Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Control and Contingencies Conclusion


So what God has been teaching me lately is to be responsive where I am, pressing forward from this point, not aiming to reach one ideal because I’m not the one who decides what “done” looks like.  And I need to ask myself whether I’m rejecting opportunities to do good things because they aren’t ideal.  I owe my life to my maker, a lump of clay submitted to the potter’s design, intention, and wisdom.  May I be faithful in each moment.

To God be all glory.

Control and Contingencies Part 8


As a sidewalk counselor, I encounter various arguments for abortion.  One of the arguments is that a woman has a right to self-determination.  She has the right, they say, not to be pregnant.  A person has the right to eliminate consequences of their own choices and actions. 

Of course the real world doesn’t allow us to erase causes – or effects.  When we deal with effects, we are making more choices leading to more causes of more effects.  The initial choice is never un-made.  Likewise abortion does not un-make a child; it kills him. 

When faced with an unwanted pregnancy, it is useful to counsel a woman about where to go from here rather than what would have been ideal.  She has a baby.  Now what?  Murder that child, give that child away, or keep that child and receive its love.  Each of those will have consequences, for the mom and the baby.  So we try to focus on those facts about the real world, when we’re out sidewalk counseling. 

To God be all glory. 

Control and Contingencies Part 7

Last week after a prayer meeting I usually attend, a few of us got to talking about the Declaration of Independence.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  One says he doesn’t believe in the right to life, but in the right to property.  Another agrees with the declaration.  I say, “Um, what does ‘rights’ mean?”  And it sounds like a silly question, but we struggle with it.  If God gives a right, is it irrevocable, even by Him, even if we do something to deserve ourselves out of it?  If our right to liberty is limited – by nature, by moral laws, or by civil laws – what does liberty even mean?  When you die, do you lose your rights?  If your rights aren’t enforced, are you stripped of them or are they merely violated?  Does having inalienable rights just mean that the rules are consistent throughout your lifetime? 

Some things, besides confusion, that I came away with, are: Liberty does not mean either the ability or the permission to make the world the way you want it – even regarding yourself.  God owns the rights to life.  God sometimes delegates His authority over the rights of others.  The Old Testament emphasizes property rights in a way that exalts land ownership higher than I am accustomed.  Israelites could sell their land, but they got it back at Jubilee.  And fathering an heir to the land, to carry on the family name and almost to own the land, was very important.  Basically, a right that furthered our dominion responsibility given by God, is much more important than some right of self-determination.

To God be all glory.

Control and Contingencies Part 6


A friend recently asked an interesting question on his Facebook status.  He said “Are spiritual gifts rewards?”  What followed was a discussion that went a certain way because of the things that his friends had been thinking about.  It wasn’t a simple, abstract, objective discussion.  I have been reading Andrew Murray on the Holy Spirit, and it is frustrating me.  He teaches that we are utterly dependent on God, and that we ought to wait on His power and guidance instead of being self-directed.  But he also says that the reason many Christians have not received a Pentecostal manifestation and ongoing filling of the Holy Spirit is because they do not want it, have not surrendered to it.  I don’t like this because it puts the gifts of God out of the realm of grace, leaving people feeling anxious that though there is a gift they want and which God wants to give, they must do more to persuade God to give it to them.  They must be doing something wrong.  But are they under conviction about any sin?  Does God not hear their pleas for deliverance from sin, for power to be God’s vessels in the Church and the world?  Does He judge them as insincere who cry out for this gift? 

But maybe God doesn’t always work in bursts like that.  Maybe He doesn’t want our goal to be the acquisition of some particular gift.  When I searched deeply for what really bothered me about Andrew Murray’s teaching, I found that I believe God wants daily faithfulness, that He sanctifies us as we follow Him.  And my Facebook friend pointed out that in this life the sanctification and maturing will not end.  We should not be content – Andrew Murray advocates discontent with our mediocre spiritual experiences.  But even if our experiences are not mediocre, we shouldn’t be content.  We shouldn’t ever feel that we’ve reached our own ideal of spiritual intimacy, so we need not desire or pursue any more. 

This brings to mind Philippians 3:12-14, "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.  Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

To God be all glory.

Control and Contingencies Part 5


Submission has come up a lot lately in my life.  I very much value authority and submission. But I don’t understand parts of it. Can you correct someone in authority over you? How do different authorities share their roles – church has authority, husbands have authority, fathers and mothers have authority, government has authority.  Can an authority delegate his leadership to someone else? For example, if God told Moses to lead the children of Israel, could Moses sit back and assign others to lead them? What role does delegation play?  What if God intervenes and exercises His authority directly (He told Isaiah to break the Mosaic Law, and he didn’t go to the priests or the king or the assembly to get permission)?  If there is no one exercising authority over me, is it my job to find someone to whom to submit? 

Friends have challenged me on my interpretations of Church leadership.  Does God even give actual authority to elders, or is it more about responsibilities and respect?  Does an elder have a right to tell me when and where and how or how not to use my spiritual gifts? Can he tell me to go on a mission trip or to host a poor family in my home or to quit my job? Could a father or a husband? Do I have to get approval from my authority for every choice I make? If not, how do I know which ones to get his ok on?  Do those who were formerly under authority and are appointed to equal authority really exercise equal authority?  Who are elders accountable to?

I’m also wondering whether men, in general, ought to be followed by women, or only specific men: husbands, fathers, Church elders.  Paul says he does not permit a woman to have authority over a man (in church), and cites the order of creation, but does that mean women ought to never lead a man? Or is it bad to submit to a man who does not have a specific authority position over you (husband, father, elder)?  If a man has (any kind of) authority, does that mean he gets to tell you what to do (make me a sandwich; read this book; call your parents) or is the authority different somehow? Does it matter the sphere of authority?

One book I read as a study in discipline is a parenting book called Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp.  It raised more questions.  What happens when kids become adults – do parents have the same authority over them? If a parent’s authority is derived from their responsibility before God to train up their children, then is it ok for other people to help parents?  Are there limits to the amount of a parent’s job that a babysitter, teacher, friend, or relative can take – can they discipline? 

One point Mr. Tripp really tries to drive home is that parents don’t have authority because they are bigger, older, better, stronger, or smarter.  They have authority as God’s representatives to their children.  Therefore, they don’t get to decide what purposes – and in some cases, which means – they have in raising their children.  Training is not for the parent’s convenience or pleasure.  They must be good examples of submission (to God) for their children, who are likewise learning to submit (to parents and God).  The children are not theirs; they are God’s.  So God says parents are authorities, not buddies; trainers, not dictators; fellow humans, not gods. 

To God be all glory.   

Control and Contingencies Part 4


CS Lewis wrote a book, That Hideous Strength.  It is one of my favorite novels.  Early in the story we meet a newly married woman named Jane, who has discovered that marriage is not what she imagined.  In fact she imagined a lot about her life that just isn’t so.  And some things have come up that she never intended.  Her initial reaction is to reject uninvited realities, and to be miserable about her disappointments.  She thought her life could be made by her, her marriage, her identity.  Gradually she acknowledges that this was never an option in God’s plan.  Always she has been His, with a role to play that he wrote, that fits in best with others who are surrendered to the author’s intentions.  And what a disaster when you fight it. 

The whole earth is suffering from just such a rebellion.  Every man is trying to make himself God and the world in his own wisdom, trampling others, insanely overlooking facts of nature.  But the Church is meant to stand opposite the chaos, showing how every part does its share through the measure of gifting supplied from God, keeping our places as God has set each in the Body.  CS Lewis uses the house of Ransom to depict this unity in diversity, showing not only how much we need each other, but how we are most ourselves when seeking how to bless one another instead of trying to figure out who we are and what life we want.  Let others tell us, or by their needs reveal to us, what becomes us. 

To God be all glory. 

Control and Contingencies Part 3


“We sometimes hear the expression ‘the accident of sex,’ as though one’s being a man or a woman were a triviality.  It is very far from being a triviality.  It is our nature.  It is the modality under which we live all our lives; it is what you and I are called to be – called by God, this God who is in charge.”  Elisabeth Elliot deeply explores the subjects of calling and obedience in her book, Let Me Be a Woman. 

Being alive and finding myself a woman indicates to me that God has a purpose for me in being female.  It is not given to me to change which gender I am, or to ignore my gender and act however I feel. 

A couple chapters later, she writes: “All creatures, with two exceptions that we know of, have willingly taken the places appointed to them…  What sort of world might it have been if Eve had refused the Serpent’s offer and had said to him instead, ‘Let me not be like God.  Let me be what I was made to be – let me be a woman’?” 

The rest of the book explores what it means to be a woman, why God created females, and how we are to relate to the rest of the world, and particularly as wives to husbands.  Reading it recently was refreshing and encouraging as I struggle to learn submission. 


To God be all glory. 

Control and Contingencies Part 2


There is a movie called Leap Year, and I can’t recommend it because of a couple scenes that just aren’t beneficial for holding on to good morals.  But like some sort of hypocrite, I watch it occasionally.  It is thought-provoking, but then my brother says everything makes me think.  This in-control woman (whose control issues are a response to an out of control childhood) is tired of being disappointed and waiting on her boyfriend to propose.  They’re living together already, but she still dreams of commitment and forever-love.  So she decides to take advantage of an Irish tradition and propose to her boyfriend herself, on Leap Day, in Ireland where he is at a conference.  So she sets out to surprise him.

But there’s a detour of more than her travel plans.  Miss get-her-done responds to a series of difficult situations with great skill.  But when things keep going wrong, and she can’t do anything about it, she finds herself in need of being more reactionary but in a trusting way instead of a plan for every contingency sort of way.  This reveals some flaws in her relationship with her boyfriend, and also in her plan to deal with it.

Guiding her both geographically and psychologically is an Irish pub-owner with wounds and disappointments of his own, but with much more common sense.  He isn’t so good at trusting, either, but at least he knows it’s the way to go.  Sit down, pull out an apple, and wait.  There’s a castle near the bus stop.  Why not climb to the top?  You might have to put up with some rain, but the walk is worth it, right?

Being thrown together, forced to work together to accomplish their goals, the heroine and her guide start to fall for each other, despite her mission to propose.  (Yeah, it's another one of those movies.)  For one thing, the guide has confidence that if the boyfriend wanted to get married, he would have asked, and that rather than chasing him down and trapping an unwilling husband, the girl should reconsider entirely.  But they also start to reach out in totally selfless ways, taking interest in each others’ lives and motives.  There is realistic resistance, but a persistent direction towards understanding and friendship.

Near the end, the beautiful American doesn’t have to propose because her boyfriend asks her to marry him himself.  Mr. Irish Guide has his bit of disappointment, but he’s benefited from the experience, from the friendship, from being forced - through her - to think about his own choices in life.  In a way, he’d been holding out just as much as she had.  Things are not quite as happy for the heroine, who finds out that the proposal was brought on not by real desire to get married, but by social pressure from people selling them an apartment together.  She stands in the middle of her dream home and realizes that she has everything she wants and nothing she needs.  So she flees.  What makes a person leave everything they know and have dreamed of?

This time our heroine, who feels she has learned something but still hasn’t really learned, flies to Ireland pursuing another man.  In the middle of his pub, she confesses the way the time she spent with him changed her life, and invites him to “not make plans” with her, just to see where this “thing” goes.  But Irishman, common-sense, slightly cynical, guide-guy pub proprietor rejects her proposal.

It’s the kind of movie that could have ended unhappily and still been meaningful.  The filmmakers timed the scenes well so that I got to imagine such endings, the implications, and how I still feel satisfied, like there was a message that was useful anyway, experiences not wasted even if the end wasn’t happily ever after.

But she’s standing on a beautiful cliff on the coast of Ireland and he comes after her, and tells her he doesn’t want to not make plans; he wants to make plans.  And he gets down on one knee.  In the end it isn’t the having a dream that’s to be rejected – it’s an empty dream, a selfish and shallow life, that doesn’t deserve all that effort and pursuit.  Make plans to deal with contingencies together, with more to guide you than a destination. 

To God be all glory.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Control and Contingencies Part 1


There’s a strategy game called Settlers of Catan that my friends and I like to play.  It’s kind of based on economics and the power of monopolies or embargoes or of trade and spending wisely, as well as taking risks.  I’m ok at it, but I don’t have enough experience or genius to keep the big picture in my head at all times.  My strategy usually revolves around starting well and going on my own from there, trying to be patient but usually ending up frustrated, because starting in an ideal position is rare.  Once my initial plan or hope is thwarted, I fall apart and then lose.  So I’m starting to learn to play intelligently based on contingencies.  No, I didn’t want that to happen or plan for that, but I’ll come up with a new brilliant plan (oh the humility!).  One advantage to this is that I pay more attention to the strategies and choices others are making.  And more than learning about economics, playing a game is about interacting with friends.  

To God be all glory.

Worthiness


God, the One
who created
everything,
and who is mightier
than everyone,
and who knows
the end
from the beginning,
who is
all-righteous
and good -
is the God
who speaks,
who moved in my own little life
to save me,
who moves each day
to lead me,
who prepares the way
before me
and lights it
with His own presence,
who gives to me
tiny good gifts
and listens to my
trembling prayers.
And yet I doubt;
I fear:
one sentence
one moment
and I freeze,
imagining the worst,
forgetting my
pleadings have been heard
by He who is
worthy
of being trusted.
And even if
what I imagine
is true
this day,
God is not
bound for tomorrow
by what is today,
and His plans will
come to pass,
so that
those who know
their own plans
are no more
in control,
future-assured
than I am:
wondering,
worrying,
guessing.
I spend the
rest of the night
resisting and
trying to
trust
and know
and be still
and be quiet
and be good
and rejoice.

To God be all glory.