Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Strong Willed Part 3

How can you tell if someone is strong-willed?
He will act and think independently. Peer pressure will not be a problem, and neither will authority be influential. Big decisions will be made on personal counsel, or counsel he requests. Because he will not follow a crowd, and because of his expectations, he may not have many friends. In a large group of people, he will sit apart. Though strong-willed people make leaders, they are the lonely-at-the-top kind, not the popular center of a circle. Those who wish to follow the crowd will feel threatened by the example of someone who doesn’t. Or they will make a hero out of him, in which case he will be considered sacred and above them. One way or another, he is lonely.

He will not be shy, though. Fear is not a problem. His ideas may be accepted or rejected, and will do him no harm. If he finds someone who is like-minded or willing to listen, he will share everything. This can come across as debate or persuasive speech.

If a tendency to independence is seen at very young ages, most likely the allegiance is to self. I believe oldest children of families are born almost universally with this inherent stubbornness and strength (though those not born the oldest can also have it). It makes them leaders, or in the very least prevents them from being followers. A child with this personality may appear stupid if misunderstood, as if he doesn’t understand what is required of him, or cannot connect actions with consequences. Don’t be deceived; there are some children who do not think ahead, and live on the impulse of the moment. Strong-willed children are much smarter than that. They may even be anticipating their parents, or analyzing motives. When a child is intentionally pushing its parents’ buttons, you may suspect strong will.

Strong-willed people do not always fight with each other. They do not bicker. Life and convictions are taken very seriously. At first encounter, strong-willed people may not like each other. If they become well acquainted, they will have great respect for each other. If they are Christians with strong wills, they will be fast friends. I condition my statement for Christians because a Christian is humbled. They are united in allegiance, and thus also in standards. Those who do not agree with them or do agree but are still worshiping self will be respected enemies, the kind worthy of combat.

An independent person must work to be kind. Those who are more emotional (Jane Austen would call them governed by sensibility) will be viewed as weak, silly, emotional, and incomprehensible. In clashes there is a lot of frustration, because a strong-willed person will argue the facts, whereas another person will defend their feelings. I am not saying one is more valid than the other. Communication between the classifications of people takes time, caution, and deference. People who rattle off platitudes and act on emotions will annoy the more stable, stubborn person.

Plato said that plot is everything. Forget motive and character. Focus on what a person does. The strong-willed person will deny this. He lives based on what is. He connects dots, and anticipates actions based on what he knows to be true about a person and their situation. A strong-willed person learns definitionally. He wants to know what something means.

In a seeming contradiction, stories will be popular with him. If a person can tell stories that are complex and logical, he is probably strong-willed. The stories he loves will be heavy on character development, though. He may prefer movies and books with lots of dialogue and description, and less action.

Fictional stories are also popular. As long as the story has inner consistency, it will be acceptable. In fact, the more challenging to maintain consistency, the more a strong-willed person will applaud a successful narrative. Beware, because strong-willed people can be liars, very good ones. If their conscience does not betray them, nothing will. (Others can lie, too. They will lie for different reasons, and often illogically. The child who spits his food out in front of you and then tells you he swallowed it is not strong-willed.)

Questions? Other behaviors you've observed? Disagreements? Feel free to comment!

To God be all glory.

Monday, November 26, 2007

I Found a New Synonym

Actually, it's old, so old that we hardly use it. Tolkien used it because it was old and English. When I write about the Church so much, and am trying to emphasize original meaning instead of what the word has come to mean in our culture (I despise redefinitioning), I resort to long explanations each time I describe what happens when the people of God get together. One can use Greek, ekklesia, or start by defining the English word, church (which has so many uses now that it is about as ineffective as love), or say assembly, meeting, gathering, or fellowship. Assembly reminds people either of six grades of public school children seated in the cafeteria, or when speaking of religion, the semi-charismatic Assembly of God denomination. Meeting was actually used in its common sense (I have a meeting to attend) by nonconformist religious groups, and continues to be used by the Quakers. Gathering tells you nothing about what is going on. And fellowship indicates that people are getting together for chit-chat. See how inadequate these words are to express the potent prescription described in the New Testament for the followers of Jesus when two or more were together.

The first occurrence of "church" in the Bible is Matthew 16:18, where Jesus promises that on the truth Peter confessed 2 verses prior, the Church would be built, and even the gates of hell would not prevail against it. The context is, like much of Matthew, very kingdom-focused. As usual, the disciples were hearing Jesus to speak of an earthly kingdom. No doubt they had in mind governments (like that described in detail in 1 Chronicles), armies, governors, judges, and councils. The word ekklesia (translated church) was the word for the political assemblies at which the citizens would deliberate. We might think of parliament or legislatures, or even a townhall meeting. It could refer to any gathering of people, and was applied to religious gatherings. Matthew 18:17, in the passage used for church discipline, Jesus indicates the church is a judicial body. Paul goes along with this in 1 Corinthians (a great textbook on church structure, life, and leadership), when he suggests that rather than bringing "brothers" to court, they should submit to the judgment of the Church.

All this to set up my new synonym for church, a word so out of fashion that it is very unlikely you will think of it meaning anything else. The word is moot. You have heard it, but you didn't know what it meant. It was used colloquially in the phrase "moot point," or "moot case." The common use is a perversion of the original use. A moot was a deliberative gathering, often for discussing hypothetical cases (this is the sense in which the word does not apply to church). If something was hypothetical, it was debatable, in that there was no final word to be said on the matter. But a culture that does not appreciate the hypothetical has transferred the phrase "moot point" to mean not worth discussing.

JRR Tolkien used moot in his chapter on the Ents. Their gathering was called a moot. In this case, he blended two meanings: the newer one applied to deliberation, and the etymological one in which the word simply meant assembly. The Online Etymology Dictionary defines moot as "a meeting, especially of freemen to discuss community affairs or mete justice." Its root is in a word for "encounter."

So a church, which is a gathering of disciples to manage the affairs of their community, to build each other up in unity and provide accountability towards godliness, could be described as a moot. That's just what I'm going to do.

To God be all glory.

Important Questions

Two random things. Things I think are very important to know, once the questions have been asked.

1. In Wives and Daughters, a movie set in the early to mid 1800's, Roger tells his brother he'd "best go smoke a pipe with Father." Roger had been to Cambridge, and was an adult by all accounts. On the cover of the Rise and Fall of the American Teenager is an old photograph of little boys acting tough by smoking cigarettes. Now of course teens aren't allowed to buy cigarettes, and aren't supposed to be smoking. It is a sign of rebellion if they do. So I have a question: before smoking was something kids did to rebel against their parents and authorities, at what age did he begin smoking, and how did he learn? Was it a rite of growing up that a father passed to his child? Was it like a sip of wine, that a child would be allowed to take one puff of his indulgent grandfather's pipe, and build up from there? Did he go away to school and embrace it as part of adulthood and independence, only to go home and suprise his father that he had been initiated into a sort of equality in the smoking club? Is there anything like this that health-conscious, non-rebellious sons can still share with their fathers?

2. Does the Queen of England have a last name? What about Harry and William? I mean, usually we hear royalty described as "His Royal Highness, Prince of Wales." But everyone else has last names, now.

Google yielded results on the latter question. The monarchs of Britain do have last names. See what the situation is, and how it came about, here. The privielege of royalty.

If you have answers, or other random questions, please include them in the comment section. I believe this field of important knowledge is known as trivia.

To God be all glory.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Heroes of Batman Begins

Today my brother and I watched Batman Begins. The movie is 2 hours, 20 minutes long, but if you skip the fighting and driving scenes in the second half of the movie, you can cut it about in half without missing anything. We watched the whole thing; brothers need appeased sometimes. He had a birthday this week. And I didn't have anything else to do that required as little energy.

Thinking doesn't require a lot of energy, so I did that. And I decided that even though Batman is a hero, the bigger heroes in the movie are:

1. Sgt. Gordon, who was a good cop in a corrupt system for at least 14 years. He kept fighting bad guys and doing what he could, each day watching his attempts accomplish apparently nothing. How many times did he look at little boys like Bruce who lost their parents - and he couldn't stop it? But he kept fighting because it was right.

2. Lucius Fox, who believed in his work, believed in the mission of his company. He is smart, but on a deep level that doesn't need to brag. He kept his own counsel. When the time was wrong to be speaking and acting, he was preparing. That takes a lot of patience, wisdom, and courage.

3. Rachel Dawes was an idealist, yes, and young. But she didn't use her compassion in an easy place, somewhere outside Gotham. She could have escaped, but she dreamed of making a difference. She couldn't be bought. No loyalty took precedence over her love for the truth. Her convictions led her to confront almost everyone in the entire movie. Without her voice, Bruce would not have been the principled, sold-out hero that fought for Gotham at every cost to himself.

I need inspiration from heroes like this. People who behind the scenes, faithfully, every day, when results remain to be seen, keep fighting for what's right. They take time to prepare for what God has for them. Things and attachments are the trappings of their service, not the gods they serve.

My life has no Batman. But I do know many of these heroes, and I'm grateful to God for them. Do you know any? Maybe you should tell them thank-you, too.

To God be all glory.

Strong Willed Part 2

What is a strong-willed person?
Some people are born strong-willed. Others work into it. We might think of them as leaders, independent-minded, strong-willed, or stubborn. They do not go with the flow. Usually we recognize them in rebellion.

Let me draw a comparison. The majority of people are driven by emotion and beliefs. It has been said that facts are far less powerful than what people believe. These people feel that the most important thing is being sincere. Inconsistency means nothing. Life is lived as though relative. If they felt it at the time, they did it. They can be impulsive. I don’t mean they seem impulsive, but that they really are. (Wisdom can appear impulsive; if someone has an alert comprehension of a situation and an inherent sense of right and wrong, he will confidently choose very quickly and act on that decision.) If a person is always true to himself, he is able to be manipulated. His decisions are thus the floating, sleepy subjective of “follow your heart” – almost animal.

However, a different kind of person is always trying to match himself to an outside ideal, whether pragmatic or spiritual (at the altar of self, of parents, of a romantic interest, a hero, a political ideal, or of God). Sincerity is important; only he wants to sincerely be his ideal, and believes reformation of actions will cause the change. He still has that impressionable emotional side, but is not capable of being manipulated. His decisions are on facts, rules, and objective evidence. Standards are set by what he worships.

All humans are born not worshiping God. Self might be worshiped, in which case decisions are whatever self wants to do. Self will be glorified. Pain and bribery are nothing if the condition is not what the self wills. Particularly if subjecting to them would profane independence, the terms are not embraced. Or the idol might be another person, or a book, or TV show.

There are people who begin as the first type of person and are trained or converted into something else. Subjective manipulation can birth idolatry of a particular thing, rendering the person anchored, and not blown about with emotion any more.

Conversion can happen for a strong-willed person from one idol to another, but it is not a matter of manipulation. This is caused by more information about the idols. No amount of pressure effects a change of mind. I venture to guess that these people are not easily lied-to, either. They tend to have a comprehensive view of reality that discerns truth.

So eventually a strong-willed person will discover the truth or die in the process. Discovering the truth and accepting it are not the same thing. Many strong-willed people live in determined rebellion against God. They believe in Him, know what His purpose is, and are not pleased. They have chosen to worship self, and will not be supplanted. Like the demons, they believe the truth, shudder, but hate the truth all the same. In fact it is impossible to fully hate what is unknown.

God can convict even an independent person of their sin, and humble them. He can also establish formerly unstable, wind-of-the-moment-driven people as His worshipers. I don’t claim to know how He does it. I do believe that only He can. When a person is saved, his spirit is made alive, rendering the sinful nature dead with Jesus on the cross. Then the will has the power, by dependence on the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ life through them, to choose righteousness. A strong-willed person recognizes that worship is absolute. When his worship is given to God, his choices are made to God’s standard.

What he worships, he values supremely in a way that the first kind of person cannot understand. A strong-willed person understands commitment, is a zealous person, and expects fidelity from others. He sees priorities as life-statements, reflecting not only the preference of the minute, but the direction of the years. Yet he understands repentance, because it is a complete turnaround, a replacement of allegiance. Repentance is not simply the recognition that a particular action is no longer popular or pleasant.

A strong-willed person is not emotionless. He feels just as deeply, and must reckon with the emotions. But he cannot let them control him if they contradict his convictions. This can be simpler, but not easier. Some strong-willed people, when faced with intense emotional situations, feel torn in two.

To God be all glory.

PS: Remember. These are confessions of a strong-willed person. My conclusions might be a little biased. The object remains to aid communication between stronger and lesser wills. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


You know if you've been reading since I started, or if you've known me even longer than that, that this post is not new material. But I know my readers don't click on links, especially inter-Lady of Longbourn links, so I am making this very easy for you and reposting my inimitable Thanksgiving delight:

Turk - Middle English, from French Turc, from Middle Latin Turcus, from Byzantine Greek Tourkos, Persian turk, a national name, of unknown origin. Said to mean "strength" in Turkish. Young Turk was a member of an early 20c. political group in the Ottoman Empire that sought rejuvenation of the Turkish nation.

turkey - 1541, "guinea fowl" (numida meleagris), imported from Madacascar via Turkey, by Near East traders known as turkey merchants. The larger North American bird (meleagris gallopavo) was domesticated by the Aztecs, introduced to Spain by conquistadors (1523) and thence to wider Europe, by way of Africa and Turkey (Indian corn was originally turkey corn or turkey wheat in Eng. for the same reason). The word turkey was first applied to it in Eng. 1555 because it was identified with or treated as a species of the guinea fowl. The New World bird itself reputedly reached England by 1524 (when Henry VIII dined on it at court). Turkeys raised by the Pilgrims were probably stock brought from England. By 1575, turkey was becoming the usual main course at an English Christmas. Meaning "inferior show, failure," is 1927 in show business slang, probably from the image of the turkey as a stupid bird.

"My dad was asking, so I looked it up. The reason we have a bird and a country with the same name (and the slang use for a stupid or goofy person), Turkey, is as follows:

1. Turkey is named, obviously, for the Turks, and Turk is a Persian word that referred to a nation somewhere when Persia was still a big thing. In Turkish, the word "turk" came to mean strength.

2. Turkeys are native to two parts of the world: Madagascar and the Americas. Way before America was discovered by Columbus, merchants imported turkeys from Madagascar to Europe, by way of Turkey (which wasn't called Turkey then). Since the Turks were the salesmen in the middle of the trade route, the birds came to be named after them. Aztecs in America also bred turkeys.

3. Once America began to be colonized, esp. by the Spanish in the south, conquistadors sent turkeys over to Europe. The name "turkey" wasn't applied to them until after this, and the name originated in Europe, where people figured out the two species were similar.

4. One website I encountered suggested three other ideas for where turkeys got their names, but I found them unscientific. Since they were still entertaining, I'll give them to you.
  • You have probably heard that American Indians were called that because Columbus landed here and thought he'd reached India. Thinking this, and seeing the plumage of native wild turkeys, Columbus may have named them the word for peacock in the tongue of India (where peacocks were found), which is "tuka". Sounds similar, almost, but it doesn't convince me.
  • Native Americans (before they knew they were supposed to be Indians) called the birds "firkee" which, as I'm sure you can hear in your head, sounds a whole lot like "turkey" basically, just change one letter, and that has happened converting English to English, let alone foreign languages. Actually, if you go to Africa, our translations of the words we hear there can be quite different from others who visited. It depends on the ear gene you inherited or something. = )
  • When turkeys are afraid, they make a sound as they run, not a gobble, but "turk, turk, turk." This does not mean that the Ottomans are chasing them. That's just what they say. Hmm. Maybe that's where the Turks got their name, though? I won't go there, at least not yet. Ok, I'll make up a story that will be found in #5.

5. There once was a man from the region east of Anatolia, which was east of Greece. I think it was also west of Persia and south of Russian and north of Africa and southwest of... never mind. He liked to travel, so he sold all he had, took his three sons, and sailed to a little island SOUTH, called Madagascar (actually, I don't know if that was it's name then, but since you probably don't know what its name was then, it would be useless for me to waste time finding out and using it, since you wouldn't know what I'm talking about. On a similar note, Anatolia is the region known in the Bible as Asia Minor and on your most modern map as Turkey). While he was vacationing there on the beach, he feasted on a native bird similar to the pheasant. It was so delicious, that he wanted to take some home. So when he finally got tired of all the sun and cannibals, he and his two sons (guess where the other one went) packed up along with some of the birds and sailed home. He threw a coming home party, and all of his neighbors loved the poultry he fed them. They wanted to know what it was and how to get some. This man from the region east of Anatolia was poor after being gone so long without working, so he decided this would make a good business. A sign was soon seen in front of his house reading (in what language, I've no idea; it probably doesn't exist anymore) "Poultry for sail. Taking orders." (ok, so he couldn't spell sale, but he wasn't in the sign making business, so it didn't matter.) All of his neighbors signed up for at least a week's worth, and prepaid him. His sons went with him to brave the cannibals and collect a supply of birds to bring home. The first trip was successful, and eventually they made friends with the natives, who agreed to breed the birds for him in recompense for the loss of his third son. It became quite a thriving business, and a few of the enterprising neighbors also got involved. They built boats and began shipping the birds also. The delicacy became famous all over the known world, even Persia. To get the birds up to Persia, the men from the region east of Anatolia herded them north and east. Birds are frightened easily, and herders scared them into running the direction (hopefully) they wanted them to go. Coming into Persia, they always had a big welcome, because the noise of the birds could be heard miles or at least yards, meters, cubits or whatever they used back then away. People who were especially fond of the meat would chant as the herders entered the city, "Turk, turk, turk!" Later when these men no longer herded birds, but men instead, the Persians ran in fear, screaming, "turk, turk..." The men took up the name, and it came to be a chant of their strength. Back home, they reminded themselves of their strength (for pride accompanies power) by calling themselves Turks. The birds they kept and sold couldn't keep their name of turk, since it meant strength now and the birds were stupid, not strong. They were called turkey. This term was also used as a nickname for those among the Turks whose behavior resembled the turkey's. In Europe the names caught on, and they passed it to America, where a bigger version of the bird was bred by scalpers, not cannibals.

*I must inform you that although some parts of this story are factual, a whole lot is fictional. Please do not include any of the information found in #5 for a scientific report or to attempt to astound your friends with your incredible knowledge. = )”

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Strong-Willed Part 1

Why am I writing this series?
On Saturday I went to a jewelry party (like Pampered Chef, Tupperware, candles, etc.) There are rules for how to wear your jewelry! People are afraid to try something new or not their typical style. Layers are very “in” right now. But you can go with a classic look that never goes out of fashion. My friend who was hosting the party disagreed with some of the fundamentals of wardrobe, and the jewelry saleslady assented, “If it looks good to you, wear it; it’s all about confidence.” I know my friend is independent-minded.

Style is a big industry. People advertise their designer creativity with crazy lines of clothing in fashion shows, and somehow make plenty of money. This happens even though I don’t see anyone but models wearing those things, and if they’re not wearing them, are they really buying them?

Why do people follow trends, anyway? The popular girl wore that, so I will too? We really think the movie star’s life is so wonderful that we want to do everything like them, including clothes and hair? Because something is popular, we consider it beautiful? Or just because it is new and different, edgy, we invest money in it? I can understand doing that with a car (whose innovations usually look good and have functional improvements in performance).

Apparently advertising agencies run the world. They created the concept of teenager, which now governs economics, education, family, marriage, morality, justice… The industry tells us how to spend our money by manipulating emotional, need-to-fit-in people into feeling like they need their products.

Do we have a choice? Does God have choices? What is the meaning of not choosing something? Is value subjective or objective? Is value placed on a thing by a chooser, or is it inherent?

The capitalist system of economics is based on the notion that consumers will act on their sense of value. For example, I value a necklace at the jewelry party, but I value other uses of my money more. A wrench is thrown in the theory of capitalism when I say that even though I value something more than my fluid cash, I won’t buy the item because of moral/spiritual convictions. I may believe that God doesn’t want me to spend money I don’t have, for example. I believe that $15,000 would be a great deal for a house. But I don’t have 15 grand, so I’m not acting on my sense of value. Even if I need a house, or think it is a great investment, I won’t buy.

God is also teaching me about embracing sacrifice, intentionally going without what I want. This is part of the concept behind fasting. Fasting is a huge exercise of will over want.

If I was being sincere, I would tell you how I really feel about fasting. My convictions tell me that the way I feel is sometimes wrong. So I will exercise my will in acting upon what I ought to be in order that I may become that ideal in sincerity.

Finally, I’ve been reflecting on strong-willed people, especially children who try their parents. Some strong-willed rebels are breaking my heart. Other strong-willed children are too young to have made life-altering mistakes. I listen to their parents talk about them, and I wonder if I could help them to understand the puzzles who are their children. Would it benefit them to know?

Dr. Dobson wrote a book. I haven’t read it. He doesn’t seem to be strong-willed to me. I think President Bush is. President Reagan was. Heroes are strong-willed, fictional or historical. Villains tend to be that, as well. In Beauty and the Beast, both main characters are strong-willed. Think of their argument after she runs away. But, as the song says, somebody bends unexpectedly. Notice it doesn’t say somebody was bent. They bend. The tense is intransitive.

I can relate. This could be titled, “Confessions of a Strong-willed Christian.” In writing this series, I discovered a lot about myself, and happily connected dots. I have a friend who thinks that it is inconsistent with the rest of my personality that I like to watch football. My position is that it must be linked to my fundamental identity. This has been an exercise in associating who I am with that identity. But no, I still can’t explain why I like football.

Still to come:
What is a Strong-Willed Person?
How Can you Tell if Someone is Strong-Willed?
What should Parents of Strong-Willed Children Do?

Is there Hope? The Good Side of Strong Will.

To God be all glory.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Beauty and the Beast

A series of events led to this post.

  1. My favorite radio station changed its schedule in a most unpleasant way.
  2. The cassette player in my car got tired of my Steve Green tape, so I'm giving it a break.
  3. Life is calm enough that I can pray and listen to music at the same time - sometimes.
  4. I have been listening to the soundtrack for Beauty and the Beast, which I picked up for less than a dollar at a thrift store or garage sale.

I don't think the composers knew what they were doing when they made this soundtrack. They made beautiful music, with skill that I probably don't comprehend. But they orchestrated a story, and characters, emotions, and virtues into this music. My heart is more touched simply hearing the haunting instrumental tracks than by watching the movie. Maybe because I'm not distracted by images with the sound, I can consider the thoughts of each character, the intensity of the moments. Because the music is less bound in a setting, I think this can become my theme, too.

Disney hit virtue, by some miracle, in Beauty and the Beast. One of my favorite parts is the prologue. Belle practices sacrifice. Beast learns to love her selflessly and unconditionally. Even when she risks his life by disobeying his instructions, entering the West Wing; when he is so angry that he frightens her out of her vow with a roar, he goes after her and risks his life for her to ward off wolves. Each character is so fragile, yet confident. And the song, Beauty and the Beast (tale as old as time) describes a sweet love story: both scared, neither prepared, both change, somebody bends... As the trailer for the latest Pride and Prejudice said, "We are all fools in love."

Belle is smart. She doesn't settle. Her father means a lot to her, even though he's a little odd. Even in a simple, everyday world, she dreams. She is confident enough to carry herself well even in a grand palace. Her heart is naturally grateful.

Sixteen years ago this Thanksgiving, Beauty and the Beast had its theatrical release. It was the first movie I purchased with my own money. In fact I believe I went into the store on my own to buy it, as maybe a second-grader. At that point I'm not even sure I'd seen the movie. There was one Christmas when I spent an hour in Walmart trying to decide which version of the Belle Barbie doll to buy: normal Belle or wedding Belle. I settled on normal and some ugly ballgown that was meant to double as the wedding dress I left behind.

So many years and this is still a favorite, ranking right up there with the very long Pride and Prejudice. I'm not ready to stop loving this movie, and I don't like writing conclusions. "The magic never ends."

To God be all glory.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Real Relationships, Blogging, and Taking Life Seriously

Do you know how much more I blog when I know I have an audience? Before I blogged, my friends received long, winding emails quite frequently. I’d threaten them that if they didn’t respond, I’d keep writing, desperate to have some contact with them. Then I’d warn them that if they did reply, it would inspire me to write back. Evidence imposes reality on my realization: I write more when I know you’re reading. I talk when I know you’re listening. The substance is better in conversation than in desperate attempts at starting a friendship, or drawing attention: advertising.

I’ve been looking at my life, and praying about what I see. Some days I can’t do that; my prayers are focused on survival. God gives us phases, I think. Like the moon. I love the moon: always there, always the same, almost always visible, almost always seen in a new light. And the light is beautiful.

Why do I have better conversations, ones that “hit the spot” via blogging, or with an eclectic group of admittedly eccentric protesters outside abortion clinics? I don’t agree with all the theology, but we can pray together. When they ask how I am, I can answer that God is teaching me about grace, and share a little. They share. I want to know. Not just their stories, but the stories of my friends, and the people at church and Bible study. But in the hallways all I hear is “How are you?” and all I can answer is “fine,” unless we were going to cancel nursery service, worship, and lunch. Then I could talk. That’s the beauty of blogging and abortion protests. There’s no schedule, no interruptions that matter. So I can’t be online at work... The conversation picks right back up, no awkwardness, more forethought.

In my prayers I keep telling God I don’t want to play. I don’t want to play at life. Gas prices shouldn’t drive me crazy; I don’t want to play. Hard decisions aren’t on my shoulders; I don’t want to play. It’s pretending to say I have the wisdom or strength to decide. And at church, I am so tired of playing. What I do there is superficial. I believe in being there, and in making the most of what is there for the sake of bringing the body towards perfection (Ephesians 4). There is something so wrong about the way we do church. Why do we bother singing and praying and listening to lessons when we don’t even know each other?

People move away or change churches, and we never talk to them again. Why? When they were at church activities, we admired them. We enjoyed doing ministry together. Their comments in Sunday school were challenging, and their smile uplifting. They’re gone, and we miss them. But there was never anything more. We never met for lunch. I didn’t know what they were thinking, the little things that they might say as commentary on life, but would never think worthy of a special phone call.

I have a friend at my church, and we’re going to start praying together. I’m really excited. She selected an anonymous envelope to “adopt” a teen from our youth group, and I wanted to ask her who she got. I wanted to enter into even this little facet of her life, and so many more things like that.

Tonight I babysat for a church plant. I sat with three little boys while they ate dinner, and the parents and friends talked around the kitchen island. I care about the adults, but the kids know me, and I love them because I watch them eat. When one does some weird thing with his spoon, I get to know him. The middle kid imitates the oldest, and you see how relationships are developing. I intentionally sit with them when they eat, to build the relationship. But do I do that with adults? When is the last time I sat by someone not to start a conversation, but just to be there in case there was commentary?

Speaking of the church plant, I could hear from my position in the basement of the pastor’s house uproarious laughter, evidence that the group is bonding. They feel free to be loud, to be humiliated, to laugh, and thus are invested in the details of each others’ lives. Eventually I think the plan is to have a “normal” church where there is preaching and singing, but I believe they want to keep groups like this one as core to their church. Once they are loving, unified friends, they can march in sync in their ministry. In fact, the pastor told me a couple weeks ago that he believes the church’s primary purpose is evangelism, and I’ve been thinking about my disagreement, looking for what the Bible says instead of just what I’ve been taught. I see the great commission. And I see Jesus’ prayer in John 17 for what He planned his followers to be. I read Ephesians, and see that the church is about unity, edification, maturing into the image of Christ. But that unity of the Spirit is what produces the striving together for the faith of the gospel, the reaching out to the world with the gospel.

So another thought: I get challenged like that from this friend, who is a pastor. His church asks him questions like that more than some, but I think they’re in awe of him, and respectful of him as their leader. (His wife was originally on my side, properly heeding his perspective and coming early to the conclusion that we’re basically saying the same thing different ways/different emphasis.) My pastor doesn’t talk to me like that. I get answers from people who run blogs. They dare to address my real questions. But a lot of times their own friends and churches aren’t asking. What a mess. Why can’t we be real with the people in our churches?

I want everyone to read my blog. But I’m fair about it. I would want to read everyone else’s blogs or journals, too. I don’t want to play at friendship, to pretend to be the Body of Christ, anymore. I, me, personally, want to be real. And I want to be a real friend. May God take me, sold out, take my every hour, to be invested in Him and in building people.

As a crowning point to how this whole topic is being driven home to me today, in one day-long thought, I was telling all these things to my brother after watching some of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I have no idea how much we missed, but I wouldn’t dare go back to find out; there’s a reason you can skip tracks on DVDs. (I’m definitely NOT endorsing the movie, but I’m not all that sorry I watched what I did. Just read a review, and make an educated, prayerful decision if you ever think about watching it.) Anyway, the premise is that this guy is getting his memories of his girlfriend erased, so he’s going backwards through the memories. And timelines are just a bit confusing, but if you watch it twice I suspect everything would make sense. Watch the hair colors. It’s a key. We discussed how our brains have to extend to the furthest reaches to follow the movie, and the implications of the story. It’s too far out, to complex to put our arms around, to hold. But you can follow it, if you try. That’s relevant, but this is commentary, windows into my world that produces these thoughts.

After I said most of the things above, and actually some are his additions, I was talking about being tired of friendships being fake; I want to hear what is going on with people. I want to read blogs, and my blog to be read. In an amazing double-irony, he asked, “Did you read my blog?”
“No.” We both laughed and I was crying, too, from the irony. I knew of course that I was contradicting myself because I hadn’t read it in the past couple days, and that he must have written about basically the same thing, or he wouldn’t have brought it up. And maybe we’re both thinking about the same thing because we read the same things, and talk, and (sometimes) read each other’s blogs. So here is his perspective on real listening and real friendship. You have to promise, if you are reading this post, to read his too, and to read it like he meant… every… word.

Oh, and less crowning but still continuing, we’ve had an ongoing conversation with some friends of ours about “heads bowed, eyes closed” altar calls, whether it be for salvation or other things God’s doing in your life. We’re tired of playing, and want to be the Church to those around us, at least. If we can’t see each other, and we’re silent, not praying together at all, how are we going to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep? What are we saying about the shameless gospel of our God’s great grace?

To God be all glory.

PS: My brother reminds me, and I thought it important enough to make clear: being serious does not exclude joy or smiling or fun. When I say "I don't want to play," I don't mean I'm opposed to silliness and recreation. Actually, we should even take our fun seriously; be intense, and sincere when you play.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

How Important is it to Get the Wording Right?

I'm reading John Piper's new book, Future of Justification. He is defending the definition of justification as accepted by protestants for centuries. N.T. Wright, an English scholar on the New Testament, sparked John Piper's book by writing one of his own, in which he presents apparently a comprehensive theology centered on the idea that the gospel is that Jesus is Lord, not that we can be saved by Jesus' substitutionary atonement: justification.

At one point in the introduction, John Piper says that to help people believe the gospel in a saving way, we have to announce why it is good news for them. (Gospel, of course, meaning "good news.")

Just this week I was sharing my testimony with a friend. I was saved the day I turned 6. Opened presents, remembered all the times my Sunday school teachers told me Jesus died for my sins, and decided this was it. I needed forgiveness, and I asked God for it because Jesus could save me. That's faith, right?

"Did you ever wonder if it was for real?" my friend asked me. Yes, I did. When I really started learning the Bible (three years later) I wondered why I hadn't been learning before. In sixth grade again I was getting to the point where my faith was challenged, and standing, and I made sure it was for real. No doubts since then. Looking back, I still believe I was saved when I was six. And it didn't matter whether I knew what atonement meant, or about eternal security. I didn't know about sovereignty and couldn't define justification. But if it's true that we are saved by grace through faith not of ourselves, then God was doing the saving. And if God is saving, ignorance of any but the main facts is not important. God will discipline us by grace and mature us into understanding and conformity to His Son's image.

Some people think we ought to preach the "cost" of following Jesus, preach His lordship, to nonbelievers: Anyone who is saved will also recognize Jesus as their Lord. Faith without works is dead, and we need to tell people that, so won't get it wrong.

Actually, we could say that our presentation of the gospel is so important that if we get it wrong, people won't actually be saved. We could say that people need to know about Lordship so that they can get salvation right.

That doesn't sound all that grace-based, though, does it? If we're saved by faith, can't we evangelize by faith, too? Don't you think that if God, who convicts hearts of sin and need for a Savior, who justifies, regenerates, rebirths, and seals those still without strength, is saving someone, and using your obedience to His call for making disciples of all nations, He's able to make sure it's done right?

I believe in having a solid, truth-based grasp on theology as much as anyone you know. Using clarity when we talk about Jesus and the Bible is important; confusion has birthed so many mistakes not intended by the teacher or translator. But God can work through our weakness. When we rely on Him for the words to say (maybe even use His words, not ours? see 2 Timothy 3:15), He'll provide the right ones.

Maybe this is why in the New Testament we see so many different wordings of the gospel message. The message is the same. Everyone is saved the same way. Depending on what they already knew, and their attitude, the different apostles and evangelists answered them where they were at. God gave the words that the sinner needed to hear, and God did the saving.

To God be all glory.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Jonathan Edwards

Usually by 24 hours after any news, I have come to terms with not worrying about it. Tonight I was praying for the pro-life issues about which I blogged earlier. Don't think I'm caring less. But God can handle all the details of petitions and campaigns and schedules, and changing hearts, and making abortion illegal again. I'm not much good at deciding those things myself. They're in God's hands.

In fact, even the wicked abortionists are in His hands. They are sinners in the hands of an angry God, just like I was. Jonathan Edwards was one of my first exposures to the answer to suffering in the world. So he borrowed his theology from Jeremiah and the rest of the Bible-writers. From him I learned that God is actually being gracious to us by just keeping us out of hell - for now! Aside from the pain, and aside from the future, God is being gracious to every person alive. When I realized my complete un-deserving-ness of even life, it sort of turned my view of what God did for me right-side-up. He whom I owed, who owed me nothing, gave me everything.

The sermon isn't too long. Read or re-read Jonathan Edwards' classic: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. And praise the God who let you live long enough to read it. Don't make that grace of no effect.

To God be all glory.

When People You Know Read Your Blog

It's good.

I appreciate the friends who read my blog and see the life that provides the matrix from which seemingly unrelated posts spring. They know what I'm saying when I try not to be obvious. And if I do anything really irresponsible, they can hold me accountable.

In theory my friends and family can catch up on what I'm thinking. To some extent that would be encouraging. Then again, what would we talk about when we're together? I like blogging as preparation for that inevitable question, "What's up with you?" or some similar inquiry; blogging orders my thoughts. On the other hand, if everyone at church and work and home knew what I was thinking, and what I believe about church, family, politics... Let's just say I might be uncomfortable and they might be shocked to find out all at once. Maybe they are reading. That's ok. I'm working to be more transparent. Just take a deep breath and reassure yourself that you know me. I can't be as weird as all that.

I love getting comments on my blog. Making friends, getting encouragement and challenges and insight from people online is profitable. Comments from friends are exciting, too. Even if they just say hi.

When I read blogs written by other people, it brings a smile to my face when their personal friends and family comment. I know Amy's (of Humble Musing fame) husband reads her blog. He even updates it from time to time.

So here's the challenge. If I know you, comment. If I don't know you, please comment. Note the please. Why are we always kinder to strangers?

To God be all glory.

Ancient Israel a Federal Monarchy

1 Chronicles 26:32, "And his brethren, men of valour, were two thousand and seven hundred chief fathers, whom King David made rulers over the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, for every matter pertaining to God, and affairs of the king."

A shocking revelation: apparently the government instituted by King David (after God-provided release from the oppression of King Saul, but still while threatened by powerful and jealous neighbors) had great resemblance to the government of the United States originally set forth in the Constitution. The one primary difference was that the government of Israel included oversight on spiritual matters. There was no separation of church and state. Rather the church served as part of the “checks and balances” alongside the king, much like our three-branch system of government in the United States.

Levites were the judges (in religious, ceremonial, and cleanliness matters) and jailers, as instructed by Leviticus. They kept the cities of refuge, in which men who had involuntarily committed manslaughter could live safely out of reach of the avenger of blood (not an official government agent, but a near relative of the victim; see the Second Amendment).

David’s trusted military chiefs were made rulers in their respective tribal lands (states), but those men who were directly subject to King David were only responsible for matters pertaining to God and affairs of the king, implying that there are matters which are not affairs of the king or particularly pertaining to God/religion. These are local matters (originally our country would have considered commerce, education, and ordinances like traffic laws to be the domain of state and local governments). Elders in each city of Israel, on a clannish basis, were responsible for oversight of these more minor issues.

See the definition of Federalism provided by dictionary.com:

“A system of government in which power is divided between a central authority and constituent political units. “


“A system of government in which power is divided between a national (federal) government and various regional governments. As defined by the United States Constitution, federalism is a fundamental aspect of American government, whereby the states are not merely regional representatives of the federal government, but are granted independent powers and responsibilities. With their own legislative branch, executive branch, and judicial branch, states are empowered to pass, enforce, and interpret laws, provided they do not violate the Constitution. This arrangement not only allows state governments to respond directly to the interests of their local populations, but also serves to check the power of the federal government. Whereas the federal government determines foreign policy, with exclusive power to make treaties, declare war, and control imports and exports, the states have exclusive power to ratify the Constitution. Most governmental responsibilities, however, are shared by state and federal governments: both levels are involved in such public policy issues as taxation, business regulation, environmental protection, and civil rights.”

The king unified the tribes when necessary in defense against their hostile neighbors, just as the authors of the Federalist Papers defended as a prime reason for any kind of central US government (as opposed to a Confederacy).

Of course we know that Israel’s federation endured a similar pattern to ours. Solomon’s son became rather tyrannical, so a large portion of the tribes seceded, but in Israel’s case, successfully. Eventually the people all fell to wickedness, and the government: kings and priests also became selfish and corrupt. This was not a result, please recognize, of the union of church and state. Rather, it was because the spiritual legacy was abandoned and replaced with paganism or humanism alternately, that the nation suffered decay.

Warnings were given to Israel. The people ought to have repented. The government needed reform. Refusing to heed, both sections of David’s kingdom were, short hundreds of years after his reign, conquered anyway.

To God be all glory.

PS: I wrote this after reading 1 Chronicles 26. My facts could be a little off. Any other thoughts?

Stopping Abortion in Colorado

"You know about the rally, right?" That's the question I received this morning from a refreshingly enthusiastic pro-life activist. My answer was no. I am, as an adult, new to the abortion protest/action scene, and am not on any mailing lists, and have not frequented pro-life websites; I am vaguely aware of major news items relating to issues of Life, and have a Psalm 139 worldview on the value of human life.

Some of you may know that I've been spending early Saturday mornings outside the Planned Parenthood near Denver City Park, praying for everyone around, meeting people, and trying to intercede for the lives of the babies about to be killed along with the souls of the mothers, fathers, workers, volunteers, and protesters. In this way I've been made aware of some Colorado developments in the fight against abortion.

Hope: Baby Hands and Feet by Laura Monahan
Hope: Baby Hands and Feet

One was covered this week by local TV stations, and the Rocky Mountain News. A group called Colorado for Equal Rights is trying to put an amendment to the Colorado Constitution on the ballot for November 2008 that would define person as beginning at fertilization. This would be a huge step for protecting unborn babies, and is a "loophole" specifically acknowledged in the Roe v. Wade case. The logic in the 70's for the case was flawed. Science is even more compelling now to define life at the earliest possible moment.

The first thing to be done is to acquire 76,000 petition signatures (in 6 months) from Colorado residents registered to vote, in order to put the issue on the ballot. Then campaigning must be done to encourage people to vote for the amendment, and to vote in the first place. Fortunately '08 is a presidential election year, which usually means big turnout and attention to political issues.

Opponents' strongest argument is that we are clearly trying to overturn the "right" to abortion, but did not mention abortion anywhere in the amendment. They believe that as soon as voters know the connotations of the amendment, they would choose not to support the change to the constitution. However, there is nothing wrong with the amendment, as upheld by the Colorado courts. The laws talk about personhood. We're trying to legally define what a person is. Seems like a relevant question to me. This political step is already raising awareness. Hopefully it will challenge a lot of voters, and especially Christians, to consider their definition of life and position on abortion or even contraception.

The other news item I've encountered is regarding a new Planned Parenthood facility. If you have been following US news from the conservative side, you may have heard about Aurora, Illinois, which recently suffered the illegal construction of the largest abortion facility in the country. I say illegal because to build the office, Planned Parenthood did their best to keep the use of the building a secret, lying on construction permit papers and to contractors. Despite pro-life opposition pointing these things out, the building is open for business. A similar plot is underway in Colorado, but the pro-life groups have earlier notice, and are jumping in with both feet in order to stop construction of what may well replace Illinois' Planned Parenthood as the largest abortion provider in the country.

So they're having a rally, to get information out and to use public opinion to pressure neighbors of the facility, contractors, sub-contractors, and anyone involved to stop construction. So far it seems they have focused their protest on the leadership of Weitz company, the contractor in charge of the project. The December 1 rally will begin outside the property (in the area formerly associated with Stapleton Airport) slated to become an abortion mega-clinic.

That's what I know. I wish that people would tell me these things when I don't know, so I'm sharing them with you. And yes, I guess I'm that young, starry-eyed enthusiast who despite avoiding the college scene wants her share of activism. Join me?

To God be all glory.

PS: I didn't duplicate any links in the above; they're all separate. You can click on any one of them for more specific information.

Day Off from God, Ministry, and Love

Do you ever have the problem where you finally get inspired or convicted to do something, and you have other commitments? Even in little areas, like last night I'm inspired to worship, but it's like 11 PM and I had an early morning? Or I finally get a break to call and just set up a time to discuss some things with my pastor, and I realize the weekend is here; it's my pastor's "day off,"...

Wait! Why on earth, thought I, do pastors have days off? Why do they want them? I don't want a day where I don't get to do the ministry God called me to, or where my friends don't call me if they're in need. I don't want to be ever inaccessible to my Christian friends.

Now, I'm not saying this in judgment of my pastor, because I'm projecting an unwillingness to disturb him onto him. I have not been told not to call or email him on "days off." But I have experienced church leaders and staff who felt annoyed when their co-heirs with Christ asked them about co-labors on a day when they weren't scheduled, or on Sunday morning, at church. Is our view of the purpose of gathering so distorted that we really think Sundays are all about getting fed? Sitting in a chair and hearing music and a lecture? I know that Mary chose the better thing (believe me, I relate to her!) than Martha, but doesn't God want us to be at His service, ready whenever He calls? Is this about loving each other, or isn't it?

And, as is a good practice when such thoughts carry me away, I consider: How does this apply to me? In what ways am I too busy with my scheduled ministry or my expectations for a day to be sensitive to what God wants me to do? Why, just last night after a Bible study I looked around and wondered who I wanted to talk to, and why didn't anyone talk to me? Only afterward did I realize that I had been self-focused, not seeking opportunities to be a blessing to the new friends around me.

Thankfully, God has been pointing these things out to me more frequently. My prayer is that God would take away the self-thoughts and unkindness that sneaks into my life from out of the blue. I need to be more diligent in that prayer.

To God be all glory.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sacred Choral Music

Some clever people have a sidebar that includes a list of current books they're reading, movies they've watched, and music they are listening to. Here, I am less cleverly recommending the music playing in my CD player right now.

Every Sunday morning the classical station plays sacred choral music instead of the mainly instrumental pieces. Whenever I can I turn the radio to that for the short five minute trip to church. Movie soundtracks with such choirs or boys choirs are my favorite. There is a track at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring with a boys choir. And Shadowlands has choral music straight through. Disney made a movie in the 90's that was all about a boys choir, called Perfect Harmony. I first discovered Michael Card through Unveiled Hope, when he was in his more classical style stage.

When I was a senior in high school I attended a concert by Moody Bible Institute's Chorale. It was the most soaring worship experience in which I ever participated - and I only listened. Honestly, the waves of music and blending of parts brought me with it to the throne of heaven, and I worshiped my God with a hundred silent amen's.

After that I also heard the Women's Concert Choir and Bell Ensemble, and then the Men's Collegiate Choir, both of which were incredible. I happened to have friends in each, but that was only the door to interest. If you want uplifting, beautiful music, go to their concerts; buy their CD's.

To God be all glory.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Romans 5 & 6 - This Grace Was Made for Walking

To hear someone tell you that the keyword of Romans is grace is so much less than discovering it for yourself. Since God has been busy revealing grace to me everywhere I look, I should not be surprised to find it again in Paul’s famous epistle. To be honest, grace is such an overwhelming subject that I have been unable to think of one coherent thing to say about it. One facet I’ve been exploring is the concept of being “disciplined by grace.”

Last night at Awana our high school group (called Journey) was studying Romans. We’re actually on chapters 9-11, but a verse from chapter 6 caught my eye. “You are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14) I’ve studied Romans at least three full times before. Always I’ve been so focused on the first half: not under law. Legalism has been such a danger to the church that its opposite, grace, has been neglected in study.

My Bible turned to Romans 6, I scanned the short two pages (including a bit of chapter 5). There, it seems, is the whole concept of being disciplined by grace. We know that faith produces works, that anyone who is truly saved will bear fruits of righteousness (which are by Jesus Christ). This does not happen on our own, but as a result of God’s grace, the activity of the Holy Spirit in us.

Even at the end of the passage, arguably the key verse, Romans 6:23 talks about grace. In every translation I checked, I find the word “gift” in this verse. Actually the Greek is charisma, which is accurately translated as gift – BUT is a derivative of charis, grace. Charis is used several other times just in Romans 6, let alone the other 15 chapters. So I suggest that we should read gift in verse 23 as “grace-gift.” We miss so much in English. What charisma indicates is the product of grace.

In Romans 5-6 we see that grace:
  • Brings salvation. We are justified by faith, which gives us access to the grace wherein we presently stand. Romans 5:16 says that the free gift is justification of many offenses. Finally Romans 6:23 provides the contrast between the consequences for our sin: death, and the great gift we who are justified receive instead: eternal life. (See also: Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 2:11-12, Galatians 2:20-21)
  • Is the opposite of legalism. Galatians expounds this theme, and is echoed in Romans 6:14: “You are not under law, but under grace.” In Galatians I believe Paul uses “walk in the Spirit” as virtually synonymous with “under grace” in Romans. Galatians also says, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”
  • Is not an excuse for licentiousness. Romans 6:1 asks the question: should we sin a lot, so that grace will abound? This is not an accurate understanding of grace. Grace is God’s power in us to walk in newness of life. Grace proves that sin does not have to control our lives anymore.
  • Enables righteousness. Throughout Romans 6 there is a taut balance between the necessity of righteousness as a product of grace and our new life through Christ and the danger of going back to the law, doing good for goodness’ sake. In between is also the horrible ground of doing no good at all, which would equally defeat the point. By grace are ye saved unto good works, which God prepared beforehand for you to walk in them.
  • Is our new master, rather than sin. The end of chapter 5 makes this point, which is then developed by chapter 6. Paul writes in 5:17 – “… much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by One, Jesus Christ.” Over at the Elect Exiles, Disciplined by Grace explains Titus 2:11-12 with regards to grace. First, it brings salvation. Grace’s second activity is teaching, which is the same Greek word Paul used in Ephesians 6:4: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Thus the word means to discipline, teach, train, rear. The Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, but now grace is our teacher. Romans 6:14 says, “…Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.”

Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

For refers us back to the rest of chapter 6, all about being presently, as believers, under grace.

Gift is charisma, which I discussed above.

This grace-gift is eternal life. Eternal life starts when we accept God’s grace and continues forever. It is life, not just a get out of hell free card. The grace of God gives us the life we now live in the flesh, by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. The life is through Jesus Christ, in His power, for His purposes, to His glory.

Our Lord tacked on to the end of Jesus’ name is a title of authority. The apostles recognized Jesus’ authority by calling Him Rabbi, Teacher, Master, Lord. John often referred to Jesus simply as “the Lord.” Here Paul is saying something about who Jesus is. He is our Lord, our authority. He is the Master, the giver of all good gifts. While the law came by Moses, grace and truth, John tells us, came by Jesus Christ.

We walk by faith and under grace. Faith talks about leaning not on our own wisdom, yielding control, following instantly and without explanation. Grace talks about leaning not on our own strength, praising and thanking God, obeying, but not because of rules – because we are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit produces fruit in our lives, and “spiritual” gifts, and sanctifies us from sin. This washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit is as much God's work as the mercy by which we’re saved. I sigh just in re-reading this paragraph, because the words and themes are found all over the Bible, not only in Romans. How exciting!

My life reminds me that walking by grace is the path of thanksgiving and rejoicing and humility and prayer often. All those we are commanded to do. Though I am not theologically a legalist, I sometimes find those hard to do, when I am depending on my own resources to accomplish anything, rather than seeking God. When I am, how impossible not to rejoice, to say with Jeremiah, “His mercies are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness!”

To God be all glory.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Gnome!

I was playing Taboo with some friends last night. The player with the card described the word, "It was in the K-----'s lawn; it was big and huge..."

"A gnome!" was the first guess I heard.

To God be all glory.

PS: The proper answer was a porcupine. My friend's specimen was 40 pounds.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hebrews 6: What does it Mean?

In case you didn't read the long (so sorry; I try to keep my posts at readable length, but I just couldn't divide that one) post on dispensationalism, I want to share a shortened version at least of Hebrews 6. If you have other expositions on this tough passage that make sense biblically, feel free to comment.

I love Hebrews 6. My favorite part is where it exhorts Christians to move beyond the basics. To me this refutes the seeker-sensitive “conversion”-driven style of church. I need fed the meat of the word, not just milk. Several years ago my pastor taught on the second part of the chapter, the controversial part, which at first glance seems to have nothing to do with verses 1-3. But verse 4 begins, “For,” so obviously the author felt he supplying the reasoning behind those first verses as he continued.

I remember that my pastor was arguing that here in Hebrews 6 there is evidence that the author makes an aside, discussing non-Christians who have been among the Church and witnessed God’s saving power, but never actually accepted the gospel for themselves. His Bible interpretation for this passage seemed forced into the mold of his preconceived theology; he was proof-texting much like he did when justifying female leadership in the church. So even though I believe no one once saved can lose their salvation (you did not earn your way in; you cannot earn your way out), I went searching for a more solid exposition of Hebrews 6. What I found was a lot of controversy and stretched interpretations, and one explanation that made perfect sense to me.

It was provided by Charles Spurgeon (a genius preacher, and eloquent!). PLEASE read the whole thing. I’m including the following two quotations just to summarize. Truly. His sermon transcript ties the entire passage together.

“In order to make them persevere, if possible, he shows them that if they do not, they must, most certainly be lost; for there is no other salvation but that which God has already bestowed on them, and if that does not keep them, carry them forward, and present them spotless before God, there cannot be any other. For it is impossible, he says, if ye be once enlightened, and then fall away, that ye should ever be renewed again unto repentance…

“Well, there never has been a case of it yet, and therefore I cannot describe it from observation; but I will tell you what I suppose it is. To fall away, would be for the Holy Spirit entirely to go out of a man—for his grace entirely to cease; not to lie dormant, but to cease to be—for God, who has begun a good work, to leave off doing it entirely—to take his hand completely and entirely away, and say, 'There, man! I have half saved thee; now I will damn thee.' That is what falling away is.” – CH Spurgeon

Compare to the logic-based argument Paul used in 1 Corinthians 15, where he was not saying that Jesus did not rise, but for the sake of argument posed a “what if”: "But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable."

To God be all glory.

Friday, November 09, 2007

To Resolve or Not to Resolve

“Yet sworn word may strengthen quaking heart.” ~ Gimli
“Or break it.” ~ Elrond

I'm not saying resolutions are wrong. They scare me, though. If I commit to something, I want to mean it. If I promise even to pray for you, I intend to do it - for a very long time. A thing that is on my heart deeply I will resolve to do, almost because I know I won't be able to help myself. Isn't that the easy way out?

Dennis Prager says the way he fights his own laziness is by making outside commitments. Accountability is huge. For example, when I commit to lead a Bible study, I do study the Bible, and get a lot out of it. Just for myself I would never have studied those words, asked those questions, or looked at those cross references.

We like to think of resolutions as the lighthearted decision to diet after the New Year. I know from experience that deciding to write or read a book by a certain time doesn't even work. I get distracted. Doesn't God by His grace give us the will to do...

Where was I going with that? At first I was going somewhere that would make the answer, "no." God doesn't enable us to do whatever we decide to do, however much diligence and perseverance are good things. God gives us the strength and grace to do what He wills.

Maybe I should not shirk resolutions if I know they are the will of God: if they're in the Bible, at least. So to resolve to pray would be good. Making a resolution to be more kind might have a chance.

I get so tired of failing. The fear is that once a resolution is broken, the call to start over is too intimidating.

In the background I'm hearing the chant, "Grace, grace, grace." Resolutions humble me. They always point out that I can't. Failing needs repentance.

To not make a resolution on something I know God expects of me, isn't that just covering for myself? Then when I fail I could conceivably argue that I hadn't reached that level of maturity; I wasn't aware of that expectation. Excuses, especially false ones, don't get very far with God. The repentance should come when I fail to please Him, not just when I break a resolution.

And now we're happily back to no need for resolutions, because the expectations and consequences are the same. Jesus said "Let your yes be yes, and your no, no," for a reason.

Or was Gimli right all along? Does a vow strengthen a faltering heart? Is a broken heart worth the risk? Brokenness isn't entirely bad; it reflects reality better than our pretense of competence.

To God be all glory.

The Law of Sunset

Moms with kids who take naps hate Daylight Savings Time.

I hate Daylight Savings Time. I don't like resetting my clock, and I do not like what it does to my sunset.

My dad agrees that to leave work when the sky is already dark is depressing.

I have a solution for half the problems: The sunset must always be after 6 PM. We can set our clocks around that. In this way not only do we leave work at a less depressing hour, but we get to see the sunset. Also waking for the sunrise is less difficult, as the sun would currently rise in Denver at about 8 AM (I think).

Dad had a different plan: employers must let their workers leave by sunset. That way we don't have to work as much. I have serious doubts about the economic implications.

Any thoughts or suggestions? I think we should be democratic about this. Benjamin Franklin invented Daylight Savings Time. Don't you think the floor should have been opened for others to present their propositions? And then we could vote. Moms get a vote for themselves and each child under ten. If enough of you my blog readers exercise your constitutional right and address the government for redress of grievances (the grief over not seeing the sun! over children who are hungry and sleepy an hour off schedule!), maybe our democratic efforts will effect change!

To God be all glory.

Can't Avoid Talking about Huckabee for too Long

Recently my talk radio station made me furious. 1: They eliminated their sister station and sold it to some Spanish group (I've nothing against Spanish, but I don't understand any of it). So when there's nothing good on the primary station now I turn my radio off. (And pray; it's actually been a good thing personally.) 2: They smushed their schedule to fit the hosts that have been on the primary station and those from the secondary station that they wanted to keep. Unfortunately they chose very badly. Now when I wake up, get ready, and drive to work, I don't hear my usual morning programs, because their three-hour shows have been cropped to two and another OBNOXIOUS show sandwiched in between. In the evenings I used to be able to listen to Mike Reagan, the voice of reason. He really is, you know; listening to him was so soothing and common-sense. Now I don't think he's on anywhere around here.

The only thing they did right was to keep Sean Hannity's full three hours live at the same time.

This morning Dennis Miller, the sandwiched host (you might remember him from Monday Night Football; my parents complained every week while he announced games that he was a coarse commedian, not a sports caster), made me furious by saying that a vote for Huckabee in the primary! is a vote for Hillary Clinton to win the presidency, because, he says, only Giuliani can beat Hillary. That's just nonsense. Conservatives don't want to vote for a liberal, and to a whole bunch of them, when they look at Giuliani and Clinton, they see two pro-choice candidates. They see them as equal, and right or wrong, will cast their vote elsewhere. If a candidate wants to run as a conservative, as a Republican, he'd better try to win the conservative vote. I say again, Giuliani will divide his base while attracting a few measly moderates. It isn't worth it. Not for politics; not for our country.

What bothers my dad and I is to hear all these conservative voices (online & on the radio) say they really like what Huckabee stands for, and thing he's charismatic. Then they say, "But he can't win. He doesn't have the support. He doesn't have the cash." If all these voices would endorse according to their conscience and not their self-important prophetic politics, maybe he would have the support.

Meanwhile, the people are starting to assert their influence against the would-be conservative powers among the voices. Dick Morris wrote an article for Townhall pointing out yet another advance Huckabee is making on the competition against "favorites" like Romney and Giuliani. Without the money or mainstream support, Huckabee is gaining a following among the common man. He told his supporters concerning a straw poll for which you had to have a ticket or donation to vote: “I can’t afford to buy you. I can’t even afford to rent you.”

The American people don't want to be bought.

To God be all glory.

Gave Gifts Unto Men Bible Study

Gave Gifts Unto Men is a spiritual gifts Bible study I wrote for ladies at my church. If anyone is interested in the Greek, in cross-references, in study questions, and application questions, feel free to download. I used Blue Letter Bible a lot for my research. One of my favorite parts is that we looked at New Testament characters who may have exercised their gifts, how others responded to the use of the gifts, and how the gifts were meant to contribute together to the edification of the whole Body.

A question to consider:
What happens when the church uses their gifts? What do spiritual gifts in action prevent/correct?

Also head over to the Elect Exiles series on spiritual gifts, and comment over there! Blogs and Bible studies, church and learning are conversation!

To God be all glory.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich

On a chilly day in late autumn or winter, a lazy day when you “get around to” lunch at 2 or 3 in the afternoon, on a grey day when no sunlight dares cheer your kitchen, what you need is the perfect grilled cheese sandwich, and the homescent exercise of preparing one.

What is a perfect grilled cheese sandwich? There are three ingredients to a perfect grilled cheese sandwich. Bread is the first ingredient. When the sandwich is done, the bread is crisp, light brown, and buttery on the outside while remaining mostly soft on the inside, moving toward cheesiness nearer the center of the sandwich. Cheese is of course the second ingredient. At eating the cheese should be liquid in the middle, with the soft rubbery texture of cooled cheese on the edges. Finally the crowning ingredient to a perfect grilled cheese sandwich is the margarine that coats, for full effect, the surface that will touch your tongue. After grilling, the margarine should be fully melted and resting in the crevices of the toasted bread.

How to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich using my stove.* Turn on one of the burners to medium high and immediately place a pan on top. Let it preheat while you prepare the sandwich. Take two relatively thick (3/4 inch) pieces of wheat sandwich bread and spread a thin layer of margarine over ONE side of each slice. Place butter-sides together. On top of this pre-sandwich, place one slice of Velveeta cheese (pre-sliced or self-sliced). Check temperature of pan by flicking room temperature water into the pan. If the drops bounce and sizzle quickly away, the pan is preheated. Lift the pan and use a non-stick cooking spray to coat it. Replace on stove.

All together take the top slice of bread and the cheese on top of it. Lift straight off the second slice of bread and set gently in the pan. Add the top slice of bread in the same way, ensuring that the buttered side is on top. Have ready a spatula for turning the sandwich. After about two minutes, flip the entire sandwich. At this point the cheese is not melted to the bread, so your sandwich will fall apart if you do not flip it quickly. Align pieces of bread, and ensure that no cheese is protruding over the new bottom slice of bread. If new top is now golden-brown, that side is done. Turn down stove to just above medium. Continue to cook for about two minutes. If both sides are golden brown, use spatula to remove from pan. If either is not golden brown, place that side down in the pan and cook for 30 seconds to one minute more.

At this point your sandwich should match the description at the top. I would not recommend slicing the sandwich, as it compresses the bread you intentionally left soft in the middle. My favorite serving suggestion is to add slices of grilled chicken such as you would put in a chicken salad, only warm, buttered**, and spiced (at least with pepper). Have oranges for the side and drink grape juice, preferably in a glass cup.
Lady with Electric Stove, Retro
Lady with Electric Stove, Retro

*If you are not using my stove, temperatures and times may vary. The idea is that you cook the outside quickly enough to make it crisp and golden brown without drying the inside of the bread. One difficulty in this is that at the same time you must be melting the cheese, so you must find a balance. Heating the sandwich in the microwave because the cheese was insufficiently melted is very unsatisfactory, as it turns the crisp outside edges of the sandwich soft.

**A health conscious person may decline butter in this instance and rather increase the herbs and spices to taste. For this I recommend one’s favorite blend of Mrs. Dash.

When There Is No Perfect Word

What to do when you need a word and find none that means exactly what you intend:

  1. Use poetry to circumscribe your meaning.
  2. Employ a simile to make a series of direct comparisons.
  3. Blog a new word (that sounds good!) into existence, and use it anyway:

Homescent – completely reminiscent of home, domestic in aura only, something commonplace yet sacred that would be done on a family vacation, or on a Saturday when the to-do list is done, spreading an attitude of peace like the smell of bread baking spreads through a house, having the essence of simplicity and love

A rebellion against the word “homey” which is no more in the dictionary than my word, and which sounds nothing like the actual sentimental experience of homescence. If it were a dead scene, merely visual, one might say quaint. The sound alone might be “familiar.” Yet the word for which we wander encompasses the entire progressive experience, the interaction between all those senseable aspects and the soul, the will-ing, moving participant in life.

Title Page of Volume I of the English Dictionary by Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-84), Pub. in 1755
Title Page of Volume I of the English Dictionary by Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-84), Pub. in 1755

Two more words:
Senseable – able to be sensed using: sight, hearing, touch, taste, or smell

Will-ing – the act of choosing to do something; this action always produces effort. Not to be confused with willing, a state of agreement or potential choice (like the difference between kinetic – will-ing – energy and potential – willing – energy).

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Straight Paths

The beginning of the movie Bella is a man quoting his mother, “When you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." ~ Proverbs 3:5-6

Monday I had a list of things to do a mile long, and I was convinced I could get them all done before their respective deadlines. With relief I checked off each item. Trying to multi-task, I turned on the oven to preheat and sat down to fill out my local ballot, for which I had made zero decisions. The efficiency was already starting to wear away when I realized I needed my laptop and had just turned it off. Forgetting what was behind and reaching forth to what was before, I pressed on.

And spent about 45 minutes on my computer learning about candidates and issues. All the while the oven was preheated and empty. When I finally finished my ballot, the time it would take to cook lunch and eat it would eliminate one item from my list. I chose to skip the library, because I didn’t have time to watch or listen to the items I had reserved anyway.

After lunch I ran my errands. Mom ran hers, too, agreeing to meet back at the house in time to depart for Bella. The theater I chose was across town, the one offering the cheapest tickets. (Even though we broke even for gas, I like to boycott expensive movie tickets.) Before we left, I checked my email one more time to see if any friends had responded to my last-minute invitation to join them.

By the time we got across the city, we were about ten minutes early. But being out of our neighborhood, we didn’t know where the theater was. I saw one on the left side of the street; Mom turned right. Finally I explained I saw the sign across the street, so we made it over there. Like a theater ashamed of its existence there was no marquis. We parked and went in, but did not see Bella listed. Sighing, I asked the cashier, “There’s another theater across the street in the mall, isn’t there?”

Back in the car, we returned to the exact spot we had accidentally visited earlier, but still there was no theater in sight. You know how malls work, though; you can start anywhere and get anywhere, especially in this one, which has a shortcut through the food court. So we parked. I hurried in and analyzed the map while Mom followed. At this point the listed start time of the movie was already upon us. I found the theater on the directory and took off in the direction, hoping my recent venture into map-reading would pay off.

The whole race I was coaching myself, “God knows what He’s doing, Lisa. This is for a reason. Relax.” Finally through the mall and across a little drive, we entered the theater, bought our tickets, and were at last standing just inside the door for screen 12. And everything was pitch black. The movie was just starting. Once there was a little more light, we found our seats and heard the line, “…tell God your plans.”

Hang with me, I’m not done. About twenty minutes into the movie the entire screen went black. Small fluorescent emergency lights began to flash and a calm voice informed us that an emergency had been reported in the building; everyone should move toward the exit. Outside we moved back across the little drive.

My brother has this laugh and dance he does when life is so unbelievable. Rosalee on Win a Date with Tad Hamilton says, “Yikesabee.” I sit down and watch with a smile ready to burst into a laugh. Some people say, “You just can’t make stuff like this up.”

In the end we got free movie passes for anytime, any in the family of theaters, with no expiration date or restriction – and we got to finish our movie after a mere 15 minute intermission. I would have been fine if they carried sodas and popcorn to us on trays, but then they were already over the top on customer service.

The drive home was one of those times of perfect peace. I was trying to figure out what I thought about the movie without thinking. Instead, feelings were just filling me, but not in an I’m-going-to-burst sort of way. A nice thing about being the passenger is that you can pull your legs up into the seat and pretend that even though the world is flashing by at 60 miles per hour, you feel like you’re in a cozy library with a mesmerizing fire to watch. At one point a car out my window exited the highway and I realized I’d been watching it for miles. Outside the sun was setting, leaving shadows and light mixing in a way that is only accomplished by the looming presence of large hills in the west. Peace is a nice thing.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:6-7

To God be all glory.

Grace Chase

Strength and tenderness are complementary virtues, just like might and grace.
Sunday evening I was listening to Ravi Zacharias’ message, Brittle Clay in Tender Hands. This week was just the introduction to this series on Jeremiah, a study of Jeremiah’s call in chapter 1, though the title is taken from chapter 18. Look at the progression. God set Jeremiah apart to be His prophet before Jeremiah was even born. In response to this glorious and sovereign truth God spoke to this man, the pre-prophet informed God, “I cannot speak…” So Jeremiah had to learn two things. The first is that when God calls you, He is strong enough to command your obedience. The second is that when God calls, He is tender enough to equip. He knows our weaknesses. I still remember a friend in high school quoting, “God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.”

If you study the prophets, when they ran, God pursued them. Writing about Jacob, Michael Card observed, “Love will fight us to be found.” Usually we think of the unsaved when we hear the poem or phrase, “Hound of Heaven.” But in Brittle Clay in Tender Hands, Ravi Zacharias points out that Jeremiah 18 could just as easily illustrate those who have already trusted in God. Whether you’ve considered Jesus’ pursuit in this light before or not, I expect you will be able to remember times in your life, however short, when you would have preferred God not go through with His plans for you, when you resisted like the clay on the Potter’s wheel. And I’m guessing that like Jonah, not even running to the other side of the world rid you of His call.

Corresponding to strength is might. Near the end of Jeremiah 1, God warns the prophet that if he is more afraid of the people and their reaction to the message he is delivering, God will simply make Jeremiah more afraid of Him – in front of the audience. A proper understanding of grace cannot come without a view of God’s might. How holy is He? How glorious? How powerful? Where does that leave us? Aside from leaving us unwilling to reject Him (even for fear of any one else, puny in comparison), it reminds us of how unable we are to obey Him ourselves.

I want to suggest that what happens both in the conviction of the soul’s need for a savior and in the pursuit of His children, is a grace chase. To abide in His will is better for us. Grace prevents God from giving us up to our own wisdom, and from releasing His just wrath upon us. Instead, He tenderly paces after us. Sometimes the tenderness is so filled with strength that we know we are experiencing discipline. For example, some mornings I turn off my alarm and want so much to get more sleep that I do drift off into a shallow sleep, and as much as part of me wanted to get more rest, I’m grateful when God wakes me back up just in time so that I won’t be late. Likewise I am so glad that He doesn’t let me wander from Him forever.

Once we His servants are apprehended in the chase, we are also given grace to complete “that for which [we are] apprehended of Christ Jesus.” Jeremiah professed his inability to speak, and once God had a hold of him, having cast aside the excuses, God graced Jeremiah with the ability to speak in God’s strength God’s own words. The question was never one of Jeremiah’s ability.

The more I seek God for understanding, the more I think I’m catching on. I’ve been asking what “disciplined by grace” means, and I think this is another answer.

Paul wrote one of God’s messages to him, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

To God be all glory.