Sunday, April 3, 2016

Thinking About Forgetting

"Don't look back; you're not going that way."

Social media loves wisdom memes like this. And this is a good one, so far as it goes. 

The apostle Paul said, "But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3.13b)

....forgetting what lies behind...."  he says after spending the preceding paragraph recounting all the things in his past he was once proud of. He hasn't forgotten anything. 

Paul is talking about a forgetting in different way, a way that fully understands the import of the past, that clings to the truth of it and the wisdom gained from it, but leaves behind its vanity, foolishness, and sin.

“...then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” ‭‭Deut.‬ ‭6:12‬‬

Wisdom looks back and remembers the faithfulness and mercy of God it has already experienced. It looks back and remembers past mistakes and sins so as not to repeat them. It looks back to remember the upward call of God.

Wisdom doesn't see today as a moment disconnected from all days past and future. It doesn't see it disappearing into nothing. It sees every today is the yesterday on which tomorrow is built. Wisdom ensures that today is not wasted. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Experiencing the Fullness of Christ

How can we experience Christ?

I've heard a lot of ideas about that over the years. But it wasn't until I slowed down and listened carefully to Paul's prayer for the Ephesian church that I saw something I'd never seen before. Paul prayed, among other things, that they would know:

"...what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints..." Eph. 1.18

Where are the riches of Christ? Where is His glorious inheritance?

"in the saints"

That's me and you. We Christians are his riches. We, the church, are his inheritance, his treasure. 

In the next sentence Paul tells us that the church is Christ's body,

"the fullness of him who fills all in all." Eph.1.23

Where do we go to experience the fullness of Christ? 

All of Christ's riches, all of his energy and resurrection power are invested in one place, his body, the congregation of his people. There is nowhere else to go to live in his fullness but to the church. 

The place to find Christ is not a quiet place within ourselves, though, if we are his, he is there. The place to find him in all of his fullness is in the gathering of his people. 

This discovery has changed my life, and my attitude about what experiencing Christ is about. It's not so much a feeling, though there are a lot of feelings involved. Living as his body means living among his people. It means suffering with him among his people, often because of his people, just as he did. Experiencing Christ's fullness is not fun and games, any more than being our Savior was fun and games for him. 

So lets not let anyone or anything, any offense, any strife, any hurt, any fear, any bitterness keep us from experiencing the riches of his grace the only way we can - together.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Be Still

He spoke to them in parables all day before setting out to sea. Those of his disciples who were fishermen by trade manned the helm while he lay down for a much needed rest.

I'll bet those seafaring men had a special place in their heart for Psalm 107, the one with a verse about guys just like them. I imagine they had sung it many times over the years while they hauled in their catch or mended their nets:

Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
they saw the deeds of the LORD,
his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.

And while Jesus napped they saw the deeds of the LORD, for he commanded and raised the stormy wind. And while Jesus napped their courage melted. They reeled and staggered, and when they were at their wits end they cried to Jesus. "And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still!' And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm." (Mk. 4.39)

The storm was still. The waves of the sea hushed. "And he said to them, 'Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?' And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, 'Who then is
this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?'"

They went from fear to fear as the psalm unfolded before their eyes. Only Yahweh had command of the seas. Jesus looked at them. Do you recognize me? "Have you still no faith?"

Sunday, January 24, 2016


Today I revisited a book that changed my life a dozen years ago, The Assurance of Our Salvation, by Martin Lloyd-Jones. Flipping through, I landed on this, all underlined and asterisked:
“We are all too interested in our own moods and states and conditions; we are all too psychological and introspective, and too concerned, therefore, about the benefits that the Christian gospel and salvation have to give to us. And the result of this is that we we miss something of these great glories of the gospel as it is unfolded in the New Testament. This comes out very clearly if we listen to one another; have you not noticed how there is a tendency to be talking about ourselves? We are always telling people what has happened to us. 'Testimony' today generally means what we have experienced, or what has happened to us. How rarely do we speak about him!
"...If you read the lives of the saints who have gone before us in this world, you will find that they spent most of their time in talking together about Jesus Christ. Their testimony was a testimony to him, and to his praise. Their emphasis was upon him. They spoke about this wonderful Christ and the glory of his person, whereas we always tend to talk about ourselves... 
"...there is no real hope for revival and true awakening until we come back to this. And the way to do that is to study the Scriptures, to spend our time in reading and mediating upon them and then in humbling ourselves in worship and in adoration before such a marvelous truth....I advocate this because, apart from anything else, the real cure for most of our subjective ills is ultimately to be so enraptured by the beauty and the glory of Christ that we will forget ourselves and will not have time to think about ourselves at all."

Which last bit brings this to mind:
"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." 2 Cor. 3.17,18
Transformation comes as we behold him. And until the day we see him with our eyes, we behold him through his word handed down to us through his apostles, safeguarded by those who love him for two millennia, translated by dedicated Christians into the language we speak today, in words simple enough for the simplest of us to understand.


Saturday, December 5, 2015

My Missing Year

Well, friends, I just peeked my head in here and realized that it's been more than a year since I've posted in my once beloved blog. I never have been that prolific, but this takes the cake.

So, what's become of me?

My life has taken turns I could never have imagined even 18 months ago. Just over a year ago, at age 50, I began a new job, an entirely new career. I'm doing things I'd never done before and never thought I could do. God opened doors, and believing in His faithfulness I walked through them. And what a ride it's been.

Staring down my middle-aged brain limitations, I learned to use multiple computer programs, for desktop publishing, bookkeeping, spreadsheets, and more. And I've begun to make art again, for the first time in a decade or more - paintings and block prints. A joy my fears had stolen has been returned to me. And, thanks to my job, I have the blessing of being able to devote some of my artistic abilities to God's kingdom purposes. I never would have thought it possible!

In March I gave the first speech of my life. It was at a women's conference. Staring down my life-long fear of public speaking, I spoke on fear. The feed-back was good. If the Lord leads, I'll do it again.


I've written quite a lot here about fear, Fear is a thief. Fear is a lazy coward. Fear feeds depression and depression feeds fear. Both of them will lie to get what they want. The worst thing I can do, I've learned, is to let either of them rent space in my head. Feelings are real and they carry real and useful information, but they must not be allowed the driver's seat. They must be evaluated. I've seen both good and bad feelings associated with both good and bad experiences. Sometimes sin feels good. Sometimes doing what's good feels bad. I've learned, and am still learning, to submit my feelings to the truth of God's word. That is a lifelong challenge. That is spiritual warfare. That is the story of my "missing" year.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Depression, Fear, and Me

On Thanksgiving Day I got up early and headed off to work. As it turned out, the client who thought she would need my help that morning to prepare for her large family gathering did not need me after all. She sent me home with a full day's pay just the same. My own family gathering would be a small one. My daughter and her boyfriend were out of town for the day. My son and his girlfriend would not be available for dinner until 7:00 pm. I was tempted to lay around all day and do nothing. After all, I work hard. I could use some rest. But I know myself well. I resisted that urge and decided to make better use of those newfound hours.

There is nothing like the process and result of cleaning your own house for clearing the cobwebs from your mind. As a person prone to depression, I know first-hand that it is a lying brute that will try to stop you from doing the very things that actually have the power to fend it off. If your house is dirty, it tells you there is no point in cleaning; it will just get dirty again. And so you sit in your filth, feeling hopeless, and also justified in doing nothing about it. (The old-fashioned word for this is laziness.)

If what you need most is interaction with other people, especially other Christians, so that your iron can be sharpened against theirs, or your wounds soothed, it will remind you of the times you have been offended in church. It will tell you that you can't trust those people. It will point out all the ways in which they don't really love you and how you don't really matter to them.

Sometimes - oftentimes - what the depression tells you has some truth to it. Okay, speaking honestly, it has a lot of truth to it. But this is how it is so effective in its deception. Most of us are not inclined to accept blatant falsehoods, or to enter into wrongdoing without some justification that holds weight with us. Our depression is just as smart as we are. And so, at this point I will try to stop calling depression "it". Because really, it's not "it". It's me. It is my sinful way of looking at things. And "it" - like me - is pretty smart about it. In depression I play both ends against the middle. I play both truth and falsehood to whatever so-called advantage I can. Really, there is a part of me that wants life, and all its happiness and joy, handed to me on a silver platter. I don't want to have to do the things necessary to have the joy I think I deserve. And so I argue against any thought that would require me to make some effort toward my dreams.

Depression is me. It is me paralyzed by fear, too afraid to face the challenges that it will take to accomplish my goals, to pursue the expression of my talents and abilities. It is me thinking a good life should land in my lap with minimal effort, as if the world owed me a living. And then, It is me having expended as little effort as possible, wondering why I have no sense of satisfaction in my life and very little to show for the very little effort I have expended. Depression is me, begrudging the good others have, assuming they don't deserve the fruit of their labor any more than I deserve fruit from my lack of it.

Depression is me refusing to recognize that life is hard and everyone who wants to accomplish anything in this world must do it in the face of obstacles. Depression is me thinking my own fears are unique, and excuse me from engaging in life's challenges. Those challenges are there for everyone who accomplishes any good at all in their lives. Why do I expect to be able to do what others do but without the effort and failures they are subjected to. Am I the only one who is afraid? Is my fear an adequate excuse to not do the things I have been created to do?

I have recently been taking a long, hard look at the role fear has played in my life and my depression. What I have come to see is that I have allowed fear to dictate nearly the entire course of my life. Fear has been my god. But fear is not God and it does not come from God. And again I would like to take a moment to stop thinking of fear as "it", as if it had a life distinct from me. Fear is me. It is me choosing to dwell on the multitudes of what-if scenarios rather than believing the promises of my faithful God and Savior.

The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!
    I shall be killed in the streets!” Proverbs 22:13

Fear is me, the wicked part of me which believes that God is nothing but harsh and exacting, and uses that belief as an excuse to do nothing.*  Fear is me refusing to recognize that God has cared for me all along, that he has never dealt with me as my sins deserved. Fear is me refusing God's precious gift of forgiveness through faith in his Son. Fear is the opposite of faith in this most literal sense: it is opposed to faith. It won't have any of it.

And very often, depression is really just me living in the hopeless place the fear in me has relegated me to. It is me convincing me to borrow against the future for what I want or am afraid of at the moment. Depression is me living in the land where the path of least resistance has taken me.

The truth is that we humans cannot be happy unless we are actively counteracting the chaos and uncertainties we face every day. We are meant to work, to overcome challenges, to face terrible fears, to master temptation, to live and love boldly, to produce beauty in our surroundings. When we give up on that, we give up on life and its joys.

Christians, we are not helpless in the face of fear. Don't let the fear in you convince you otherwise. In Christ and in his word we have all we need for life and godliness. That spirit of fear is not from him, so don't give it a welcome place in your head. The Spirit he has given us is a spirit of power and love and a sound mind. Let that be the Spirit that reigns in your mind and in every decision you make. So, my encouragement for you today is this: get up and do something about the things in your life that your are fearful or hopeless about. Don't let fear paralyze you or depression make you idle. And on this and every other day be thankful for each breath you take and for every bit of strength that you have and use it all for the glory of the God who has saved you from the fearful you, the depressed you, the sinful you.

* Consider The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Decisions I'll Never Regret

I've lived fifty years on this earth and I have a lot of regrets. But one thing I can say that I have never regretted was a decision to forgive.

Decades ago I had an employer, a professing Christian, active in ministry. He was a charismatic man with big dreams, and his employees were devoted to him. But his dreams were bigger than the reality in which we all lived, and the business foundered.  Paychecks became sporadic, but his bright optimism, our belief in his vision, and our loyalty kept us around. Eventually, however, it got to the point that he neglected to pay us for weeks on end. This went on for two or three months before I finally quit, but there were others of us who stayed far longer waiting for that oft-promised ship, carrying its thousands of dollars of back-pay, to come in. One of the last straws came for me when I learned that all the while we were not getting paid, our boss was renting a luxury home in Dana Point. I was indignant.

I, too, was a professing Christian then. I knew that the Scriptures teach a man not to  withhold wages from his workers. When I finally quit I took my case to the Labor Board to try to force payment. But before I got very far in the process my conscience began to trouble me:
When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?...To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?"  1 Cor. 6:1,6-7
And there was also this:
"and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." Mt. 6:12
So I abandoned my claim and wrote my former boss a letter forgiving him the debt he owed me.

When I look back in my memory at that time of my life, what I remember is the joy of being able to look that man in the eye again and smile, and to see him smile in return.  I have never regretted that decision, or any decision to forgive after that. The freedom to love is more precious than anything it might cost. And it does cost. In order to forgive I had to determine to absorb the loss and the offense that had come with it.

These many years later I have come to understand more fully the gospel I never really grasped all those years ago.  Back then I followed, when I followed, as one following a rule book.  But even then I experienced the sweet reward of warm affection that forgiveness brings.

In order to have true fellowship, we must break down every barrier to love and relationship. This means we must forgive offenses, over and over. And, yes, this also means we must absorb the costs.
"And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him..." Colossians 1:21-22
This is what God did for us in Christ.  He absorbed our sin against Him at the cost of His precious and sinless life. He did this while we were still his enemies, and this is what he calls us to do  for each other.
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony." Col. 3:12-14
This harmony is worth everything it cost Christ and everything it costs us. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

In Praise of Dish Soap

 It's been a while since I've offered any new cleaning tips or recommendations.  That's because what I've been doing all along, and have recorded in previous posts, has been serving me just fine.  But, as we all know, necessity is the mother of invention, and need arose recently for me to discover something new - or, rather, rediscover something not new at all.  You see, I ran out of Mr. Clean and I needed something to mop a floor with that would be gentle and not leave streaks.  Then I remembered back to the days of my youthful poverty when I would mop my kitchen floors with dish soap rather than buy some special product.  So I took my empty spray-bottle added a few drops of dish soap* and filled it the rest of the way with warm water.  A short time later I was looking at perfectly shiny, streak-free floors.

Being out of Mr. Clean for the rest of that day, I ended up using the dish soap mixture on everything I would have used Mr. Clean for.  It was perfect.  Excited, I spent the week trying it out on several other applications.  It removed the fingerprints from door jambs nicely.  It's great for appliance fronts and even stainless steel.  It cleans marble and stone counter-tops to a streak-free shine. It even works well on bathtubs and showers, provided they are not coated with heavy buildup. Most surprising of all, to me, it was even better than the name brand glass-cleaners for windows and mirrors.  Just spray on, rub around with a sponge (if necessary), and wipe dry.  And all this for a fraction of the price of Mr. Clean and window cleaners.

With a spray bottle of dish-soapy water on hand, I've found the only other products I need on a daily/routine basis are 409 (or other degreaser) for more heavy-duty messes like stove-tops or the insides of microwaves, a bleach-based scouring powder, Barkeeper's Friend, and Endust. (See my previous posts for other quality products I recommend and their particular uses.)

An added advantage I noticed, as someone who cleans for a living, is that it does not irritate my lungs.  There are no fumes, so I get no cough.  Now, for a professional, there can be a downside to this, though, as the house will smell less like the cleaning products that the general public has come to associate with "clean".  If this is becomes a problem, you can add a little Mr. Clean, or your preferred all-purpose cleaning concentrate to your soapy water bottle.  You'll still be using fewer chemicals and fewer dollars each day.

Finally,  I know what some of you are thinking: "What about GERMS?!"  Yes, I understand.  This is why I recommend a bleach based product for the toilet bowl and sink area.  And you still may prefer to use a specialized product for the bathroom surfaces.  That's fine.  But keep in mind that the scientific community is no longer encouraging the use of any antibacterial products which are not either bleach or alcohol based in non-hospital settings.  Look for soapy water to be making a come-back!

*  I am not specifically endorsing Dawn here, though it is a good brand.  Any quality brand of dish soap will do the trick.  I cannot recommend the cheap brands, however.  Very often they are watered down and require you to use twice as much, which defeats the purpose as far as I'm concerned.

P.S. You can also use a dab dishsoap on a grease-spot before laundering to prevent a permanent grease stain.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

That Disappointing Gift

While the world and its Christians are clamoring over the controversy du jour*, I've decided to take a break, and a different tack. This will probably come as a disappointment to those who would rather spend their time engaging in culture wars.  But that's okay, because it's almost Christmas, and that feels like the perfect time to talk about disappointment.

Christmas is a time for gifts, for giving and receiving them. This is as it should be. We do this in rememberance of the great gift that God gave to humanity on the night that Jesus Christ was born, or at least that was the original intent. Two thousand years later, the gift-giving has taken on a life of its own as part of our commercial culture and has left its roots in the dust. Which, I think, is a macro-reflection of our disappointment with God's gift to us.

Think of all the effort and resources you have invested this Christmas season into making or purchasing just the right gift for the ones you love most dearly. Your hope is to meet their needs, to see them smile, to let them know how much you care and how precious they are to you, and to bless them.

God, the greatest giver, planned from the beginning of time to give the people he would create the greatest gift imaginable.  He gave them life and relationship with him, and they did not value it.  We know this because God told them there was only one thing they could do to forfeit it. There was just one prohibition, no other rules but this one simple command, this single marker of God's authority over them and the life he'd given them. They had everything, yet they were willing to risk it all for a taste of the one thing in their world they were told they could not have.

Even so, none of this came as a surprise to God.  He knew the limits of the creatures he had made. Life itself was not the greatest gift, but the first step to it. There was something more God wanted give.  He planned from the beginning to do something so astonishing as to be almost unthinkable.  He would give a gift that would demonstrate once and for all the nature and extent of his love, and those who would recognize it and value it would have the greatest treasure of all:  God himself.

What greater gift can anyone give than himself?

And so God sent his own Son to sacrifice his life for the ones who had rejected his original gift of life. His Son died our death so that we can enter into His life. Through His Son God offers peace and reconciliation - and sonship.  Through Christ, the Son of God, we, too, can become God's sons.
"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God..." John 1:12
Christians, "He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Col. 1:13-14)  Our sins are forgiven!  We have peace with God and a place in the kingdom of his dearly loved Son.  It doesn't get any better than this! What more could we dream of or hope for than this one thing?

So let me ask this question today:  is this the gift you really wanted? Or are you disappointed? Does it bore you? Have you set it down to go look under the tree for something else, something more? I have to admit that there have been times, yes, even as a Christian, when I have grown weary of Jesus and begun moving on to secondary interests and new experiences.

I listened the other day to an old sermon by Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones.  In it he told the story of an African pastor who had made a previous trip to England to tell the churches there about the revivals going on in his native country. When he came back the second time he decided not to tell the people about Africa.  He decided to preach about Jesus.  He told Lloyd-Jones that the people were not happy about it.  These Christians didn't want to hear about Jesus.  They wanted to hear about African revivals.  They were disappointed.

And so I ask again: are you disappointed in the gift of God? Would you rather fill your mind and heart with the latest "Christian" controversy, the latest doctrinal hubbub, the latest Christian political movement, movie, or fad or whatever it might be than with Christ?

On the November before my mother died, not knowing she wouldn't live until Christmas, she decided to buy me an early Christmas present.  She didn't want to wait to give it to me either.  She wanted me to have it right away, because she knew I really needed it.  It wasn't a beautiful gift, I suppose, or a very sentimental one even.  It was a vacuum cleaner.  She knew I'd had nothing but trouble with vacuum cleaners over the years prior, and that it was an ongoing source of frustration for me, a professional house-cleaner. She was not a wealthy woman, but she bought me a really good one, one that I would not have been able to afford on my own, one that would last.  And now that my mother is gone, that vaccuum means more to me than I know how to express.  It filled a need, a real need, and it also showed how much she cared about my life and its little hardships. Four years later, I still use it, and I still think of her with gratitude every time I do.

Christmas in our country and in our hearts has stopped being about Christ because we have lost interest in God's gift.  But why? I believe it is because we have forgotten, or never realized at all, how much we really need it. The best gifts, whether we recognize it or not, are those that meet the greatest needs.  Sadly, though our greatest needs are so often overshadowed in our minds by our greatest desires.

This is why Jesus was rejected from the very beginning.  He was not the kind of Messiah the Jews hoped he would be.  They had been hoping for a military conquerer.  They were disappointed because they did not understand that their land and the Roman occupation were not their real problem. They had had full reign over Palestine and their temple before, more than once. But each time they had sinned, and God had taken it away. The problem was not the land, it was their sin. The real enemy was not Rome, but themselves.  Sin was the great oppressor that God's Messiah came to conquer.  But, like all of us, they enjoyed their sin. That was not the Messiah they wanted. 

So God's gift seemed to them, as it so often does to us, like a booby prize.

May God grant us this Christmas, and every day after, to recognize the greatness of God's gift, and to experience the joy that it is meant to bring.

*For anyone reading this six weeks or six months or six years from today, I'll remind you that the current controversy is over the statements of the star of a "reality" TV program called Duck Dynasty.  By now you will likely need to Google the reference just to recall what this particular fuss was about.  But there's no need to bother.  By the time you are reading this the broohaha will likely have been replaced by another much like it. (Will we ever learn?)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Experiencing God Meets Sola Scriptura*

 * "Sola Scriptura (Latin ablative, 'by Scripture alone') is the doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness." - Wikipedia
“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” Luke 8:5-8
In my nearly 50 years of life, there has never been a time when I haven't identified in some way as a Christian: first as the nominal Lutheran I was brought up to be, then as a word-of-faith charismatic, then as a "regular" charismatic (during which time I attended an Assemblies of God college), then as a "backslider", then as a Calvary Chapel person, then as a "backslider" again.

It wasn't until around the time of my 40th birthday that I began to question, for the first time ever, whether I really was a Christian at all. I didn't doubt the truth of Christianity or anything like that. But I had seen the difference between myself and the handful of genuine Christians I had encountered over the years. I knew they had something I did not. I didn't know how they got it, but I also wasn't really sure I wanted it.

Later that same year, the life that I had created for myself rose up and stabbed me in the back. Within a month's time I found myself jobless, husbandless, friendless, and physically ill, in that order. I turned with my whole heart and with all of its sin, desperately, to Christ, and He saved me. A few weeks later, as I grieved my losses, I wept, wailing and groaning, begging God to show Himself to me.  I wanted proof that He was with me, that He accepted me, and that He would rebuild my shattered life.  All I got was silence.

Looking back, I'm not surprised.  I was not the only suffering person in the world, though it felt like to me. Why should I be the one to get a visitation? I am also embarrassed, all these years later, at the blindness and deafness of that plea. I was like a fish pleading with Water to reveal itself.  My whole life and every blessing I had ever experienced was from God, yet, at that moment it was all invisible to me.  And then there's the hubris. For two thousand years Christians have followed Christ without having "seen" him, without the benefit of special visitations. And "blessed are they."

It is hubris to expect God to reveal himself, because he already has.  God HAS spoken to men.  He has revealed himself.
"Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son..." Heb. 1:1-2a
The word of his Son was given to his apostles and recorded for all time, in that book we call the Bible. If we do not honor the words we have already been given, if we will not consider them as sufficient for life and godliness, then how on earth do we dare to demand or require special experiences in order to trust him?

I thank God for his patience with me through that time of desperation and ignorance.  I wish I could say my change of heart was easy or instantanious. Though why would I expect it to be? After all, the first disciples saw him face to face, heard his teaching first-hand, witnessed his great miracles, his death, and his resurrection, and yet were slow to believe God's words. I was no different. Like them, I came into it with a lot of misguided ideas about Christ and what it meant to follow him. I had absorbed a lot of bad teaching, and even misunderstood some good teaching, during my decades in and out of church.

On my very first visit to a Word of Faith church I was taught to speak in tongues. (Yes, I said "taught". It didn't happen spontaneously, but with instructions on how to do it. My husband says he was taught to do the same in an acting exercise when he was in college.) The fact that I possessed the ability to do this led me to believe I was "still" a Christian for many years in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Oddly, when I did get saved, I never felt any need or desire to speak in tongues again.

But, my years as a charismatic had also led me to think I was supposed to be hearing from God and getting direct guidance, via still, small voices and the like, on a routine basis. I was supposed to "experience" God in all sorts of goose-bumpy ways. In those days people were always telling me the things God had told them, special messages or prophecies He had given them: "The Lord told me....The Lord led me to...The Lord put it on my heart...The Lord showed me...Thus sayeth the Lord..."  Oh, how they treasured their experiences... and who was I to doubt them? So being a Christian meant hearing voices, picking up on signs, seeing visions, recognizing when "God is doing something". None of this had ever happened to me, so when I really did come to Christ, I had it in my mind that this was what it was like to be a real Christian.

In addition to those hold-over notions, after my conversion I began voraciously reading a variety of Christian literature, some of it good, some of it dreadful. I couldn't always tell the difference as they all claimed to be based upon Scripture. Some suggested that Christians should expect to have highly-charged encounters with God and personal experiences of His presence as a matter of course. Some suggested that if I were only more fully surrendered to God I would achieve a higher Christian life - that ethereal "abiding" with Christ - which seemed in the books like a spiritual bliss from which all sorts of lovely spiritual fruits would effortlessly flow.

My life experience with Christianity reads like the Parable of the Sower.  I have been the hard-beaten path on which the word lands but is not understood, so the birds come and snatch it away. I have been that rocky heart, filled with exuberance at the word of God but withering when the going gets rough. I have also been that weedy ground, overgrown with worries and cares that choke out the word before it can bear fruit. I was, at different times, every bad kind of soil. But there finally came a time when the harsh realities of life had plowed my heart so well that when it met with sound biblical teaching the word could put down deep roots and grow.

"Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God." Luke 8:11

Thankfully, during the early days of my faith, there were also sound teachers who taught me a deep reverence for the written word of God. From them I learned that scripture is the one and only unshifting standard for Christianity. With it you can evaluate everything else. It is the straight stick next to which anything crooked becomes glaring. Over time trusting God's word began to win out over the relentless pressure of trying to drag experiences from God. Thank God for his patience; I am finally convinced that the scriptures contain everything I need to know God and to live a godly life.

The seed is the word of God, and it is the word of God that bears fruit and grows.
"...the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth."  Col. 1: 5b-6
In the scriptures the Spirit gives me understanding of who God is and what his will for me is. His word really does bear "fruit in every good work" and I increase "in the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10) on a daily basis as I commit myself to letting God lead and guide me through it. At long last, after all these years I really am experiencing God on a daily basis, only not in the way I had once been led to expect. My life and my relationships are being transformed as I meet him in his word. My faith has been shored up to withstand tremendous onsloughts. My hope is in Christ, and through His word I see into his face and am daily being transformed. Understanding Him and trusting Him through His word is how we experience God.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sola Scriptura or Sola Commentarium?

Sola Scriptura "is the doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness." - Wikipedia  
All of my life I have identified in one form or another as a Protestant.  During most of the years following my conversion at age 40, I identified myself as "reformed".  It was during those years that I first heard (or first remember hearing) the term Sola Scriptura.  It is one of five "Solas" that the youngish reformed folks are so fond of having tattooed on their wrists and arms and ankles.

I don't need tattoos to identify myself with the Solas.  They are etched into my heart.  But, it was not always so.  Though I was never a fan of body ink, in my days of being Reformed™, the solas became a bit like tattoos to me - a superficial form of branding, a way of identifying with a certain group in distinction from other groups.

For all of my lofty vaunting of Sola Scriptura, I actually spent far, far less time reading and studying the Scriptures than I did reading books about the Scriptures. I devoured a hundreds of very good books about the Good Book.  I read books of theology, commentaries, and everything in between.  I read Calvin and Piper and Edwards and Owen and Luther and Spurgeon and Pink and Sproul. I adored the Puritans! All of these were the experts. They were the pinnacle of spirituality, and they told me how I should interpret what the Bible says.  They (and my fellow "reformed" friends and bloggers)  decided for me, based upon their particular bents, which doctrines were the ones I should be focusing on and which theological camps I should park myself in. I accepted almost anything I was taught, so long as the teacher was popular, intelligent, and Reformed™.

During those years my soul began to wither, and for the longest time I barely noticed - until a series of tragedies struck.  When they did I found that all my second-hand knowledge wasn't enough to steady my faith. I learned that my pet doctrines were not sufficient to sustain my life and heart. I could not survive on even the best of Christian books alone.  I needed to hear from God for myself. I needed the Scripture, and I needed to know it first-hand.

Now, before I over-state my case, let me say that there were certain truths I learned during those "reformed" years that ultimately would sustain me.  In every book I read, there were many quotes from Scripture.  In most of the books I read, there was some good gospel teaching and a lot of solid truth.  As I said, these books were good books, not junk.  But perhaps the most important legacy of these teachers, for me, was the concept of Sola Scriptura.  Through them I learned to respect God's Word (even if I didn't hear them telling me to study it for myself). From them I learned that there is no point in claiming to be a Christian while at the same time disregarding or dishonoring the very book on which my whole religion is founded (even though, practically speaking, that was exactly what I was doing).  If that book is true, if it really is God's word to man, then that is where I need to go to learn about God.  If it is not, if it is unreliable, or inaccurate, or hit-and-miss, then I had better admit I'm just picking and choosing and making stuff up as I go.  I had better drop the whole thing altogether, and forget about calling myself a Christian at all.

And so, when my faith was desperately threatened, and I felt betrayed - for reasons I won't go into here - by  the modern Reformed movement, and when all sorts of teachings were coming at me from every direction, vying for my allegiance (as they always do with people whose faith is being tested), I knew that if there really is a God (which I never doubted) and I really was a Christian, then I had only one place to turn to learn what was really true about Him and about Christianity: the Bible.

This time I went straight to the source.  And I learned something:  I found very quickly that any doctrine ripped from its context loses something. It loses many things.  It loses the way in which it was taught, the tone of voice, if you will.  It loses the setting and purpose and application for which it was taught.  It loses the effects of all the other doctrines which surround and infuse it and underpin it. Even good doctrine, when misused, becomes unbalanced and un-tempered.

The wrath of God, for instance, has its place in God's character. But it is never to be separated from the holiness and love from which it springs.  The doctrine of hell is likewise inescapable in Scripture, but it is not meant to bring sadistic delight or as a bludgeon. It is a doctrine that was never really expounded until the Savior came.  In other words, the doctrine of hell was brought to us most fully by the very one who also brought salvation.  The teaching about hell was brought with love, by the very one who would suffer to rescue us from it.  The doctrine of God's sovereignty, to give another example, is never treated in Scripture as a philosophical talking point, or a topic for debate, or a test of the legitimacy of one's salvation, or a pat answer for the pain and suffering in people's lives.

The Bible's doctrines, removed from their context, can also be biased by the unique circumstances or, sadly, the sinful bents or attitudes of the teachers. Every good pastor and teacher throughout the ages writes from the perspective of his own time and culture, and with a mind to the unique needs of his own audience.  Those circumstances may or may not resemble our own.  Their teaching, thus, may or may not be best suited to the time or circumstances in which we find ourselves.  For this reason, especially if you are reading non-modern works, it is important to understand the circumstances and history surrounding an individual's writings. This will help discern what is and is not meant by his words, and what is and is not transferable straight through the years to us. Jonathan Edwards,  for example, was generally preaching to congregations full of church-going but nominal Christians.  He struggled to wake people up from their presumed faith and to lead them into genuine relationship with Christ.  (As a lifetime nominal Christian, this was a big part of his original appeal to me.)  A problem arises, however, when you take this kind of teaching and apply it, without caveat, to genuine but sensitive Christian souls.  For them this teaching can be devastating, and even dangerous, leading to discouragement and hoplessness.  I speak from experience.

Biblical doctrines, without context, can also become theoretical.  They become talking points, topics for speculation and debate, removed from the realm of life and application. It is possible to spend all one's time in reading about doctrine, in talking about doctrine, in debating the best points of doctrine - to feel very spiritual - and to entirely miss the point. For,
"...if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge...but have not love, I am nothing."  (from 1 Cor. 13:2)
All of our knowledge can amount to nothing.

This is a real danger. I know, because it threatened to swallow me whole, and I didn't even realize it until it was nearly too late.  But God is gracious, and He really is sovereign over my life and my faith. He used some dreadful circumstances to alert me to the trouble I was in. And, yes, he used some good doctrine.

I am thankful that I was taught the value of Scripture, for it was what ultimately sustained me, but only once it became what actually sustained me.  At some point during that time of crisis nearly four years ago, I determined I was going to see what the Bible had to say for itself.  I was going to learn about God from His book directly.  I made up my mind that I was going to spend at least at much time in the Bible as I did in books about the Bible.  Since then I can count on one hand the number of  works of theology I have read (and I have read some that have helped me immensly!).

I have found that the more time I spend in God's word, the more doggedly devoted to the Scriptures I become. I have found that the word of God is sufficient for every spiritual and emotional need. I can know God. I can understand His word. I can trust Him, and I can obey Him. In these years, as my time spent with God the Scriptures has increased, my faith has come alive.  My confidence in Him has turned my most painful circumstances into times of growth and meaning. I have seen him transform my life, and the life of my husband as well, through His word.

I have learned through hard and rich experience that "the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness."  The Word of God really is sufficient for life and godliness.

Thus, Sola Scriptura has tattoed itself on my soul.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanks for Thanksgiving

This week, as I began making preparations for this year's Thanksgiving celebrations, I was full of joy, far more than in other years.  This year we are approaching the holiday with grave financial concerns.  It may, unless the Lord intervenes, be the last holiday season we enjoy in this little house.  Yet, my heart is filled with thanksgiving because I have watched God provide for us year after year, through recession, unemployment, and many heartaches. Through it all, God has taken us, as if by the hand, and led us, nurturing our fledgling faith.  He found us weak, and He strengthened us.  We trust Him with our lives.  Even if we lose everything here on earth, we know our sins are forgiven.  That means we have Him, and He is enough.

And so, I am thankful.

But there is something else.  It's a small thing, but today I am thankful for Thanksgiving.

Reminiscent of when God, through Moses, set the slaves free, and gave them a Sabbath day each week in which to honor Him by resting and trusting Him, Lincoln declared the slaves of our own sinful nation free. And in the midst of our civil war, he established a day set apart for the sole purpose of honoring God:
"The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict....  No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy." - from Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation
I am thankful that this holy day was declared at a time when it was still permissible for a man to govern with open regard to his faith in God and to govern in light of it.  No such faith, or expression of it, would be tolerated in a President in our own day and age. This holiday had a single purpose, one which we (or our courts) would not stomach were it proposed today.  That purpose was to honor God with thanksgiving for His providential care and undeserved mercy for a sinful people.

And yet it was because this very faith reigned in the heart of this man, and enough of the populace, that the end of The American Slave Trade was begun. It was in light of such faith that many were willing to risk their lives for such a thing.  It was in light of this faith that a national day of Thanksgiving would be called in the very heat of the Civil War, not after it.

Today America is, by and large, a people who believe neither in a God who maintains and cares for this world and its inhabitants, nor in His mercy.  Indeed, for people who no longer believe in sin, there is no use for mercy. And, so, in our hearts we are not a thankful people.  Even so, this one day each year we make our feeble efforts to return to our roots.  We try to recapture the joy and heartfelt gratitude of a bygone era.  We drudge up things to be thankful for, try to take stock of blessings we've spent the rest of the year ignoring,  and, if we are so inclined, we will also remember that we did not acquire all these by our fantastic prowess, but that there is a God behind it all - a God who patiently does good while we are at best oblivious, and, at worst ungrateful, petulant, and discontent.

Clinging to nostalgia, Thanksgiving, the holiday, has managed to survive the increasingly godless decades.  It has also hung on by a shift of focus. A holiday must have its joys.  But now the joy is not to be found in the Giver of the gifts, but in the gifts themselves. For decades now, the great moral value of Thanksgiving has ceased to be the humble recognition of the goodness and mercy of God toward sinners. We have traded that more solemn joy for a celebration of food, football, and (at it's loftiest) Family.

Yet for all this supposed thankfulness for Family, we've seen that in the same decades that the people have ceased to honor God, the institution of the family has crumbled.  Broken homes are now the norm. This, come Thanksgiving day, leaves us next to nothing left to focus our thanksgiving on. All the sacred bits are gone. The thankless hearts are empty and commercialism, dependent as it is on discontent, sensing its opportunity, has injected itself into void.

Now we have a new "joy" for our holiday.  Once we've feasted on food and football, we head out to the stores.  There we stuff the bellies of our discontented souls with countless other things which can never satisfy.

Still, discontented as we are, by some miracle, the Thanksgiving holiday, though severed from its moorings, remains afloat.  And I am thankful that our uniquely American holiday, artifact though it seems to be, still exists. I'm thankful that it was created when it was, during that perfect time in our nation's history when such a thing could be.  I'm thankful that it still stands as monument to all those who once believed, to those who still do believe, and to the God who so blessed them, and continues to bless us all.

And I pray, that like the Athenian altar to the Unknown God, it will continue to stand as a reminder to every American that they may have forgotten something very important, and I pray that those of us who have not forgotten, will make use of the opportunity to turn hearts and minds back to God.

Monday, September 16, 2013

When the Holy Spirit meets the Bickersons

My husband and I spend our Thursday evenings doing something a little out of the ordinary: we go to assisted living facilities and recreate old-time radio shows for the entertainment of the residents.  Our little troupe performs old favorites like Baby Snooks, Fibber McGee and Molly, Sam Spade, and The Honeymoon Is Over - better known as The Bickersons.

This Sunday afternoon one of our fellow radio players dropped by the house to rehearse a "new" episode of Fibber McGee.  After we were finished, just for the fun of it, we decided to do a quick read of our latest Bickersons script, even though none of us would actually be the ones performing those roles this time around.  As the title suggests, John and Blanche Bickerson spend every episode bickering, always in the middle of the night. It's rollicking fun to act out their skirmishes.

This is why, after our friend went home, I had the Bickersons on the brain as I closed myself into our tiny bathroom.

Paul and I have lived in our little house with two very small bathrooms ever since our marriage, over six years ago.  It was clear from the earliest weeks here that Paul was never going to agree to use the second bathroom, ever, for any reason.  I don't really know why, but that is the way it is.  And so, all our toiletries, towels, laundry, and grooming tools, along with our overlapping work schedules are crowded into this space.

So, on this day as I pondered  how odd our bathroom arrangement is,  it occurred to me that it is even stranger that we have never, in all these years, had an argument or even a memorable bicker over the use of this room. How is that even possible?

The fact is I have often been annoyed about the bathroom situation. At times I have even thought, "I should just move all his stuff into the other room!"  But I have never acted on those thoughts. I know he has his reasons (incomprehensible to me) for wanting to share this bathroom.  I also know that he has been just as inconvenienced as I have been by this arrangement.  Yet he has never uttered a complaint.


And a snippet of Scripture came to mind:
"...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control..." Gal. 5: 22-23a
The Holy Spirit?


When I was a teen attending a charismatic church, this is not what I was told to look for.  Not even close. But, based upon what I had been taught, I if I did decide I needed self-control, I would have expected God to zap me with it, maybe as a result of someone laying hands on me.  It would be a dramatic miracle. Poof! I'd be self-controlled.  But self-control was not really on my radar.  When the Holy Spirit is at work, people speak in tongues, or are healed.  The Holy Spirit does hair-raising things. Or so I thought.

Self-control? Not bickering over the bathroom?


A few years back, I was enjoying a Puritan-esque sovereignty-of-God revival.  The Puritans, thank God, did value the fruits of the Spirit, and by this time, so did I.  Through them I came to see self-control as an evidence of God's work of grace.  Its presence was something miraculous that God bestowed on us, a sign that we are truly saved. A work solely of God's grace - so only He would get the glory. It's absence was cause for self-examination - reason to doubt whether I was really saved or not.  The only recourse was to repent, pray for my salvation, again, just in case, and pray harder for self-control to be given to me by God as a sovereign act of divine grace.

How strange it is that these two nearly opposite theological perspectives had left me with the same notion: that whatever work God does in our lives comes as if by magic.  Just pray and wait.

But if there is anything I've learned over the last few years, it's that God seldom works that way.  The day in-day out of the Christian life is miraculous alright, but it seldom feels like it. What this spiritual fruit called self control more often looks and feels like is me actually controlling myself, day by day and moment by moment making decisions about how I am going to behave.  It is called "self-control" for a reason.  It means I take responsibility for my own actions and take control of my own self.

So, what does this work of the Spirit look like in my life?  What does it feel like?  It looks like an irritated Me, deciding to let it go, for the sake of my husband.  It feels like choosing kindness over selfish anger. It feels a lot like something I do, not something God does.

And yet, I know myself well enough to know that me making those kinds of choices on a day-to-day and minute-to-minute basis is an absolute miracle. The miracle is found in a heart that actually desires to love God and neighbor. Were it not for the work of Christ in my life, were it not for an understanding of the Scripture, were it not for solid biblical teaching, my married life would be one long miserable Bickersons episode.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Today Is the Day

At age forty-six* I shredded my mother’s papers. It was ten months after she died, at age eighty-seven. The documents spanned twenty years of life, hers and mine. Hundreds of bills fretted over. Hundreds of checks written. Thousands of moments represented: fears, pain, courage, labor, dreams, and prayers. A fourth of her life. Half of mine.

Two evenings spent, shredded it all.

Life is short. Shorter than I imagined. You think eighty-seven years is a long time. But it’s not, not when you’re the one living it. And you are.

I don’t know when my time will come, but I know that it will seem to me then as though no time had passed at all. “How did I get to be so old?” I will ask. I know, because I’ve asked it already. And what will I say then that I’ve lived for? Will I say that I’ve lived and loved well? If my time comes today I’m afraid I’ll say “no”.

Today is the day to repent.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:24-31

Today is the day to do the one thing God wants,  ”seek him and…reach out for him and find him.” Oh, He makes it so simple. Why do I insist on complicating things?

*Today I found this article which I wrote nearly three years ago in a private blog that I am now in the process of re-purposing. It didn't hurt so much to read it now as I did when I first wrote it. In fact, it encouraged me. So I've moved it here.

Friday, September 6, 2013

How Will the Children Find Peace?

My family was ahead of its time. Mine was not the idyllic late-sixties childhood. I was a latch-key kid a decade or more before there was a name for such a thing.  But even before my latch-key days I was ahead of my time. I attended a unique private school in Culver City, CA which provided both before and after school care.

It began in my pre-K year. I must have been four years old.  My mother and I would get up early in the morning, while it was still dark, to get me dressed in my uniform.  I ate my breakfast, and then we were off to work.  Mom would pull the car up to the curb in front of the school.  There Mrs. Aiken was waiting to escort me through the glass double-doors of that two-story building. It all seems so ritzy in retrospect - as if I were the daughter of a president or a celebrity. At the time it felt ordinary.

Inside those doors they taught the little ones, pre-K and Kindergarten, to sing in French.  They taught us to use paste, and not to eat it. They let us play, too, in the miniature wooden kitchen, and with a little wooden train set.

When we reached 1st Grade we wore different uniforms through those doors.  Gone were the neat stiff blue-jeans and checked collared shirts. Big kids, we wore navy jumpers, white blouses and saddle shoes, and navy cardigans with a crest over our hearts.  Now we were taught that if we were not busy with an assignment, we were to sit silent and still, hands folded and two feet on the ground.

They also taught us to dance.  It was an escape for little girls like me, from sitting still, and from sports. On Monday, Tap.  On Tuesday, Ballet. On Wednesday, Tap.  On Thursday, Ballet.  And so it alternated five days a week, every week of the school year.  Ballet was the great joy of my early school years.

We also learned Spanish, and English, and Math, and spelling.  I worked hard.  We all did. To do otherwise was impermissible. As the hours passed we were ushered from one room to the next to learn each subject in a group organized not by grade-level but by our ability and personal progress.

I learned fast and well behind those doors.  I also worked late.

This school not only provided morning supervision before classes, but after-school care, decades before such programs would become commonplace.  As a result, I would arrive at school between 7 and 7:30 in the morning and remain behind those doors until 5:30 or 6, depending on how long my mom remained trapped in L.A. traffic.  At certain times of the year it would be barely light when I was dropped off and dark when I got picked up to finally go home.  I still remember the desolation of sometimes being the last child left, dark windows in my periphery, waiting to go home.

And so, I remember my first day at Sunday School.

It was shortly after my mom remarried and we moved to a different town. For some reason, my mom got it into her head to join the Lutheran church up the street.  Perhaps we always went to church, but this is the first I remember of it.

As we got out of the car, Mom handed me a quarter, and I burst in to tears.

"What's the matter, Laurie?"

It was money for the offering plate.

But I thought it was lunch money. I thought was being sent off for another day of school, on the weekend. I was heartbroken.

Sadly, aside from felt-boards and smells, that first moment is all I remember of the years of Sunday School that would follow.  I would never love it, because it would always represent for me a theft from the few precious unscheduled hours of my life.

And so, today, forty years or more later, when I see mommies and daddies rushing kids from here to there, from one scheduled, supervised activity to the next, my heart breaks a little.  How will those children ever view church as anything but another thing on the already-full schedule?  How will they ever recognize Christ as anything more than an add-on to an already-full life?  How will they ever have the quiet moments to recognize the beauty of God's creation, to commune with their own souls, to count their blessings and reckon with their sins?  When will they consider life and beauty, death and eternity?

As I consider how pressured I felt back then, how precious my unstructured down-time was to me, I think how much worse things would have been if I also had the technology available to me that kids have now. Would I have ever read a book just because I wanted to, drawn a picture just for the joy of it, or prayed in the quiet emptiness of my own room?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Reflecting on the Parenting of God

There are a lot of little babies bringing new life to our church these days, and the rounds of baby showers have given me reason to think back over my own years as a mother of small children.  I did not have the blessing of faith as I raised my little ones, and so, like many others, I have lots of regrets.  In spite of this, I was asked recently to give a devotional message at one of these showers.  I agreed before realizing I had no idea what a woman with my history could have to say to these young Christian mommies. 

And so I decided to share the things I most wish I had known.  I share them here in hopes one or two other mommies might find encouragement.  

It starts off a little bit sad, but I promise it doesn't end that way:

When I first moved away from the big city where I was raised, I was a single mom with two small children. I was on my own in a new town and terrified. I had drifted away from church several years before, but, considering my circumstances, I decided it was time to go back to church, and to start trying to live like a Christian.

Some time later, a young pastor handed me a book on how to train children the Christian way.

This book promised that if I followed its instructions, I would have perfectly happy and obedient children who would then naturally obey God, believe the Gospel, and be saved.

This book nearly ruined my life.

It filled my mind with fear and suspicion. It taught me to read the worst motives into my children's hearts – to see undesirable or disobedient behavior as rebellion: not distractability, not exhaustion, not incomprehension, not immaturity, not hunger, not frustration, not feeling overwhelmed, not fear – rebellion. It did not even permit children to be shy. (Shy behavior was rude behavior in the eyes of this author.) This book taught me to see them as wicked and devious little rebels who must be taught perfect obedience by force of will, and the frequent, systematic use of the rod.

If I had truly understood the character of God, if I had understood nature of His grace, I wouldn't have fallen for it.

If I had understood the love and kindness of God, I would have thrown the book away.

As it happened, thankfully, I couldn't bring myself to follow its harsh methods, but my heart was poisoned anyway by its adversarial view of the parent-child relationship.

Even more, I was poisoned by the thought that this is how God treats his own children - that the Christian life is one of striving for perfection under the constant threat of punishment or retribution.

A little while later, I picked up another book promoted by the same pastor. In it, the Sermon on the Mount was laid out like the Law of Moses – as the standard of perfection God expected from His children. I only got to Chapter 3 or 4 before I realized I could never live up to God's expectations. I could never please Him. The Bible became, for me, the words of a relentless God with impossible expectations.

I gave up hope. I put my Bible on a shelf, and, for nearly a decade, I hid from this exacting, terrifying God.

As I've looked back at that dark time of my life I've learned that the way we see God will affect the way we parent our children, and the way we parent our children profoundly impacts our relationship with God.

And so, I would like share a few thoughts from Psalm 103 and encourage you to see what kind of father God truly is to his children, so that you will be able to better reflect His character as you raise your own little ones:

103 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!

The most important characteristic of your parenting is the condition of your own soul. And so, like King David, who shepherded a whole nation, you who shepherd a little bitty flock need to take charge of your soul and teach it to bless the Lord:

2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

Whether it be hope, whether it be trust, whether it be confidence, whether it be love – you cannot give to your child what you don't have. You can only teach what you yourself understand. And so, if you want your little ones to love and trust God, you must love and trust him yourself. Like Israel, the way to do this is to recount the many blessings you have experienced in His care:

He has forgiven your every sin – even the ones you don't realize you've committed.

He has given you every ounce of strength and health you enjoy.

Just as he redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt and gave them a kingdom of their own, so He has snatched us from the cruel captivity of sin and death and placed us in the Kingdom of His own Son. In His kingdom love and mercy are the crowns he places on our heads.

6 The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.

God is not a slave-driver. He is not a harsh task-master. His eye is on the weak and oppressed, ready to work justice for those whose leaders lord it over them. Israel was oppressed under the the heel of a mighty nation. From the midst of their slavery they cried out to God. He sent them a deliverer to reveal His character to them.And this is what they saw:

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.

To chide means to express disapproval of, to scold or reproach. How many times a day do you think, or say, or do something sinful? Imagine how dreadful it would be if God actually chided you each and every time. This is why the apostle Paul tells Fathers, “do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”

10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Verse 10 has been my comfort more times than I can count. God is not a tit for tat Father. He is not standing by waiting to catch us and chastise us for every wrong we commit. His love covers a multitude of sins. It is because of this that we can approach him with hope. It is because of this that we can run to him rather than from Him when we sin. It is because of this that we can offer grace to our children.

13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.

God knows our frame. As He teaches and corrects us, He always keeps our weakness and limitations in mind. He knows His wrath would shatter us, and so, because He loves us, he shows us great compassion. 

 This is the heart of God toward us, his grown-up children. 

This is His heart for our little ones. 

 I pray it will be yours as well.