Monday, January 30, 2012

Confessions of a Geek

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Luke 4:17-21

     I absolutely love the Old Testament. This was not the case the first time I picked up a Bible with the intention of reading it. In fact, the very first time I decided, really decided, to plow through the whole Book, I did not even believe a word it said. Not a single word. I only knew at the time that I had reached the end of me and yet my heart kept pumping and my life plodded on. So I cried out to a God I did not believe in, hoping that if He was real, He would show Himself to me.

     He did. But that is a story for another day. . .

     Thinking back on that first, painful journey through the Old Testament, it amuses me to see clearly now what was hidden to me then. As I know now, the entire Word of God is a revelation of Him: His nature, His plans, His ways, and His character. As such, Jesus Christ is in it from the very beginning straight on through to the end. Naturally, the first time I read it, I did not see this because I didn't even believe in Him, much less know who He really was! As I have grown to know Him, it has become a favorite pastime to search for glimpses of Him when I read or listen to my audio Bible, especially in writings penned before He was born.

      For example, I was excited the first time I realized that He is directly referred to as early as Genesis 3:15 as well as awed to understand that God's plan for redemption was voiced within heartbeats of the first sin. I will always wonder if,  when "the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision" in Genesis 15:1, it was that the same Word that John wrote about when he penned, "In the beginning, the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning?" (John 1:1).
     Then there are the many pictures of redemption, sacrifice, and holiness: the faithful remnant preserved in the Ark; Abraham's willingness to sacrifice the son of the promise; God's provision of a substitute; Joseph who suffered unjustly then was raised up to rule; the Passover and the blood of the Lamb that marked them as exempt from destruction; the deliverance from slavery into freedom. . there are so many, and these phrases barely brush against the whole.
       Many glimpses I merely wonder about -- whether the bread and water fed to Elijah during his despair when Jezebel was threatening him (1 Kings 19:6) was a symbol of the Bread of life and Living water who sustains us... and I could go on, but I won't. If you haven't read it this way, I don't want to spoil the story for you!

     The fact of the matter is, the more I learn and understand about the Lord Christ, the more completely I love Him. As some of this head knowledge has trickled down to initiate massive changes in the state of my heart, I have found that He is truly my all, my reason for being, and my greatest source of comfort. I have begun to see that ultimate surrender is also ultimate freedom, for when I let go of the need to control my circumstances, I am freed in ways that are difficult to explain. In the main, I am free from worry and anxiety. When they begin to creep up on my, I often realize that my mind is fixed, not on God, but on whatever problems began to stir these emotions. When I can rectify that and fix my mind once more steadfastly on Him, I find His promise to be true: He really does keep in perfect peace the one whose mind is steadfast, because she trusts in Him (See Isaiah 26:3). By letting go of my rights, I am free from my own foolish whims and moods. By letting go of my schedule, I find I am free to do His will which turns out to be more fulfilling than what I filled my time with before!
       Not that I have mastered these things, mind you. I have, however, achieved them for brief, wonderful moments in time and am thoroughly hooked. Just as I find joy in the revelation of my Savior in His Word, I find great joy in the revelation of Him in my plain, unremarkable, mundane life.  

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. 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. Philippians 3:12-14

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Reflections of a Homeschool Mom


     In my 6 years as a homeschool mom, I have found this to be a word that brings a wide variety of responses and reactions. People have asked if I am worried about socialization. They have expressed concern that my children would be too sheltered to function in the "real world." Others have wondered aloud if a mom could possibly teach her children all the subjects they need to learn without the benefit of formal training. Others say, "Good for you!" while still others shake their heads sadly and say nothing at all.

    The responses of fellow homeschool moms run the gamut between enthusiasm and excitement that they are not alone in the journey to others who almost seem to feel that my decision to homeschool is a throwing down of the intellectual gauntlet between their children and mine.  Among other moms, there are shared moments of mutual commiseration because our personal homeschools do not look like the tender, friendly, and fun learning environments displayed in the curriculum ads. Truth be told, most of us find that the real-life home school is much messier and more difficult than those stinkin' catalog photos of the eager student snuggled on Professor Mom's lap would have us believe!

      Personally, I love the idea of teaching my own. I do cherish the moments where things "click" and a new concept is grasped. I adore the flexibility and the fact that we can take a walk on gorgeous spring mornings and just plan to finish school late that day.  I have enjoyed the process of watching them each learn to read and continue to enjoy their love of books (although I must admit that my middle child is something more akin to an addict than a mere book-lover).

      However... there are those other days.

      I won't lie: There are days where I lock myself in the bathroom and turn the fan on just so the kids can't hear me weeping, days where I spend my after-school hours investigating boarding school options both here and abroad, days where I blow my top and make the girl from The Exorcist look dainty and compassionate. . . these are days where I sincerely wish that I had never heard the word "homeschool."  Does this mean I want to quit? Well... honestly, yes, sometimes I do. But does it mean that I will give in to that temptation?  No, absolutely not, and for several reasons.
     For starters, some of the aforementioned concerns have some merit. The fact is, I do not have the benefit of formal teacher training, nor do I have expertise in all subject areas that are required in my children's education. What I do have is a calling straight from God, and as long as He calls me to homeschool I will do it.  I dare not disobey. He has provided a wide variety of resources available to the average homeschool mom--tutors, tutorial programs with trained teachers in various subject areas, online classes, DVD courses, and scripted lessons. He has also provided me with enough intelligence to put it all together and to learn as I teach. Even without that, if my kiddos can graduate and score well on state exams or their SATs or ACTs, then He has shown His glory and made His power known in my evident weakness. And never doubt for a moment--if my kiddos do well, I will loudly proclaim that it was by the Lord's hand and not my own that they achieved success!

     Even if they do not become acedemic giants and breeze through college-entrance exams, I will not say God has failed. It could be that His plans are more far-reaching than measly human wisdom. After all, as all orthodox Jewish families know, ". . these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise," (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). I have no doubt that the greatest element of my calling lies embodied in those very words. I am to teach the children diligently about the Lord and His ways. I am to equip them with the "full armor of God" and to teach them to store up His word in their hearts, that they might not sin against Him (see Ephesians 6 and Psalm 119:11).

      I am  also to do my utmost to instruct them in the Word and encourage their personal relationships with God. It is also a major part of my job description--and one I am *ahem* somewhat deficient in--to LIVE out the very principles I am teaching... to not only read the Word, but do what it says in James' words (see James 1:22).  I have told my children on many occasions that, as I teach them the Word of God, I am also a student--learning to be more humble, learning to ask for wisdom and believe that God will give it, learning to submit my will to His--and that I am prone to error just as they are. But I must say that I sure would like to daily set them a good example of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control!

     Ultimately, whether I succeed or fail in training them to follow Christ is up to them--their choices to either live out what they've learned or to reject it. However, with all this in mind as a homeschool mom, I will do my level best to make sure they make their choice after examining it with scholarly diligence! And I will continue to strive to submit myself to the Lord and set a good example, praying all the while that each child will choose to commit their ways to their Maker.
     The best part is, in talking it all over with my God, both the wonderful moments and the times I loathe homeschool, I find peace. Oh, Lord, may my children find the peace that comes from a mind steadfast on You as well...

"I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. . . .  But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you." 
2 Timothy 1:5-7,12a-14

  Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Goodness of Sorrow

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. Ecclesiastes 7:2-4
     While meditating on the goodness of God, it is natural for my thoughts to turn to the utility of sorrow. During the process of sanctification, God has shown me that, while joy is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, joy is not exclusive of sorrow. In fact, it is in the very deepest shadows of sorrow that joy is felt the most keenly. 
     Personally, it was not in the blithe and carefree days of my spiritual infancy that I felt joy. No, I was happy in those times and I certainly thought myself full of the Spirit and His grace. In truth, however, it was not until I began to see how utterly depraved and hopeless a case I really was; not until I experienced crushing sorrow at the pitiful state of my heart; not until I begin to truly grasp the unbelievable price that was paid for my wretched soul--and to lament that such a staggering ransom was paid for base, pathetic me--did I ever begin to feel the first swell of joy. All else pales in comparison to it, and I am deeply grateful for the ruthlessness of the sorrow that birthed it.

      The sorrow was not mine alone, however. In having my blinders removed for the first time and seeing the sickness of my soul, I also began to see the futility and horror of the human condition. We all live with the knowledge that the only breath guaranteed us is the breath that is in our lungs at this very moment. We never know when a loved one will be struck down or torn from us.  There is no promise of health, wealth, or love. Disease is certain, pain is familiar to us all, hardship will come sooner or later, and there is nothing more doubtless than death. Beyond all that, there is suspicion, cruelty, lack of love, prejudice, hate, despair, war, abuse, neglect, and a host of other afflictions. Indeed, the human race seems bent on its own annihilation, and the future looks more and more bleak with each passing day.

     The greatest heartbreak of all for me was in the realization that so many of my fellow men have no hope at all. Their only hope is in "self-help," indulgence, wealth, prosperity, or some equally feeble and unstable platform. They are building their lives on the shifting sand with no hope but that their walls will be of sturdy-enough stuff that the waves will take time to topple them.  Many are openly hostile toward the One who came to save them from destruction and to provide a solid and immovable foundation on which to build.  Sadder still are those who build their lives unaware of the flimsiness of their efforts, blind to the encroaching surf. It is for the happiest of non-believers that my heart weeps for the most; the people who are experiencing good health and a lack of want, viewed by their fellowman as good people, and content to bask in the sunshine of prosperity without concern that a storm may rise and obliterate all that they have trusted in and held dear. The very blessing that wraps them in comfort may well prove to be the noose that hangs them. If only they were blessed with sorrow and soul-sickness rather than cursed with bliss!

     This sorrow I have been introduced to in the last few years is pervasive and were it not for the grace of my Lord and His love, it would probably consume me. However, I do have a hope that lasts and a foundation that will never crack or be shaken. I have a faith that is growing day by day as I choose obedience and see that it is good, that God is faithful, and that I can trust Him even when the situation is beyond my understanding. It is not beyond His, and too often have I seen Him prove it in small ways to now doubt it in large ones. For it is in the midst of sorrow that I have found solidity, comfort, and assurance. 

     Now my great hope, my fondest wish is that everyone I know will follow my Lord as we walk this path together. Yes, the way is often dark and forbidding with only a small pool from the Lamp to light the path at our feet. It is not a broad, easy highway we tread, but a steep and narrow ascent. There are tight squeezes which must be wriggled through, and it is true that we may feel stuck at times. There are winding paths on the heights with alarming, sheer plunges seeming to await a small slip. It is not an easy path, but it is a worthy path and the joy and thrill of the love of my Savior is what goads me on and drives the longing to bring all those I love along as well. It is a path through sorrow, but never alone, for the Man of Sorrows is acquainted with it and has forged the way. It is a path through sorrow, I say, but through it to a destination of joy and peace everlasting and uncontaminated. It is the only path for me. I pray that you, dear reader, will choose to walk it too.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. . .

I have said these things to you that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.  
John 16:20-22, 33

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Goodness of Reproof

Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.   Ecclesiastes 7:13-14

         Lately I have found my thoughts consumed with the sheer goodness of God. It is in every frosty, cloud-covered winter morning as I walk my dogs as well as in the warmth and brightness of springtime. It is in the blessings of healthy children, and it is in the trial of a child with asthma. I find His goodness overwhelming in the best moments of my life as well as the worst. He is good, and the very certainty of that becomes more inexorably bound within my consciousness on each new day. Even though I am tired, He is good. For now, life is prosperous and He is good. Tomorrow, I could be destitute, or discover that I have cancer, or be mugged or raped, and He will still be good.
     Today I have thought mostly about how good it is to be corrected by the Lord. My life is not perfect, nor is my walk with the Lord flawless and without error. It has been His choice on numerous occasions to humble me when I refused to humble myself. I can honestly say that I am now grateful for the very acts of discipline that I despised while they were being administered.

      You see, I am unbearably selfish and arrogant, and I positively love to see myself looking good to others. Before I knew Christ, I was at the mercy of my pride and did not see how it alienated me nor did I see the grief that it brought to others. Since coming to Him, at any time that I have found myself giving in to that very temptation--to hope that others see what a good thing I did or how very spiritual I am or some other function of ego--my Father has been diligent to reprimand me and to bring to my awareness the deceitfulness of my own thoughts.

     This, too, is good.

     He has never once shown me the slightest bit of lenience, but He is merciful. In His very strictness as a Father, He shows His mercy by His tremendous love and concern for me, for He knows that I am only complete in Him. Only in Him is there perfect peace, perfect safety, perfect love. He knows that and so will not tolerate my heart to wander.
     When I humbly do as He says, all is well. When I put on the forms of obedience but act with wrong motives, whether to show off my own righteousness or merely to feel satisfied with my virtue in the secret depths of my mind, He will bring about a chastisement that is usually bitter, always painful, until I realize that the penalty of my transgression is only a tiny taste of the fruit that my pride would bear if allowed to grow. How thankful I am for a Father who loves me enough to not only send His Son to set me free, but to labor tirelessly to help me remain free! For I find that I frequently try to crawl back into my filthy old cell.

     And pride is just one of my sins.

     With all these thoughts, I am beginning to see why we are called children and why He urges us to have faith like a child. For my own children, especially when they were very small, never once doubted my love for them. They may despise my punishments, they may become angry and sullen, they may even, in the heat of the moment, believe that they hate me. But I doubt that ever, in their heart of hearts, have they believed that I hate them. I do not think they have ever thought I might just walk away and never return. When they are disciplined, even painfully, they turn to me for comfort afterwards because somewhere inside them, they know that I love them and would not willingly or purposefully cause harm to come to them. They trust in my love, as I should trust in my Father's love. He knows best. He is good.

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:5-11

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lions and Laws

Then the presidents and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, "We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God." Daniel 6:4-5

     Daniel was a man whose faith was proved to be genuine when tested by fire. Well, not literally by fire -- that is another story entirely and belongs to his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (aka Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego). Daniel, however, though he was taken captive and was far from home, apparently did not waver in his obedience to God's laws. When it was commanded by the capturing king, Nebuchadnezzar,  that he and several other select youths were to be fed a diet consisting of the same foods the king age, Daniel requested an all-vegetable diet, likely to avoid being served any meats that would have been forbidden by Levitical law (see Daniel 1:8-21). This was an excellent solution, for rather than attempting to educate the Babylonian guards on the finer points of the Jewish dietary laws--entirely meaningless to them--the request for vegetables and water was a simple and straight-forward solution that made compromising the Law impossible. So we see that Daniel was a wise man even in his youth.

     Many years later, we see the same man continuing in service under a new king as well as continuing faithfully in his commitment and service to YHWH. Daniel's "excellent spirit" set him apart and he was in favor with King Darius. Jealous over the king's , some of the other leaders conspired to set a trap for Daniel into which he would surely fall. Knowing of both his integrity in obeying the laws of the land and of his devotion to God, they tricked the king into writing a temporary injunction that he alone could be prayed to for 30 days. The penalty? Being fed to the lions. This was one law that Daniel simply could not obey, and so he received the penalty along with a sincere wish from the king that his God would deliver him. God rewarded Daniel's faithfulness and did indeed deliver him from the lions. The king was both overjoyed to have his favorite president returned to him unharmed and likely also somewhat awed at the power of Daniel's God. He then made a new law: Daniel's God was to be feared and respected.
     Oddly, I was reminded of this story when reading in 1 Peter:
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
1 Peter 2:18-20
     I suppose it was the bit about enduring "sorrows while suffering unjustly" that brought Daniel to mind. He had done no wrong, nor did he openly flout the kings law. Instead, quietly and in the privacy of his chambers, he prayed to God despite the king's injunction. He was no rebel and he was in the habit of obeying the king as we see in Daniel 6:4. Yet he did have his priorities in order. He knew to always obey the authority God had put him under, even his Babylonian masters, but if that authority came into conflict with God's Law, then it is God first, king second. He did good as Peter exhorts the church many years later, but rather than put to "silence the ignorance of foolish people," they conspired against him to have him killed. However, he did a gracious thing in the sight of God, and God rewarded him for it. It pleased the Lord to keep Daniel in His service while here on earth for a time longer, and God was with him and showed him many other things after his night in the lions' den.
     Daniel could have been martyred for his faith that day, but God chose to deliver him from suffering because of his faithfulness. In other cases, God chooses to deliver the faithful into suffering, just as Christ also suffered and was later glorified and many of His disciples were put into prison, tortured, or killed (for a sampling, see Paul's list in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). What struck me today was the raw fact that in either instance, God is good. His way is good. His plans are marvelous. It is doubtful that Daniel knew he would survive the lions when he took to his kneese that day, but his actions show that he did have a hearty trust in God. He simply obeyed the Lord and left the outcome to Him--even if that meant death.
     We could learn a lot from Daniel. Very few of us today are willing to risk all on obedience. In fact, we frequently obey the laws of the land or the laws of God when it pleases us; excusing our insubordination because our boss is a fool,  justifying our speeding on the way home because the limit is really too low, or within the church, overlooking our "minor" sins because we are under grace. This all fits into the bigger picture of dying to myself that God has been revealing to me; however, there is also an unadorned command. I need to be upholding the laws in everything I do: God's law first, then the law of my country. If the two should ever conflict, I must obey the Lord with all my heart, suffering patiently if that is what He wills, and trust that He really does know what is best, even when it hurts. For it brings Him glory if I am an upstanding, law-abiding citizen, and it declares His utter trustworthiness if I meekly bear up under harsh treatment for the sake of His ways, bringing Him greater glory still.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 16, 2012


   For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.
1 Kings 11:4

     As I read through the two books of Samuel and of Kings in the Old Testament, I see a familiar pattern emerging; one that I find woven into the fabric of my own life. For the nation of Israel, it is a pattern that begins with seeking God wholeheartedly, as in the reign of King David. Because of David's faithfulness and  love for Him, God was pleased to pour out blessings and prosperity on the people. However, beginning even in David's reign it never seemed to fail that in prosperous times, the king or the people would turn away from God, disobeying Him and turning to idols or following after pleasure for pleasure's sake. Subsequently, He was moved to discipline them until they once again turned to Him, and the pattern was begun again.
     When I look back on my own journey with the Lord, I can see times where I was walking in step with my Savior and enjoying His unmerited favor and blessing, full of peace because my mind was steadfast on Him. I also see where, each time I became comfortable in His grace, slowly and insidiously I have allowed that comfort to replace Christ on the throne of my heart, and I became a pursuer of pleasure rather than a pursuer of God, or worse, a worshipper of myself beginning to assert my rights to one thing or another.  Without fail, the rising up of my pride has brought chastisement until I am compelled to acknowledge my sin and am humbled, falling once more meekly in step behind Him.
     As I looked over this repeating design, a question formed itself: What if I allowed my comfort in His grace to produce in me a deeper, richer praise rather than disobedience? What if I could receive my Father's blessings joyfully and only love Him more because of it? I think that this mortal life would be much sweeter if I could always remember not to let it be the blessing I love, but the fact that it is my Father's blessing and take delight in it only because I delight so completely in my Father.
     This is my hope for the years to come; that I will keep my mind steadfast on Him in both trial and in triumph. My I no more allow myself to be dragged away into captivity because of the distraction of some earthly treat but remain pure in my devotion to the Lord and keep my feet firmly planted in the Promised Land. For you see, in my time of reflection, I have found that it is the awareness of His presence and fellowship with Him alone that is the real treasure. He is the only unshakable, immovable, and unchanging force in my life--all else, whether hardship and loss or luxury and ease, is subject to change in the space of a heartbeat. God alone is infallible and sure. Thus, when it is His pleasure to grant me a boon, how foolish and ungrateful of me it is to shift my affection to the gift rather than increasing my love for the Giver. Knowing that my Promised Land along with all of its fruit is simply the place wherein He abides, how can I allow my aspiration to fall upon anything lower than the very Gift of God, the Son Himself?

  But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
. . . For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 4:9, 5:1

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sci-Fi, Wi-Fi, and I

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."  John 14:27
     Some days I feel like I am living out an old science fiction novel. Perhaps it is because I can remember when telephone calls were made on "company equipment" manufactured by Ma Bell, dialed with a rotating wheel, and made a very satisfying jangling sound if you hung up with a touch of force. Or maybe it is the fact that, if I chose, I could dial up a friend from where I sit and have a conference call complete with video. Or if I were willing to fork over some more cash (and I am among a minority in my country who has not yet done so) I could have a miniature electronic brain that serves many functions including, but not limited to:
  • a calendar that will audibly prompt me to do any number of things I add to it
  • a handheld computer for sending and receiving email and text messages
  • an Internet browser through which I can look up web pages, check the weather, or find directions
  • a Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • voice recognition capability that enables me to do all of the above without typing,
  • a video gaming system to pass the time
  • a camera and video recorder
  • a cell phone complete with video conferencing. 
It could be any of a myriad other items which have either escaped my thoughts today or become so commonplace that I have forgotten what life was like without them.
     With all this technology literally at our fingertips coupled with the popularity of social networking sites, it seems that we would see an increase in social consciousness and politeness. I fear, however, that the opposite is true. While we are now able to text, call, and email anyone at any moment, it seems that the art of good, old-fashioned conversation is rapidly being lost (to say nothing of grammar and punctuation--yikes!). I see people on the phone either talking or texting everywhere I go, yet many of them seem to have lost the awareness of the people right in their path. Where it was once considered rude to answer your telephone while visiting with others, it is now perfectly acceptable to talk, text, and chat with many people at once--a bit of oneself everywhere yet never giving full attention anywhere.
     On a side note: with a bit of nostalgia I recall a time when, as a waitress in my 20s, a group of four people walked to their table single-file, each one on their cell phone. At the time, this was not commonplace and the entire, packed restaurant erupted in unsuccessfully suppressed snickers. I must admit that I still do enjoy a private moment of mirth when I see two or three people sitting across a table from one another, bent over their phones and silent except for the light tapping of their fingers on the touchscreen.
     I wonder... is all this high-speed communication healthy? Is it good for us to not only keep up with the Joneses, but also the Smiths, the Woods, the Johnsons, the McShelleys, and all their friends and relatives, too? Do we need such shallow but wide-spread roots, or would it be a better investment of time to cultivate our relationship with the Lord and Him alone? I think that, if we were profoundly rooted in Him, all the other relationships in our lives would flow out as naturally as water from a spring. We would not have the bustle and worry, the multitude of concerns pressing on our minds, the scramble to get back with everyone at once in such a way that dozens are touched by us but none too deeply. After all, did Christ not say His burden was light? And He was a Man literally pressed on all sides by people scrabbling for His attention. Yet His focus never wavered, His intent never faltered. From all accounts that I have read, He was very much present in the moment with each person He encountered, not frazzled and trying to answer them all at once. He was deeply rooted in the Father, and from that vital font gushed all the energy, peace, and presence of mind He needed just to be as He was--in the perfect balance of self-control that only comes from absolute, flawless surrender to the will of God.

"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:4-5

Oh, dear friends, now that the school year is back in full-swing, I am faced with the undeniable certainty of these words. . .  Lord, please help me never to even attempt anything without You.

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 6, 2012

My Sneaky Sin

"The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil."   Ecclesiastes 12:13-14   

       I had one of my senseless attacks of social anxiety yesterday. My poor, patient husband is well acquainted with them, and I have made an effort not to plague him with them anymore. I am certain he is weary of hearing me fret over saying something foolish or worrying that I talked too much, or too brashly, or too rudely, or not boldly enough... or any of a myriad of other concerns. These always come on me following any group activity or meeting, usually if there is even a single new person but sometimes even with old friends whom I have been around frequently. Always, however, it is a relentless questioning of everything I said and did, a ruthless examining of every word, every vocal inflection, every loss of control, and every twitch of my fidgety fingers. Yesterday was no different... until a moment ago. 

     It suddenly struck me that this very social anxiety that has disrupted my life on more occasions than I'd care to admit is nothing more than mere sin. How fantastic and utterly liberating it was for me to realize that! For, as John Alexander wrote (and I paraphrase): "Sin is the best news there is. . . because with sin there's a way out. There's the possibility of repentance." My fear of looking foolish in front of others, or to put it more accurately, that others will see the carefully-masked fool behind my façade, is simply a failure to keep my eyes on the Light to my path. I am looking to my own ridiculous self and no longer taking every thought captive to obey Christ. As a matter of fact, in the moment of anxiety, I have forgotten Christ altogether and seem to give my devotion to my own person--or even more ridiculously to my own absurdity-- rather than to Him. The social anxiety which has overwhelmed me for years is nothing more than a function of my diseased and over-fed pride. You see, in the moment of prideful worry I have forgotten the crux of the matter--that is, that I do not matter at all, for I am no longer my own. I am His and should He decide to parade me as a fool before others in His ancient and unknowable wisdom, my place is to praise Him for facilitating the destruction of my pride instead of my natural tendency to mourn my own silliness. But usually He is merely allowing me to see for myself what is already quite well known to Him, just as I often do with my own children...

     It is such a relief to me to realize that this, too,  is something I can repent of and leave behind. It is also exciting to realize yet another depth of the grace He has given me, to free me from such petty and yet perturbing sins as this. I am certain it will take me many tries before I succeed in true repentance and letting it go, as this is an old and deeply rooted sin and it will likely not loose me so easily. However, repent I will, and as many times as I must until it loses its power over me. My former sensei was fond of saying that once you know what you are doing wrong, all that's left is the 6000 repetitions until you get it right.

     <Sigh> Only 5999 more to go. . .

"Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!"
Psalms 141:3

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Grace vs. Law?

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."   -- Matthew 5:17-20

     Here is a place where Jesus speaks clearly to the crowd, and yet our human nature makes us want to say, "Well, that isn't what He actually means. After all, isn't it also written, '. . .  you are not under law but under grace?' So we do not have to worry about the Law anymore!"

     It is true that Paul penned those words in the book of Romans, but it is also true that those words comprise just a part of the story.  To flesh out Paul's thought a bit, we need to peek back one verse. Then we will see he wrote: "Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace." (Romans 6:13-14) It is not an end to the Law that Paul writes of, but rather an end to our enslavement to sin.

     When he says, "you are not under law but under grace," Paul is not saying that the work of Christ on the cross has put an end to the Law. If he did, he would have directly contradicted the words of the Lord and proven himself  to be "a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" as James puts it in chapter 1 verse 8 of his epistle. Rather, Paul is saying that, once you have accepted Christ as Lord,  sin no longer has a grip on you--it is no longer your master, but the Lord in His grace has now taken upon Himself that position, which was rightfully His to begin with. Instead of forcing obedience to His will, he merely uses the Law to bring to light our true nature and then ignites His grace as a brilliant beacon to show us the only safe path. It is, of course, our choice whether we will accept it or not, but once we have seen what the light of the Law has exposed in the dark parts of our hearts, we would be fools not to embrace His offer. For once the Law has illuminated us, we see that we are not merely knee-deep in sin, we are drowning in it. So grace is the lifeline offered to our pitiable state, and the Law is the means of exposing it.

     Jesus says plainly to us, "until heaven and earth pass away... not a dot will pass from the Law." This has not happened yet, and so we are still subject to scrutiny by the Law. So where is the good news in this story; where is the grace? It is just this--He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. We, at our dead-level best, can never hope to perfectly keep the Law. We see in the very first commandment our own death spelled out, for not a one of us has always, in every way, and in every thought put God first above all else.

     The hope is not in what we can do, but in the simple fact that Jesus did as He said He would--He fulfilled the Law. He kept it to the letter, never missing the mark nor obscuring some point of it with sin, self-righteousness, or by trying to justify what He knew was wrong. He very simply and very humbly kept the Law--then submitted to a gruesome death to appease for all time the wrath of God against sin. That is the very grace He offers--that we take His death as our own, and through it live a new life. He asks only that we live this new life as He did--utterly in compliance with the will of God, giving Him our utmost love and respect and receiving His glorious devotion and sublime peace in return. This gracious gift is ours to take, but we must commit our all to that lifeline, allowing Him to raise us up entirely, without trying to keep one toe in the sea of death.

"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."Galatians 5:1

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 2, 2012


"The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." John 10:10

Abundance. It is something we take for granted in the good ole' USA--a land where we have water at our fingertips, several changes of clothing, so many foods available that we choose what we want for each meal, homes that typically have more than two rooms, and the list just goes on and on. In fact, we are so glutted with our abundance that we often rent separate buildings to store the things that do not fit into our houses!  Yet, according to a study by the World Health Organization, America is also near the top of the list for mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. It would appear, then, that having abundant "stuff"-- or even abundant opportunity -- is not the key to happiness. . . 

So what is this abundant life that Christ talks about? Did He come so that we would have all our needs, all our wants, all our desires met? Does it include prosperity, good health, and an overall sense of happiness and well-being?

The short answer is "no."

The abundant life Christ talks about is a life focused and centered on Him and Him alone. Our desires may end up being met, but only because as we draw closer to Him, our desires are only for more of Him or become aligned with His desires for us. Will our lives change? Yes, emphatically! If we have decided to follow Christ and find we are the same person in a year as we were when we begun, than I can guarantee that we have somehow taken our eyes off Him and wandered off on our own path after all. Prosperity may come, or it may not. Health can improve or be stripped away.  In any and all cases, Christ still promises an abundant life--abundant in peace, in hope--abundant in the particular brand of love for which He came to set an example. It is an example, not of pleasure and self-serving, but of sacrifice and self denial.

Contrary to our instinct to grasp and hold,  this abundant life comes from letting go. Letting go of everything this world has to offer and putting our trust solely in God. Letting go of our wants--every single one, and yes, I mean even that one!--and trusting Him not only to meet our needs but to know what they are with no help from us. It means not obeying Him conditionally or because it feels good, but obeying no matter what we think about it nor how we feel. It is incredibly simple and yet we find oh, so many ways to complicate it in our attempts to shape into a more appealing form. We believe our Father wants what is best for us, but only the best we think we need. Whether we will openly admit it or not, many of us see God as an indulgent Father who will grant our every whim and see to it that we are surrounded by things both comfortable and pleasant. But because He is good, He does not spoil His children so. He knows better, and so He allows hardships and trials, not to punish us, but to bring us into a greater reliance on Him. He allows them so He can breathe His abundant, vigorous life into our weak and sickly souls.

The truth is, Christ does not call us to please ourselves at all, but rather to lay down our lives completely, not hanging on to the tiniest thread nor holding anything back. He calls us to die, and though it seems an oxymoron, die we must if we are to take hold of a real life--the life overflowing in joy, peace, hope, and love that exists entirely outside the stream of our circumstances on this planet.

Life abundantly is not life without pain or suffering, but life that thrives, swelling to fullness with peace and joy, quite in spite of pain. It is a life worth any sacrifice to gain--even should it mean letting die our fondest wishes, dreams, or hobbies. I assure you that we will find the greatest of these are proved shabby when held in comparison with the riches of grace He offers.  This year, my friends, let us resolve to drop our trinkets and open wide our hands to the treasures our Lord is offering!

"I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. . . "  Ephesians 1:16-18

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.