Thursday, August 30, 2012

Upside Down


And the Lord said: "Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden."
Ah, you who hide deep from the LORD your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, "Who sees us? Who knows us?" You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, "He did not make me"; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, "He has no understanding"?
Isaiah 29:13-16
     Before I came to know and love my King; indeed, less than two decades ago, I was one of those who turned things upside down. It is frankly hilarious to me when I look back now on what I was so imperiously certain of then. Apparently I believed that the simple fact of my extending or withholding belief could somehow alter reality! 
     To put it plainly, I sort of believed in God or at least in a god. However, I had some twisted-up conception that in this belief, I was enabled to select the characteristics and traits that I thought would go best with a god, as if the whole god concept was akin to an enormous spiritual buffet laid out for my exclusive pleasure and benefit. Otherwise, I steadfastly declared, if there was a God who was able to destroy what He did not approve of, than I just couldn't believe in Him. Somehow, in some uproariously childish way, I thought that this sullen skepticism of mine negated the very existence of a God, as if God needed my permission to exist. Talk of turning things upside down!

     In the current stage of my life, I find it chafing, not to mention astonishingly arrogant, when my children hint that they might have a better parenting strategy than I, particularly when that strategy somehow involves them getting ice cream right after breakfast or some such absurdity. And absurdity is right, for that is precisely what I once projected in that flickering and farcical fantasy world where I evidently thought that my belief held a mystical power to create or destroy God. Upside down, without a doubt.

     I think G. K. Chesterton said it best when he stated that "It is idle to talks always of the alternative of reason and faith.  Reason is itself a matter of faith.  It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all."  I am absolutely certain that my thoughts at the time had not even a casual acquaintance with reality.

     In questioning the goodness or correctness of my Creator, I was merely believing that my own thoughts had some realness or substance of their own. The views I held as a skeptic were honestly rather contradictory and ridiculous if you look at them. If I am a creation, that is to say, if there is a God, then it is an extraordinarily silly thing to believe that I could possibly be wiser and know a better way to operate the world than my Creator does. If I am not, well, than I am not and it was rather birdbrained to go off thinking that there may be some piece-meal god that I can dress up or dress down as I see fit. What is the use of an a la carte god at all, really? If there is not a powerful, all-knowing, almighty Creator, than why mess around in the business of gods and what-not at all? One may as well believe in Zeus, Apollo, and all that fallible, fornicating lot.

     It boils down to one simple question: There either is or there is not a Creator. If there is not, what I do or think doesn't really matter anyway for it is all fruitless and futile speculation. If there is, well than what I think about Him still doesn't matter, for my opinion does not change the fact of the Creator, nor does it change any element of His nature or being. In the latter case, I am the creation. As a thing created, my limited view of what is right and wrong or how the world ought to be run is laughable on one hand, an act of mutinous rebellion deserving of thorough and utterly quelling wrath on the other.

     All in all, in those days, I was merely airing my ignorance in my beliefs that my ideas of what was good and right were the correct ones. In reality, it was much closer to whining because I could not have ice cream after breakfast than I would like to admit.

The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this: that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever; but you, O LORD, are on high forever.   Psalms 92:6-8


A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.   Proverbs 18:2

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, August 16, 2012


When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.
Psalms 73:21-28
     In my few years of walking with God, there have been times that I shrink away from Him or from some service He has commanded. These times are shamefully numerous, I have to admit. Actually, I believe that we go through it again and again with each new school year. I will say to my eldest child, "Must I fight you every year to do what you know you are going to have to do anyway?" and I think I hear God clearing His throat.  For I, too, balk and whine at the beginning of each new year. "It's too hard. It's too much. You have given me more than I can do in a day. Training these children is grueling. I have not enough time for housework, and just look at the yard! My garden is overrun. I've no time for writing, either..." and on it goes, but as I complain, I can sense the significant look He casts my way. The truth is that I, too, am merely digging in my heels for tasks that I know I must do anyway.     

     What I have learned, however, is that when I doubt that I can fulfill a task He has given me, what I am really doubting is Him. I have become "brutish and ignorant," turning from His freely-offered grace to sulk and nurse my hurts, either real or imagined. I am no longer listening; I am merely pouting and wanting my own way. However, He never lets go, and I am so very thankful for that! He allows me my moment of sullenness and then gently--or sometimes not so gently--reminds me that He is my portion and not my pastimes or the even the fruits of my labor. He is less concerned with my task list than He is my attitude toward it.  

      He also reminds me in times like this that He is my strength, and that this is subtly different from giving me strength. It is that hard-to-describe inward act of surrendering control--my will subjugated to His. No, often I cannot do these things by myself, at least not in a way that brings Him honor and glory. But He will guide me with His counsel. He will be the strength I need when I stop striving on my own and instead rest in Him. In the event my flesh and my heart do fail, He reminds me that the goal of my efforts is not a spotless house, well-manicured yard, and perfectly disciplined and well-educated children. It is more about the heart of the matter: My own surrender to God's ways above my own in the living out of a life given wholesale to Him, the training of my children in the the ways of the Lord, obedience and diligence in God-given tasks and heartfelt repentance for my sins--even the sulks. Hopefully as I do this, I will pass on to these children a passion and zeal for serving and loving Him. This does not mean I neglect the housework or let the yard fall to ruin. It merely means that I put first things first: His kingdom and His glory before my own pride in house and family. His ways before mine. His will before mine.    

     Paul said it well, so I will quote him here: "Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all,"  (Philippians 2:14-17).  So what He has given me to do, I need to set my face toward it and work diligently to that end, not grumbling or complaining. If I am poured out in His service, than so be it. It is not my own pleasure I am created for, after all, but His.     

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalms 16:11

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.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Asocial Media?

     It's true, I use some of the social media services. I am blogging, for instance, and I am something of a feast-or-famine facebooker. However, I have to admit that I have some misgivings about some of these tools, or at least about some of our motives in wielding them. There is an addictive quality to social media that almost anyone who has tried one out can attest to; something appealing in scrolling through the various status updates and random pictures that others post that seems to bring some level of satisfaction. We are in the know. We can give our opinions, share our witty comments, and make our point.

     They are tools also, and are not always used strictly for diversion. It is possible to make a political statement or share a passage of Scripture, a spiritual lesson, or a well-crafted article. We can make others laugh, maybe share a little joy. These examples and many others inculde some of the positive uses of social media. As I scroll through lists of updates, however, it is the more frivolous applications that occupy the most space. The fact is that the majority of us use them more for entertainment rather than with purpose and meaning. And, frankly, we Americans are already over-entertained.

     It is, however, the less obvious but possibly more destructive potential that I see which worries me. It is in status updates, tweets, and texting--none of them harmful in their own right, mind, but there is a serious danger which lurks as a possibility. Allow me to state loud and clear that it is not a problem for those who use these tools as just that--useful tools to be picked up when needed and laid aside again when the task is done. The people that concern me are the ones longing for companionship, desperately striving to electronically fill a need for relationships; it is the kids who learn to text and tweet before they learn how to fruitfully work out a problem or express their deepest longings, hurts, dreams, and joys to another--these are the ones who give me pause. These are the addicts, the restless-thumbed junkies always needing a fix without realizing that they are settling for a counterfeit to the very basic human need for relationship.

     Ultimately, there is good that can be done with facebook, as with all the rest. I  know people whom I cannot call because of either time or schedule differences and whose family photos I would never see without facebook. I know pastors and lay people who post thought-provoking and challenging quotes, proverbs, and passages of Scripture. I admit a personal desire to enter the world of texting, just for those grocery-store moments where a text would be more efficient than engaging in a conversation because all I really need is to remember the name of the new brand of deodorant my husband is using. Then again, I wonder how many hours are burned by me alone in my "quick checks" on facebook. . . All of these things can be a great boon, but the hours that are burned in tiny increments can stack up to become a massive burden in time.

     When it comes to that, it also scares me a little to see so many people hunger for that next shot, the instant gratification, but never taking the time to have coffee and a genuine, intimate conversation with a friend. It is easier and less chaotic at times to be "friends" on facebook, for you can ignore a facebook friend without them ever knowing or feeling slighted, and you can be ignored without feeling any injury or hurt. It is a simple matter to "like" whatever you feel defines you (at least at the moment), and there is not the complication and hassle of emotion nor the tediousness of having to be intentional in showing love and forgiveness. Online, there is often little to forgive.

     It makes me uneasy to think that there are people who do not realize that the messiness of concrete relationships is part and parcel of the reality of them.  Let's face it, no matter what angle you take, it is perfectly simple to conduct a facsimile of a friendship through social media, and it is so much cleaner--because it is not real. It's like seeing through a mirror dimly. Let's just make sure we never forget to take time to see face-to-face.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:23-25

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.