Saturday, February 28, 2009
And while I stand a few paces off, judging her for her rude demands, I begin to see my reflection. How often do I take advantage of a good gift, and expect it to be repeated? Demand it? I am tempted to do that with God all the time. Life is going so graciously great, and then I expect to continue to be lavished with an easy way and good things. I am quickly spoiled.
I’m trying to cultivate a heart of gratitude, where each bit of notice, each amazing moment and awesome experience, and each little gift means the world to me, because I don’t deserve any of it, and one may never come again. A heart of gratitude speaks its thanks.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!
To God be all glory.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Every year since 3rd grade I have spent the spring preparing for Awana Bible Quiz. Beginning my freshman year Bible Quiz went national, held with other events over about four days in April. Leading up to those days, I prepare for them when waking and anticipate them when dreaming. When that week ends each year, I fly home and sleep for the next thirty hours. As it is only February when I write, you may have guessed this is not the source of my weariness.
The past couple weeks I have felt similarly invested in and nervous about the unfolding events at my church. Unlike the Bible Quiz, where mentors, coaches, and friends showed me how to cope, and exemplified how to pray, this situation has left me much more directionless, confused, and even isolated. I don’t know what to pray, let alone what to do or say. Most of the time I pray for wisdom and God has come through guarding my tongue. My whole life, though, is guarded. All of my thought must be focused and alert when I am in the middle of these situations. Emotions must be allowed to flow on, but checked and restrained at the same time.
As if all this wasn’t difficult enough, the rest of my life – and my friends’ lives – continues. I still have a job, and books to read. My friends are still looking for jobs and having surgeries and meeting “princes” and raising children and putting food on the table. Laundry must still be done. Birthdays continue to come. Spring is here, and I am doing the Bible Quiz preparation that has become an annual venture.
There is no one-week end to such high-intensity living. Nor am I convinced that sleeping for 30 hours straight would relieve my exhaustion. Figuring out how to cope transfers into my sleeping hours as well.
The praise is that God has not left me. He even prepared me, quietly and gently, for these developments. At the end of the summer, He said, “Change.” And looking back I can’t tell whether it was a command or a warning. He’s been teaching me about love and peace, and before that about Church. Our Awana group is studying the Will of God, but we are quizzing over Galatians (walk in the spirit vs. walking by clear-cut answers/legalism) and Ephesians (the Spirit’s power in the Church). The Holy Spirit has come up in conversations and blogs and sermons and lessons a whole lot lately, and I believe God is trying to tell me something there, or help me cope, or prepare me for a new experience in the whole thing. Sometimes I think He’s just trying to remind me that He’s paying attention.
Psalms 75:1, "
I have been crying out to God for my church. In light of all God has brought to mind about His Spirit, I have been asking that our church would be led by the Spirit, would defer to the Spirit, would trust in the Spirit’s more mighty power, and that we would begin, through humility, to experience that power in a way that we refused to allow before.
This is a challenge to me. Over the years there have been several times that I thought life might be more pleasant or simple for me if I were to find a new church, but each time God has given me some new motivation (whether conviction or friendliness or strength from other directions) to stay. Now, like it or not, I am at my church, and at least for the duration of the present situation, I belong here. The line from Esther replays in my mind: “For such a time as this…”
Sometimes I think this is like marriage. Hard times come, and I want to pack my bags and say good-bye to all this trouble - but I won't. Love says no. The argument goes on between the most basic desires and instincts in my heart: love, "stay" want, "go." love, "no!" want, "yes, please! please?" Life today is a forge, perhaps, teaching me about commitment and selfless love: proving to me that with God, it is possible to hold on as hard as things may get. I won’t draw the metaphor too far, however. No vow has been made on my part to be forever joined to the congregation I attend. I am constrained only to love others, to serve them as I would any Christian, to demonstrate love and faithfulness and patience. In the words of Romans, I am pursuing the things which make for peace, and the things by which one may edify another.
The pursuit of perseverance is always hard, and hardest when the hope is most narrow. My own attitude wavers between despair, distance, and hope. The challenge is to put my hope in God, who alone can build us up into one body, one mature representation of the glory and love of our Head and Redeemer. If He can buy us back from the ugly wages of sin while we were yet rebelling against Him, then He can heal my church.
To God be all glory.
After some time of absence, his enemies begin to creep back in. First one citizen at a time and then groups at once, these wicked men reassert their power. With subtle trickery they ensnare the people, weighing them down with tasks and restrictions. When a brave man remembers the hero, the bad guys devise a new plan. They defame the hero. “He was a liar,” they say. “Didn’t he just come here to get power?” “He is not who he says he is, and has no authority to talk to you.” “You’re smart people. Does it make sense? He told you to change everything you’d ever believed in, your whole way of life. And now he’s not here. We’re going to stand by you and help you.”
It’s a classic tale of good guys versus bad guys, and the innocent bystanders used as pawns by the bad guys. Of course the hero is trying to rescue them, to grant them freedom from their self-serving oppressors. We have a showdown of sorts, some harsh words calling each other out. The little people hang in the balance, uncertain which man has their best interest at heart. Which man is telling the truth?
In such an epic tale of good versus evil, how do we decide? Who do we root for? Who do we follow? How do we determine which man is good?
The story at the beginning is the background of the book of Galatians. Paul is our hero, bringing the good news about salvation through Jesus to the province of Galatia. Wherever he went, he met opposition, whether it was from the Jews who didn’t embrace Jesus or from the pagans who felt threatened by a religion that worshiped God without temples, rituals, and idols. He also freed a bunch of people from the purposeless lives and oppressive requirements of their old religions. Paul taught the people about grace, about a God who wants to dwell with us – not in a castle on a hill, but right with us, even inside us.
After establishing the believers and teaching them for a while, he moved to the next city, running a circuit around the Mediterranean. In his absence, some Jews who infiltrated the Christian church, began to teach and insist that salvation was not only the work of Jesus; men had to add to it. They taught that to be saved and to continue to live a life pleasing to God, every Christian had to keep the Mosaic Law. This law included rituals about diets, hand-washing, illnesses, sacrifices, commerce, as well as moral regulations.
When the Galatians protested that Paul had taught them that nothing good they did was good enough to earn salvation, these false teachers challenged Paul. He isn’t an apostle, they said. He lied to you. He was out for his own gain. And now he has abandoned you. Many were swayed, and returned voluntarily to their oppressed way of life. Some wrote to Paul.
Obviously, we’re on Paul’s side, because he wrote half the New Testament. But put yourself in the Galatians’ shoes. How would you know which person was truthful? Which was the good guy? I mean, the Jewish teachers were all about doing good things. So was Paul.
Galatians 5 is Paul’s explanation for why a Christian is expected to do good things. Based on this chapter, goodness comes from the Holy Spirit at work in every believer. This is why a Christian may be anticipated to do good things: not because he is in need of goodness to get or maintain his standing with God, but because the works are automatic.
Ephesians 2:8-10 puts this whole thing rather concisely: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."
To God be all glory.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Autumn the field of her brother
Winter waits on yarning old women
Summer sweeps in young children’s laughter.
Time is the tale of seasons
Space present in jumbles of ways
My friends dance in the streets of lifetime
God catches men home full by joy-worn days.
To God be all glory.
Sunday, February 08, 2009
While I lay awake, I prayed. Processing middle of the night irrationality with God is something I have done before. I don't know why God lets me go through insomnia, withholding the sweet forgetfulness and peace of sleep. Prayers when you can't think straight and you're breathing hard to separate uncontrolled imagination with reality are interesting things. They go in different directions than the considered prayers of the morning and daytime.
One thought was why I dream. During the day I can have an active imagination, read all sorts of books without pictures. Why though do dreams take that imagination and do with it what I would never allow - all when the inhibitor chip of my rational, responsible brain is snoozing? For some reason I compared my mid-night state with dementia or Alzheimer's. Those people lose their rationality and their memory. But deep down, they are the same people. I thought of two things that could prepare you to go crazy gracefully (don't judge me for thinking about these things; I say, it was the middle of the night!): 1. Learn to cope with fear. I cannot fathom the fear I would experience if I found out I had dementia or Alzheimer's - or if I woke up in a place I didn't recognize surrounded by people whom I didn't remember. A lot would depend on my trained reaction to such bewilderment. 2. Build truth and kindness into my character now. I don't believe character will change (apart from drug-induced alterations, which I hope to avoid).
Kindness, and a calm response to fearful situations and confusion, are thus some focuses of my life for the next few decades.
To God be all glory.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
If you are ever in a car, and this car is headed for the edge of a cliff, and you have the option of letting the car explode 100 feet from the edge or not, I recommend that you prevent the explosion and hope to grab the steering wheel to redirect it in the remaining 100 feet.
Today I was driving in rush hour. I almost made a green light for a left turn, but the turn arrow expired just as I reached the intersection, and I waited. It was one of those excellent but endangered lights that retains my legal right to turn on a green light if the oncoming traffic has a large enough break. But there wasn't one. So I waited. And finally after my red light, the turn arrow came back and I sped into my curve, considering those behind me who were sitting in a long, hopeless line of cars. The road was a bit narrow, and cars filled the other side of the road. I only saw her as I finished the 90 degree transition. Perpendicular to my car was a lone woman, mid-road, her car stretching across three lanes of my path. I slammed on my brakes.
She had crossed a double yellow line to turn out of a left-turn-only lane, two car-lengths behind her red light. Her attempt was to escape the traffic and enter the opposite parking lot to turn around.
I waited for her, scarcely giving thought to traffic behind me. For a split second we had made eye contact, and she sheepishly proceeded into the parking lot, as if she had just read in my face the foolishness of her decision. (Double yellow lines are a clue to this. Don't cross them!)
Driving on up the road, praising God for preventing an accident, I pondered what-if's. Really in the moment I put on my brakes I was making a decision. I was trusting the people behind me to slow down or go around or to be slow enough in their turn to give time to smoothe out the wrinkles the other driver created. It was not impossible or even unlikely that a car behind me would run into me.
Even though this decision did not present itself as such at the time, afterward I realized that stopping was still my best choice. T-boning another car is probably a lot more harmful than getting rear-ended (though I have a lot of stuff in my trunk that I would rather not get scrunched). But how do you prepare your instincts for a split-second decision, to do the best thing?
To God be all glory.
Ahhh! Is it 2009 already! I guess it would have to be, but I’m really not prepared for 2009. I liked 2008 – as a number – much better. Funny, because I would prefer 9 the digit to 8.
Ok here is what I have read so far (and I’ve told you everything, but not all together):
10 Most Common Objections to Christianity by Alex McFarland (This is a book that our high school girls small group went through this fall. It was a really good defense of the Bible and the existence of God. We got a basic course in apologetics through it. The appendix for small groups in the back was a great help. My one reservation is the weakness of his chapter on evolution – but only in the area of the age of the earth. If I were a skeptic, I don’t think I would be flattened by all of the points in this book, but some of them are pretty convincing!)
Desiring God by John Piper (Read this book. Don’t get turned off by the term “Christian hedonism.” Christian is an important modifier. God calls you to enjoy Him, for life in Him and through Him to be all about relationship. Get some good teaching on some great verses to help you put it into practice!)
The Empty Cradle by Philip Longman (see full review)
Prodigal God by Timothy Keller (see full review)
The Grand Weaver by Ravi Zacharias (A quick read, unusual for this author, this book is a how-to on finding God’s will for your life, emphasizing faith in the sovereign plan of God. Using the illustration of the father-son teams of weavers who make the wedding saris of India, Dr. Zacharias talks about the perfection of the Father’s plan even when we don’t see the design emerging yet. One of his favorite topics is the Trinity: “unity and diversity in community”, and he uses it to communicate the love of God for us His children. The second half of the book, comparable to other reformed works on the purpose of a Christian’s life, focuses on worship as a way of life. In this book the Anglican roots of the author emerge more than in anything I have read or heard of his, as he revels in the imagery and tradition of the church as it pertains to worship. The best part about this book to me was the quotes, which I can hear Ravi reciting in his crisp Indian-accented English. I wish I could live in his library, because I have no doubt that this Christian apologist owns copies of the cherished volumes he quotes. )
Persuasion by Jane Austen (Yes, I read it again. And it is still wonderful, far exceeding any movie renditions to date. I want everyone to know this sweet story and to emulate the gentle, helpful, good, passionate Anne Elliot. I also wish everyone to have her happily ever after!)
The Eighth Shepherd by Bodie and Brock Thoene (Centered on the story of Zacchaeus, this dramatization of the gospels teaches the importance of humility before the Shepherd-King who hears prayers and has come as doctor to the sick. Enter Jericho. Read of figs, taxes, sycophants, blind men, slaves, and the faith that could set any man or woman free. Ask the question with Shimona whether it is better to be sick and know your need or to be healed by an excommunicant and feel alone. Why does God save and heal? What comes after that? Perhaps God sends out the healed as instruments of more healing. Shimona demonstrates courage, faith, gentleness, and a choice-love that doesn’t make sense but won’t be denied. Can God use the love of His children to soften the hearts of the sick and the lost? I loved the Ezekiel passage about shepherds placed between chapters. What a warning to Christian leaders, and encouragement to those who are fed by the Great Shepherd.)
Chronology of the Old Testament by Dr. Floyd Nolen Jones (see full review)
Ninth Witness by Bodie and Brock Thoene (is another of their novels dramatizing the life of Christ, this time focusing on his twelth year Passover in Jerusalem. I confess I didn't like this one as much as most of this series. The authors seem to be making Jesus and Simon Peter boyhood friends, and they felt it necessary to portray Mary and Joseph as adopting children rather than them being fathered by Joseph and mothered by Mary, the plainest interpretation of the New Testament account.)
The Chosen by Chaim Potok (see full review)
Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna (see full review)
Reimagining Church by Frank Viola (see full review)
The Shadow Within by Karen Hancock (see full review)
Shadow Over Kiriath by Karen Hancock (see full review)
Unveiled Hope by Scotty Smith and Michael Card (see full review)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith (Despite contamination with inappropriate and disturbing material, this is a parody of the classic novel beloved by refined women everywhere. I get the impression that Seth believes he can improve Jane Austen's work. Often retaining the original language, he adds his interpretation of the story - things you know he was always longing to say he guessed about the characters' true intentions or activities - and the ridiculous addition of zombies. Most versions of Pride and Prejudice retain the same characters and plot, but this is a rather amusing twist that ends up changing the characters significantly. To describe this book I have told everyone that the famous scene where Mr. Darcy first proposes involves the exact dialogue of the original, but Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are literally dueling. Go figure.)
Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews by David Pryce-Jones (A summary of centuries of French policy and prejudice, including some world history especially in the 20th century. David Pryce-Jones researched the archives at the Quai d'Orsay for internal memos and official reports detailing the Foreign Ministry's policies towards Jews and the Arab world, proving that all France has ever intended was to be more prominent and powerful than the Jews or the 'Jewish-dominated' United States.)
Flood Legends by Charles Martin (see full review)
Frozen in Time by Michael Oard (see full review)
Blink of an Eye by Ted Dekker (see full review)
The cry in Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, is not a yell from rooftops. This is a crying book, with tissue and red eyes and the ache in your throat when you try to hold back the tragedy from taking over you. There are no answers in this book, only the brave resolve to do what is right and to speak the truth, knowing that some things belong to God, and He alone can rescue mankind. South Africa, like all of our nations, has for decades and centuries been in the brokenness that needs God. Still men are praying, and crying for their beloved country.
JRR Tolkien: Myth, Morality & Religion by Richard Purtill (see full review)
Get Married by Candice Watters (Some encouraging stuff and some challenging ideas and some points of view that weren't helpful. I believe God wanted me to read the book, so I did.)
Gertrude McFuzz by Dr. Seuss; Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss; I had Trouble Getting to Solla-Sollew by Dr. Seuss; The Butter Battle by Dr. Seuss (who knew Dr. Seuss didn't just write silly nonsense! Some of his books are actually allegories and parables. I much prefer them if they rhyme, but am rather unhappy when the rhyme is only accomplished by inventing a word.)
The Ultimate Proof of Creation by Dr. Jason Lisle (see full review)
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (The classic children's story about growing up. Not quite like the movies. Great writing, quirky quotes. I cannot figure out whether JM Barrie was trying to say something with his story, or a lot of things as they popped into his head. He seems to be fond of manners and humility.)
Perelandra by CS Lewis (is the richly poetic tale of Ransom’s trip to the planet Venus, where he encounters the first created woman of the land, the Eve. Ransom discovers the purpose for his visit when his old enemy, Weston, splashes into the Perelandrian ocean, bent to tempt the woman to prove she is “grown up” by moving out of the will of God. While this question is strongly presented, there are other parts of the story more moving. The opening description of the fluid islands and sensuous sights and smells, the intriguing but unfathomable moodiness of a world that is femininity incarnate – this is a strength of the story: the environment is a character. As a character, it can be accepted or rejected or even abused. Will one take the next wave as it comes? Does a man try to maintain his plane when the island swells first into a hill and then dips into a valley? If a fruit is good, must one drink of it again even when full?)
To God be all glory.
In about 200 pages (including footnotes and appendices), the authors present a case to Bible-affirming Christians for young earth creationism. They follow the rules of logic and point out some commonly applied logical fallacies which they are avoiding. Topics range from biblical interpretation of Genesis’ creation and flood accounts, descriptions and simple refutations of alternate interpretations (day-age theory, gaps in genealogies, local flood), to a short discussion of the scientific evidence “for” and against an old earth.
The authors, Dr. Jason Lisle and Tim Chaffey, emphasize the importance of using the Bible as our foundation for science. Because of this commitment they are able to present a consistent cosmogony and worldview, but they are not in this book writing to skeptics or people of other religions. Though Old-Earth Creationism on Trial argues that a biblical foundation is the only scientific starting point that is not self-defeating, and therefore the best approach to combating erroneous theories, their objective in this book is to encourage and challenge Christians.
Through a short examination of history, the authors prove that young-earth creationism is not a reaction to biological evolution, but that it has been the majority interpretation of the church (and plainest reading of Genesis) for thousands of years before Darwin wrote Origin of Species. In fact, a portion of the church had begun to compromise on the age of the earth earlier in the 19th century. Thus the debate inside the church has been going on for about 200 years.
One of my favorite parts of this easy-to-read reference book was the use of Proverbs 26:4-5, which says: "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit." Therefore, to be consistent in our own position, we do not have to grant the false assumptions of our opponents in order to debate them. However, it is a valid debate technique to point out the fallacy of their assumptions by showing their logical conclusions (which can be proven to be false). This is the format, in fact, of the whole book.
Compared to Coming to Grips with Genesis, Old-Earth Creationism on Trial covers most of the same information in a more concise and layman-friendly format. The authors also do a good job of focusing on the age of the earth (and universe) question, without going too far into the associated questions of biological evolution. Christians are discouraged from accepting naturalism and uniformitarianism, even in conjunction with other biblical beliefs. The book is a strong polemic against these two philosophies, which both underlie the theories of evolution.
To God be all glory.
Do you read through the Bible and wonder what significance a fact or story had that God included it in His unperishing Word? Do you ever find yourself astounded by discovery as you read, seeing depth and import in the passage that you never saw there before? I love to find a teacher or author who has been granted insight into a part of the Bible that had always seemed way over my head (or beneath my notice). Whether in only one chapter of all the books they’ve written, or but one exposition they gave aloud to a congregation or conference, I feel like jumping up and down, thanking God for this gift that draws me closer to my Savior.
In Prodigal God, Timothy Keller blends a big-picture view of redemption and the Bible with the drama of one of Jesus’ most famous parables. This is one of those rare books where I don’t feel like quoting or underlining, because entire chapters would be quoted and underlined. One of the most moving points of the book is simply the title. In the introduction, the author explains himself. We often refer to this parable as the Prodigal Son – but Jesus specifically introduced it as the story of two sons. Prodigal is a true description of the younger brother, who got all he could as soon as he could and spent it with equal recklessness and extravagance. When we call the Father prodigal, we are talking about a whole different kind of spending. He spent all He had on us, to find us and bring us back, and to welcome us into His love. To be so extravagant also makes the word prodigal true of Him. And how can any of His children be unmoved by His sacrifice?
I met my God in this book, not for the first time, but oh, He was there! His image sparkled as I read through descriptions of the commonly described “sinner”, the younger brother, to the older brother whose heart is equally proud and rebellious, but who is trying to use God and goodness for his own ends, to the older brother that should have been, the missing character from the pattern of the two preceding parables in the trilogy. Who was seeking and saving the lost? Is forgiveness really ever free?
After forgiveness, what then? What was God’s design for living as His children? Timothy Keller spends the final chapter of The Prodigal God talking about feasts. Jesus’ first miracle, a sign of the purpose of His ministry, is a (wedding) feast. The night before He was betrayed, Jesus ordained a new feast for His followers as a remembrance of Him. The close of this church age is a (wedding) feast where the Church is reunited with her Redeemer. And eternity is something of a feast, living in the presence of God and eating of the tree of life. Once again emphasizing relationship, this chapter presents salvation as “taste and see” believing that is lived out and continued in gratitude and celebration of the grace of God. As anyone knows, celebration is not to be done alone. In fact, quoting CS Lewis, Timothy Keller makes the point that relationship with God experienced in community brings out more of God than you could experience on your own. Therefore the final challenge of Prodigal God is for you to invest in a gathering of believers with the same love with which you compassionately seek those who are lost, desiring them to share with you in the Father’s love.
To God be all glory.
But He really is my God, by His smashing grace. Knowing who God is (theology) increases the value of His love for me. Because He is perfect, yet suffered shame, I praise His love more. Because He loved his own Son so much, but sent Jesus to suffer in my place, I am humbled by His grace. Because He is able to create and maintain the whole universe, yet chooses to interact with me on a daily basis, I crumble with joy! Because He is infinitely good, I have peace passing understanding.
I live in a sphere of truth as I know it. Truth is something I crave and cling to because it enables me to love my God. When a part of that sphere is bombarded with doubt (from within or without), I get defensive. I whirl around in my little world, reexamining associations, texts, and experiences. Whether I had been wrong about the truth or the doubt had been unfounded, I go through that experience every time. Some questions are smaller. Others challenge me to re-read my whole Bible with the tension of interpretation presented by a different view. Contradictions can even turn out to be paradoxes when I go deep enough into them.
To entertain questions, engage discussions, and comprehend a sense of truth (even as presented in creeds or “institutes”) is not, I conclude, wrong. Here let me clarify. If the motive for acquiring truth is to better experience God’s love and return it – if the pursuit is in the context of your relationship with God – and if the odyssey is not harming other people, then it is not wrong.
To God be all glory.