Saturday, February 28, 2009

Always be Prepared to Give an Answer for Your Hope...

The other day I had an encounter with a woman who I've met before and always liked, always seen as gentle and seemingly happy...and I was telling her how long we'd been attending our church and how much we have so loved it (we were at the church at the time, for a children's music education program). I asked her where she attends, or if she attends? And she said, no, she couldn't find a church that believes what she believes. She said they usually expect you to believe the Bible, and she just doesn't (at which, in retrospect, I can rejoice; I'd hate to think she'd found the church that affirmed her expectations!). When she told me this, my heart sank for her, though I also knew this was one of those things we all should be living was a golden opportunity to share the wonderful hope of Christ.
The Bible says to always be prepared to give an answer to those who ask about the hope that is within you...and yet, she kind of caught me off guard. I had to search for what to say to her. When a person puts some sort of faith in the Bible, you can use some Scriptures, but when they don't, it's different. You have the help of the Holy Spirit, but only evidence that is not bound up in Scripture verses, to relate the reality of Jesus Christ. She doubted that Jesus even existed. She said that all a person has to do is love, that's enough for her, you don't need any more. I told her it's not by works that you get to heaven, you don't earn it by being good. She didn't care about heaven or hell, didn't know for sure that they existed. She said that she couldn't put her faith in a book written just by men. Ah.
There is one thing about the Bible, without referring to any specific verse, that is an overwhelming evidence for its truth and reality. The Old Testament is replete with prophecies of Christ. These are statements that point to a future Messiah, a Savior, who would complete God's plan of redemption for humanity. There are some prophecies that even the Jews missed, regarding the fact that He would be a Savior not only to the Jews, but to the Gentiles as well, and those that reference His human weakness, His human poverty. They expected a powerful King who would overthrow the Romans who were oppressing them at the time, and He didn't fit their expectations. This wasn't because the prophecies weren't true, but because they were reading their own desires into the prophecies and overlooking those that didn't suit them. It's a case of what people refer to as 20/20 hindsight: now, having the New Testament through which to view the Old, we can see that there are many more prophecies than the Jews attributed to the coming Messiah. Hundreds of prophecies that are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, that no mere human would have had power to orchestrate, such as where He was born, and the reaction of Herod when he sought to kill all the baby boys in that area at that time. It would be incomprehensible to read about all of these prophecies in retrospect and not conclude that Jesus had an incredible significance, that the circumstances of His very existence testified to the truth of the Old Testament, and therefore the New.
No mere humans could have written the prophecies and had power to make sure that they would be fulfilled; some were written thousands of years before His birth. In fact, they puzzled over these prophecies as they wrote them; they would have loved to see how they would have been manifested. They did not fully understand what the meaning was of the words they were writing:
1 Peter 1:10-13: As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things into which angels long to look. Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

I tried to tell this lady about the prophecies, and how they were not written only by the men who held the pen but by the Holy Spirit as He composed the words; still, she said nothing and looked completely uninterested. I said that you can't make God into whatever you want, because that makes Him into a small, powerless thing that is no good at all. You could make a pebble on the beach into a god if you wanted to, and it wouldn't have any power at all. She said that it could work. At that point I realized there was nothing more for me to say, and the discussion was pretty well through. I don't need to feel frustrated, because Jesus said there would be the four soils, and it seems at this point she is the soil along the path--compacted, resilient against the truth. I have no need to be frustrated, but I can pray. She is a dear woman for whom Christ died, if she would only look and realize her need for him. So far she realizes none of this, but God is gracious, and has given her more time to do so. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Do I Only Trust in Visible Support?

The phrase, “No Visible Means of Support” has been thumping around in my head for the last while. I think the phrase comes from an underwear ad from my childhood. I don’t know whether they still use it in their advertising or whether the company who did even still exists. I googled it and didn't see anything that provoked my curiosity, only dismay because one post used it to describe or define a vagrant. Still, this phrase just seems so timely, because my husband has felt the increasing likelihood that he will join the ranks of the unemployed in the near future unless something wonderful and unexpected happens with his job. At least he’s got lots of company; that can be reassuring, except that it also ensures a daunting amount of competition for every job for which he might apply.
We’ve been down this road before; his career in sales has been difficult and I’d hate to try to add up how much time we’ve spent with him working and without. So I know a lot of ways to save money, though I know that we probably waste more than we ought. Actually, I can't really explain why we haven't encountered more trouble financially than we have by this point already, so in view of that, I can look more optimistically at the future. And past experience in job outages might be helpful for us, and also helpful for others who are dealing with it for the first time.
For us this time it’s a little more unnerving than usual, because thanks to repeated periods of unemployment, our bills are bigger than ever before, and our savings resources are less adequate to the challenge than ever before. So do we fear? I hope not. I am a person who has learned to trust in a Provider bigger than myself. Don’t let me lose you here. I still struggle with the same difficulties you do; with such pressures that surround me perhaps more pressingly than ever before, I still fight the tendency to worry about my circumstances. I just have come to the conclusion that there is a God who cares and who can help me, and anyone who will trust in Him, through any challenge; in fact, these afflictions are worthwhile if we see them as working for our good. So while we might have no visible means of support, I thought I would start chronicling just how much more powerful our “invisible” means of support, our faith, might be to take our family through another round of unemployment.
When I read my Bible, I find an incredible number of promises and encouragements, and I feel helped. If these promises and encouragements fell flat, I would have reason to become disenchanted, but I know that in the past, we have always come out better as a result of any of our trials, when we went through them looking to Christ. These days, we’ve been studying the passage in the Gospel of Mark about Jesus calming the waves and the storm, and Him walking on water. His walking on water is another vista of “no visible means of support.” If He can rely on something unseen, so can I. He had Peter actually walk on the water (Mark doesn’t tell that part of the story); Peter started out fine, focusing on Christ, and walking with no visible means of support…but his eyes just couldn’t resist looking askance at the waves around him…and he sank. So I take counsel from Peter's experience, and I try to look at Christ and not at the things that trouble me. I look to Him for an example of faith, for an expression of God’s power, for a sense of calm. Where else might I better look for help, when all around me there is turbulence?
What fun is there in looking at my troubles anyway, and feeling all the symptoms of unworkable, crippling anxiety? It seems that even if I didn’t want to look to Christ, since I have nowhere else to turn, I would go to Him out of desperation if nothing else! My not-so-hidden agenda, though, is to turn to Him and rely on Him and see what He will provide that will be my help, my further testimony of His faithfulness, my redemption.
Hoping that I can call myself a good wife, I want to help my husband and family through this time. So I look to Proverbs 31. The woman there is hardly a timid little thing that never ventures out with an idea to help her family along. She is out selling belts, bringing food from afar, clothing her family, interacting with the world in a productive, businesslike and confident way. God uses her as an example of a woman living a fruitful life. So how does her example apply to me? That is an item for prayer. I can’t say I’ve lived the life of bringing in income for our family (not for the last 20 years or so), but I am willing if that is what God has for me. That is one of my first prayers for this period of time, is, “What would You have me do? How can I be like the Proverbs 31 woman for my family?” I don’t yet know what the answer is. I have some ideas, but I don’t know yet which He would have me pursue.

He may not have me change my work at all. He might overturn our lives completely. Our lives are in His hands; we are His servants, and it is up to Him to do with us as He will. I look forward to seeing what God crafts our lives into being, with fear, I admit, and with eagerness. Keeping my focus on Jesus is the only way to handle my fear, and the only reason for my eagerness as we head into the future. Our earthly future may be fully unknown to us, yet it is fully planned by Him from ages past.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Learn from Me, and You Will Find Rest for Your Souls...

There was one little aspect of yesterday's Bible study that really goes with the post from last night. But that post was so long, and this aspect stands alone so well and is so worth remembering that I would post a blog about just that one thing, just so I can come back and read it...and if you read it too, so good! Be blessed!
After all of our discussion last night about chapter 6 in the Gospel of Mark, Pastor Ken pointed out one thing that was a key observation. He asked us, "What is rest?" after observing that the disciples, er, apostles, were in need of rest after being sent out and returning to report to Jesus all that they had done. Jesus takes them away from the crowds so they can have some time to eat and be by themselves...but they are followed by the running crowds, the mob of 5,000 men (and you know that women and children were there too!). They are there with the crowds for such a while that they all are hungry. How can they feed so many? It is clear that there is just no physical means to feed them, nothing that the disciples can provide that is in any way near adequate. Jesus breaks the bread and the fish, and the disciples, rather than reclining and talking and eating amongst themselves, distribute the food to the thousands of people until all are satisfied, rather than send them away to find their own food. Not what the average American would call rest. So what is rest? Did the disciples find rest that day?
Pastor Ken pointed out, or somehow tweaked and pulled out of the class, that rest is being in the presence of Jesus, in the presence of God. Rest is being in fellowship with your Creator. Rest is focusing on God. That is the calm in the storm, not letting our hearts be troubled, not being afraid, but focusing on Him, His power, His provision, His lovingkindness. It didn't end up being much of a physical rest for the disciples. You can imagine that the disciples might have been pretty physically exhausted after all of the distribution of bread and fish to thousands of people; but there had to be refreshment in hearing what Jesus had to say, in having their faith built by seeing His provision when there seemed to be no way to feed the people, in realizing that their own inadequacy to feed the people didn't matter when He was there. It wasn't the rest for the physical needs that Jesus provided for them that day; it was rest for their souls. Maybe it didn't have time to sink in that day, because they were so busy. But can you imagine witnessing that event and thinking back on it later, all the rest of your life? Any time that you would think you couldn't get through some challenge, and you were losing sleep, and your stomach was twisting and churning, you could remember how five loaves and a few fish became, in Jesus' hands, enough to feed thousands. And your challenges would just kind of shrink when you knew that Jesus was still with you. That would be the rest provided on that day, I'm pretty sure.
It is so strangely easy to forget that we have the same Jesus Christ that we read about in the pages of Scripture. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. We need to let Him off the pages of Scripture and into the realities of our everyday existence. We don't need to have sleepless nights, or churning stomachs. Jesus is still capable and ready to calm the storms, to feed the multitude, to provide rest for our souls just like He did for them that day 2000 years ago.
Matthew 11:28-30 "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Even the Wind and the Waves Obey Him

This last little while, our church has been studying the Gospel of Mark...and you know in Mark, there is the story of Jesus calming the storm on the water, "even the wind and the waves obey Him," ...then the story of Jesus walking on the water, coming up on His disciples straining at the oars and fearing at this supposed apparition that appears. "Take courage; it is I; do not be afraid." He has the upper hand over the storms, over the waves. He seeks to calm us when we fear the things we think He can't fix, that we fear will overtake us and submerge us in catastrophe. Don't you find so often that the things you are studying in the Bible correlate to the things you are dealing with in your life? I don't know if it's just that everything in the Bible could have bearing on everything in our lives, or if it's just that God tends to orchestrate that we happen to be reading the things we need to know just when we need to know them. I think it may just be a little of both. Or a lot of both.
What are the wind and the waves in my life? Well, Gary keeps getting unsettling lectures from his boss. This boss only had him down to the company headquarters for two days when he started with the company. Any pharmaceutical company he's worked for in the past has trained him for at least a week; sometimes three weeks. With this job, Gary learns one little key piece of information at a time, usually about a month apart, just in time to give him another reason to call on all of his clientele and update them on what he has to offer them. So it's a bit of a challenge dealing with the slow thread of information, and the unsettling lectures from his boss...
Supplementing this little concern was the further indication we thought we found that the company might have financial concerns. There were two or three things that caused us to think so, one having to do with postponed bonuses, and one having to do with Gary's charge card, which they keep allowing to get maxed out.
So we had these two little storms, which started their own little whirlpools brewing in my mind. With Gary's job history being what it is, we have had great finances (for what seems in retrospect like one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot) and we have had less-great finances. Right now we have less-great, with more bills and less savings combined than we may have ever had, which makes it an inopportune time to be without income, if there ever was one. So that was one little whirlpool.
Then there's the real estate market whirlpool. We have this house that costs too much in upgrades, in maintenance, in heating, in taxes...and takes too much time in upgrades, in just is too demanding and I'd love to unload it on some poor (strike that) rich, unsuspecting individual. Thing is, we had new cupboards put in last year, and so all the more the linoleum needs replacing, not just because it was the builder's bargain-basement type, and worn to the point of holes in places, but also because it now doesn't quite reach the bases of the cupboards and has a nice habit of turning upward at the edges. I don't personally care, I could live with it like that for some time (and feel like I already have), but I don't think it will be a very good sales feature. So we really need to fix the floors before we sell; at least the linoleum portions. Which leaves us with a quandary: fix the floors to sell the house, or preserve our little bit of savings in case of loss of job? Because this is a real estate market where a listing could easily outlive our savings if Gary were to lose his job.
Then there's the job market whirlpool. I've applied for jobs in Gary's name (believe me, we've been through this enough I know just how to do it), but Gary heard that one job opening got 1200 other applicants. So we can't just say, "Well, all Gary has to do is get another job, and that won't be any problem at all. Maybe he'll get a raise in the process." Well, it could happen. But it is another whirlpool stimulated by the other matters.
Then there was the whirlpool of...checking the calendar and realizing something about the number of weeks that had gone by. I'm almost 49. I was just kind of wondering about something that had me pondering my own health, I don't know if you get my drift; I can't bring myself to type out what I was wondering. And...we don't have medical insurance. We could be looking at having to move soon, which means a lot of work and lifting and clear-mindedness. And 20 years from now I'll be 69. Gary will be 79. Yes, that had me really quite distracted.
Then we got some significant bills from the IRS that were supposed to be checks from our 2007 return. With interest charged. I couldn't call their office on President's Day. They were closed for the holiday. I hoped they were having a good time. It was a true whirlpool.
So with all these not-so-small whirlpools, and seemingly major storms and waves, I was challenged with the subject of the Bible lesson. I'm not one to worry; it really takes some major things to get me to the point where my stomach churns or I wake up in cold sweats or anything like that. But to tell the truth, if ever there was a time in my life that I felt like I might be tempted to worry, this couple of weeks would have taken the award! I promise you.
Kit, our pastor's wife, helped me out, without fully knowing how much I needed to hear it. (It was because I didn't understand the disciples fearing more after Jesus calmed the storm--though they didn't yet understand His deity. I was sure that when Jesus would calm my storm, I couldn't imagine fearing any more--just being very thankful, relieved, and absolutely adoring Him and having ever-more faith!) She pointed out, among other things, that fear is the same whether it is directed at our problems, or at Jesus. We fear our problems, or we fear God. It is the same stuff, the same substance. The substance of fear is the allegiance of our attention. She described it as standing at the midpoint of a circle, and Jesus is on one side of us, and the problems are on the other side of us. We can turn toward our problems, or we can turn toward Jesus. Which will we focus on?
So this week, when I've been tempted to focus on the various storms and waves and whirlpools, which I have to say was a pretty constant state, I'd say, "Waves, be still." Or, "Even the wind and the waves obey Him." Or, "Be still (cease striving) and know that I am God." When I'd feel that anxious stomach, I'd mentally turn from that mess and focus on Jesus. He's a much more appealing, read calming, view anyway, and yet at times it was such a struggle to pull my focus off those ugly whirlpools and storms!
When Tim and I were reading the Psalms (we read one per day--or in the case of Psalm 119, 20 verses per day--along with two chapters from either Mark or Ephesians), yesterday we read Psalm 121. Tell me if you don't find this a very calming and assuring Psalm:

Psalm 121
The LORD the Keeper of Israel.
A Song of Ascents.

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
The LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night.
The LORD will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul.
The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.

I felt very sure that God was thinking exclusively of me when He wrote that. What? You thought He wrote it exclusively for you? Huh. So interesting! All through the weeks, my resolve to focus on Jesus and His power over the big and little things that might challenge a person have borne fruit. I have honestly been able to put my worries aside, or take them in stride, or whatever you call it. I know He calmed the storm, He has done all sorts of those kinds of things in the Scriptures and in my own life (just read about it in all my other blog posts if you feel like reading that much), and if there should be anyone who is worry-proof, it should be me--though I have to admit this last while was about as much as I could take. I thought I just might sweat blood at one point. I didn't, though. And I did my best to remember, "He calmed the storm. Even the wind and the waves obey Him. Be still and know that I am God." I had to say that a lot these weeks.
So Gary asked his boss point-blank about the company finances yesterday, and he actually had some plausible explanations; he says the company's in fine financial shape. Whew. And Gary's sales were up this week, so hopefully his boss will start being happy. In fact, his boss has encouraged him to sign up for various conventions and trade shows and other sales hoopla that are happening in the next couple of months. I don't think he'd do that if he were planning to let Gary go. Hallelujah!
These little bits of information were enough to calm the whirlpool about real estate. If Gary's keeping his job for the next few months at least, maybe we will be able to ride out the real estate slump and sell the house at a more opportune time. Maybe we can put in linoleum. At least, at this point, I'm not very distracted about it any more, and the curls on the edges of the linoleum are no big concern to me...I guess. Ha!
It does the same to the little whirlpool about the economy and the job market. Okay, if Gary's keeping his job, it doesn't matter personally whether there are 1200 people applying for each job opening that is out there. We'll just keep on plugging! Good-o. Hallelujah! again.
As far as that problem with my health? Well, let me just say, I am thankful for an aspect of my health that I've never been very thankful for in the past. I'm really quite fine, thank you, after all. Hallelujah, amen!
The IRS? Well, I called and talked to a very nice man. He acknowledged that two IRS people had made mistakes. I'm not criticizing them--the whole thing got started by a mistake I made when I filed the 2007 return last year. It wasn't one that caused any difference in the refund amount, but in the process the nice man found a deduction I had missed. And he recommended that I send in an amended return, which should bring us a check after all, in the end. (Sigh. I don't like doing taxes any more than anyone else. But I do like checks!) So I have already completed that and it will be in the mail tomorrow. One more whirlpool disabled. I even worked on 2008's return. Looking at the numbers in the process, I wondered how we got by last year--except that we know a great Provider. Hallelujah! Amen.
So now I can assure least for now, Jesus has calmed my storms and my whirlpools. And I don't fear more, though maybe I do. Maybe I fear God more. I do think my faith has reached the highest level I've ever had it. (I know, now, I had better be ready for more testing of my new, improved faith. Breathe deep and repeat after know it too by now, don't you? "He calmed the storm. Even the wind and the waves obey Him. Be. still. and. know. that. I. am. God.") Hallelujah! Amen!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My Own Little Holland

Tonight I was mixing together some various non-wheat flours to make some pizza crust for Tim's birthday party (see whether those poor boys coming over can handle it--I think I'll have backup just in case!)...and thought back to reading once a mom's description of having a Down's syndrome child. Now don't get me wrong. Tim doesn't have Down's Syndrome, he has a wheat sensitivity! But there is a comparison in the thought...The woman wrote that having a Down's syndrome child isn't a bad thing. It's more like thinking you're going to Italy and you end up in Holland. Holland isn't bad, it's just different than what you expected. There are good things there that you wouldn't have found in Italy. She found the deep sweetness of her child to be one of those things.
Now I know that mixing flours and making non-wheat things is nothing, compared to that situation, but on the other hand it does have its own level of dauntingness! I told my friend Lois that I can't have wheat, and she exclaimed, "Then what can you eat! I can't have you over for dinner, because I can't serve you bread, and I can't serve you noodles!" She loves bread a little on the extreme side. I'm glad it is me and not her, because bread isn't that big a deal for me.
And there's a good thing when you avoid wheat, a hidden benefit. I found that there are so many other flours that the vast majority of the population never even tastes, never explores, because they don't need to. And yet, these all have their own flavor, characteristic, and nutrition. Some are far more nutritious than wheat! The down sides are that they can be hard to obtain, and about 3-5 times as expensive as wheat flour. I haven't yet found a store that carries a very wide variety of flours, even though I've gone to stores as far away as Lynnwood and Bellevue with that hope.
But look at this list of flours: Amaranth, arrowroot, almond, artichoke, barley, black bean, white bean, fava bean, garbanzo bean, garfava bean, brown rice, buckwheat, cassava, chestnut, coconut, corn, cottonseed, dal, dasheen, manioc, millet, cashew nut, chestnut, pistachio, milo, tapioca, montina, oat, pea, peanut, plantain, potato, quinoa, rye, sago, sesame, sorghum, soy, sunflower, sweet rice, tapioca, teff, water chestnut, white rice, and wild rice. All these can be found as gluten-free flour (as I understand so far)--just not necessarily nearby or affordably--though I could order them online! I have only found about ten of these locally, and I'm still not sure of all their characteristics, what they all taste like, and what you can use them all for. I have some figured out to a point, but it's a learning curve. An enjoyable learning curve, for the most part.
I used a mixture of these flours to make Tim's 11th birthday cake--a three-layer carrot cake. It had no wheat in it, and when he and Gary tried it, they both liked it. Then I told them it had no wheat. Tim said there was something different in the first bite, but it didn't bother him and after that it was fine. I thought it tasted salty, and found today that the flour responsible for this was tapioca, so for his pizza crust, I mixed potato, sorghum and millet flours to substitute for tapioca (since I don't know the equivalency of any of them!)...we'll see how well it turns out. At least it won't have to rise quite like bread!
And these flours don't rise on their own. I have to add xanthan gum or guar gum in order to help that along. We are avoiding the gluten flours, and gluten is what enables the flour to hold together while rising. It's easy enough; I found xanthan gum fairly readily and a little goes a long way.
So I am kind of enjoying it, even though meal-making is harder. All substitute noodles such as rice or corn seem to be a poor substitute for wheat. I can't serve dinner with ready-made french bread or rolls. And anything I bake, I can't just use one flour because none are quite equivalent on their own. There are also a lot of other normal ingredients such as soy sauce and white vinegar that often contain wheat. But I like creativity, I like a's my own little Holland. I think it's going to be fun, in its challenging little way. Of all life's challenges, I'm thankful I was given this one.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Seven Pounds: I Haven't Seen the Movie, Yet Might I Comment?

WARNING: This post is probably a spoiler for the movie "Seven Pounds." (I say probably since I haven't seen the movie and there's a small chance that I'm so wrong that it doesn't rightly spoil it at all. Ha!)
A few weeks ago, Katie's friend came to visit, having recently had a night at the movies. She had seen "Seven Pounds" and loved it. Katie, on the other hand, had not seen the movie but had heard a synopsis of it, one which boiled it down to a brief ethical analysis of sorts. She was wary of its message as a result, and they had an interesting and thought-provoking discussion. Katie's friend was insistent: Katie hadn't seen the movie, and wasn't able to so simply state that it was wrong.
The premise of the movie as Katie and I understood it, and as her friend protested was highly over-simplified, was that the hero of the movie made arrangements with various people (including his girlfriend) who were in need of organ transplants, so that they would receive his, and then he committed suicide to make his organs available for transplant. The movie was played out in such a way as to make his action seem fully justifiable and heroic, and the movie was considered a tear-jerker.
The problem that Katie found with the movie was that it glorified suicide, making it seem that it would be the heroic thing in extenuating circumstances. My thought is that it is just like the movie industry to present such a scenario and present it in an emotion-laden format so that it is more readily remembered and accepted by those who pay to view it. The intent seems to be that the viewer might consider life to be properly given into the hands of humanity, rather than God-given, that its worth is something that might rightly be weighed by us, rather than by our Creator, lending justification and credence to "mercy killings," euthanasia, suicide, and abortion.
Humanity is not qualified to make those judgments, those decisions, and determine the value of individual human lives. We cannot determine what gives a life value to God, or why and how long He allows a person to live; we cannot determine whose life is most or least valuable. Judging by how long God has given people to live out their natural lives, value of life cannot be based on viability, strength, beauty, intelligence, usefulness, age, race, gender...none of these things have corresponded to any consistent natural lifespan here on earth. The more that we consider such decisions to belong in our hands the lower the resulting value is likely to become; the less valuable the lives around us are considered to be, the less valuable our own lives become as well. Still, I would guess that our society is headed in the direction of more widely accepting such human decisions as increasingly acceptable, even humane, and it will be in part thanks to media presentations such as "Seven Pounds."
Katie took her analysis a step further and tried to articulate a difference she felt existed between this type of suicide and a scenario where a person intentionally takes a bullet that was meant for another. We struggled with this and our friend Kit helped us through it. This is only a partial analysis of the difference; there are other factors that come into play, but it explains it somewhat: When a person gives his organs, he has no control over whether the recipients will actually get them, whether the organs will save their lives, or whether the organs will be rejected by the recipient's immune system. Organ transplant is widespread, but it is still an unsure science. There are many factors that can skew the outcome of a transplant. The "hero" of "Seven Pounds" is surely killing himself for an unsure benefit. When a person takes a bullet for another, on the other hand, he is not sure that he is going to die in the process, but he makes a quick decision on the impression that he is saving the other person from potential death from that bullet.
We need to ponder what the messages are that barrage us, that we allow our minds and emotions to receive. We need to test them against the Scriptures; we need to value God's sovereignty in all areas of life, especially the giving and taking of it. He is the one to determine our days: Psalm 139:16 says, "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." We need to avoid getting caught in the traps that Satan has so cunningly set for humanity. It is easy to let our emotions get caught up in the story line of a manipulative movie, advertisement, television show, book. John 10:10 says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." That thief is Satan, and we must not cooperate with him in his murderous schemes.
Psalm 119:78 May the arrogant be ashamed, for they subvert me with a lie; but I shall meditate on Your precepts.

Friday, February 06, 2009

"No Man is an Island" Still Rings True Today

Further Update: Andrew died today, Saturday afternoon. After all the suffering and slowness of his final time here, the only sorrow is how we remaining will miss him; it's sure that he is happier now, free from harm, rejoicing in heaven with his Savior. Even so, I write with tears, Hallelujah!
Update: As of today, Saturday 2/7, Andrew is still in the hospital, incredibly hanging on. After our Bible study it occurred to me that as unlikely as it seems, it is possible that God could choose to heal him completely from all his troubles. The longer he hangs on the more I ponder this...Is my faith that great? Yet it is not based on the greatness of my faith but the absoluteness of God's power and His will. I pray that His will might be that we all be astonished at a miraculous recovery. Yet not what I will...and yet, I cling to a hope, a feeble hope.
Tonight after Bible study I updated Pastor Ken about a friend of ours who had mouth cancer...Andrew, a man about 28 years old, with a wife Grace and two little children, AJ and Gracie. Today, I believe, he passed away after about two years of a very difficult battle with the disease--I'm not sure that he actually did die yet, because he lives far away and the report was that he was on his way to the hospital at 1:30 a.m. and not expected to live much longer; last I had specifically heard, he was still lingering into the afternoon, but his earthly outlook was not hopeful. Thankfully, he was a strong believer and glorified God to the best of his ability throughout it all. I am confident that he is face to face with Jesus now and no longer suffering the pain that he endured here.
Pastor Ken asked me whether we were close friends. I hadn't really thought of it in terms of that until tonight. Well, I guess not. Katie had babysat for them, we'd sat at the same Sunday school table in our old church, we'd had them over, and they'd had us over, and I'd tried to help them on a few occasions before they moved. But since they'd moved, I'd read and commented on their blog, but hadn't heard from them directly. I'm not saying they should have contacted us. They had a great many friends in this area, in California, and where they are now in their home town, and they were overcome with all the problems they were facing. Our friendship was fairly utilitarian, not so much one of having much more than faith in common. But we loved them and prayed for them, and today my emotions have varied between being calm and accepting to sadness to aching for them, and back again.
It didn't take considering their friendship to be close to feel affected by his death. I respected him; he was a man who lived out his faith through every difficult turn. It reminded me of a poem that my sister had posted on our bedroom wall when I was a kid, and I kind of memorized it. I think it has affected my outlook toward others somewhat, and it ties in well with Christian faith and the meaning of relationship to others; it explains how even not being such a close friend of Andrew, his death still affects me:

No Man is an Island, by John Donne (1572-1631)
No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were;
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind;
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Boys, Friendship and the Crucial Birthday Party Invite

Today I came to realize how delaying a boy's birthday party without explanation can wreak havoc among the hearts and minds of the boys involved...which makes me touched at their sensitivity, and frustrated at my lack of attention to the matter of arranging a timely party.
I first received a message from a mother asking whether her son had done something to bug which I had to reply no he had not...but we did clarify some things that had both boys in a state of confusion as to what was keeping them apart, so God provided a healing in that.
Next, and it should have been before, since Tim received it a few hours earlier, Tim brought me a handwritten note from another friend who was devastated to think that Tim didn't like him any more...which couldn't be farther from the truth. It was given to Tim this afternoon, but because it was faintly written, Tim with his eye-focusing troubles could not read it. The note was requesting an immediate response. Tim gave it to me very late tonight, so I couldn't even call the boy's mother and clarify; I sent an e-mail but will call as soon as I'm up at daybreak. Tim was very distraught when he found the hurt that this friend was going through, and so was I.
I noticed a thread going through these incidents. With the first boy, who had various times declined invitations to our house, I in self-consciousness thought it might be because of my housekeeping being far from perfect, and/or because the other boys had been obsessed with a movie series that he had not seen yet, and he might have felt at a disadvantage with them...when actually he declined because he thought he ought to stay with another friend after music class because the friend's mother required him to stay and study. So I had thought his hesitation might be my fault. He thought Tim's delay in inviting him to the birthday was because of something he had done to bug Tim. The other boy thought Tim didn't like him because of something selfish he had seen in his own behavior, but which Tim had not taken on as an issue.
So we were all blaming it on ourselves, the two friends and me...all figuring that divisions that we had imagined were our own faults. The divisions were imagined, and the faults were imagined (well, housekeeping can be a real issue around here), but I think the trait of blaming self and not blaming the other is thanks to Christ...He has put it in our hearts not to place blame on another, not to dismiss a case as being another's fault. He has caused us to look to our own lack, our own faults in need of correction. I am so thankful for this, because it allowed for resolution. If the first friend had just thought Tim was being unfriendly, it could have been the end of the friendship. If the second friend had assumed the same, that friendship could have come to an end. If I had thought that the boy who avoided our house was "judgmental" about housecleaning, or just plain unfriendly, I might not have even wanted discussion with his mother. So Jesus has created in us a healing ability where hardness might have never allowed the friendships to flourish and continue.
I am still feeling convicted that I should have been sensitive enough to notify friends that their sons are definitely welcome to come celebrate Tim's birthday when I get my act together, though I never realized the potential effects...but I am so thankful for God's leading in keeping the doors of friendship open and allowing honesty and healing and correct thinking. And I am so honored and awed to have my son have such sweet friendships. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

We Represent Christ to our Neighbor; Our Neighbor Represents Christ to Us!

Who is my neighbor? I've been pondering this thought lately, and a few scenarios come to mind. Jesus seems to sum up the matter of our neighbors upon the earth in a manner so succinct and so all-encompassing all at once, by relating the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. Don't we all have trouble with a neighbor next door? All the more a person who dresses funny, smells funny, has a different standard of rules...Jesus helps us to see that our neighbor is the person of any ethnicity...of any political or economic or theological background...from any neighborhood, near or far...and as I thought about it (even while reading an unrelated book, various verses interrupted my thoughts, so I kept notes), the exhortation to love your neighbor is found not just in that passage but throughout the Scriptures. The passage that I think most clearly displays what Jesus is proposing is in Matthew 25:31-46:
"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'
"Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'
"Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' "Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' "Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.'"

If that passage doesn't cause me to stop and consider the things that I have done in my life, or to resolve to do the best I can in times to come, I don't know what would! I need to post it somewhere more visible, so that it becomes a more primary attitude as I go about my days. Others clearly represent Jesus Christ Himself, and how we treat them not only indicates to them how much His people love them, but indicates to Jesus how much we love Him. It's not an isolated thought; it's clear throughout the Scriptures:
Proverbs 19:17 says that if we lend to the poor, we lend to the Lord. It isn't that Jesus needs us to lend to Him; of course that's a ridiculous notion. So the only alternative is that lending to the poor is a gracious attitude, and blesses God Himself. He receives blessing from us when we provide for another. What an amazing thought!
The flow doesn't just go outward from ourselves, either. Jesus feels how others treat us as well. When Saul was walking along the Damascus road, and Jesus stopped him and blinded him (Acts 9:3-5) and asked him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting..." Saul had never seen Christ. He had never personally persecuted Him. But Jesus was feeling the pain personally of those who Saul had been mistreating and killing.
Jesus will also bless those who treat us well. I always have to remind myself that this is about a cup being offered to Christians, not by Christians to others: Mark 9:41 says, "For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward." This is sandwiched in the context of how we treat a little child: Mark 9:36-37 says, "Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, 'Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.'" and then, in verse 42, He says,"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea." I have only touched on the verses that regard loving your neighbor; they are many: "Honor all people"; "Love your wife as Christ loves the church"; "Fathers, do not exasperate your children"; "Turn the other cheek..." And then when I read 1 John, I think that the writer must have been very grieved because of the prevalence of hateful attitudes in the recipients of his letter; the exhortations regarding loving one's brother are plentiful there: 1 John 2:9-11 says, "The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes." Then there is 1 John 3:10-18: "By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous.
Do not be surprised, brethren, if
the world hates you.
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

If that weren't enough, 1 John 4:8 says, "The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love." Then there is 4:20: "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen."
The consequences of how we treat others are breathtaking: To be given a "Well-done, good and faithful servant" at the end of our earthly days, rather than the dire warnings of Matthew 25:46 or Mark 9:42, we need to be very careful of how we treat others, learn to love the young, the old, the foreign, the enemy, the unlovable and the helpless, and remove any attitude that hinders our doing so. It isn't something that comes readily to us, or God would not have to keep teaching us and reminding us in His word. It is a process and something at which we can constantly be practicing to do better.
Psalm 18:29 For by You I can run upon a troop; and by my God I can leap over a wall.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Fitness is a Culture all its Own...Not Mine! Oh, but Now it is!

We recently made a move not everyone would say was wise--I'm personally not sure it was wise, at least speaking from a financial standpoint. We joined the YMCA...a move we've never made before because it seemed so expensive. Still, with January being a half-price initiation fee month, it was tempting in view of a few significant factors. We don't have medical insurance, and though physical activity can increase the need for medical care, it also can lower the need for medical care (especially at 48 and 58 years old)...or the risk, for that matter, of death.
We joined partially because Tim sees various friends involved in hockey, and wrestling, and baseball...(he tried baseball and gave it up when he got hit in the face by one). He has lately been asking to get involved in some form of sports. I am not good at keeping kids enrolled in things. I don't know how people do it, it's a foreign culture to me. So he was feeling left out, and you can tell by looking at him that a little exercise wouldn't do him any harm. We try, by biking, and walking, and tv show exercise programs, and just lately Tim bought a nifty skateboard and has gotten pretty good at it. But he needs more structure, and so...Tim was one factor.
Then there's Gary. He has no interests outside of work. A person could think that surely he has one or two, but this is a description of a typical night for Gary after work: He changes into more comfortable clothes. He sits in his recliner. He reads the newspaper. He does paperwork. He eats dinner (preferably in the recliner). And then he dozes off. I have to wake him up to go to bed. So Gary was another factor. I'm hoping he will find it interesting and helpful and healthy.
Then there's me. I have never been very fit. I remember even as a little kid (well, when you consider for 7 years I was the youngest, I was at a disadvantage...) whenever there were sports that involved even short bursts of running, I got completely winded very quickly. I'm talking, Red Rover, let alone our short sprint race across the Continental Divide. Who knows if there was anything physically malformed within wouldn't surprise me, but I think I would have died by now if there was! By God's grace I'm still alive, and I intend to be at least until Tim grows up, and hopefully longer. So when I went to the orientation tonight, the woman was amazed that in all my many years I had never been enrolled in a fitness organization. So I am the third factor in this decision.
Another factor, a very important one to me, is that while I'm home with Tim, and Gary's out for the day, and Katie's off to college, the only people I am in contact with are Christians. I might occasionally talk to a neighbor, but 98% of my time is indoors, in my house. I shop as little as possible, because I don't need to spend the money. I don't work outside the home, I don't belong to any clubs. Our only social environment is church, which in itself is completely adequate for my own perceived needs. But how in the world can I be getting to know the unbelievers around me? How can I share the delight of knowing Christ with someone who has no hope, no peace, no confidence? I have to wedge myself out of the house and into the world a bit more than I normally would. This is a fourth factor.
One more factor is the hope of having Tim meet more kids, homeschooled or otherwise, in the area, and make friends with them. This would be for his benefit and for the hope of sharing Christ. He shares the desire to make Him known to others; I've seen it in him from the time he was small. So this is factor number five. I look forward to seeing how these all pan out, which factors are most successfully addressed over the next few months.
There is something very uncool, uncultured, about a person like me in a fitness place. The first day I tried one of their fitness machines, I noticed a woman nearby (who I know from a previous church)...she had her water bottle, a sweat rag, a book...I fumbled with the machine, trying to turn it on. I finally figured out you have to get it moving for the lights to come on. I started going on the machine and it didn't take long for my heart rate to climb into the warning light area...I wasn't going fast enough to slow down, either. I guess it's a good thing I am doing this! Does a heart rate of 135 mean you're dead? If so, no one seems to have noticed. I guess I got away with it for now.
I also tend to walk to the end of the wrong hallway over and over again, looking for the right room I'm looking for. And I don't have the right kind of clothes. I go in my jeans, because I don't have sweat pants (I don't want any), and I don't have any fitness clothes. My logic is this: Pretty soon my pants will be too large for me, and so would any fitness clothes I bought now; why not wear my jeans out by exercising in them, so that I get the wear before I have to throw them out? So I look uncultured and I don't have my water bottle and I go to the ends of hallways and turn around.
Today I at least had my tennis shoes and not my clogs, as I had the other day. That was an improvement. I got on a machine and moved it while I pushed the buttons. I'm getting a little cooler! There was a little tv set on the machine, and the Simpsons were on. I turned the channel to the news but there was no sound. I noticed others nearby had brought headphones. I think I'm going to have to bring a gym bag to carry all the things that would make me cool. I don't think I have a gym bag, and when I looked around, no one had one with them. I don't know how they carry all their cool equipment: water bottle, book, headphones, membership card...without dropping something every few feet.
I couldn't get the heart monitor to work; I think it was broken. Maybe it was a good thing, or I might have been further troubled by a warning light. There were red dots along the bottom of a screen. I finally figured out by a little burst of going faster that the faster you go, the more dots fill up the space. One of my columns of dots, where I burst faster, had two; the rest had one. The screen could have contained dots about 20 high, I think. I was going pretty slow. I could feel the sweat starting up (I hate sweat), and my cheeks were getting red like they get when I do things like that. The girl next to me was having no trouble going a lot faster than I did. She had her water bottle, her headphones, her fitness clothes. You could tell it wasn't her first day here. I wondered about my fourth factor, the hope of sharing Christ. No one seems to notice that the room is full of about 50 people. They look straight ahead, like in an elevator. No one is talking to anyone else. No one looks to the side, or turns around to look behind them (like I did). At least I didn't have to be embarrassed being such a beginner. No one noticed anything I was doing. I know that if I even talk to someone, I will definitely be different. I will be counter-cultural just in saying hello.
The machine told me on its little electronic message screen that I was 20% done. This was the first time I had the upper hand. I knew in my hyper-beating heart that I was about 95% done. I'd worked for about 15 minutes, and my goal was to work off 100 calories. (That's another thing where I think I had the upper hand. I think I worked off about 500, because it didn't know how fast my heart was going.) I almost stopped at 50...then I thought, "I think I can make it to 75"...then when I hit that, I started the countdown to 100. So now, I am feeling so fit and so cool. I've worked out at the gym tonight. Yeah, I'm finally in the groove! Groovy.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Is God Capricious, or Just Unpredictable?

Yesterday at church our pastor's son Jay (who is studying to be a pastor as well) gave the little introductory talk at the beginning of the service, I don't know what you call it, the invocation? He generally talks about the Psalms, about which he is writing his paper, so he knows whereof he speaks. I listened pretty closely (other than when Tim did his various things to distract), but in discussion time afterward I found that another woman had caught something that I missed.
She asked, "You said that God is unpredictable; what did you mean by that?" I think the reason I didn't catch it was because I so agreed with it. Who knows what He will do next? I never thought of thinking that He was predictable; at least I don't think I did. From the discussion that followed, it came out that she thought that Jay might be saying that God is capricious, which isn't what he meant at all. I thought it was a good question for an interesting discussion and meditation afterward.
I can arrange plans for my days, but God rearranges every one of them from the very start. Proverbs 16:9 says, "The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps." I am living testimony to that verse! At the beginning of a homeschool year, I tend to plan out what assignments and activities we might do every week, but I have yet to have a week that turns out anything like I planned. I don't expect that will ever happen, and yet I make my plans because I still need to! I think I would have a heart attack if things turned out the way I expected them to. But the surprise element is wonderful. Who knows what is around the next corner? The only time I didn't like that feeling was when I went through about six years of health troubles, and it seemed like those surprises would often incapacitate me for a season. I forgot that those times might come to an end, and by the time that they did, that end was a pleasant surprise as well. I find it reassuring that the proverb says that the Lord directs man's steps. There is an intended direction, a course that God has in mind for us, even though it overrides our own.
Perhaps we think that God would approve of our plans because we see ourselves acting in obedience, but then He doesn't allow us to carry them out. We don't see things from His viewpoint. The first chapters of the Book of Job give some insight to how God might carry out His purposes in such a confusing way that from our perspective is beyond reason. It all is designed to show His glory. Job didn't understand a series of devastating events that seemed like an extreme, unexpected, unpredictable punishment; but God orchestrated all of it not as a punishment at all, but rather to show off what a faithful man's response would be regardless of his circumstances and his confusion--which ultimately, even today, continues to give Him glory. It's never just the central person and circumstance itself, but like a ripple from a pebble thrown into a pond, every event impacts the people who surround it and the consequences of our response to what God gives us may go farther and last longer than we would ever dream, sometimes (if not always) into eternity.
Psalm 139, usually quoted in reference to how God creates each human being, can also be viewed in terms of all our life. 139:5 says, "You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me." Our lives are hemmed in by His loving hand such that we will not wander from His plan. Amidst the unpredictable nature of life, that gives me great comfort and confidence. Verse 9 says, "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." Jonah always comes to my mind when I read this verse. The stomach of a fish seems like a most unlikely and remote part of the sea, the most improbable place to have God involved in a person's life, but Jonah found Him, and His loving intervention, even there.
God does not direct our day on the spur of the moment. He had them planned from long ago; Psalm 139:16 says, "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." I am more capricious in setting plans out for the whole school year by September than God is in setting out one moment of my life, because I don't foresee how any of it will actually play out, how we will interact with others, what greater opportunities will supersede my plans and what misfortunes will grind them to a halt. But God knows! He knows every moment ahead of time, down to every detail. He has set out His work for us long before we ever started each day (Eph. 2:10). And His plans are never frustrated, as mine are!
I can pray for a certain outcome in my life, but any specifics I present it in prayer never seem to happen, even if the outcome is only a small variation on what I offered up. (I'm not saying God doesn't answer my prayers--He answers even the most feeble ones, much to my amazement! He just doesn't do so as I picture in advance, but in His more excellent way.) Perhaps God changes the outcome in part to remind me that I'm not in charge, and because I don't have enough wisdom to determine the best outcome. But God is not capricious. That is, He doesn't act in such a way that there were two possibilities, and He chose one over the other for no reason at all. I believe that every act that He does perfectly presents Who He is...represents every aspect of His character perfectly, even if we don't see it that way; any other outcome would be flawed. Whatever answer to prayer, whatever unexpected turn of events in our day, it's a perfect reflection of the character of God that He sovereignly directed that outcome. If it surprises us and we didn't think that God would act in that way, it only shows us how insufficiently we understand His character.
Psalm 139:23 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.