Category Archives: Christian Living

words for these days

DSC_0494There are two ways of living:

 “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.”
But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy a field.

Living for the kingdom is not a careful, calculated decision but a wild abandonment of everything else in life. It’s not even a choice, but an irresistible compelling. We are citizens of heaven, people under the enchanting spell of grace. In contrast, the careful, calculated decision of the rich young man come from groveling servitude. “He did not own his possessions; they owned him. If he had owned them, he could have been free of them.” (Bernard of Clairvaux) It is impossible to live for stuff and God because it is an issue of worship. What we allow to dictate our days, order our emotions, what we serve and worship shows what we love. Like Hansel and Gretel dropping crumbs in the forest, the little choice we make about what we give and what we take and what we labor for leave a telltale trail straight to where we really are.

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven… for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Furthermore, it is impossible to truly own anything already destined to be destroyed by sin. No matter how hard I try, I cannot hold on to anything material in this life. The only things I have a lasting part in are the eternal, the “treasures in heaven” that God gives. Granted, the eternal and the physical are so intertwined as to be nearly inseparable—and this is why throwing away a shirt or bowl or blanket can feel like throwing away a memory or a friendship. But it is not. Serve what the creation was designed to enable and flesh out rather than the creation itself and embrace the fearlessness that an offer of eternal life can give us.

This is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life–whether you have enough food and drink or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they don’t harvest or store food in barns for your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they? Can all your worrying add a single moment to your life?

So don’t worry about these things, saying, “What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?” These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously and he will give you everything you need.

Worry is completely unproductive. In my mind, in the alternate reality I’ve constructed, I think that stuff makes a life and that I control that stuff (by planning, purchasing, choosing, worrying, etc.). But every good gift comes from our Father above whom me call “Abba” to and only have to ask for whatever we need. The stuff? The unbelievers run after these things…

If you think this is a show-uppance (because I think I’m doing this), I wish I could show a replay of the many moments lately where I’ve been the rich young man with the Holy Spirit prying my white-knuckled fingers off of shiny trinkets. But this is not who I want to be—I want to be the girl who sees the treasure, throws comfort and caution to the wind and runs after it. Don’t you?

Bonus: songs for these days

Love is not the easy thing…walk on. What you’ve got they can’t deny it, can’t sell it, can’t buy it. Leave it behind, leave it behind… from U2

I am a poor, wayfaring stranger traveling through this world of woe. I’m only going over Jordan, I’m only going over home. I’m going there to meet my Savior, to dwell with him and never roam. From Wynter Poe

Let’s do this right, you know what I’m talking ‘bout!?” from Lecrae

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ! From the Na Band

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Clive is in Kindergarten (aka it’s the end of the world as we know it)

 When the rain is blowin’ in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love. 

When the evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love. 

I know you haven’t made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong
I’ve known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong.

 I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue
I’d go crawlin’ down the avenue
No, there’s nothin’ that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love. 

Though storms are raging on the rollin’ sea
And on the highway of regrets
Though winds of change are throwing wild and free
You ain’t seen nothin’ like me yet. 

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn’t do
Go to the ends of the Earth for you
To make you feel my love. 

(“Make You Feel My Love,” Bob Dylan)

Two persistent thoughts on this:
First, I wish I could make everything perfect for him. I wanted the best, most classic wooden pencils and the pinkest Pink Pearl. I want a kindergarten teacher with a PhD. I want everyone to recognize what a delightful, hilarious, intelligent, and passionate little boy he is. I never want him to be picked on, ignored or have a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day. And so the night before his first day when the pencils and eraser disappeared and the neighbor talked about sketchy bus schedules I was in a bit of a panic. I laid in bed with David and cried “I just want everything to be perfect for him” and the Holy Spirit turned my own words on me like a tiny little stinger that kept on pricking. Really, why would I want this? Well, because this is what we all want, were born wanting. But, having been taught the Bible and the life of Christ as I have I should have known better. My foolishness here is so clear. 1) As if I could provide this. 2) Feeling the drag of this world’s fall from perfection is exactly what will show him his need of a Savior. 3) If there is any tiny seed of trust in his heart then the Spirit will use the blaze of hardship to sprout it. The embryonic theodicy conversations we’re having about lightning and thunder and why God doesn’t make it stop as soon as we pray are terrifying. Terrifying because he’s meeting a God that even his parents can’t explain and that doesn’t always give all the answers. The choice to trust or reject has become clear. And rather than wanting for him a life with no questions, I must want for him the faith of One who could cry out ‘My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” and yet trust. If I am in tears over a Pink Pearl eraser can you imagine the torrent of emotion that flooded the Father when his Son called to him. Dying. Talk about wanting perfection. But in this world there is only life on the other side of death.

The above Dylan song embodies the type of no-holes-barred love I think a parent feels. Every time I hear it I get sniffly and teary-eyed (which why I keep meaning to take it off my work playlist…). There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do to make you feel my love. But while I never want my boys to doubt my love for them, my love can’t meet their deepest needs. So playing mother bear with God’s sovereignty should be where I draw the line. There will be some horrible, terrible, no good, very bad days but I’m begging the Spirit to meet Clive there and bring him the Son of a Father whose love will someday make all things right again.

Second, it’s just plain weird that he has this little independent life. He gets on the bus and for the next 3 ½ hours innumerable things happen to him minute by minute that I’m lucky to get a minimal summary of later. Up until this point there was very little that happened in his life that I wasn’t completely apprised of, if not experiencing it right alongside him. There was very little I had to inquire about let alone wonder about. Lauren Winner wrote that the only times in life when two individuals are so intertwined they are indistinguishable is intercourse and pregnancy. But even when I was pregnant I remember realizing the independence of this entirely other person. I couldn’t make him stop kicking me. Up until that moment he was this opinionless, will-less amoeba, but he insisted upon kicking at especially inconvenient times and in especially painful places and there was nothing I could do to make him stop. And so he made his personhood known. There’s this illusion in motherhood that our child’s life is the tiny universe over which we are god. It’s an easy trap to fall into and I think it happens like this: helpless tiny bag of bones comes home from hospital and depends on you for survival. You do the only obvious decent thing and help it survive only to realize that it will take nearly everything you have and yet you keep on giving and giving and giving. Then suddenly one day they don’t need you anymore and all the routines of care and feelings of significance that have filled your life go running away with them. Of course it doesn’t have to happen like that and there a multitude of varieties on this theme, but there are enough moping, controlling and bored older women to prove it a common pattern. We insist that our kids stay by our side or we emotionally manipulate them into guilt for not doing so or we fall for the lie that motherhood is our only meaning and occupation in life. What we need is a view of our lives as image-bearers that fits before kids, with kids, without kids, after kids and for all eternity. The picture of ourselves as the sole responsible, omniscient and omnipotent party over the lives of our children is not going to work. Because we don’t fit any of those categories. We’re not the only: God clearly designed for fathers to be part of this process from the very, ahem, beginning. And Hillary may have thought it takes a village but the believer should think it takes a body. There’s a balance of gifts and diversity within the church that is a protection for ourselves from myopic pride and its destruction upon our children. Let the church have her wise way. It’s not perfect, but you are a part of its imperfect glory. And let God have his way. We don’t fit any of the above categories, but he is the very definition. There is story upon story in the Scriptures of idiot parents and the God who rescued their children. This of course does nothing to take away the duties incumbent upon us as parents but there is a sort of limitlessness to the job here that requires fine-tuned lowliness. The right type of parenting will (as Charles Anderson wrote of busyness) say, “I can’t do much but I am motivated to do as much as I can because God deserves whatever I have.” The wrong type of parenting is a refusal to recognize either our responsibilities or our limits. It says, “If I just work a little harder, buy a few more things, read them a few more books, explain this to them, get them to eat healthier food, be more consistent in my training, take this educational path, etc., etc., then they will have a healthy, happy, successful life.” If only. It’s a tricky thing to draw the boundaries here because it is true that our influence and obligation is huge—how can you give too much to someone whose entire existence you shape from the first breath? But Satan knows to take this gift and use it to feed our security and sense of importance and we dance most ungracefully towards justification by works rather than faith. Precisely because it is so huge we must hold the reins tightly on our self-sufficiency. When little eyes look up to you, point them beyond yourself to their Maker.

I was reading Jonah this week and found it unexpectedly fitting. Here is a man just ripped that God’s will was done and not his. Jonah would rather die than lose his grip on his own self-righteousness and perceived injustices in life. God pointedly asks him twice, “As you right to be so angry?” Jonah thought he knew better than God, but as God reminded him, he had created everything that Jonah was so self-righteous about. Sometimes we get in such a self-righteous hot bother we completely miss that we are trying to override the Creator himself, the One who loves our children more than we ever can.

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Soft-scrambled (juicy, tasty, not well-done…)

(juicy, tasty, not well-done…)

-In some relationships (ministry and parenting come especially to mind), we sometimes do too much for others because we overestimate the significance of our role. Rather than finding room in life to trust God, we agonize over our decisions in a way that tips over from a pursuit of holy responsibility into opinionated and over-analyzed self-importance. We think people need us when they need God. Or we lay on others the burden of our investment rather than the liberating weight of God’s grace. What we do for and with people should be viewed as a sharing rather than an investment. Grace is not ours to create, give or expect returns on. Don’t talk to people to show that you care about them, but because you do. Don’t give your children opportunities in life so they can make something of themselves but because life is a splendid creation.

-Why do we always, always, always want single people to get married and married people to have children? Obviously, both are God’s good creation and, at times, incredibly glorious. But, in this world, they are also some of the biggest cans of worms you can open. I mean, even in a marriage as blessed as I consider myself to have experienced, the deep happiness often comes by way of much deep struggle.

And I’m not even touching the much harder issues of abuse and unhappy marriages. And raising kids? They are better than worms, but at some moments not by much. It’s a telling fact that for a good portion of your child-rearing career there will be monkeys more well-behaved and communicative than your child. And, again, I’m not even mentioning the heartache of an estranged child or the pressures of a childhood disease or disability. It’s great, but it’s hard. And so back to the original question—why again do we push and shove people into these things with prodding and teasing, knowing full well the difficulty and knowing perhaps very little of their readiness or God’s will for them? The negative answer would be that misery loves company, but I think there’s more going on here. In short, we love a good story. And a large part of the drama and tension that God built into the story of our world centers on relationships. Will God abandon his creatures? Will His creatures recognize his love for them? Will God leave His Son hanging on the cross? Will the Son go back to the Father? Will the Son come again for his brothers and sisters? He made his image into male and female, two beings built to find each other. The eye of the hurricane of all this love and reciprocity is the Trinity and our common-grace-glimpse of it is in the will-he/won’t-she tension of romance and its ensuing explosion of life. We’re suckers for a good story and we want a happy ending. On the flip side, given the curse-battered condition of this drama (in pain you will bring forth children and your desire shall be for your husband and he will rule over you), we should perhaps rein in a little on the teasing and shameless questioning, finding a time to mourn and a time to dance. It’s good, but it’s hard.

-In other news, I’m so humbled and grateful that God has been answering my son’s prayers. Clive was having a series of nightmares and so we started praying to God that He would give him some relief. And each night we have prayed God has been gracious. And my son has noticed—so much so that one night when I wasn’t home to pray with him and he woke in the middle of the night with a nightmare, he ran straight to my bedside and demanded that we pray for help. And last night he wanted me to pray that God would help him to “dream about all the lego sets in the world.” I was a little hesitant on this one and explained that God might want to help him dream about something else good, but we would give it a go anyway. And this morning he reported with a sleepy grin some pretty cool new lego sets he had dreamed up. God is good.=)

-Our brains are built to synthesize. We’re the imagers of the One who starts our whole story with categories and we’re born looking for neat, tidy ones to stuff everything in life into. My youngest, though barely talking, is already testing his theories, pointing to circles to ask if they’re balls and cows to ask if they’re horses. Sometimes these early attempts can be embarrassing like when your child labels people “bad” or gets the categories confused (true story: I bore the title of “other daddy” for a while). I’m reading How We Decide right now and in the chapter entitled “The Brain Is an Argument,” he compares the decisions of our brains to that of a board where the members may disagree and even contentiously debate, but the decision is presented as unanimous. Often the only way we can make any decisions in such a complex world is by ignoring some of the pertinent information. The subjects were both Republicans and Democrats and both heard contradictory statements by both candidates and were asked to rate them on a 1-4 scale of contradiction from mild to strong. Every single time their party allegiance predicted the contradiction rating. In other words, if they were Republican they found Kerry’s statements strongly contradictory and Bush’s mildly so; if they were Democrats the opposite. MRI brain imaging used on the people hearing facts contradicting their political position shows them using their prefrontal cortex (largely responsible for rational thought) not to analyze the facts but to suppress negative emotions when the contradictions were heard. And we intentionally filter out what we don’t want to hear. He also tells of an experiment where consistent churchgoers and atheists were asked to listen to a tape of an atheist attacking Christianity. The trick was that the tape had a lot of static, but the sound quality could be improved with just a push of the button. The result? Atheists busy pushing buttons and Christians listening to a bunch of nothing. Same thing with smokers and a speech on lung cancer. Now a lot of this is common sense (who enjoys listening to someone they disagree with?) but here’s what interesting: that our brain tries to substitute emotion for fact in order to synthesize. So the points at which we feel most emotional, most passionate or even confident might be exactly where there’s an inconsistency that our brain’s trying to patch up for us. Another experiment with political pundits found that when they made the most confident predictions was when they were mostly likely to be wrong. Now there’s an argument against cable news (said my happily agreeing brain who already hates the stuff…) In those moments, our rational abilities become enslaved to our emotions and get busy working to find some kind of justification for the logical gap we just encountered. Our rationality, in effect, becomes a liability in our search for the truth rather than an asset. Lehrer says this: “It feels good to be certain. Confidence is comforting… It’s not easy to make up your mind when your mind consists of so many competing parts. This is why being sure about something can be such a relief… Being certain means that you aren’t worried about being wrong.” This reminded me of something I had read by D. A. Carson a long time ago—I can’t quote it exactly but it was to the effect that many Christians confuse certainty with truth. Or even intentionally opt for it. We’d rather feel “not wrong” sometimes than know God more—now that’s sad. Lehrer’s advice on fighting this default brain setting is to “encourage some inner dissonance. We must force ourselves to think about the information we don’t want to think about, to pay attention to the data that disturbs our entrenched beliefs. When we start censoring our minds, turning off those brain areas that contradict our assumptions, we end up ignoring relevant evidence.” And to follow the example of Abraham Lincoln, who intentionally “filled his cabinet with rival politicians who had extremely different ideologies… his ability to tolerate dissent was an enormous asset.” In Biblical language I think this is largely related to pride and our tendency to substitute the Creator with the creature, whether it be ourselves or comfort or approval of peers. (Remember the “being certain means you aren’t worried about being wrong” quote? Straight pride there.) Or maybe just intellectual exhaustion—the Bible is not an easy book to understand. And it reminds me of the wisdom Scriptures, especially Ecclesiastes, which had a high tolerance for dissonance—based on the realization that truth is a Person and an infinite and mysterious One at that. Ultimately we have to be ok with not having all the answers because only He does and He’s not handing them all out yet. I have a hunch there’s a lot of surprise endings in store.

-The mercy of death. Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand rand take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. In the car the other day, Clive asked why we didn’t know where the garden of Eden was and David and I fell on this as the answer. It’s bad enough to live in this world beset by sin in every way, but to do so with no reprieve in sight is certainly worse. Life gives time for faith and death gives way for resurrection. All of us have days that we can’t wait to end, where bedtime is more than welcome. As I’ve said before, “this day just needs to die.” Sometimes more time seems to be only more opportunity for sin. And, in faithless moments, this is the appeal of suicide—to reach out and take for oneself the mirage of blessing like Eve. To bring the end in sight and make a choice that ends all choices. Only His hand, though, can unravel the cords we bind ourselves in and our self-designed “blessing” only binds more as anyone who’s experienced the aftermath of a suicide can tell. Only from His hands comes true rest and while 70 or 80 years might seem long, it is infinitesimally small to Him and to the eternity we’ll share with Him, free from the knowledge of good and evil.

Absent from flesh, O blissful thought
What joy this moment brings
Freed from the blame my sin has brought
From pain and death and its sting.

I go where God and glory shine,
To one eternal day
This failing body I now resign
For the angels point my way.
(Watts/Barnes)

 

 

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i don’t advise the yelling

(post from August 2010)

That we’ve already let our son fall prey to television’s deception is evident because he lives under this misconception: every construction project begins with a demolition. See, he watches “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” on a fairly regular basis and this is the order of events: an old, broken house is torn down (or blown up or shattered merely by Ty Pennington’s habitual yelling), then a new one is built. So it seems an incontestable truth to Clive that every new building being built was preceded by an old, broken one that was demo’d.

I thought of this today when reading Phil 3. This passage (verses 3-11) is one of my all-time favorites and I re-visit it often to do battle with my self-sufficiency and pride. Several years ago I began to see Paul’s thinking in these words from a slightly different angle. Paul doesn’t just say that he won’t brag about his qualifications or achievements or rely on them to gain favor with God, but that it is only to the extent that he discards his confidence in himself that he is exercising faith in Christ. In other words, it’s a simple choice between living based on Christ’s merits or my own. Visually, I imagine it as a balance scale that can only tip one way or the other and my ability to live in the reality of Christ’s accomplishment for me on the one side will weigh heavier as the Spirit chips away at my “confidence in the flesh” on the other side. Or emptying out to be filled. We will not be found “in Christ” as long as we are primarily allowing ourselves to exist as ourselves, standing on our virtues rather than His. I’m convinced (by Scripture and experience) that we’re born living for ourselves and our own glory and that a lifestyle of glorifying Christ is only built by on the wreckage of self-glory. I am constantly glorifying myself and the only way to glorify Christ is for the Spirit to reveal how I’m using my thoughts, words, actions, responses, etc. to do this and then where that lifestyle can be torn down and a new way of living (faith) constructed. Unlike the order of events on Extreme Makeover, though, the old, broken woman I am takes a lifetime (and a death) to demo, so rather than a deconstruction then a construction, both are constantly going on.

The only way to life is through death, the deconstruction of confidence in ourselves for the construction of faith in Christ. Being conformed to his death in order that I might attain to the resurrection… (Phil 3.11) I would rather boast in my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Cor 12.9) For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you. (2 Cor 13.4) In his book Jesus and the Spirit, Dunn says that the new birth begins the forces of life working in you so that both death and life are always present. If you do not believe in Christ, death has the last word. If you believe in Christ, life begins to combat the forces of death in you, gradually overtaking them until it conquers death, creating the life of resurrection even out of the experience of death (p. 337-338). So we are always in the midst of demolition and new construction, death and life.

When we first believed in Christ and accepted salvation, part of the statement we’re making is that we cannot be right with God on our own—therefore, we need a righteous Savior who will stand in our stead. We must continue participating in the Gospel by continuing to grow in this truth, understanding it more deeply and applying it more thoroughly to our lives. To be a Christian is to understand that I cannot solve my own problems, that I don’t have the answers to life, that I cannot get what I need on my own, that I don’t make the right choices, that I can’t work hard enough or do anything well enough to gain God’s approval, that even the best of the best by the world’s standards cannot stand before God. Only Jesus can does. But, in the world and flesh, I still live as though it matters what others think of me, that it matters how much I get done and how well I get it done, that what is important in life is what I want, dream about, plan, and work for rather than what Christ has done and how God is forming me after His likeness. It’s usually obvious who the main character in a story or book is, right? Because the plot and everything that we as the audience know in the story revolves around that person or group of people. Well, I still live life as thought I’m the main character. Time for a rewrite.

And now for some massively postmodern reader-based hermeneutics on U2 (“Walk On”):

You’ve got to leave it behind.

All that you fashion
All that you make
All that you build
All that you break
All that you measure
All that you steal
All this you can leave behind.
All that you reason
All that you sense
All that you speak
All you dress up
All that you scheme… 

The only baggage you can bring is what you can’t leave behind. Love is not the easy thing. Walk on. Press on to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of us. The new is only built on the ruins of the old.

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waiting words

Because there is so much that we can’t fight. When we are waiting we are often painfully aware that we are not in control. This agitation can push us into badgering others, anxiety attacks or the occasional misplaced obsessive compulsion. On our better days it pushes us into prayer. And in this waiting place, prayer can be like walking into an empty room, a conversational cul-de-sac. When you most need Him, God doesn’t show up. The God who spoke all life into being, from whom “every good and perfect gift” comes, who died to defeat death, pain, sin and hell for us—where is He now with His good gifts and power to save?

After the death of her mother and crumbling of her marriage, Lauren Winner describes her feelings this way: “When you find that God is absent, you do many things… You narrow your eyes at your absent God the way you would narrow your eyes at your lover, in a fight, when he has just said something awful and mean and true about you, the way you narrow your eyes before you say Fine, then! And storm out of the room. You are growing a carapace, to protect yourself from this absence. You begin to turn your attention elsewhere, to any elsewhere that might pay you some attention back.” My husband and I recently wondered whether we are getting more skilled in trusting God or just getting numb to the ups and downs of anticipation and delay. Are we just looking elsewhere for attention, distracting ourselves with more urgent concerns than an absent God? If so, then we are not waiting well.

Psalm 22 is some good waiting: fully voiced despair, demand for God alone and unflinching, steely-eyed hope in Him. If the psalm itself doesn’t charm you, Jesus’ meditation on it through the cross experience ought to lure you in. And for both Jesus and the psalmist, declaring God’s victory was best done in the midst of apparent defeat. The timing of faith is crucial; it’s not faith when it’s over and the answer is clear and the pieces have all fallen into place—faith is most faithful when the object of its hope is utterly unapparent.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
                       Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
                        and by night, but I find no rest.

The first irony here is that the psalmist is still calling out to a God that he accuses of absence. The Septuagint’s translation of the cry here is something akin to “why don’t you pay any attention to me!?” And his enemies’ taunts only prod his fear awake: Let Him rescue him if he delights in him… The implications of this unmet reality are devastating for one whose life centers on the covenant, who from birth has called on my God. We wonder… maybe He ignores me because I am insignificant to Him, because He disdains me and my inability to hold it together, my pathetic pleas.

In contrast to his forefathers, who were delivered, he is ashamed. Denied the security of the primary relationship of his life, he doesn’t even feel human: But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people… He feels eyes upon him, the discomfort of unanswered questions, the tsk-tsking as heads wag, the eventual vocalization of long-held suspicions and finally outright attacks on his integrity—this from his own community! Much like Job, he realizes that only the solidarity of God is useful.

He comes to this argument perhaps less nobly than Job. He is less convinced of his righteousness in his desparation, but desperation for God is still good. Sometimes our faith is little more than a shoulder-shrugged statement like Peter’s “to whom else would we go?” He fights doubts of God’s pleasure in him with something of a blameshift: I’m not sure how you feel about me now since you’re ignoring me, but don’t forget that you’re the one who made yourself my God! As you sit by watching me face death, don’t forget that you’re the one who brought me here in the first place. I have no one else besides you—for good or bad, you’re my God! His enemies are closing in, encircling him while God is nowhere to be seen—but his eyes are still scanning the horizon for a savior.

The psalm gradually turns from despair by way of several halting jerks back and forth: current absence but past presence, pragmatic but nonetheless loyal attachment to his God, and then a commitment to fully explain God’s faithfulness to a community that now disdains him. While still under the calculating eyes of his enemies, the psalmist envisions a day of praise and this is what he plans to say: That God doesn’t scorn the lowly. That He is not annoyed by the desperate pleas of the poor. That He doesn’t look away, averting his eyes from our pain. That when we cry, He is listening. That He saves.

He has not despised or abhorred
                        the affliction of the afflicted,
             and he has not hidden his face from him,
                        but has heard, when he cried to him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
                        those who seek him shall praise the LORD!
All the ends of the earth shall remember
                        and turn to the LORD…All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
                       before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
                        even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
                        it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
                        that he has done it.

The Gospels unanimously portray Christ meditating on this psalm throughout his suffering and finding its honest resolve fortifying. Even the accusers are painted with this psalm’s language—they wag their heads and echo “He trusts in God; Let God deliver him now if He desires him…” One scholar interprets Jesus’ cry of “It is finished!” (Jn 19.30) as a restatement of the psalm’s final phrase: “He has done it!” In light of the timing (pre-resurrection), it at least borrows its boldness. While still in his precarious position, the psalmist vows to God that he will someday tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you. Then Hebrews 2.7 tell us that we are those brothers. That when Jesus was on the cross he was gaining the voice of experience and planning to use it to convince us of God’s faithfulness. For it’s not angels that he helps, but people. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God… for because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Jesus waits with us. The One who could do anything, with all things at his disposal, chose suffering. God does not give into demands, but He stays by those who pray.

So here, in brief, are some waiting words:

–       keep calling—stay loyal
–       remember God’s goodness in the past and let those memories form your actions. This is not dishonest—it is accurate. (We know more about the past than the future or even present.) And then push yourself a bit more to use it to shape the way you imagine the future.
–       Put the shame to shame, giving it no weight. You may feel shame before people, but never before God. He knows every sin, hears every cry, sees every impatient sigh, every shallow and easily frightened spot of our souls. And is still our God. If there are taunts, lifted eyebrows, and uncomfortable questions they are not from God. He does not squirm in the face of evil like the powerless do.
–       If you are crying out to silence, assume it is the silence of One listening, hanging on to every word.

And, finally, it helps to imagine the devil writhing in agony over your well-timed faith. “Do not be deceived Wormwood. Our case is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” (C. S. Lewis’s master tempter Screwtape)

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the sight of the knives

I think I went into this understanding that following Christ would not easy. But there are a lot of days where I just feel exhausted spiritually, like each choice or thought or act stands before me like a mountain to climb and waking up is like facing a whole range. The Christian life is a race of the marathon category and to be quite frank, I didn’t think I’d be this pooped with this much still to go. I’m only 31 and given current stats I’ve got a lot of mornings to wake up to still.

While Christ has accomplished all we need for our salvation and God’s grace is sufficient for all we face, every time I turn around I’m told to “appropriate” and “remember” and “focus” on it. There is some serious mental labor involved there and it seems like an awful lot of work for something I understand to be a gift. Given the tension of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, it’s not a dilemma I expect a solution to necessarily, but in my worst moments I sort of feel like God bait-and-switched me. Like I was somehow conned into this without reading the small print. 50 years until Christ’s righteousness is revealed in me?!? And how can I possibly do all that you ask me to in the way you ask me to in the meantime? Without becoming a hermit that is… The task ahead of me and the frequency of my failure in it is simple overwhelming. I really just want to skip ahead to the part about righteousness, hanging out with Jesus and streets of gold.

In Romans 8, Paul talks about creation and the followers of Christ groaning, longing for that day. I’m glad he said this stuff in addition to all the rest because when we sing “At the Cross” in church, I’m the person sometimes lip-syncing the line “and I’m happy all the day” for my conscience’s sake. In Colossians, Paul’s eschatology is more “realized” and he talks about our life in Christ in such present-day language it makes me wonder what’s wrong with me. There’s a small clue, though, in the phrase “and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” It’s that hidden part that gets me everyday! But what slips past as a descriptive phrase rushing towards action in Colossians is a thoughtful paragraph in Romans 8. The rich visual imagery makes it clear that Paul (and the Spirit) have been in the trenches with that hidden bit.

Verse 18 starts a new section in the chapter and Paul’s opening statement has often been very convicting for me. Paul is always exulting in the glory of God with rash, praise-dripping statements, so it’s easy to skate right by his words here, but don’t. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Sure, we know that the future will be fantastic, and that the present time is full of suffering, but what I often missed was Paul’s recognition that we are prone to comparing the two. Every day I make choices about which reality I think is more “real.” Do I think the suffering part or the glory part is more significant and therefore the foundation of my thoughts, feelings and actions? If my mind contained a giant old-fashioned scale, there are a lot of days where the suffering side is not even tipping slightly, but crashing down and sending the glory flying away. I compare what I feel now and think that this reality of difficulty is weightier than the reality that lies ahead; I compare them and decide that the present time is worthy to compare and consider against glory. Not so shockingly, I often choose to dwell in the suffering reality and let it reign in my life.

Verse 23 is where we groan. And groaning is a good thing because it is the sign of the Spirit in you. The awareness that things are seriously screwed up in this world and in our own lives is an awareness that things should be better. That suffering should not the end of the story, but glory should be. The groaning indicates a longing for this state of weakness to be conquered.

But verses 24 and 25 are what I especially need to hear. I’m right there with Paul on the groaning and on things needing to be fixed, but much less enthusiastic on being stuck in between! What’s in between? Hope. In his commentary on Romans, Moo says that Paul’s point in these verses is to show that the need for waiting should not be surprising. Why not (because, yeah, I totally missed that too…)? All the way back in verse 17 Paul says we suffer with Him (Christ) so that we may also be glorified with Him. “So that” is the language of cause and effect meaning that we get to glory because we suffer. Lest we think that cruel, the statement is softened on all sides by the example of our own God in the flesh. Furthermore, Paul explains the “why” in verses 24 and 25: hope. This is the time that hope is on display and the display of hope demands the absence of its object. My next thought is always something like “Ok, God but how long does this displaying really need to take?” Something like when my grandma told my mom that her chore was to wash the dishes so that she would learn how to do it, to which my mom replied “it only takes one time to learn that…” But that thought is exactly the type of comparing Paul says we can’t do. I’m imagining that my 50 or 20 years of hoping is somehow more bad than the good of an eternity full of faith made sight.

The sign of hope (verse 25) is eager endurance, a phrase I have come to have a love-hate relationship with. Love because it’s full of irony and challenge and hate because I rarely rise to that challenge. Last night I sat at a graduation and sang an old-school song I hadn’t heard in a while about being faithful. Faithfulness is something I think our generation has a hard time with. We’re willing to die a martyr’s death in the 10/40 window, but have a hard time giving our money to church instead of Gap. And before any older people (who probably aren’t reading this, now that I think of it…) jump on our case, let me say that I think it begins with good reasons. For one, we want to do right with passion, not out of legalism, duty or people-pleasing. But as we get older and realize that there are a lot of days and moments that the passion isn’t blazing hot, we struggle. We want to feel it because we believe that truth should be felt.

Paul’s answer is the Spirit, the firstfruits and down payment of the glory ahead. In his book Spiritual Depression, Lloyd-Jones says this of 2 Tim 1.7:

As I understand it, the big thing that Paul is saying in effect to Timothy is: ‘Timothy, you seem to be thinking about yourself and your life and all you have to do as if you were still an ordinary person. But Timothy, you are not an ordinary person!.. We allow the future to come to us and to dominate us, and we compare our own weakness and lack of strength with the greatness of the calling and the tremendous task before us. And down we go as if we were but our natural selves. Now the thing to do, says Paul to Timothy, is to remind yourself that we have been given the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, and to realize that because of this our whole outlook upon life and the future must therefore be essentially different… The way in which we face it all is by reminding ourselves that the Holy Spirit is in us. There is the future, there is the high calling, there is the persecution, there is the opposition, there is the enemy. I see it all. I must admit also that I am weak, that I lack the necessary powers and propensities. But instead of stopping there I must goon to say: ‘Yes, I know it all, but—…’ And the moment I use that word ‘but’ I am doing what the Apostle wants me to do… In other words, we have to learn to say, that what matters in any of these positions is not what is true of us but what is true of Him…

The Spirit is the bridge between Christ’s time on earth and the revealing of our now-hidden life. We’ve been trying to teach Clive how to wait patiently because while he knows he’s not supposed to interrupt that doesn’t seem to stop him from repeating “excuse me excuse me excuse me” ad infinitum while the other parties are finishing their conversation. So I told him that patience means waiting happily without complaining or selfishness. While I was reading Romans 8 yesterday he came down from his nap and asked me what I was reading about. I told him “Mommy’s trying to learn how to wait better.” I’m beginning to understand why patience (among other things) is a fruit of the Spirit. And encouraged by the reality that He is the Spirit of Christ who leads me in this new covenant age in all the “appropriating,” “focusing,” and “remembering” I must do. So while there are still days that will feel like mountain-climbing and the marathon has only just begun, I am not alone. And I’ll end here before it starts to sound like that footprints poem.

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on my own

Earlier this month, my husband set off for some meetings in Michigan where his parents live. I was unable to go because of some prior obligations, but he went—with the boys—to grandma’s. This means that I had eleven and a half days all by myself. I know this makes some of you insanely jealous and others of you cringe with loneliness. Anyway, not having been that much on my own since, well, about ten years ago, was interesting. Here’s what I learned:

Furniture is an inanimate object. Most of the time my couch, tables and chairs move.  Not once this week did I have to put a chair, table, or even couch back to its “correct” position. Also, though, there were no superhero dog liftoffs or toddler climbing expeditions.

My sons have taught me to prioritize things in life. It was so clear this week, being all on my own again, that I am far more able to slow down and enjoy things, that I no longer insist things be perfect to be right and that I am much more ready to accept my own limitations. Those are some really good things to learn and lessons I (the harried perfectionist superwoman) never would have chosen.

My boys have made me a harder worker. I miss sleeping in on Saturdays terribly, but when I got the chance this week (and took it) I realized that I now also miss getting 10 things done before noon.

If I am this dysfunctional without my husband after ten years, I can’t imagine how I’ll do after thirty or forty years. Seriously, kill me now. Or at least before him. That boy is my crack.

Life is for sharing. I can’t remember the last time my head was this clear and it’s wonderful, but there comes a point when all that clarity needs to spill out somewhere and find its home. A good reminder that God made us to live in community which reflects His own Trinitarian character.

Yippee, I still have the ability to be amazingly productive. In the first 2 hours after dropping my men off at the airport, I had come home, straightened the entire house, made a coffeecake and swept, mopped and vacuumed everything. On the other hand, the scenario of walking into a room or opening a cupboard and then staring blankly while I tried to remember what I was doing happened many times.  So, yes, my children do slow me down a lot but I guess I can’t blame them for everything. Apparently in the same time that I’ve been having and tending children I’ve simultaneously grown older. Dangit, that’s a double whammy.

I no longer feel like myself on my own. This thought hit me on about day #4. On day #7, I read these words: “In the trinity… distinct persons are internally constituted by the indwelling of other persons in them. The personal identity of each is unthinkable without the presence of others in each; such presence of others is part and parcel of the identity of each. A self-enclosed identity constituted in pure opposition to the other is unthinkable; the Father is the Father in no other way but in the dynamic of his relationship to the Son and the Spirit…” (Miroslav Volf, on 1 Cor 11).

I can easily spend two hours a day cleaning up after my family just for that day. This week, I spent two hours total cleaning up after myself for that week. That. Was. Nice. I’m happy to serve my family in this way, but I have also realized the importance of beginning to teach my children to clean up after themselves.=)

I enjoyed a lot of kale-with-poached-egg kind of meals that week. And tonight I’m cooking kielbasa. Yep, the boys are back.

So we’re changing our names
And we’re leaving the places that we know

Wagon wheel off the track
There is no going back
To a place we don’t love as much

When everything is crazy
Just remember baby
When it’s good it doesn’t seem so bad

(“Valentine,” Sandra McCracken)

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