Saturday, January 29, 2011

Surrender

We finally watched "The Soloist" this week.  I seriously thought Jamie Foxx's character would be an amazing cellist, down on his luck, homeless, and then "discovered" and playing professionally in no time.  Happy ending, right?  I was so frustrated at the end of this movie!  I wanted a happy ending for him--for all of us.  But as Rob pointed out to me a couple of days later, "happy endings" aren't necessarily what we should be seeking in life. 

We have had several hard events in our church in the last couple of weeks--and the last couple of years.  But this last week we have been praying for a few friends who are in the hospital--some with dire circumstances.  For one of them, a good friend of ours, I told Rob to read Psalm 40 when he goes to visit, "I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him."  Really encouraging, right?   

Rob responded saying he was thinking about Jeremiah 31, when Jeremiah prophesies about the New Covenant, "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people...I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  Now, Rob doesn't recommend this scripture to be shared with everyone suffering, but felt strongly about the context of this passage for this particular individual and where he is in his walk.  But I, sitting there perplexed by what he just shared, listened as Rob explained that we need to be reminded of God’s greater promises.  He voiced his concerns that, without the context of a greater purpose, we often are giving false hope to those who are suffering.  We want to give comfort for the moment so we share verses that seem to ensure recovery.  The truth is God's greater work includes us but does not end with our wellness on fallen earth. "For it is GOD who is at work in you, both to will and to work for HIS good pleasure," Phil. 2:13.  

Not everyone recovers.  Some have long sicknesses, some die, some lives are altered forever.  Why are we entitled to recovery?  Why are we entitled to life itself?  We poo-poo theologies that preach claims of what we are entitled to have in Jesus' name.  Yet we preach other, more "spiritual," entitlements.  Then the sufferer holds onto a hope of what he wants to happen and when it doesn't happen as it "should" he suffers a greater trial--disappointment with God.  I am not advocating a pessimistic, disbelieving, cynical attitude toward God, I am grappling with how to honestly surrender my life and not hold my dreams and prayers higher than God's purposes and plans.

Consider Christ.  He didn’t hold His position as the second person of the Godhead – worshiped day and night by the angels, crying, "Holy! Holy! Holy!" – as something to cling to for His own advantage, "rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!" Phil. 2:5-8.  If Christ didn’t claim entitlement to His rights as deity, how then am I entitled to my sinful, prideful, small state of being, which is less than a drop in a bucket in the span of time?

We should indeed cling to the promises of hope in God's word, pray for full recovery, and cry out to Him in our time of need.  As our physical sickness is a reflection of our spiritual sickness while living in a fallen world.  BUT GOD is at work in all of creation, in every nook and cranny, redeeming His people and His earth for His purposes and pleasure.  Each of us is a part of His redemption plan, and we know not where we fit in, until all is revealed in glory. 

Just as the end of "The Soloist" revealed a greater good for all involved; a higher purpose than a happy earthly ending for one person -- full recovery for all of God's children will come!  Full recovery for our fallen state, physical and spiritual, will be revealed in glory, in which we, the bride of Christ, collectively will embody Christ's work of redemption!  We are participants in God's sovereign will and pleasure for a happy ending for us, not as individuals, but as a people, "chosen by the Lord out of all the peoples on the face of this earth to be His treasured possession," Deuteronomy 14:2.  Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Idols (A piece of my journey)

I met a lovely German woman while playing pool at a party one night.  Visiting her dear friend, my voice teacher, she was enjoying an extended stay in the states before returning to her home in Pullach, a Munich suburb.  At 70 years' young, she stayed up with me half the night speaking in broken English and playing games.  Sometime before dawn, she tells me that if I ever want to come to Germany I am welcome to stay with her.

At the time, I thought that would be so fun!  I coveted the freedom to travel and explore the world.  But alas, my commitments held me in Nashville for the time being.  However, not even 2 years later, everything, seemingly, in my life had ended--I didn't have a job and felt like I didn't have a friend in the world.  I was a caged animal ready to escape and find a new home.  So I wrote to her and asked if her offer still stood.  She told me she didn't need any house help, as she had just hired a maid from Portugal, but I could come and pay her rent.  So I booked a one-way ticket to Munich, packed up my life and boarded the plane.

That first month was a montage of jet lag, excitement, homesickness, freedom, exploration, and loneliness.  No stranger to loneliness, I enjoyed beginning a life free of attachments and the exhilaration of the unknown.  However, the fear of needing a job to provide for basic needs pushed me into despair.  The realization of being so far from home and not having planned financially weighed heavily upon me.  

One Sunday morning, not knowing where to find an English-speaking Protestant church, I walked into a Roman Catholic cathedral that had advertised a Hassler mass performance.  The strains floated down from the choir loft and swirled round my soul.  The only element of the service I understood was the music.  I didn't understand the language nor was I familiar with catholic ritual.  But the aesthetic beauty of the service ripped open my heart.

I sat in the cathedral after all the parishioners vacated and wept to the core of my being.  I began wringing out all the years that were chasing after me with their pain and despair.  I realized I was the same person as I was just weeks prior, boarding the plane in L.A.  I could run away but not from myself.  And now I was penniless and had no way of medicating the pain that I somehow had been able to mildly suppress in the states.  I despaired of life itself.

"You planned this little escapade," I heard a voice say, almost audibly (after all I was in a house of God), "but now I'll tell you why you're really here."  Playing Bible roulette, I randomly opened the Bible to Isaiah 30.  The chapter opens with, 

"Woe to the obstinate children,”
   declares the LORD,
“to those who carry out plans that are not mine,
   forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,
   heaping sin upon sin;
2 who go down to Egypt
   without consulting me;
who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection,
   to Egypt’s shade for refuge.
3 But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame,
   Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace. 

My eyes were opened to see how obstinate my heart was, how I had strayed from God my Husband, my Maker; to see how I was living in only the shadows of His path to avoid true intimacy with Him, trying like Jonah to take a boat to Tarshish; to see how I was seeking relief in anything but Him.  

The passage goes on to talk about Israel (me, in this case) rejecting God's message and how, "this sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly, in an instant.There I was in a Catholic church in Munich under a pile of the rubble of my own sin of defying my Father's warnings, confused and crying out for rescue.   I continued reading, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.  You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’  Therefore you will flee!"    I fled...until I was stopped, just as the chapter goes on to say.

So far Isaiah 30 was playing the reel of my life, until, "Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.  For the LORD is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for him!"  I relished those three little letters, "y-e-t."  Just because all my sin abandoned me under a mound of chards, the Lord didn't abandon me.  The gleam of His grace had just begun to pierce the darkness.

Forgive me for including this entire next paragraph of Isaiah 30, but it is too exciting to omit:

  "People of Zion, (me) who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. 
How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.  
20 Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction
your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them.  
21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  
22 Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, 
“Away with you!” 

Not only will I weep no more, but I will get SICK of my idols.  I LOVE MY IDOLS!  It baffled me that I would come to a point when I would actually WANT to desecrate them.  I was in awe of this God who could change a heart so drastically.  

Isaiah 30 ends in triumph!  Isaiah prophesies to the people that they will prosper--the sun will shine, the rain will grow their grain and wine to abundance and the Lord will show His power and awesomeness and the people will CELEBRATE and SING.  (Ok, now, right now, today, I am crying reading this, hearing that I will SING.  For those of you who know my struggles with my voice, this is cause for rejoicing.)

With my soul illumined by the Light of Life, I bounded out of the cathedral with joy and peace.  I was out of the shadows, the hiding places, and back walking with my Husband, my Maker.  He said, "You will hear a voice behind you saying, 'This is the way, walk in it!'" Not knowing how to remedy the predicament called, "my life," I was assured I would be led through this process.  And a long process it was.  

During this season I read many books, practiced many disciplines, such as prayer, meditation, fasting once a week, etc.  I was never in want--God provided for my many needs and I even studied voice and sang in ensembles and solo for gatherings and organizations.   I found a church, made friends, and grew much in my faith.  Being in a foreign country, it felt like an extended vacation.

My lowest point, however, came three months into my trip.  I was very sick with a fever for six days.  I was so scared and alone that I cried out to God--wondering if the Lord did indeed exist.  But when asked if I would give up on believing on Christ, I responded, "Lord, where else have I to go?  Whom else have I but You?"  I felt something within me break.  Chains fell off of me and I was finally free of my idols.  I said, "AWAY WITH YOU!"  And interestingly, my fever also broke, and the next day, though weakened, I was recovering.

God brought me through the Isaiah 30 journey, practically verse by verse.  I knew when He sat me down and told me why I was really there in Germany, that I would know the exact moment when it was time to come home.  And seven months later that moment came.  He provided a way home a mere two weeks later, and I came home to my new ventures of learning about classical education and eventually meeting my husband.  A new chapter, a new journey.  An amazing path.

I have had other times of living in the shadows, but He always leads me through Isaiah 30 and opens my bags and shows me my idols that I've been lugging along the path that have been slowing down the journey or taking my eyes off the road altogether.  He is so faithful to us.

In the day of idol-desecrating, "The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the LORD binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds HE inflicted,"  Isaiah 30:26.  S.D.G.

 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Perfection

My son gets hurt and immediately gets angry, not wanting any comfort from me.  If he can't make the Legos stick together as planned or accidentally drops his newly made bristle block rocket and the pieces scatter, he cries in frustration.  If he is exasperated with Mommy making him practice his violin piece again, he is quick to abandon all effort.  Why is he so quick to roar his rage or cease trying?  He is coveting perfection.  He has an entitlement to all circumstances benefiting him.  He, like all of us humans, has happily ever after in his heart.

I recently watched Eat, Pray and Love, a story about Elizabeth Gilbert who goes on a quest for true happiness and contentment.  What I really enjoyed about this movie, other than reminiscing about my solo trip with a one way ticket to self-discovery a mere 15 years ago, was her astute awareness of each moment.  All her senses were heightened as she navigated her way through unfamiliar alleys, restaurants, languages, taxi rides, countrysides, relationships, and liturgies.  She faced the demons of her past, the fears of the present and the unknown of the future and eventually found contentment, even in the uncertainly of where her decisions would lead.

The other realization I encountered while watching this movie is the fact that we all are on the quest for perfection.  Every ideology and theology perpetuates an ascent to perfection.  Not one religion ends haphazardly.   No one plans an unfortunate event.  Super hero stories exalt good triumphing over evil.  Classic fairy tale characters live happily ever after.  Why do we seem to hold this optimistic perspective?  Because God has put has put eternity in our hearts.  God Himself lives in perfection and we are created in His image.  

God created a perfect earth in a perfect universe and placed on earth two perfect people.  These two people reflected God's image of beauty, community, and perfection.  All-loving, honoring, joyful, content and useful.  When these image-bearers sought perfection within themselves, rather than in God Himself, their beauty faded, their light turned to darkness, they bore not the image of God, but the image of themselves.  Our image apart from God is a mere outline, a faint mist of the perfection in which we were created; the perfection we were created to reflect.

It is interesting to me that every human being, fearfully and wonderfully made in his/her mother's womb, craves perfection.  Why is food industry so huge?  We want perfection!  Why are malls filled with shoppers?  We want perfection!  Why do we do any manner of hobbies or recreation for enjoyment?  We want perfection.  I love my cup of coffee every morning--it is my friend for a variety of reasons I don't need to expound upon right now--because I want perfection.  If someone brought me a weak cup of coffee in the morning, my day would be undone.  My perfection would be tainted.  The irony is, each of these perfect possessions or savors or moments is always tainted.  Even if it's tainted in just knowing it will end.

As Elizabeth was aspiring to a "perfect" life, I thought how connected we all are in our quest for perfection.  Whether Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Communist, Atheist, Gnostic, Pagan, Addict, Optimist or Pessamist, we are all aspiring to be a "Perfectionist."  God has placed this in the hearts of men.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."  Though we are seeking perfection in everything from a cup of coffee to clean dishes, from our job performance to our marriages, we cannot conceive perfection from God's perspective.  We strive for the perfect whatever, be it a feeling, a relationship, an accomplishment, or a substance, but only God is perfect.  Why do we keep seeking perfection apart from the author of perfection?  Why do I prefer a good cup o' joe to fellowship with the God of the universe who dwells in beauty?  Why do we seek perfection through our own strength and merit?

Perfection only exists in God.  It is God, the regenerator of our hearts, indwelling us through His Spirit by Jesus Christ, who is perfect and who reflects His beauty and His image through us.  The more we become like Him, the more we bear His image and He redeems His creation in and through us.  Perfect thoughts, actions and words will not come until glory, but Christ in us is our perfection, here on fallen earth and in glory.  Soli Deo Gloria.




Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Divine Roadblocks

Hannah Hurnard's allegory Hinds Feet on High Places, tells of the journey of Much Afraid from the Valley of Humiliation to the High Places.  One would think this is just a straight shot up the mountain to the high places, but as it turns out, she doesn't have the proper "feet" to climb the crags and cliffs.  It is along the varied path, with all its twists and turns, ups and downs, that her two companions, Sorrow and Suffering, lead her and she develops her hinds' feet on which to leap through the High Places.

Much Afraid's journey takes her through the Desert, to the Shores of Loneliness, into the Forest of Danger and Tribulation and through the Mist.  And then, instead of ascending toward the High Places, Sorrow and Suffering lead her down into the Valley of Loss.  It is there she almost abandons the Chief Shepherd's path for her own path.  Faced with the decision to abandon His love, she becomes more terrified thinking of being without His love, than continuing on His crooked path.

At the Place of Annointing, Much Afraid finally surrenders to the Chief Shepherd, laying down her life, and trusting Him to carry her up the mountain.  At the mountaintop the Shepherd reveals that He is the King of the Kingdom of Love in the High Places.  She still endures many more trials, tempted again to leave the path, but finally awakes in the High Places with her new hinds' feet with which she can leap up the steep crags.  

In the High Places the King gives Much Afraid the new name Grace and Glory and gives her a crown made from the common stones she collected along the way that are now turned to jewels.  Finally, He introduces her new companions Joy and Peace.

Based on the scripture, "The Sovereign Lord is my strength he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights," Habakkuk 3:19, Hinds' Feet on High Places is
about "crucifying your own will for that of your Lord. Every acceptance of His will is an altar of sacrifice that helps us to progress and mature in our walk with Him."  (From the blog Seeking First His Kingdom.)  What if Much Afraid had abandoned the rocky path?  Where would she have ended up?  Certainly not in the High Places, certainly not with a new name and new companions!  Not only did she not abandon the path, she gained a more beautiful life and glorious existence than she could ever ask for or imagine!

Just like Much Afraid's path, our paths never go the direction we think they will when we start.  And our companions also aren't what we expected.  Hence my life verse being, "Who can make straight God has made crooked?" Ecc. 7:13.  So what do we do when we come to a roadblock that blocks us from continuing in the direction we want to travel?  The path we have put all our energies into traveling?  

Roadblocks come in many shapes and sizes.  They come in the form of any manner of loss and change, injury and disease, tragedy or death; a challenging person, a broken machine, or dead end.  A mere cold or flu, seemingly unlife-altering, can be a roadblock.  Even an accident on the freeway that thwarts our plan is a roadblock, literally.  Whatever the shape or size of our roadblock, it causes us to pause.  Sometimes for long periods of time.   This is a very uncomfortable period of time.  This is not something we planned.  What do we do with it?

Horatius Bonar in his book Night of Weeping--When God's Children Suffer says, "Oftentimes nothing but adversity will do for us. 'I spake unto thee in thy prosperity; but thou saidst, I will not hear.  This hath been thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not my voice' (Jer. 22:21).  We need to be turned out of a home on earth that we may seek a home in Heaven.  Earth's music is too seducing and takes away our relish for the new song.  God must either hush it or take us apart into a desert place that we may no longer be led captive by it but may have our ear open only to the heavenly melody."

My first instinct when I hit a roadblock, after looking at it in wonderment for awhile, is to how conquer it.  I begin putting all my energies into remedying this situation, coming up with a plan of action and scaling the mountain before me so I can continue along the path I've always traveled--to continue with my life as it was before this mountain.  Do I even consider God's great mercy in placing this mountain, this roadblock, in my path?  Do I consider that there may be another path to take?  Do I consider whether this is actually where the path takes a turn, rather than straight ahead over this mountain?  

Would I continue trying to scale this mountain to the other side if I knew there lay a cesspool on the other side, or a bed of thorns, or a cliff, or even a lake of fire?  Pausing before this roadblock to consider God's purpose is the hardest discipline we encounter.  Because as Jeremiah said (paraphrased) "Disobedience has been your pattern your whole life."  Why?  Because Adam and Eve mistrusted God, leaving His path for something they desired more than Him.  Their pride in believing in themselves rather than God, put us all on the path of sin and misery.  Thus is the estate of mankind.

God graciously puts these roadblocks on our path to direct us to Him.  The goal is not to conquer the roadblock to get back to life as usual.  The goal is to seek God for wisdom in where that roadblock is leading us.  It could be, as is often the case for me, that the roadblock, the simple ones that slow me down for a few minutes or days, cause me to search my heart, with God's illumination, and let Him shed light on the sins that so easily ensnare me.  Only then, once He's revealed them, can I repent and turn from the sinful path onto the Chief Shepherd's path.

And of course, the big roadblocks, the life-altering roadblocks, are God's means of mercy to stop us cold, to take us to the desert, away from the world's seductive music, and to play for us a new song.  Psalm 40 begins, " I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him."

Oh Dear Ones!  He doesn't want us to just continue playing our song, He wants to give us a NEW SONG!  He wants us to not just set our idols aside but to ABHOR them.  To say, "Away with you [idols]!" Isa. 30:22To be joyful in God our Savior and walk in His ways.  We can't do this just going our way--our way is sin and misery unless God intervenes.  Praise be to God for His mountains, His roadblocks, that lead us to His path.

As believers, we are on His path.  As believers, we will never leave His path, He will keep us on it, just as He kept Much Afraid on her path to the High Places.  She couldn't see the way and she was confused about her traveling companions.  But the Chief Shepherd led her to the roadblocks and down the crooked path through the darkness to show His unfailing love and faithfulness and cause His love to grow in her heart.  He led her to the High Places gave her a new name and new companions, Joy and Peace.

Even if God's purpose is for us to scale the mountain, and continue on the current path, oh, may we not despise those trials that come, but through perseverance, may they be servants of God to accomplish His work in us, that "we may perfect and complete, lacking nothing" James 1:4.  S.D.G.





Saturday, January 15, 2011

Female Affections

Before meeting Rob I wanted nothing more than fulfill my desire to perform professionally 100% of the time.  I began accruing Equity points toward my union AEA card and setting my affections on that dream.  My daddy said I could do it, and I believed him.  

And, even deeper than that, my heart's desire was always consecrated to the performing arts.  It consumed my every creative play time as a child and every cell in my brain as an adult.  Yet, my circumstances toward this goal were constantly thwarted. Countless conflicts, including other work or family-related issues, disallowed my involvement in many productions and artistic projects that came my way.  What I didn't know was that God was using all these circumstances to steer my affections (my heart) another direction....

Being a woman is so confusing!  We women have been given talents, desires, drives, and are given every opportunity to accomplish the same skills as men.  Even our Christian parents prepped us for success and paid for our college education.  What is it all for?  Am I to have a career inside or outside of my home?  On one hand I could say that all our dreams and passions are from the Lord, therefore, I should pursue them with all my heart and strength.  On the other hand, on the only hand, what does the Bible say?  

Hmm...
  • Proverbs 31 talks about a resourceful woman who is up before dawn and is the last one in bed at night taking care of her family as well successfully investing in her business ventures and skills.   
  • Ephesians 5:21-33 states that the head of the wife is the husband.  She should be submissive to him in all things and respect him.  
  • I Tim. 2:11-15 reminds us that Adam was created first, so economically, God gave him a specific job and Eve was created to help Adam. Paul also states women should not teach men but are given to train our children.
  • Titus 2:3-5 admonishes wives that orderly living in the home will cause the word of God to NOT be maligned to outsiders.
  • I Peter 3:1-6 encourages us that beauty is not only on the outside, but a gentle and quiet spirit is an unfading beauty of great worth in God's sight.
Not to mention all the verses that demonstrate how much Christ valued His female disciples and relied on their gifts and talents.  Christ even pointed out that Mary was doing the better job of valuing spiritual things by sitting and listening to Christ than Martha was by preparing a meal to feed them. 

How do we put all this together?  Two threads that run through all these verses is that as a wife and mother, 1) I am under my husband's headship and, 2) I take care of my family.  These verses certainly don't list our duties at home or assign worth to those duties.  However, these verses speak a wealth about our female affections--that on which we set our hearts.

Growing up female in America, in this culture, even as a lifelong believer, I find my identity in what I do.  I find my sense of self in my gifts, my looks, my accomplishments.  I still let the world set the standard for how I should regard myself.  But the Bible is telling me what God regards and that my affections need to be aligned with His job for me.

If I meld all these verses together, my affections should be toward my husband, valuing his vocation and his position as head of my family, deferring to him as my protector, provider, leader, lover, guard, guide; I should value my home as a sanctuary of love, nurture, growth, training, joy, peace and order; I should value fruit of the spirit, matters of the heart, contentment and character; I should be hospitable and meet the needs of others, using my gifts as I have means and building community; I should be resourceful with my talents and time, edifying, encouraging, beautifying, enjoying and blessing.

These values are not pointing to what I do but to who I am in Christ.  Women believe that since we have gifts, we should use them.  We should, but not to the detriment of our families.   Is what we do with our talents of more worth to us (really and truly) than caring for our families and all the work involved at home?  

God made women with an interesting ability to have affection for that which we do.  So, if we will respect our husbands and love our children, caring for them in our homes and meeting their needs, we will grow in love and affection for them.  Whatever we put our hands to do, we will grow in affection for that.

God knew, since the fall, that women's work would be excruciatingly hard, requiring emotion, brawn and perseverance.  IT IS NOT FOR THE FAINTHEARTED!  This why He, being RICH in mercy, made us to grow in affection for that which we choose to do.  Let us choose to do that which He has called us in His word to do, setting our affections upon our husbands and children, and He will cause our feelings to follow.

As Ecclesiastes  says, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens...a time to tear down and a time to build..."  All of our gifts and talents have a season.  As I have chosen to place my affections on my family, even when I hated the feeling of "losing my identity," the feelings for my family have finally and truly followed.  I am overwhelmed with love and concern for homemaking.  I am actually overjoyed to care for my family.  I still love and enjoy using all the other gifts and talents God has given me, but I am thrilled God caused my feelings to catch up with the daily work He has for me, and that I can enjoy that which He has given me to do in this busy season of caring for my husband and little ones. 

May we live rightly and prudently, with fear, in each season He has given us.  Soli Deo Gloria.




 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Covenant is Messy

In preparation to block the scene in Godspell when the last supper is loosely reenacted, I explained to my actors what a covenant is.  I told them the story of God making a covenant with Abraham:  Abraham was instructed by God to kill a heifer, a goat and a ram, cut them in two and also some doves.  Abraham cut them in half, and placed them opposite each other, and then (I love this verse), Gen. 15:12, "As the sun was setting, Abraham fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him."  The Bible goes on to explain that in his sleep God spoke to him and then God "walked" between the carcasses in the form of fire.  This signifies that the bloody covenant was fulfilled by God; and God alone.

Usually a covenant is a binding agreement between two people and which ever person breaks it, dies.  But what is interesting here, is that God is the sole maker of this covenant--He made it with Himself, essentially, and regardless of who breaks it--Abraham and his descendants or God--God dies.  Now, since God cannot die, as He is eternal, we know the rest of the story--the second person of the Godhead, the Son, becomes human to execute justice in the broken covenant.  Every covenant God makes/made with His people, was fulfilled in Christ's death and resurrection--from Adam to you and me and our children.

Covenant is a bloody mess.  You cannot have a covenant without mess.  The only two times we hear this word used in our contemporary lives is the covenant of marriage and the covenant of church membership.  Yep messy, messy business.

During the Christmas holidays we were in California with relatives for 14 days.  There came a moment when this messy covenant business was quite apparent to me.  I wanted nothing else to do with these people I was covenanted with through marriage.  I was ready to catch the next plane back to Orlando.  

Somehow, through the irrationality and fog of anger, God broke into my thoughts and I saw that even if we all humbled ourselves and worked toward reconciliation, I would still not be happy.  What an eye-opener for me!  I wanted to keep my emotional distance from my family, and my anger was an easy way to do that.  I wanted emotional distance because I wasn't comfortable the intimacy this covenant brings--not just with my husband and me--but with our families.  I was much more comfortable not being vulnerable and exposing my true self and all my flaws and sin (like it isn't apparent) than opening up my raw heart to the people who love me but are also able to wound me most.  Therefore, it was fight or flight.

Think about it--where do most of our deep hurt and true conflict manifest?  Within our families (extended as well) and in our churches.  These are the two institutions God has ordained in our lives to bring about true change in us.  The people that are covenanted with us laugh with us, cry with us, worship with us, know far more about us that we want them to, see the sin in us, say hurtful things, aren't all gifted the same, misunderstand us, ignore us, completely excommunicate us at times!  These are not the same wounds we experience at work or with our neighbors.  There are many believers walking through life with deep, deep, wounds from family riffs and the churches they covenanted with at one time.

Unfortunately, the culture has reacted to these two institutions quite profoundly:  1) Couples living together without being married--we don't need to get married to show we're committed, and 2) Many churches priding themselves in NOT having membership.  Both of these reactions are directly rebellious to God's covenant with us.  God's covenant with us is not just real and tangible, but it is an example of the bloody mess we live with as we journey with our spouses and families and our church bodies.

If God, the Creator of the universe, the Creator of unity and communion, is willing to condescend into human form and die an unworthy death, and be forever scarred, because of the covenant He made with sinners who broke His covenant, shouldn't we also have that same mind with each other--not just giving grace to the grocery store clerk who is flubbing our checkout experience, or the guy cutting me off on the road--but to each other--those we love most and know us best?  Those we are covenanted with?

This should be my life verse, I think I'm afraid to make it so: 

Phil. 2:5-8
 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
 6 Who, being in very nature God,
   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
   by taking the very nature of a servant,
   being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
   he humbled himself
   by becoming obedient to death—
      even death on a cross! 

The only places you and I are really, really going to grow in grace, is at home and at church.  God, in His great wisdom and mercy, placed us in our homes, with our spouses, with our families, and in our churches.  He actually CALLS us to these people, and uses them in His sovereign plan of sanctifying us and making us more like Him.   Even Christ said in Luke 6:32, "If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them...But love your enemies [those you're covenanted with], and do good...and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful [us] and the evil [us]. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."

The absolutely beautiful conclusion to my little tirade at Christmas, was that our family did come together, talk honestly, with many tears (from a couple of us), humble ourselves and reconcile.  I am so thankful to Lord for the contentment and joy I feel when I think about our time together and look forward with great anticipation to our next gathering!  Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Wimpy, Wimpy, Wimpy

My orphaned grandfather, birthed a by music teacher who had an affair with a traveling salesman in Los Angeles, was fostered in the Roaring 20s by two spinster sisters, Roxy and Alice.  Roxy eventually adopted him and he proved very beneficial with helping with the other foster children, playing with them and working hard to help the household function.  A child of the depression and eventually serving in World War II, he endured many hardships from conception. 

He met his best friend at the Vermont Avenue Presbyterian Church in downtown Los Angeles, where he attended with Roxy and Alice, and grew very close to his friend's family, culminating in marrying his best friend's sister, my grandmother.  After being separated from his bride during the war while stationed in Bremerton, WA, they birthed two children, my mother and uncle.  When my uncle was only 16 months old, my grandmother contracted Polio and was the 2nd person in California to die of Polio just two months later.

Grandpa's stoic generation was a product of living in a time of tremendous suffering.  World hunger, war, disease, inconveniences that we will never know, gave them shoulders of steel.  They were raised to work hard and didn't conceive of an option to think about how they felt about work and life.  Though as they aged and the trying times evolved into prosperity and stability economically and socially, they were less challenged and lost the wood shedding of suffering.

With each subsequent generation moving further from true suffering in America, we have been pampered into soft easy lives, filled with leisure and entitlement.  In short, we've become Wimps.  We think that hardships are abnormal so we either try to escape or prevent suffering, or blame it on something.  We even allow the "abnormality of suffering" to dictate our theological beliefs: "God doesn't want me to suffer--He would never CAUSE the suffering, so it must be Satan--and who can stop him because he rules the earth, so, poor God: Satan is just always creating battles for God to have to fight all the time.  And if God doesn't want me feeling pain, I shouldn't have to feel it."  Wimpy.

I think about my Grandfather's life and all he accomplished after a childhood of hardships:  a very successful music career, 7 houses, worldwide travel, and good retirement; and then I look at our lives and my children's habits.  I look at their attitudes toward hard things:  brushing their teeth, doing their chores, eating what is put in front of them to eat.  Seriously!  Didn't you and I have to eat our vegetables????  Why to they get away with not eating them?   It's very simple, really--because I let them.  Period. 

Our generation is the wimpiest yet when it comes to child-rearing because our strength has not been tested.  We give into many whims of our children because we just don't have the wherewithal to withstand their protests.  We have not gone without, truly, not really--maybe without some luxuries we covet and deep down feel entitled to.  Most of us have not lived much of our lives without conveniences of vacuums, dishwashers, cars, TV, remote controls.  And those are just the leisures. 

We don't have the wherewithal to outlast our children's griefs because we have not outlasted our own griefs.  Many of us don't grieve at all.  We have vices of all kinds to get us through our grief of living each day in sinful bodies in a fallen world--foodie treats, coffee, shopping, hobbies, crafts, domestic compulsions (clean-freaks), medication, internet, extracurricular activities, TV, addictive substances, etc., etc., etc.  (I listed mine first...)  Life gets hard, I've had a stressful day, nothing seems to be going my way, my kids were disobedient, my boss wasn't happy with my work, I'm tired, I ran out of chocolate--I deserve to feel better.  I could delve deeper in our culture's obsession with "giving kids a good self-esteem" but this is already far too long of an essay. 

Christ aptly said, "In this world you WILL have suffering.  But take courage, I have overcome the world," John 16:33. In short, if we don't suffer, we are abnormal.  If we don't run -- sprint -- to Christ with our suffering, we will not only suffer more deeply than we if we had grieved, but we will sin against all those around us because we have chosen to be self-sufficient/indulgent. 

Each day is an opportunity to be loved on by our dear Savior, who loves us and GAVE HIMSELF for us!  But we usually miss out on experiencing the deep and true joy of His lavish love because we just want an easy load for today and will do whatever it takes to get it.  He says, "Come to Me ALL you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest," Matthew 11:28.  His promises will manifest in us as we clean another poopy diaper, discipline a child, feel the pain of someone disappointing us, not getting the pat on the back for that good thing we did, working hard, being tired, making dinner, walking through an illness or tragedy--for every circumstance, even those we don't consider significant--a toilet stopping up, tripping over a shoe on the floor, etc.....His power is made perfect in these things!

May we feel all the pain of life but not without hope--for if we ABIDE with Christ we receive grace in our time of need and thereby teach our children that suffering is a normal and daily phenomenon--even if it comes in the form of broccoli.  "God is a very present help in trouble, Son.  Ask Him for strength and He will help you accomplish what you need to do right now."  Soli Deo Gloria.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Daddy Said This Day Would Come

I caught myself laughing out loud today when it dawned on me....my four-year-old has hit the "Why?" phase.  For the last few days the hairs on my neck started getting prickly whenever I heard Brennan's voice because I haven't had a moment's thought to myself.  "Mom...."  "Mom...."  And then comes, "Son, time to..."  "Why, Mom?"  "Son, please...."  "But, Mom, why?"

Dealing with a constant onslaught of his verbal stream-of-conscientiousness and his consistent opposition to my requests, zapped all the joy in parenting out of me.  That's when I heard my father's voice recounting the days that I, his first-born, hit the "How come?" phase.  Daddy said this day would come.  He said all children around four begin questioning everything--their questions begin with "Why?" and end with "But, why....?"  Although, he said I didn't go through the "Why?" phase; instead I said (constantly) "How come?"

What is at the end of "Why?"  As they ask the question and each answer begs the next question ("Why?"), we continue to dig down into our attache of answers until we reach the bottom, with the question still dangling in the air....."But....why?"  Just because there are no answers left, doesn't mean the question isn't there.

As I'm blogging I'm struck with how many examples God gives us in His word about getting to the end of human answers and looking up to see God holding His holy attache full of the final answers.  Sometimes the answers come in the form of questions themselves, for instance when He spoke to Job after Job finally stood up and said, "Hey, why did you do this to innocent-old-me, anyway?"  God aptly answers, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know...Do you give the horse its strength or clothe its neck with a flowing mane?...Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?"  Four whole chapters (Job 38-41) are dedicated to God's answering Job rhetorically.  Job's reply is perfect, "I am unworthy--how can I reply to You?  I put my hand over my mouth."

God in His infinite sovereign wisdom has put this "Why?" phase in a child's heart, when they are tender and teachable, to teach them, and to remind us, that the end of "Why?" is "Because God."  The Children's Catechism question two asks, "What else [besides you] did God make?" Answer, "God made all things."  So whether Brennan is asking me about properties of a flower or why he must put his shoes on, the end of the "Why's?" will always be "Because God."  

God has created not only the physical things we see, or the materials and intellect with which to engineer those things, but also orchestrated all circumstances in history, present day, and future and all dynamics of relationships from communal living to work and the hierarchies therein.  "So, son, you need to put your shoes on because God has given Mommy a special job of caring for you, and if you don't wear your shoes outside, your feet are in a danger zone.  And remember what God's word says, 'Children (and he finishes the verse aloud), obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.'" 

This is God's universe, His rules, His order, His glory.  Isn't this what I want my children to have integrated into everything they think, say and do?  Isn't this what I want integrated in my hardened being in all I think, say, and do? 

Job's final reply is so appropot, Job 42:2-6:

2"I know that you can do all things;
   no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
   Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
   things too wonderful for me to know.
 4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
   I will question you,
   and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
   but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
   and repent in dust and ashes.”

Soli Deo Gloria.


Monday, January 3, 2011

3 a.m. Epiphany

Parenting a child with the stomach flu in the middle of the night is not what I had in mind when planning for our Christmas holiday in California last month.  When Soren (2 years' old) showed signs of the virus in the middle of the night, Rob was still in Florida, but the grandmas were stellar in helping me the three times he threw up.  After Rob arrived in California to a sleep deprived wife and sick kid, we parented together and it took three days for the symptoms to subside.  

About 5 days after the first one got it, we were enjoying our annual reading of Dickens' Christmas Carol when the second one, Brennan (4 years' old), spilled his dinner all over the beautifully illustrated book.  All in all, this virus took up nine days of our 14 day trip.

At 3 a.m. on one of the nights, perhaps the fifth, I had a great feeling of compassion for my husband--or should I say it started as pity for me, but compassion on some level for my husband's job of husbandry.  

The dictionary defines husbandry as the "the cultivation and production of edible crops for food."  Ok, lest I digress.....we planted six beautiful tomato plants this fall with our next-door-green-thumb neighbor's help.  We watered most everyday, but apparently we didn't sing enough to praises to the plants because by Dec., though there were signs of fruit on the vines, they weren't full of vigor and our neighbor pronounced the plants worthless. (They're still sitting in their pots in the garage, btw...)  The neighbor's plants are luscious, twice as big as ours and he's already brought some fruit over to share!

What did we do wrong?  We gave the plants what they required to exist, but we didn't nurture them to thrive and produce fruit that would benefit us.  My husband lives in same paradigm--not just giving his family what we need to exist, but what we need to thrive.  When I was feeling sorry for myself, having a human husband who can't meet all my needs, I began feeling sorry for him having been given an impossible job by God! 

I wish I could articulate the impact of this 3 a.m. epiphany, but it led to God reminding me that marriage reflects the community of the Trinity.  The Trinity embodies three Beings equal in power and majesty, but with different economic roles.  Their interaction is one of complete love and unity and fellowship and purpose.  I realized I had totally lost sight of this!  I had already forgotten and had become discontent with my husband and our roles in this marriage.

I told Rob what I was thinking and that I was going to commit to pray for him daily in this matter because the health of our family depends on his efforts in cultivating the crop that is our family.  I realized that if men really loved (REALLY loved--not just dutifully operated) their wives sacrificially, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, washing her with the water of the Word, wives would be so content, that they wouldn't seek fulfillment elsewhere.

Here is where I get very vexed, because the Bible doesn't give many specifics about what all women are supposed to be "doing."  I can't spell that out for anyone but me, but I can say what the Bible says about our roles--that we come alongside our husbands to help in their vocations (Gen. 2:20), that we are busy at home, and are lovers of our husbands and children (Titus 2:4-5), that we submit to them in Christ as unto the Lord (Eph. 5:22), etc., etc...

So, without stating what duties each spouse should be performing at home, I do see that we women seek fulfillment and contentment outside of our homes so frequently, because, frankly, it's harder to focus on a job that has no closure, no immediate rewards, no real kudos, and lots of mundane.  Women like checking off our lists.  

But this commitment to pray for my husband to excel at loving me, while looking like a selfish desire, I realized was absolutely compassionate--because if he puts loving me as his highest priority, he will be acting like the members of Trinity and will be utterly joy-filled, content, complete, and full of purpose.  Just as I will be if I seek to obey God's word and fulfill my part economically in this marriage by submitting, respecting and coming alongside my husband.

And, as it turns out, when I do see my home as my first job--though it is not my only job--I actually find a great amount of contentment and joy in doing the duties I'm called to at home and letting Rob worry about those things that are out of my hands (or should be out of my hands).

I have left much unsaid as to where I'm coming from Biblically or culturally.   I'm journaling this so as not to forget that I am happiest and most content when I'm obedient to the scripture and not searching for contentment outside of the community God has given me, not just to survive in, but that into which I to put my greatest energy and passion.  If I'm passionate about feeling joy, then I have no other choice than to glorify God and be passionate obeying His word.  Soli Deo Gloria.