We should increasingly use all the experiences that God puts in our lives to better reflect Him, not the world. The past is something that God has given us, it is still ours, and we can use it for good or for evil. Even if we've responded wrongly about something in the past, we can change how we respond about it in the present, and we can use it for His glory in the future.

Friday, May 08, 2009

They are all Vitally Important!

Well, this is the companion piece to the blog entry previous to this. In pondering how to rate the contact with various type of people that are beneficial to one's sanity, I had to start in what seemed a logical place, by placing God first and separately, because He cannot be put into numerical value--not that humanity can be so placed, but at least with humanity, it's a bit more credible. The premise that prompted this blog was the idea that a person needs to be in contact with an average of six people per day to keep a balanced and sane approach to life. When a person acknowledges God as a foundational aspect of this mix, I can't see that six mere humans would be necessary, but for the sake of just having a number that works, let's keep it there for now. There are various types of people with whom any average person will come into contact, and I will have the audacity to score how important they are in my life, on a scale of one to ten, ten being the best and most vital.
1.) Believers who will keep me accountable or at least point me to God should score a 10 because they will knowingly help me in my faith and growth, and make me think about things I wouldn't otherwise, and help me with my weaknesses and attitudes, and love me even though I know they know my faults.
2.) Believers who won't keep me accountable and who might just trip me up, whether knowingly or not, should score a 10, because if I am not staying alert to the hazards they provide, then it is my fault and I need to learn to avoid those stumbling blocks that emerge from their existence in my life.
3.) Believers whom I feel inclined to redirect toward God deserve a 10, because they keep me analyzing how to relate His truths to someone who seems receptive, and I have to stay sharp (as iron sharpening iron) for their sake.
4.) People who seem sweet and kind and wise and desirable to be around deserve a 10, because I should be aware that they may just be appealing to my pride, and I need practice making sure that I see through these tendencies and can practice recognizing any flimsiness in any flattering assertions I receive; also they may think that being nice gets them to heaven, and I need to be alert for ways to share the truth of the gospel with them, that it's not by being nice, not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us. They also deserve a 10 because there also are times when I need their encouragement.
5.) People who are needy and demand my patience and help deserve a 10, because they help me exercise God's charity and kindness and patience and love and I will hopefully realize my need for God's help and grace in dealing with them rightly. They might very well see the goodness and charity of God, and His hope, delivered through me, if I respond with God's help. This is vital, as it might well pave the way for sharing the gospel with them.
6.) People who are negative, taxing, and whom I don't desire to be around deserve a 10, because they also demand my exercise of patience and love and self-control, and I will all the more hopefully realize my need for God's help and grace, not practicing revenge but leaving room for God's wrath, and also hoping for a great witness of His goodness through me to them, when perhaps all others they encounter might have been mean and cutting or otherwise impatient in return.
7.) There are people who serve me professionally who deserve a 10, because most people would realize that since these people are subservient, that service should meet their expectations. However, if these people serve me wrong, I hope they will help me practice God's self-control, especially of my tongue; I will have to remember not to practice revenge, but to overcome evil with good, and forgive. And I will hopefully realize that this can only be done realistically with God's powerful help and grace. And perhaps they will recognize the goodness of God through me, because perhaps nine people before me have gotten them fired for such shoddy work.
8.) Then there may be those whom I serve professionally, who deserve a 10, because they realize that I am subservient to them and whether they treat me well or not, that I should treat them rightly. However, if I serve them poorly, they might exercise their wrath upon me, and in any case I may need to exercise self-control (relying on God all the while), and not revenge, and to forgive--in hopes that they will see this strange attitude and wonder, and come to realize that it is Christ in me that made me any different from the 20 people they chewed out that day before me.
9.) Then there are the little children, those who call me Mom, and they deserve a 10 as well, because I will see them at their best, and at their worst, and they will do more than anyone to polish my rugged, crackled, rough spots to shiny newness. I will have to exercise servanthood with them like with no other, and patience, and kindness, and self-control...and I don't have as much of it as I need at the start, but with God's help and grace, it will grow as they grow. I need to correct them and point them to God, and I may be the primary one doing it, so in turn, they will willingly and compulsively point out my inconsistencies and hypocrisies and have every right to do so. And they will love me in spite of my faults. And they are precious to God because He has a special place in His heart for children, and their character and spiritual growth will likely be impacted strongly by how I treat them, how much I teach them, how much I point them to God and His all the more I need to be careful to obey Him in how I lead them.
10.) Then there are the little children who don't call me Mom, who deserve a 10 as well, because they are freer with their comments than adults and will tell me things as they see them, and because their behavior hasn't yet become so fully socialized and may try my patience and self-control. They are precious to God because they are not so cynical as adults, they'll believe what they are told, they are more likely to receive the truth of the gospel than any other portion of the population, and because they are the kind of people, He says, of which the Kingdom of Heaven is made. They deserve a 10 because I need to be all the more alert to how I represent Christ to them, depending on Him all the while.
11.) Then there is my spouse, who started out seeming so perfect, and now so many things I used to think were cute I may now find he deserves a 10 too, because, living close-up like my children, he will do very many things that wear down my rough and ragged spots, and with God's grace here also, he will finally get to my more shiny spots that develop underneath. And I will say and do things that hurt him, and he will say and do things that hurt me, and he and I will learn forgiveness and patience and how to overlook things, and so he will help me grow like no one else can. He will also pick me up and encourage me, hopefully, when I need it, and correct me, and tell me things I need to know, that no other human being knows I need to know. And there will be times that he needs the same, and I need to be alert to those things and kind and sensitive with how I deliver them. And he will love me even though he knows my worst traits.
The funny thing is that when I started writing this blog post, I really did intend for some types of people to be rated more highly than others; but when I pondered why they were important, it was clear that they are individually and corporately important in my life, and I shouldn't shun or downplay the importance of any one of them. God in His sovereign wisdom has placed each one there with good reason, and my response may well be part of why He orchestrated that particular mix, and He is watching to see what good things might result from it. The children are precious to God, but so all of them are--He tends to refer to His disciples as children, in fact; He died for the sins of humanity, and it is not His will that any should perish. Without His help, I could not respond properly to even one person in this mix, not even once; and still so much of the time I do not. So it is a lifelong learning for me; I must be glad that He remains patient to teach me still.
Philippians 2:3-16 "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain."
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

God's Influence is Foundational

A while back I heard that a person needs to be in contact with an average of six people per day to have a healthy, balanced outlook in life. We need people to help us avoid the little hangups and the foibles and vain imaginations that tend to build when we are continually alone. I can see the wisdom in that; being a homeschooling mom, I need further input than just my 11-year-old son or I start thinking in sillier, wierder terms than are normal for a woman my age (which can already be a tendency of mine). If I'm not around enough people, I start pondering my own self, pitying myself for my hurts, priding myself in my strengths, championing my "rights," and thinking any number of unhealthy things that have mostly to do You can see the effects of extreme isolation in the typical hermit, who becomes more antisocial and strange the longer he is alone.
In any case, I think the scale of interaction works a little differently for Christians (well, for all of us, but only Christians will fully comprehend what I'm saying here). We can't live by that same secular scale, though the general concept is basically sound. We are able to round ourselves out only by a whole level of input which the unbelieving world does not access. I was going to blog about all of these things in one entry, but it is too big for one; the element that makes it too big is...God. I was thinking of making a somewhat arbitrary or subjective point system for how much benefit various people give us, but God is beyond a point system. His attributes are all infinite; the only thing that pares down how to score His importance is that we are finite and can only receive so much--or His input would likely destroy us. It's something like when God hid Moses in the cleft of the rock in Exodus 33 and went by, and Moses could only grasp so much of who He was, or when Moses came off of Mount Sinai in Exodus 34 and had to wear a veil because his face reflected the glory of God to the alarm of the people.
One means that Christians recognize (and might not take into account to apply to that 6-person theory) as a method for keeping themselves on track, sane, level-headed, is the power of prayer and Bible reading. They are closely intertwined, in that prayer is talking with God, and the Bible is also God's word, breathed into humanity through the power of the Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." It's useful in influencing others, but firstly in being influenced ourselves. It has a way of reaching and operating where no uninspired word or thought can approach: Hebrews 4:12-14 says, "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." I expect that if a believer were isolated, even in a prison cell, with no outside human contact, if he had the Scriptures either before him or memorized, he could stay sane and functional by continual dependence on the Scripture he has been given and the ever-available power of prayer. The Scriptures are something of a two-fold influence, where the reader is reached by God through His Holy Spirit, but also by the writer through whom the word was written.
All the more than a believer isolated in a prison cell, we believers in more average circumstances have every ability to lead a fruitful, functional life reflecting God's glory, if only we stay in prayer and His word and apply it daily in our lives, whether in guiding our own thoughts or interacting with others. We may do great things, if we were so equipped; Johann Kepler was inspired by God's word in his life such that he called it "thinking God's thoughts after Him." The way he applied God's inspiration led him to make useful discoveries foundational to science, based on His word. Interaction with others, I believe, is also desirable and healthy, but God's input is the essential basis, the foundation. Without it, the way we live our lives will be far less than optimum. If we don't access His glory, how can we reflect it in the way we live? We can only think God's thoughts after Him if we have learned what He is thinking!
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Full Counsel of Scripture and Spiritual Fitness

I went to the YMCA today to work off some pounds (except the pounds strangely don't seem to work off...) and while exercising there, I thought of many parallels between physical exercise and the exercise of our faith, keeping in mind all the various ways that we live it out. It made my exercising easier as I thought of something other than one motion after another, repetitive and somewhat painful.
I have tried most of the machines in the one exercise room, and have come up with my favorites. I go through the 9 muscle-toning machines in the children's area (they fit me well for height, and they're okay for adults to use if the children aren't kept waiting for them). I don't know how any child would max out on those machines. I started out pretty strong (I usually add about 30 pounds or more to whatever adjustment was there before), and am getting stronger, but I have a little way to go on most of them. Only on one can I go for the full 100 pounds--it's the one for the lower back, and for some reason that part of me must be proportionately stronger than the rest. For a while, after I was done with those machines, I would go to the elliptical machine, or the treadmill, and work off maybe 100 or 150 calories. Lately, I go to the reticulating bike, where I can sit back and read my Bible. I can read about 15 chapters while I work, and work off about 200 or more calories at a sitting while I'm not dwelling on the effort involved. I can't read so well on any other machine there. (The funny thing is, my unbelieving brother Don is the one who suggested that I work on that bike for the purpose of reading. Ha! I don't think he would have for the sake of the Bible, but never mind that. He can be a good influence in spite of himself.)
The funny thing is that while I try to get more fit, and I know I'm exercising more than I have since I was in school, still if I try walking in our neighborhood, I realize that the exercise at the Y does not yet provide me with greater stamina for walking. And I work on so many machines that I would think that I would be working pretty much all my muscles...yet I have noticed a few more machines, upon closer observation, that I know would help me find some new ones.
If I use one machine and go back to another I haven't used for a while, that previous one is harder again to use, as if I'd never tried it (my body seems to have an appalling lack of appreciation for the work I have done). When I'm not using a machine, I don't realize how much my muscles need the benefit that comes from it. That kind of thing is what got me comparing it to the Christian life.
Lately in my reading, I've been reading certain books of the Bible repeatedly for greater knowledge of them and the emphasis that comes through it; I occasionally branching out to others that I haven't read in a while. I know those other books, but being away from them, I get forgetful. It's good to have a reminder; it's like flexing muscles that otherwise stay still. Reading a book repeatedly to the exclusion of others is like using the reticulating bike continually and leaving the other machines alone--I get really fit in one regard but flabby in others. I need the balance of not just reading the Gospel of Mark, but also Genesis here, Acts there, Revelation sometimes too...I need the full counsel of the Scriptures to live my life in a balanced fashion. The books of Paul's life are an inspiration to live fully for Christ; the Gospels are a reminder of Him who I live for, belong to, look forward to meeting...but then Noah and Abraham and Moses inspire me with their persistence, their faith even before the knowledge of our Savior on the cross and His resurrection. The various letters to the churches remind me of the various ways I need to sharpen my obedience, my attitude, my witness, my walk in Christ. To increase my prayerfulness, my Bible reading, how I exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. To understand and remember the reason for our suffering, for our faithfulness, for fellowship, for stay strong all around so I don't have extremely weak and flabby areas, so I don't fall for lies and stumbling blocks and get discouraged. Not all of the benefit of reading is known to me in this life, I'm sure; just like all the benefit of exercising doesn't show on the scale, in the fit of my clothes, or on a walk nearby. The Bible is a God-given, ideal and thorough fitness plan, always waiting, ready for me to apply. Ready for me to get my spiritual muscles pumping!
1 Timothy 4:8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

Friday, April 17, 2009

To Live Like Paul, to Live for Christ

Last night at our Bible study in the Gospel of Mark, we were discussing Jesus' statements in 9:34-37 (among the rest of the passage); the subject at hand went through my mind much of the night.
"And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?'" At the end of it, Lauren, one of the younger participants in the class, read one of Paul's quotes from Philippians 3, which knit perfectly with our study.
"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

The difference is clear to anyone who has lived long as an unbeliever before coming to Christ. Perhaps the biggest difference is what one dreams of doing with one's life as an unbeliever and as a Christian. Maybe the difference also could be attributed to having been an unbeliever in the younger years, when the dreams are more optimistic and perhaps unrealistic. Still, the unbeliever clings to this life, and as he comes to know Christ, as he gains by increments a hope, an understanding, of the future delight of heaven, he releases his grip on the things of this life, which pale in comparison.
The difference is understandable. For the unbeliever, he will experience nothing better than what he has in this life, and it just makes sense to make the most of it until he has a future hope. You can see that the world is trying to make their earthly experience as heavenly as possible, as if there were any way around the idea that it all will come to an end. For the believer, however, this world is far fuller of trouble and trial and dirt than the future that he realizes is waiting for him, and the best that he experiences here, that which used to be so alluring, grows increasingly meaningless.
Paul knew perhaps best of all humanity what he was living for as a believer; many agree that Paul speaks of himself when in 2 Corinthians 12, he discusses someone who had an experience of being taken up to the "third heaven." Paul lived his life as though understanding just how great his heavenly reward might be. He held nothing back in his service to Christ; he didn't seek to preserve his life, or to pursue worthless and temporal things. It was obvious that whatever he had seen in his heavenly experience, it motivated him to the point that earth and its trappings, and all the learning and acclaim he had so diligently earned in the Sanhedrin, had lost its luster. He now considered it refuse in comparison to knowing Christ.
So in the night, when I was pondering this lesson, I thought of various questions to apply to my life, some of which are convicting to me...

1. What would an outside observer think I was living for, if he could observe my life, based on my behavior?
2. What are my dreams for this life?
3. What upsets me the most?
4. What thoughts consume my idle time?
5. If I were given the opportunity of my dreams, what would it be, and why?
6. When I am disappointed, what thought consoles me?
7. Am I a worrier?
8. Do I hoard things?
9. How big a motivator is money? What is my greatest motivator?
10. How do I hope to be seen by the people around me? How does that affect my behavior?
11. Do I hope that people see Jesus in me, or that they don't?
12. Whose pleasure do I seek?
13. Would I seek to live longer on earth so that I could have some particular dream fulfilled?
14. If I seek fitness, what is my purpose? If I seek a perfectly clean house, what is my purpose? If I seek financial abundance, what is my purpose? In any of my goals that I pursue, whose glory am I pursuing?
15. Do I have an ongoing awareness that God sees my life and knows my heart?
16. How much suffering will I be willing to endure for Christ? Do I think that with His help I can face it?
17. Am I afraid of death? If so, what about it frightens me? Do I feel that I would be ready to face God at any minute?
18. Do I have a true longing for heaven, a feeling that I don't belong here but there as a citizen, a desire to see Jesus face to face? Do I expect heaven to be a relief and a joy? How much do I ponder heaven? Is my longing for heaven more a head-knowledge, or a heart-knowledge?

Our goal should be to have these answers be 180 degrees from where they were before we were believers. I don't suppose any of us can say that we've reached that 180 degrees in this life about any of those questions, even if we come close on some of them. Some of my answers are better than others; some I try justifying somewhat. Probably in any of them, I have to think about how honest I'm being, and since there's always room for improvement, all of them I should pray about, and seek to change my heart.
I can't say that there are many things I hope to do before I die. I don't think I fear death much; in fact, there are times when I long for it (maybe for the wrong reasons!). The main selfish reason I would choose to stay is take part in raising Tim to adulthood; there are other things I would like to do along the way (most of which seem unlikely). Most of them are easy to put aside. I think I look forward to heaven for some of the right reasons. But am I living like Paul lived? No, I know I'm not there; far from it! So I need to change, to improve, to seek His help, because without it that change will never come. I want to live as to say with Paul in Philippians 1:21, "To live is Christ, to die is gain."
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.