November 06, 2010

the value of being predictable

"He's so predictable," my brother said.

"Yes, he really is." I chuckled just at the thought of our friend. His responses and attitudes are almost calculable. Silly guy, I thought.

Then my brother told me that I'm predictable. I didn't find that as funny. "No, I'm not!"

After chafing over my brother's comment, I began to realize the value of being predictable, in a character sense. Predictably upright, not predictably boring! When people make foul jokes, do they know that I will not laugh? When they are getting wasted at the Christmas party, do they remember that I always leave early in my right mind? Does my boss trust me with the company credit card, the important password, the big secret...without a qualm? The other day my coworker had a laughing fit because it sounded like I cursed, and she knows that I never curse, so it was funny to her, because it was so out-of-the-ordinary.

It is impressive to me to meet people whose characters are undeniably predictable, so that they are recommended wholeheartedly. Joseph and Daniel are two Biblical characters who stand out as men who were predictably holy. The epistles often contain references to individuals who are either commended or warned against. Paul's words about Timothy in Philippians 2 indicate a complete trust in Timothy's character: "I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel."

I like fun—but I want to be predictably holy.

October 23, 2010

not random

It has come to my attention that using the word "random" as I do is inconsistent with my worldview. I can explain.

I don't remember exactly when I started peppering my conversations with the word “random”—likely around the same time most other people my age did. But I now realize that it is time for me to retake that word and use it correctly. Because this is what I've found myself saying:
  • "Remember the random girl I told you about who came to Bible study?"
  • "This weekend we randomly had my landlord in for lunch."
  • "Last night in the park a random guy spoke to me for half an hour."

Word choice might seem like a small thing, but I realize that by claiming that so many things or people in my life “have no specific pattern, purpose, or objective” denies my very worldview. I believe that God patterns, plans and arranges things after the purpose of His will. I love to know that He is a God of the details, and I truly believe that He orchestrates blessings of any size, whether a sale item at Goodwill or meeting your life partner.

That "random" girl at Bible study was a huge encouragement to me; she reminded me of the goodness of God in the midst of trials. God placed her at our Bible study—perhaps among other purposes—to encourage and instruct my heart. Who knows how my brother's lunch invitation to the landlord might have met a need in that man's life? I learned a lesson from my talk with the stranger in the park, and maybe he just needed to meet someone who was praying on a blanket, someone who seemed a little too interested in the Bible.

So here's to a vocabulary cleansing. Word choice really is important. Words matter to God, they should matter to us.

And here's to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of history. There's nothing random about Him. "The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations. (Psalm 33:11)

October 14, 2010

try a little tenderness

tenderness
I don't meet a lot of six-foot women. Even from a distance, the blond stranger I met this summer conveyed an air of confidence. Standing next to a bonfire, listening to her speak, it didn't take me long to notice that she was a very hard woman. Cursing, she spoke of how she uses her womanly charm to help her with business deals with men. She flippantly discussed her divorce and the dating game. From what I later learned, she had just left her controlling, live-in, alcoholic boyfriend. My heart grieved for her. A woman of the world, covering up her hurt with a hard facade. Or so I thought.

Around the bonfire, people shifted, and most went to play Frisbee. A few of us were left and I began to ask the blond lady—who I learned was 30 years old—about her about her life and travels. It didn't take long to discover that she'd attended Bible school for a few years. Her younger days were full of missions trips and her parents were graduates of the same Bible school as she. This woman knew much more Scripture than I ever would have imagined.

It struck me: this could be me. This domineering woman grew up in a Christian family, did the Bible school scene, and married a purportedly Christian man. But less than a decade later, this woman stands so hardened that I thought she never knew what Biblical womanhood was. It was a sobering reminder to me of the importance of keeping close to the Saviour, and it got me thinking about this: if the world's woman is hard, what is God's woman like?

From general and specific revelation I gather that women were created to show tenderness. This is seen in woman no matter if she is redeemed or not—even our bodies and voices were created softer than men's. But in the redeemed woman, God develops that "gentle and quiet spirit" which He so values (I Peter 3:4). Alistair Begg says: "Women don’t have the exclusive ownership of the characteristic of kindness, but often they do a much better job in expressing compassion than most men. If you think about it, women that have marked our lives have often marked our thinking on account of their tenderness."

Oh—to reflect our humble, gentle Saviour in a way that is womanly! Don't let the world's scorn undermine your godly desire to be tender toward the Lord and others. Cultivate tender-heartedness (Eph. 4:32, I Pe. 3:8).Value the vulnerability and purity of holy marriage as an exclusive expression of that tenderness. Don't think you're beyond becoming a hardened woman. The blond wasn't, and neither are we. Just on the other side of the glorious gospel there is a cutting, brazen, hardened woman who could be me, or could be you, if we lose sight of tender Jesus. So help us God!

September 20, 2010

"fashions with a Christian colouring" vs. the simplicity of Christ


I recently found this striking quote from C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. I have not read Lewis' book, but it is a satire in which a demon is training an apprentice demon. Here, the demon speaks to his apprentice:
"What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call 'Christianity And.' You know--Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology...Christianity and Faith Healing...Christianity and Vegetarianism.... If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring.... The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers.... The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.... Of a proposed course of action [God] wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking 'Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?' they will neglect the relevant questions.... As a result, while their minds are buzzing in this vacuum, we have the better chance to slip in and bend them to the action we have decided on. And great work has already been done."
Lewis wrote to issue a warning to the church: are you asking the wrong questions? Is your faith in Christ or in "Christ and..."? I fear that much of evangelicalism is "buzzing in this vacuum" of truth neglect. We weaken the dynamite of the gospel and Christ with our supposedly-spiritual trappings. We're picking out curtain colours for the sanctuary, unaware that the foundation of the church itself is being blasted out from beneath us because it stands not on Christ, but on human ideas.

In How People Change Tripp and Lane describe some typical ways in which believers are distracted from the "simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:3). These are some "fashions with a Christian colouring":
  • Formalism - the gospel is reduced to participation in the meetings and ministries of the church
  • Legalism - "another gospel", where salvation is earned by keeping the rules we've established
  • Mysticism - the gospel is reduced to dynamic emotional and spiritual experiences
  • Activism - the gospel is reduced to participation in Christian causes (ie: pro-life cause)
  • Biblicism - the gospel is reduced to a mastery of Biblical content and theology
  • Psychology-ism - the gospel is reduced to the healing of emotional needs
  • Social-ism - the gospel reduced to a network of fulfilling relationships
This list has been helpful to me as God has shown me that my Christianity is sometimes veiled in formalism and Biblicism rather than a vibrant relationship with Christ Himself. I need to those "very simple questions" that God asks, like, "Is it righteous?" "Does it reflect the mind of Christ?" "Is it holy?" When we get distracted from the centre, which is Christ, we ask all the wrong questions, and the life is gone. Solus Christus, sola Scriptura—too simple? I'm finding it to be richer and deeper than ever.

September 16, 2010

my hero

I spent many of my nearly 25 years looking for a hero. Yes, "I need a hero...He's gotta be strong and he's gotta be fast...He's gotta be sure...and he's gotta be larger than life." [Insert cheesy Bonnie Tyler I Need a Hero song here].



And you know, "he" didn't even have to be a "he." Sure, a boyfriend would have been (and still would be) nice, but essentially I remember beginning to long for deep peer friendships during my teenage years. Spiritual friendships, where we could talk about God's Word and grow together. I wanted friends who would love, challenge and encourage me, based on Truth. This was not something that I found readily in my high school years, but that meant that God had opportunity to speak to me. On quiet nights in my blue-walled bedroom, He taught me that He wanted to be my closest friend. He was enough!

Even so, God created me to be in fellowship with other humans, and as the years have passed He has graciously brought me into close relationships with individuals and families whom I admire. As I watch them live, I am a sponge, soaking up wisdom and grace. We talk about Jesus at breakfast, lunch or supper and it is completely normal. I love to see them living lives that are worshipful and obedient to their Creator. I love to be with them and learn from them.

But what I have seen happen, sometimes, is that I worship the gifts instead of the Giver. Like the Israelites, who forgot their Provider once they reached His good land, I easily lose my focus. God has had to show me that I cannot depend on my friends' spirituality. In some cases, He accomplished this by showing me that my friends and their families were no more perfect than myself and my family. Suddenly I saw that they were fallible humans—like me. This was a painful discovery. God also did this by physically "taking away my Elijahs." Oswald Chambers writes:
"It is not wrong to depend upon Elijah as long as God gives him to you, but remember the time will come when he will have to go; when he stands no more to your as your guide and leader, because God does not intend he should. You say'I cannot go on without Elijah.' God says you must." (My Utmost, August 11)
God knew that I demanded to see godliness enacted—I wanted a visible human model to follow. When making decisions, I wanted an Elijah to spoon-feed advice to me—I didn't want to have to search the Scriptures and spend time in prayer. Idolatry? I'd say. God wanted me to get my focus back on Him, so He graciously toppled my idols.

Here is the wonder—once my idols were removed, Someone much more satisfying came to the fore. God began to take His place as Hero again. No human friendship would ever satisfy! If my hope is in humans (even godly ones) my heart will yo-yo from happiness to disappointment, based on their performance. I will seek to manipulate and use them to meet my desires, instead of showing them the grace and freedom God has shown to me. But if I esteem Christ as the only lasting Hero, I can gratefully enjoy deep human friendships and yet source my security and joy in my relationship with Christ. I call this change "the fall of my human heroes and the rise of the one, true Hero." He is "strong, fast, sure and larger than life!" To quote another song from the '80s/Footloose, "let's hear it for The Boy!" He is my everything!

August 19, 2010

oswald chambers & "devotion to God Himself"

Last Christmas I received a copy of Oswald Chambers' classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest. For years I neglected many devotional writings, perhaps due to a bad taste left in my mouth after trite, too-simple or poorly-written devotionals I'd come across growing up. But what depth I have found in the collections of the writings of saints like A.W. Tozer and now Oswald Chambers! These anthologies indeed are worthy to bear the name "Christian literature." My experience in the last few months of reading Chambers has been transformational, and the book's introduction, by Richard C. Halverson, sums up why.
He says:
"In Chambers I am constantly being reminded that the ground of faith and experience is the person of Jesus Christ....the basis of faith is always Jesus Christ himself. Through the years Chambers has kept me on course by bringing me back to Jesus. Believing Jesus, not just believing my beliefs about Jesus, is basic."

I have collected some brief quotations from the daily readings which echo this basic theme that runs through Chambers' texts. It is about Jesus Himself--believing Him, being devoted to Him. 
  • "When we become advocates of a creed, something dies; we do not believe God, we only believe our belief about Him.... 'Believe also in Me,' said Jesus, not--'Believe certain things about Me.'" (Apr 29)
  • "A man with the vision of God is not devoted to a cause or to any particular issue; he is devoted to God Himself." (May 2)
  • "My goal is God Himself, not joy nor peace, nor even blessing, but Himself, my God." (July 12)
  • "The soul is in danger when knowledge of doctrine outsteps intimate touch with Jesus." (Aug 16)
  • "Are you more devoted to your idea of what Jesus wants than to Himself?" (Aug 18)
Chambers says the same thing in so many ways. The message never gets old or passé. I am encouraged to seek a fresh, vibrant relationship with Jesus. To truly know Him, not just know things about Him. Through the story of Jesus walking on the water, I am reminded that it is enough "that I see Him walking on the waves, no shore in sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainty that it is all right because I see Him walking on the sea" (July 28). As I realize how destitute I am without Christ, He is speaking to me in a way that is deeper and richer. My demands of Him are silenced in the presence of His Person. My God-given desires and goals play second fiddle to God Himself. I need devotion to Christ, pure and simple (2 Cor. 11:3).

Have you read this classic yet? My Utmost for His Highest--always best read with granola, yogurt and sunshine. Original English version available here or modern English version available here.

July 17, 2010

"we died before we came here"

While working in Asia, Amy Carmichael received a letter asking what her m--------y life was like. I wonder if the young lady sending the question wanted exotic stories. Elephant rides, jeweled children, bright colours. Amy wrote back honestly: "M--------y life is simply a chance to die." It was from this statement that Elizabeth Elliot took the title of her book about Carmichael's life and ministry.

Recently my mom passed along the following story. "A ship captain tried to dissuade James Calvert, [an] early m--------y to the New Hebrides, from going ashore by saying, 'You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among the cannibals of these islands.'" Calvert's stoic reply blows me away: “We died before we came here.” Another new m--------y to the same area was also warned as to his possible destiny. His response? “In the resurrection it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals (on the m-----n field) or by worms (at home).”

The zeal and discipline of these m----------s puts me to shame. But the "death" of which they speak is not just for m----------s. Every believer must die to self if he is to be productive for Christ. "...Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds" (John 12:24). As Addison Leitch said, "When the will of God crosses the will of man, somebody has to die." Elizabeth Elliot writes, "Life requires countless 'little' deaths--occasions when we are given the chance to say no to self and yes to God." At each crossroads, big or small, I want to say with unquestioning allegiance, "I died before I came here." In death we find life abundant.

July 10, 2010

learning to receive

It was the kind of day for which ice cream must have been invented: blistering hot. Walking into an ice cream shop with some younger people, I asked each of them choose a treat and offered to pay for their snack. All but one accepted my offer fairly easily. The last one held her head high and said "I am too proud to let you buy ice cream for me." I was a bit shocked. Finally she allowed me to purchase her little treat, but not without a struggle. I was frustrated that she would so valiantly try to thwart a small effort to share with her--I felt that she sought to rob my blessing as a giver.

Only days later, I was cornered by a fellow believer who wanted to share a generous gift with me. He knew of a specific need that I had and wanted to fill it. Backing away, I explained that I'd just received a surprise sum of money from my employer that would cover the extra expense. He insisted. With the image of aforementioned proud teenager in my head, I took his gift and thanked him for it. Smiling, he thanked me for my willingness to allow him to share. I am not sure if I had ever before been thanked for receiving, but after the previous week's incident, I could suddenly relate.

At the risk of sounding mooch-like, I will say that some believers could use some instruction on receiving. Christianity teaches generosity. This is Christ-like and it is an attitude to be commended. But if we would train cheerful givers, we should also be ready to (at least occasionally) be thankful receivers.

Granted, our fallen condition makes us much more likely to want to take than to give. I am certain that we must spend much more time learning to give and share than learning to receive. (When I talk to small children after Christmas, rather than asking the typical "What did you get for Christmas?" I try to ask "What did you give this Christmas?") But somehow in our efforts to teach self-sacrifice, generosity and humility (noble efforts!) sometimes we don't notice that our children become adults unwilling to ever accept a gift or a favour.

Maybe you already have everything you really need. In North America, that is often the case. But who is to say that you have to keep the gift you are given? The early chapters of Acts speak of the early church having all things in common. Their sharing and generosity has been an example for Christians in following generations. We can accept freely, and give freely as well. All that believers have is really Christ's, anyway.

I don't speak as though have a handle on this. I thought I had learned my lesson about letting others give to me, but last Christmas brought a few more I-don't-think-I-should-be-receiving-this moments. There was one moment in particular, when I was handed a cheque. It was for a service that I had given, to a ministry, free of charge, and it was difficult to accept payment for it. I'll admit, I argued with the givers. I was not a very gracious receiver this time. But I've watched the disappointment on Christ-filled people's faces when they want to share and are not permitted. Doesn't Christ give us with a desire to share? Why allow our pride to steal someone else's joy? So I thanked them for the gift. (They don't need to know if I pass it on).

89594350

June 11, 2010

surrender

I don't remember the exact circumstances in which I wrote the poem that I'm posting below. I know they weren't easy. Today as I saw these short sentences hanging on my bulletin board, I realized that it sums up what is happening to me yet again. God is sifting, testing, challenging me. Am I really willing to count everything a loss compared to knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord? Jesus' words to Peter in John 21 echo in my ears, over and over again: "What is that to you? You follow me."

Elizabeth Elliot quotes Lilias Trotter in one of her books:
"So long as our idea of surrender is limited to the renouncing of unlawful things, we have never grasped the its true meaning: that is not worthy of the name for "no polluted thing" can be offered.
The life lost on the Cross was not a sinful one--the treasure poured forth there was God-given, God-blessed treasure, lawful and right to be kept: only that there was the life of the world at stake."
What God asks me to give up may not be inherently sinful or wrong. What is important is that He asks it of me. Will I give it to Him who gave all for me? Am I content to offer Jesus easy things, things that have cost me nothing? Or do I want what He wants, no matter the cost?


-----------------

it's
it's the dying of a dream
the killing of a heart
the stealing of a hope and
i only understand in part.

it's the test of my sincerity
an exam on what i've learned
a measure of my sanctity
will my heart be truly turned?

it's up-showing my own wisdom
replacing my own strength
pushing out my human love for
one that knows no length

it's taking me much deeper
it's pulling me far in
it's ridding me of yesterdays
it's purging me of sin.

2007

June 05, 2010

let your single years not be a wasteland

singleness
In recent years I have spent a lot of time with single people (surprising, I know, since I am also single). Observing this subset of our Christian culture, I began to notice that some singles seem to allow those years of their lives, whether five, ten or fifteen years, to fall into an abyss of wasted time. This concerns me, because while our culture may teach us to while away our youth, this is not God's attitude toward time. As I've read, lived and observed my own attitudes and those of some I know, there are a few areas (with some overlap) where we would do well to learn while we are still single.

Roles: Learn what it means to be a woman and operate within your role even as a single. Kick the feminist attitudes that are so common in our culture and learn the Bible's view of woman. The Bible indicates that your role will be more home-related than your husband's. Your single years are probably years with less home responsibility, but it is also a good time to learn to serve. My brother and I live together and I think we could say it is "fair" that all tasks in our home be divided up 50/50, just like the rent. Even so, I realize that some ways of serving come much more naturally to me than to a man, and at times I've purposely tried to serve in ways that aren't necessarily expected or required in a situation like our own...simply because I am a woman.

Relationships: Singleness can teach an independent and calloused "I-don't-need-a-man" attitude. Living on your own can be too convenient, too controlled, too your-way...which is not good preparation for service or for living in close quarters with anyone! Learn to expose yourself to people with whom you don't see eye-to-eye and people who rub you the wrong way. Padding your life with people who think exactly as you do might seem comfortable but it short-changes you by giving you less opportunity for growth.

Reality: Our single years can be rich in that they prepare us with a deeper grounding in reality about ourselves, the opposite sex, marriage and God. In relation to ourselves, God can prepare our hearts to have an attitude of utter humility --"I am the worst sinner I know." Often single women have wrong views of marriage and men. Pining for marriage, which God hasn't given to you yet, can sometimes be put to rest by spending a few days with your friends' sick toddlers. Or, try turning your head a few degrees and you'll probably find a divorcee, a widow or an infertile friend. In a sinful world, life at any stage is not without its struggles, and marriage is no fix-all. Lastly, as singles we have time to get to know God on a deep level. God is our ultimate reality and in knowing Him we find hope for the reality about everything else.

Responsibility: Singles shouldn't shirk responsibility, but learn to shoulder it, grown-up style. Our single years allow us to serve our church, community or family in ways that may not be possible when we have other responsibilities. Also, it is easy for young singles to fall into a luxurious "me-first" spending mentality, and it is important to learn to be responsible in money management. Even among Christians, I find that singles are almost "allowed" to be a bit immature or irresponsible. This isn't God's allowance.

As Christian singles contemplate marriage, we often set our spouse ideals fairly high, and rightly so. But as we redeem our single years, we can let them not be a wasteland, but years spent becoming a person who would be ideal, as well. Set the bar for yourself higher than your culture, even your Christian culture, sets it. Try "be ye holy, as I am holy." That should keep you busy for the rest of your life!

And should the Lord never give us any marriage but to Himself? We will bless Him still. Our time will not be wasted, either way.

June 03, 2010

"but did you see the sky in the east?"

The couch is awfully comfy, especially on cold mornings. One morning this winter, as I wrestled myself out the door, I posted on Facebook: "Julie needs a warm heart for this cold, dark morning." I walked to work, in the chill.

That evening, when I came home, I noticed a comment that a friend had made in reply to mine. She said, "But did you see the sky in the east?" When I was feeling the gloom of a cold, winter morning, Joanne was warm inside because she had a different view. When I go to work, I head west. On days when I walk or bike, I don't even have a "rear view" of what's behind me, I just see what's ahead. It wasn't that I couldn't have seen the sunrise, it was just that I didn't turn my head.

It made me wonder how often my life is like this. I'm trudging under a cloud, but if I would just turn, I would see the wonderful plan of God in every moment. Are you weary? Did you see the sky in the east? Not far from your self-centred viewpoint is the eastern sky. There's always hope, it just isn't always right in front of you.

May 15, 2010

tandoori chicken and worldview changes

Roots. Fruits. What's the difference, and what's the connection? Recently I was shown a tree diagram with a person's worldview as the hidden roots and his culture as the visible part of the tree. Assumptions, values and allegiances made up the worldview, while behaviour, attitudes, commitments and beliefs stemmed from the worldview, forming the person's culture. The tree looked something like this:
worldview // culture tree

The tree was shown in the context of cross-cultural work, and the question was asked "What problems happen when changes only take place on a cultural level and not in a person's worldview?" This question has to bear on the telling good news. Some messengers have seen the problem of syncretism when people add new behaviours or practices to their old worldview. The message has no real roots, and trials and testings evidence how shallow the supposed "new belief system" really is. I understand this concept as it relates to cross-cultural work.

But then I realized that I'm a syncretist, too.

Each of my sinful fruits evidences a problem in my spiritual roots--in my worldview. I keep falling back on a human, carnal view of life, which leads to sinful living. My sins in my attitudes, behaviour, expectations and commitments stem from a false worldview. For example, I see in myself attitudes like selfishness, resentment and disappointment. I need to get to the root of those issues and discover what my false assumptions and values are. God's Word and Spirit must continually wash and renew my mind.

As I thought about a current set of sins that I am struggling with, I realized that it wasn't too difficult to spot the false roots. For example, I have valued human relationships over my relationship with God. This has shown itself in a craving for human attention at the expense of fostering a deeper relationship with Christ. I've made good human relationships a false saviour and God wants to change my worldview. He wants me to realize that He is all I need.

Are you wondering where the tandoori chicken comes into this? Well, this lesson was further illustrated to me as I made tandoori chicken recently. I've been a bit bored with same-old groceries and cooking, and wanted to try something different. Marinated in a deep red Indian spice mix, the chicken thighs I prepared took on the intense colour for which India is known. But as I later ate the chicken, I realized that inside, it looked just like any other chicken. The outside was doused in the spices, but the inside not visibly affected.

I wondered, is this me? An intensely Christian exterior with an inconsistent interior?

Changes in culture are easier to observe than changes in worldview, and we like statistics. Therefore, we look for those culture changes in ourselves and others. New beliefs, new practices. A raised hand, a filled-out commitment card. We have churches of deep red tandoori chickens. We buy Christian books, go to Christian concerts and post Bible verses in our Facebook statuses. Our outsides look like the real deal. But I wonder, when you poke us, what juices you will find? When we're cut, what does our flesh show? Are we soaked to the bone in Him? What do trials and persecution bring out of us? Are we as transformed as we think we are?

God's goal is that we would be "fully pleasing Him" (Col. 1:10). Fully pleasing to Him. He doesn't just want to see a Christian culture, He wants to see a Christian worldview. He wants to transform my assumptions, my values and my allegiance. Where necessary, a changed culture will flow from a changed heart. But let us never assume that a changed culture proves a thorough uprooting of false assumptions.

April 18, 2010

seasons of life

palm
I'm making excuses to be on the porch swing. The sunshine is beautiful and warm today, beating on my bare shoulders, filtering through my sunglasses. After months of cold and snow, summer is a welcome change, a beautiful relief. I'm loving it.

Growing up in northern Brazil, summer was year-round. I loved warm weather, but, with the exception of a few winters spent in Canada, I didn't have a lot to compare it to. My appreciation of warmth wasn't nearly as deep as it is now. I welcomed it, but now I stand up and applaud. I sigh; I sing; I update my Facebook status. Short winter nights have turned into long, summer days with sunshine to spare. Brown grass is giving way to green. This new season brings a much-welcomed change.

Life is full of seasons, too. I've begun to realize that my appreciation of the most pleasant seasons is deepened only by knowing something different. Peaks seem higher after valleys. Duller days are a foil for the gorgeous ones. In my life I have been blessed beyond measure, but I don't think I realize it fully until I have something else to compare to. "You never know what you've got until it's gone."

For example, I enjoyed the years of my life spent in "full time ministry", where my daily work was visibly spreading God's Word. Now I work a job that seems less spiritual. This occupation is enjoyable too, but in a different way. How is producing a road builder's rate guide furthering God's work? I know it is, in a way, if I am sanctifying the Lord in my heart. Bible curriculum development and teaching is squished into evenings and weekends during this season. This I know: if the Lord allows me to give my time more fully to Him again, I hope I will do that with a much deeper appreciation. Being in ministry is a privilege: one that I may have taken for granted too often.

As a kid, time was fairly easy to come by. Summers between years of school were whiled away in hammocks with books or helping with kids' clubs. I enjoyed my free time, but now that my time off is much more limited, I realize what a valuable trust time is. I knew before that it was important to make good use of time, but now I understand at a new level.

These are just a few examples, but the list goes on. A dental bill reminds me of the good ol' days when mom and dad paid my way. A cold shower is better if I sweat first. Maybe it's just me, but the carrots I planted, watered and weeded last summer--even with their sunburned tops--seemed extraordinary. Going back to store-bought carrots in the winter was a sad adjustment. Time is teaching me the value of the hard days, heightening the joy of the sweet seasons.

I'm sure you have some contrasts of your own. We don't fully appreciate good health until we're sick. Precious friends are more valued when they leave: we ache for those times we took for granted. God indeed works "all things" together for good. I'm thankful for the seasons of life, my tutors in contentment, thankfulness and appreciation for God's sovreignty.

April 09, 2010

relief or victory?

Lately I've been thinking about my goal in difficult times: do I want relief or victory

Most often, I'm just looking for relief. When I have an anxiety, I just want out. Sometimes its a relational difficulty. Relief comes when that person I can't get along with goes away. But my relief is temporary, because the root issue (my sin) has not been dealt with. So, the next time I am with a difficult person, my sin rears its head again (James 4:1). And the cycle continues, because the problem wasn't really solved. It was just put off until another time. An alcoholic isn't cured when he can't find liquor. Below the surface, the problem is still there. Relief is a temporary fix, a patch, a Band-Aid. It's easy. It feels good right now, and usually that's my main concern. Just. get. me. out.

But how different God's goal for me is! He wants to see victory. I came across these words of Jesus, as he thought about his upcoming death. "Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name"... (John 12:27-28). Read that again. Jesus didn't ask for a way out of what He knew He needed to do. He knew that there was a purpose to what He would suffer. He just wanted to see the Father glorified in what would take place. Christ's goal was not relief for Himself, but victory--God's glory.

It strikes me that Christ made "peace through his blood" (Col. 1:20). Blood? What does that have to do with peace, Lord? The peace Christ made for us was bloody, intentional, hard work. It was what Isaiah 53:11 calls "the labour of His soul." We are blessed because He persevered, rather than calling down the relief brigade of angels! Victory--via His blood, sweat and tears. His victory is ours to claim, but not always without some "blood" of our own.

I wonder how different my life would be if my goal in troubled times were God's glory, not my immediate comfort? How would my prayers change if I stopped focusing on physical relief and started imploring God that He be glorified, no matter what that means? Our prayers are littered with here-and-now, flesh-and-bones requests. Paul's prayers were rich with requests for spiritual victory and God's glory in all circumstances. Relief sounds good--really good. But when I look through God's eyes, victory sounds even better. "What shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'?...Father, glorify Your name."






April 01, 2010

God, the heathen and the believer's responsibility

As a Christian studies the way of salvation laid out in the Bible and then observes the world, seeing that some people have Biblical resources so readily available to them and others do not, it begs the question: does God require the same thing of all peoples? Are people outside of “Christian” cultures saved differently? The question of the eternal condition of pagan peoples worldwide is “too frequently, because of its possible tragic implications...by-passed in favour of subjects of far less importance.”* Yet the answer is of monumental significance. An unsatisfactory answer to this question can leave nagging doubts about God's character or dim the Christian's zeal for sharing God's story. What does the Scripture tell us about God, the heathen, and consequently, how should the believer respond?

Recently I took a basic class through a theological school and chose to write one of my papers on this topic. If you're interested to read the paper, I've posted it in pdf form here [link]. You can read it online or download the pdf. I've placed the thesis and outline below as well. (Comments, corrections and suggestions welcome!) Writing papers on Biblical topics is much more than academic--God stirred my heart as I studied His Word. He reminded me of the fervor, focus and boldness that should be mine because of these truths. God has done and is doing His part. But will I?

/  /  /

Thesis: God will justly condemn all those who have not trusted in His salvation. This includes people without special revelation.

I. What do the heathen know and how they know it?
    A. God has communicated through general revelation to all peoples
    B. Scriptures detailing God's communication through general revelation
        1. Communication through nature
        2. Communication through conscience

II. What is the response of the heathen to what they know?

III. What is God's response to the heathen?
    A. In justice, God gives man the fruit of his choices
    B. In mercy, God continues to show Himself to the heathen
        1. The Scripture teaches God's mercy
        2. Mysteries of God's mercy

IV. What should be the believer's response to the heathen?
    A. A fervor for missions
        1. The Scripture fuels fervor
        2. Universalism dampens fervor
    B. A focus for missions
    C. A boldness in missions
_____________________________
*J. Oswald Sanders. What of the Unevangelized?
(London, Great Britain: Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1967), 33.

March 13, 2010

hope in the mess


When I am mid-project, my house tends to be messy. Don't get me wrong: I love a neat and clean house and messes weigh on me until they're cleaned up. But when I'm in the middle of baking, writing a research paper or sorting Sunday school materials, my house is not "presentable". Splashes of cake batter freckle the fridge, books are strewn around, and that paper I was supposed to send to you, well, I'm not sure where it is...give me a moment, please.

If you have only ever been to my house on invitation, you may not know this about me, because the hours before company comes are often filled with clean up. Garbage cans are emptied and the tap sparkles. Every area where the guests may step is subject to my inspection, to make sure everything looks decent. (Sometimes my shut bedroom door blocks out the explanation as to why the rest of the house looks so neat.) In a way, my very neat house is fake. I'm not really trying to be deceptive, but just putting my best foot forward: I want to be clean. This is really how I'd like my house to be all the time.

How much does this compare to our Christian lives? Every Christian's life is mid-project. Upon believing in Christ, we were each saved from something (the penalty for sin) and saved to something (freedom from the presence of sin in Heaven). But the Christian is not instantly transformed into a person that is "clean and neat" in his entire lifestyle. God is at work. Your life is mid-project. God is doing renovations or transforming a mess into something useful to Him.

But often we are afraid to let others seen any mess in our lives. We become very good at creating the illusion that we have polished, perfect Christian lives, when the reality is very different. We may not be trying to be fake--we just want to show the life that we're working toward. Positionally, we really are well. Our home in Heaven is guaranteed! But in our day-to-day life, all is not well...we just don't want to talk about it.

One Sunday afternoon, my friend said to me "The church is meant to be a place where we celebrate redemption, but we never admit to the messiness from which we are being redeemed." We realize, past tense, that we needed Jesus for our eternal salvation. But do we realize our need for Him in the mess of daily life? Church has become a place where it is easy to present your "clean living room" to everyone else. But we gather to celebrate redemption, past, present and future! The Lord's Supper reminds us not only of some past benefit we've gained, but that God now lives within us and is doing a powerful work! He is the hope, and the reason we can admit our problems--because we know He has a solution. Our perfect Sunday appearance betrays the reality that each person's life is a work in progress, and that being real is going to involve some mess.

When we take the time to get real, I meet other members of what I call "the raw hearts society." People who are broken by the mess their sin makes, but are looking to their Redeemer and realizing how needy they really are of Him. People who vocalize their struggle, even when its hard. When a friend lets me see a messy room in his or her life, I'm not usually shocked, because I have seen the mess in my own life. Actually, I am encouraged. I'm excited that they're feeling the crash of God's wreaking ball, and that they're responding. "I have this relationship that is dysfunctional, it's broken, but I know I need to work on it...." They're unwilling to stop God's work, even if it means difficult conversations, a raw heart and a messy "living room".

What makes me sad is Christians who never realize their need for a Saviour right now. Christians who don't even think they have much to be saved from anymore. They say "a true Christian wouldn't act in that way." (I wonder if they're on some sort of instant sanctification pill that I've never heard of, because I know my sins are dark.) Christians who have relationships which are clearly broken, strained or cold, but don't care to seek restoration. Christians who act like their whole house is perfect, all the time. I have been that pretender, and I have kicked myself over and over, because I believe that my falsity just perpetuates this trend. When appropriate, I want to be willing to be raw, open and honest about the work-in-progress that is me.

In Lane and Tripp's insightful book, How People Change, one of the authors shares about a difficult time that he and his wife went through as they watched one of their children make some poor choices.They found assurance in knowing that God would someday tie all the loose ends of their lives together--for His glory!
"We needed to see that our hope was not in the fact that we had everything under control--we obviously didn't. Our confidence could not be in the fact that we had everything tied up in a neat little bow--things were actually quite messy. Our confidence had to be that Christ was carrying us--and our child--through the process he had ordained and would complete. We began to see that this hard moment was a God-given step toward a wonderful destination. This prepared us to deal in a very different way with the issues that had previously produced fear." (p43)
As I've started to realize the depths of my sin--how much renovation God has to do in my life--it has been one of the most painful, but also most rewarding, changes in my life. God is mid-project in me, and some days it looks like He's just getting started. The more I get to know Him, I realize that He has more work to do in me than I had ever imagined. I want to be honest about the mess, but not comfortable with it. Please come in. In the mess, there's hope--Christ is redeeming me...today.

February 02, 2010

life-giving: lessons from the Bible's barren eight

In the Bible there are eight women who are listed as being barren: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah's wife, Hannah, Michal, the Shunamite woman and Elizabeth. Last year I compared and contrasted their stories in the Scripture. What follows is some of what I learned, in a distilled form. This is by no means a comprehensive study of barrenness in the Scriptures, but simply some lessons seen in their eight biographies.

Clearly, there is an intensity connected to life-giving in women. Whether the depths of a barren woman's grief or the elation of a new mother; the sinful rivalries between women vying for pregnancy or the faith-filled prayers of godly life-givers; this aspect of woman* is something consuming. It touches a nerve. Energy pumps through woman--for good or for bad? Will we deal death, as fallen women; or life, as redeemed?

January 07, 2010

learning from Amy Carmichael

india//amy charmichael
The name Amy Carmichael has been familiar to me for many years. Had you asked me about her six months ago, I might have been able to tell you that she rescued children in India. I knew that she had once wished to have light eyes, but once in India realized why God had given her dark eyes. In the past few months I "met" Amy through her biography, A Chance to Die by Elizabeth Elliot. I now understand why this tenacious, spiritual woman still speaks, though she is dead.The following themes from her life impressed me.
  • Prayer was the foundation of her life and ministry."And shall I pray Thee change Thy will, my Father, until it be according unto mine? But, no, Lord, no, that never shall be, rather I pray Thee blend my human will with Thine." (p223) Would I have a ministry that would last and bear fruit? I need to labour in prayer.
  • To Amy, harmony and love between coworkers was not optional. Other missionaries deemed this impossible. "To and never about" was the policy for talking about problems in relationships. If you weren't talking to the person you had the problem with, you shouldn't be talking about it.
  • Silence before men in regard to her financial needs. She brought these to the Lord Himself. He was Author of the work, and He was also Provider. Oh, but sometimes she must have wished to put a bug in a wealthy human's ear.
  • Consistent discipline and self sacrifice: these were not only Amy's message, but her lifestyle. She practiced what she preached. "It must be come and never go. We cannot ask another to do what we have never done or are not willing to do." "Leaders must climb the steep hills first."
  • Adherence to God's Word above trends, even "Christian" trends. "Books that whitewash [a particular religion] are turned out by the dozen now, and its terribly unfashionable to feel as we do (that [a particular religion] is "slime, filth, sin"). Along with this, Amy showed a willingness to become "of no reputation", like her Lord. "Was our reputation ashes to us?" (p246)
  • High standards for the people of God. "Amy felt that the world had far too many run-of-the-mill Christians, cool, respectable, satisfied with the usual, the mediocre. Why bother to lay down one's life to multiply the number of those?" (p251)
  • Value given to both common work (burping babies, clipping toenails) and spiritual work (preaching, teaching). These two can be hard to balance. She knew that souls with needs come with bodies with needs, and made provision for both. "Souls (in India at least) are more or less securely fastened into bodies." (p247)
Although I look back in admiration, I wonder if I really understand the cross that Amy carried. She was disgusted when she heard that her writings were "popular," because she knew that the path of the cross was not popular. Why should her books be?

Amongst the legendary stories of Carmichael's zeal and discipline, Elliot sprinkled stories of Carmichael's falliable side as well. At times she was short-sighted. She seemed to have a low view of men, marriage and even the nuclear family. Favouritism leaked out from time to time. Others thought her pig-headed. These weights pin the story of Amy to the ground. She was a sinner. But what a work God did in and through one tenacious servant. Will we have the discipline and zeal to see if He can and will do great things again?

January 06, 2010

i must tell Jesus

A few weekends ago when I walked into church, the congregation was singing I Must Tell Jesus. It is not a hymn that I grew up singing, but the words have resonated with me. The title summarizes a lesson that the Lord is teaching me.

These two things have been hard for me to grasp:
  1. Some things need to stay between me and Jesus. Telling others will not edify.
  2. Discussing my situation with another human is sometimes helpful, but I should do so only after I have brought it to Jesus.
Why it is so hard to bring things to Jesus first? I run to a family member. I phone or message a friend. I blog. What should I say to my boss? What do you think that boy means when he says this? I am frustrated with so-and-so, what should I do? And Jesus, who I claim is my closest friend, doesn't hear about it from me until I've exhausted the obvious human options. Too often He's my last resort.

Maybe I call on humans because we are at the same level. They are visible. I follow their thought processes. When I talk to a human, I can cloak things in spiritual words. Private details can be disclosed as prayer requests. Because the listener is my friend, and only has heard my side of the story, I can garner his or her pity.

I must tell Jesus. So why don't I? One reason is because I haven't been fellowshipping with Him throughout the day, so when a matter comes up, my heart isn't really where it should be for talking to the Lord. He knows that, so things are awkward. Also, Jesus' words are hard for my proud heart to bear. No cotton candy or undeserved pats on the head. His Word cuts right through my pride and leaves me with no excuses. His message is repeatedly that I must confess my pride and choose the humble path, the path He chose. Turn the other cheek. Forgive as I have forgiven you. Lay your life down. Bear each other's burdens. Only speak what is helpful. Stop looking to others and look to Me!

I want to learn to talk to Him first. What peaceful days those would be, if I could simply lay my concerns before the Almighty. As the hymn says, not only does he share my burdens, but only He is truly able to help me at the deepest level. While humans have helped me to take a step in a Biblical direction, God's Word does so more often. When I can agree with Him about my sin, He gives victory over it. "I must tell Jesus! I must tell Jesus! Jesus can help me, Jesus alone."