Sunday, October 8, 2017

Show, don't Tell

In fiction writing an author's greatest sin is telling, rather than showing. Explaining plot points in large paragraphs is vastly inferior to crafting the words which create the magic, moving the reader to sigh, gasp, laugh or cry. In the process the reader grasps the plot points without being specifically told. If you're a fan of good fiction, you've experienced the sensation of suddenly knowing something without having it spelled out. A good author can tell you the story he wants told through the actionthrough the unfolding lives of the characters in the book. It's what stirs our emotions, makes us care about the characters and keeps us glued to the story.

Thinking on that, I've found myself wondering if perhaps one reason the world is often cold to the Christian message is that we insist on telling rather than showing. This is most inconvenient, because I have lots of information. I've spent my entire adult life gathering all sorts of Christian factoids...from books and sermons and conferences. I like giving out my drips and drabs of wisdom and then hurrying on my way. But the world is already drowning in pithy sayings, swamped with social technology, and overrun with hamster wheels begging to be run on. To the world my information about Jesus, though accurate, sounds like one philosophy among thousands. 

The emptiness of the world cannot be filled with information about Jesus, only with Jesus Himself. Every angry individual demanding his rights is actually asking for acceptance as he is, healing for brokenness, a purpose for living, and love without condition. This is what God offers, but somehow that's lost in translation as it passes through the filters of our denominations, our personalities, our experiences and education. Too often we end up telling rather than showing.

To impact the world we don't need more information, more classes, or more techniques. We don't need better ad campaigns or more earnest evangelistic outreaches. What we've yet to consistently show the world is the person of Jesus Christ. For that we need to fill ourselves with the Prince of Peace. He leads us beside still waters for a reason. In that quiet place—alone with Him—we can risk becoming empty so that He might fill us. At the burning bush we gain oil for our watch fires. At His table we eat the bread that fully satisfies. At the stream of living water, we drink to the full and find we have water enough for others too. At the feet of Jesus we renew our spirits, heal our souls and share in His heart. And His heart beats with desire for the world He made, for the souls of those who are lost, for the children He wants gathered before the end. Amazingly, He invites us to co-labor with Him, carrying Life itself to a dying world. It truly is the greatest story ever told.

It costs me very little to give people information about Jesus. To actually give them Jesus is much more costly, because I must also give time, my compassion, and possibly my money. I am ashamed as I realize that I'd just as soon not pay that price. I'm grateful that Jesus was willing. 
 He listened and then did what his Father told him. Jesus showed us God by what He said, but also by what He did, how He lived and related to those around him. He came and lived among us, then drank our cup of ugliness to the bottom. 

I confess that before I run my mouth, telling people what they ought to do, I need to remember that my good ideas cannot fix people. It’s time consuming to wait until God tells me what to do and say, where to go and what to give. It’s humbling to admit I really don't have anything for others until He gives it to me first. My only hope of showing people my God is to go to Him, sit at His feet in adoration and wait while He fills me with Himself. I am asking for the willingness to be willing to do as He asks, when He asks and how He asks. Then perhaps I can go out and show what up to now I've only been trying to tell.

 “Preach the gospel at all times…use words when necessary.”

Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Moment of Silence

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
From Him comes my salvation. Psalm 62:1

This week America reels from yet another disaster, this one perpetrated by a crazy man. I cannot even imagine the horror of attending a happy event and having it turn suddenly into terror, pain and even death. My heart goes out to all those affected and I'm praying for God's grace and provision in this truly awful situation. 

As authorities sift through available evidence, trying to make sense of the senseless, we're hearing speculation from the media, conspiracy theories, political posturing and even some finger wagging. No wonder so many are angry or afraid. Beloved, may I gently suggest we take care that all our news doesn't come from the news? We need comfort that cannot come from an FBI press conference. The peace that passes understanding doesn't come from understanding, but only when we seek solace from Jesus. When our faith in humanity is shaken, drawing near to the unshakable Rock is a good plan. 

We need a moment of silence, an interlude from the reports coming from the media. Silence creates an empty space in our hearts...a still place into which we invite God. Silence tunes in God's voice so He may speak to us. Silence allows us to listen and think and pray. In the midst of our grief for those who've lost someone and fear that American society is no longer safe, we need to connect with our Father and let Him remind us that He still calms storms. He is good even when our circumstances aren't.

In God we have a dependable counselor and comforter, one who is always available and never tires. Jesus longs to pour His restorative presence over our shell-shocked souls. Abundant comfort is available...enough for us and to share with others. He has what we most need. Can we quiet ourselves to let Him minister to us? We will receive His compassion for the hurting, hear His counsel on what to do, as well as strength to help.

If we want to offer true hope to the world, we have to offer something different than the platitudes on the nightly news. Aren't we glad that our help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth? He will empower us to mourn with those who mourn, serve where we can and pray for those still healing. Let's take a moment, a moment of silence and listen for God, who is always speaking.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about 
those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest
of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus 
those who have fallen asleep in him. 
I Thessalonians 4:13-14

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Wages of Sandburs

When we moved to our (very small) acreage, we discovered a new plant. A variety of Cenchrus known as sandburs, otherwise known as Bighurtus Defootus and other, less repeatable names. Our first Fall we found them clinging to our pant-legs, lodged in the bottoms of our shoes, stabbed into our bare feet, dug into the carpet, and caught between our dog's toes. From mid-August until the yard was deeply covered with leaves sometime in late November, I was vacuuming the foyer rug every other day; I picked the remaining burrs out of the carpet with tweezers while remembering more four letter words than I thought I knew. We'd never encountered them before and hadn't seen any obvious sticker bushes. After consulting Oklahoma natives and 'the Googles,' we learned that sandburs are a member of the grass family; they grow in grass-like clumps, making them hard to identify until they begin to produce the distinctive stalks full of burrs.

Isn't besetting sin like that? A weakness that reoccurs so often it seems just part of who you are? It mingles in with regular life, growing undetected until you accidentally put your foot in it, so to speak. Then you're surprised to have received a wound from something that you didn't realize had become a problem. 

The most dangerous, long-term, hard-to-eradicate sin in my life has been bitterness. Most of my other issues seem to spring from that root. It skews my perspective, darkens my outlook and saps my faith. Criticism of myself and others rises, drowning hope. Over and over I confess. I repent. I turn to Jesus. Yet sooner or later bitterness rears its head again...a soulish sandbur with seed stalks radiating from a center planted deep in my heart. Over the years I've repeatedly dealt with the symptoms, yet the root keeps sending up shoots.

This summer, remembering last Fall, I determined to make a dent in my sandbur population. I've been pulling them up as I find them all summer, but to do nothing but that means that I will be pulling them every summer forever. The best way to rid the lawn of the pests is to attack from multiple fronts. Dig up any discovered plants, pull a blanket or towel over the grass to catch the burrs which have fallen to the ground, then apply a pre-emergent herbicide each spring. This is time-consuming, sweaty work, and I've been warned that this process can take five to eight seasons to have good effect. 

When I discover that bitterness has (again) reared its head, I'm realizing that repenting is good but not enough. This weed must also be battled on several fronts. As I turn to face the Lord confessing my weakness and sin, I need to have an eradication plan in place as well. I've learned that the best antidote for weeds is a healthy lawn. When depression and bitterness rear their heads, I know my spiritual lawn has fallen into neglect. Bitterness would have a harder time of it, if I consistently cared for my spiritual life. Worship and the Word are not just 'things I ought to do,' they are necessary to keep Jesus front and center in my heart. Jesus enables me to look at my life through the lens of gratitude and contentment. Then I can better resist worrying about my rights, whining about my unmet expectations and rehearsing the real or imagined slights of others. Immersing myself in the Word reorders my thinking and restores hope. Drinking deeply of His presence lessens my thirst for the things of this world, which only seem to satisfy. A heart full of Jesus leaves little room for bitterness.

So as I do the hard, physical work of pulling as many of the %#*&@ burrs as possible, I'm praying about my spiritual weed problem too. I'm asking the Lord to identify the spots where I've let bitterness grow unchecked, so it can be rooted out. And I'm working towards more consistently spending time with the Lord. I'm once again practicing silence and find it easier to quiet my mouth than my thoughts. It's hard to stop my restless mind from roaming and just be with Him, enjoying His presence and letting Him speak. To lay aside my wish list and simply adore and exalt Him. To make Him the prize of my life, rather than a bunch of other stuff I think I'm supposed to have. I'm asking for a heart that lets the Lord do what He must to make me more His own. If I can submit to His ministrations, the Master Gardener will nurture a free and full heart, not one overwhelmed with the weed of bitterness. He always gets a good result.

"The day that any of you—man or woman, family or tribe of Israel—begins to turn away from the Lord our God and desires to worship these gods of other nations, that day a root will be planted that will grow bitter and poisonous fruit." Deuteronomy 29:18 TLB

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Emperor's New Clothes

"[Jesus] is, to them, 'a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence'.
Yes, they stumble at the Word of God for in their hearts
they are unwilling to obey it—
which makes stumbling a foregone conclusion. 
1Peter 2:8 Phillips

Remember the fairy tale of the dishonest tailors who ingratiated their way into a nation's power structure by selling the Emperor woven goods which did not exist? Those smooth criminals claimed that they would craft the Emperor clothing of the richest, most fabulous fabrics and trims—clothes of the finest quality. They then insisted that only the smartest, most discerning and discriminating people would be able to see the cloth, which was actually made of nothing but air. Everyone wanting to be thought the right kind of person, from the Emperor to the Royal-Waste-Basket-Emptier, eagerly regurgitated the tailors' narrative. They admired. They gushed. They nearly swooned in their praise of the invisible clothing. They swallowed their common sense, denied what they saw, and parroted the most ridiculous lines being fed them. It goes on and on until the day a little boy who had not been coached what to say, blurts out what anyone at any time could have known had he trusted his eyes. The Emperor had no clothes on...none at all. He was naked. The imaginary cloth was just that, imaginary, insubstantial, ethereal, unable to contain his physical bulk. Not.There.

This is a story poking fun at the foolishness of adopting the popular crowd's party line, but the message is a serious one...peer pressure is a powerful force. Even for adults it's hard to be the lone contrarian in a crowd. Far easier to parrot popular sentiment in order to gain membership among the enlightened. 1984 is just a novel, but its story line hews uncomfortably close to present reality. We have our own unofficial, self-deputized Thought Police who carefully examine our words to identify anything offensive. The public stands outrage-ready at any perceived slight to any race, gender, assumed gender, or demographic. We are, one and all, commanded to be tolerant, but it's a false tolerance, for no ideas other than the 'right' ideas may be expressed. Straying from the accepted script leads to immediate intolerance. More and more Christians are being asked to strain out the parts of God the world doesn't like, or risk censure in the public square.

But Christians do not get to amend the gospel message or change their beliefs to make them more palatable or politically correct. In order for Christian orthodoxy to be orthodox it must be, well, orthodox. It must conform to established biblical and historical expressions of Christianity, not the latest poll by Cosmopolitan. If I am orthodox, I can neither believe only the things I like about my faith, nor disregard the things others find outrageous.

That does not give believers liberty to be unkind, but more and more we are seeing that the Christian worldview, no matter how lovingly or kindly delivered, is not acceptable because God Himself has become unacceptable. God commands that we exhibit the love of Jesus as we live in the mission field He has assigned us. But here's the rub, Christians are permitted less and less space to be in the world, without being of the world. Our culture's relentless message is that unless we agree with the tenets of the world—every, single one—we should be allowed no place among decent people. Whether or not we discern the Emperor's nakedness, we are now required to gush about his lavish new wardrobe. I am tempted, in order to be thought a decent person, to express my thoughts in words that artfully avoid pointing out the lack of fabric. The only other safe option offered is to keep silent. In the current social climate there is real danger of losing my Christian witness in order to be identified as a 'real' Christian by the world.

It stings to be mischaracterized and disliked, but instead of doubling down to make sure I am understood, perhaps I ought to consider just how much the world's approval should matter to me. This is a good time to remember that asking the world to define what is proper is like asking a blind man to describe the view. The folks on the talk shows can opine all day long about what they think Jesus would do, but that should not sway me.  The tenets of my faith define who and what I am, so I must carefully and thoughtfully align my thinking, my words and my actions with what God says is true, what God says is love, what God says is right.  As Elijah urged the Israelites on Mount Carmel, "How much longer will you try to have things both ways? If the LORD is God, worship Him! But if Baal is God, worship him!" (I Kings 18:21 CEV) Just like them, I must decide on which side of the fence I belong and humbly stay there.

In these days of often extreme peer pressure, I want to remember that God is not out of touch or old-fashioned. He has no need to attend diversity training in order to eliminate His biases. He has not set up a cosmic suggestion box in case humanity has better ideas than His. No heavenly office meeting has been called at which we all voice our opinions, take a vote and gain consensus. God does not need vetting, nor does the Bible need redacting. The wisest, kindest, most powerful Being in the universe is in charge. He is the Decider, not me.

I am reminding myself to seek and cling to Jesus so I am less tempted to desire acceptance from the crowd. I am rehearsing His attributes to keep them fresh in my mind. He never changes, no matter what politically correct values are trending. His wisdom, beauty, kindness, and majesty are eternal. If I stand on that Rock I am safe even amid the ever-shifting sands of public opinion.

We aren't told what the little boy in the story thought. I wonder if he was uncomfortable standing in a room of adults all applauding and shouting for their naked king. I wonder if he struggled to open his mouth to say what should have been obvious to those more learned than he. They were adults. They were in charge. He was just a kid, but he spoke the truth. Can we determine to remain as children and humbly, kindly speak the truth when needed? My struggle has always been to speak the truth with love, a rank impossibility without God's great help. Can we be kind, while being thought unkind, out of step, even a peculiar people in order to be a voice of reason in a world gone mad? Can we love the world and take the consequences as Jesus did? I hope so. I want to.

"But you are God's "chosen generation", his "royal priesthood", 
his "holy nation", his "peculiar people"—all the old titles of God's people 
now belong to you [too]. It is for you now to demonstrate the goodness of him
who has called you out of darkness and into his amazing light." Your conduct among the surrounding peoples in your different countries should always 
be good and right, so that although they may in the usual way slander you as evil-doers yet when disasters come, they may glorify God 
when they see how well you conduct yourselves."
I Peter 2:9-10, 12 Phillips

Friday, July 7, 2017

Eat this!

In Egypt we could eat all the fish we wanted, and there were cucumbers, melons, onions, and garlic. But we’re starving out here, 
and the only food we have is this manna.
Numbers 11:4-6 CEV

Way, way back in the day, while trailing through the desert on their long, long journey to the Promised Land, the Israelites gathered manna for food. They were commanded only to gather what they needed for that day. People being people, some tried to hoard it to save themselves a day of scrounging in the dirt. Later when they went for a snack, they found a moldy, inedible mess. They were told to collect double on Friday to see them through the Sabbath day of rest. And of course some went looking for manna when God said there wouldn't be any and came away empty. And because the chosen people are people just like us, there was the inevitable, recurrent bellyaching about the bland fare God had given them to eat.

Through it all, God patiently dealt with them, disciplined them, and trained them to trust Him for provision each and every day. It was for their good and ours too, for He was setting an example for us to follow. God also wants to feed us each day—not just physically, but spiritually as well. The amazing story of how God touched me 'that time at the revival meeting' works great as a memorial, but I can't maintain an active spiritual life with that. To truly live, I must eat, and only what is fresh will nourish me. We need our Father to touch us with His presence, His love, and His guidance 
every day. That is the example of Jesus, who frequently went to pray alone. He sometimes spent all night in prayer. He wasn't demonstrating His piety—Jesus knew He needed immersion in His Father's love to fulfill what He was called to do. Refreshed and refilled with the Spirit each day, Jesus knew who He was, where to go, what to do, and received the power to do it.

As heirs of God we too have the resources of heaven at our disposal, accessed by the Spirit of God. We too can eat what God provides fresh each day, gaining the spiritual nutrients necessary to strengthen and sustain us. Each day we can experience His presence, an evidence of our adoption, a tangible confirmation that we truly belong to Him. Each day we can eat the same spiritual food Jesus did while on Earth. That is good, encouraging news. 

God's wonderful Holy Spirit comforts us with peace in troubling times; gives us power to resist the enemy; illuminates Scripture; warns us when we stray; and guides us when we do not know the way. His presence is a quiet voice, a loving touch, a firm nudge, and a kick in the pants, when needed. God's presence puts the real in reality, anchoring us to our faith in ways that simple book learning cannot. Food for our souls indeed!

Scripture is necessary to feed and renew my mind but isn't enough. Simply accumulating knowledge can lead to arrogance (I Corin. 8:1). Bible knowledge must always lead to God Himself, for He didn't send His Son in order to have a cadre of Bible scholars; He came to create a family of sons and daughters. I must have confirmation that I am God's child, His beloved, His own, and that comes from the Spirit's touch. Then God breathes on His words so that I am not just ingesting information, but a burning reality which indelibly marks my soul.

The world loudly advertises a tempting buffet for the hungry, but it's mostly empty calories. Spiritual life cannot come from such food. When I am feeling famished and weak, I want to quickly remember that my Father provides fresh, nourishing manna each and every day on my desert sojourn. Just like the ancient Israelites, I must trust God when He say, Eat this. That food, freely given from above will sustain me, if I will simply take the time to eat it.  

"You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you
in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, 
to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments 
or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna 
which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you 
understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives 
by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.
Deuteronomy 8:2-3 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Unfriending Facebook

I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. It's a great way to keep in touch with family and friends, especially those I don't have much opportunity to see. I can keep tabs on events and people, see their kids, enjoy their vacations and accomplishments. I can share recipes and find some to try. News stories I might not otherwise see often show up on my page and I also love the many funny and quirky memes, pictures and videos. But Facebook is also full of misinformation and anger. People feel free to rant and rave and bully in ways they never would if they were face to face with another—at least I hope they never would. And I've found it strangely addicting. 

Two months ago I set myself to quantify my Facebook time—kind of like writing down every penny spent when beginning to create a budget. I was shocked to find out just how much time I'd been spending. I reluctantly confess that I found I was checking my wall six to ten times per day, spending an average of twenty minutes each time I checked. So I was spending as much as two to three hours—HOURS—each day on Facebook. Holy Cow! It had become a compulsion to check my newsfeed, then re-check and then check again. I had to see if others liked my 'likes' and 'shares.' I had to read comments, then comment, then read the comments on my comments and then explain my comments. It's a wonder I got anything else done in a day!

I told myself I was staying abreast of current events and 'connecting with my friends.' Facebook seems to to offer that. It provides a platform for expressing ideas and opinions; it allows us glimpses of other lives; it permits dialog (sort of). So at first blush Facebook seems to answer our deep need for connection, for friendship, and meaning, but looks can be deceiving. Facebook offers community, but it's a superficial, artificial community. I can come away from a Facebook session feeling I am more connected than I actually am. It places me square in the center of my own story, giving me much more importance than is good for me. It also tempts me to present a sanitized version of myself and my life. This is dangerous for a person called to live a life of transparent vulnerability—to confess my sins and walk in the light. And I confess it's lovely to be able to edit my comments before pressing 'post,' an option I rarely choose in real life, in real interactions, with real people. 

I guess I could toss out all my technology and go live in a cave. Sometime I feel I should, but Facebook is not the devil. Technology is a useful servant but a terrible master. I had permitted Facebook to command my time and order my day, but taking down my account would not fix my problem because it's a human condition problem. I have a regular propensity to grab whatever is available to prop up my ego—grab it, use it and abuse it. Fortunately God is faithful to eventually knock my props away to get my attention and draw me back to Him. My humanity wants to be approved and 'liked,' and Facebook is only one of many crutches I might use.

Since God hard-wired humans for relationship, we are always hungry for meaningful connection. Ultimately this is found in friendship with God...that deep, intimate, loving communion in which we are completely known and accepted as we are. Part of being made in God's image is that potential for deep relationships with other people... loving others and permitting them to love us in return. That requires vulnerability; it requires time spent face to face; it requires account-ability. Our deep friendships are one of the ways God heals our brokenness and polishes out our rough edges. We need the laughter and encouragement found in friendship. We also need the loving smack on the behind a good friend will give us when necessary.  

The good news going forward is that God has always known that social media was something I would use and misuse. It's no surprise, nor it is an insurmount-able obstacle to my faith.  I just want to use it more thoughtfully, aware of its limitations. I want to keep God first and foremost in my affections. I want to protect the humanness of my friendships by resisting the temptation to keep a screen between me and other people. It's hard to affect the world when I'm not in it. It is impossible to affect other people without having real relationship with them. That means getting into the down and dirty of their lives, feeling their pain, bearing with their weaknesses and doing life with them. Facebook is just a social could never carry a load so heavy.  Selah.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Lessons from a Possum

In which I panic upon discovering a mother possum has made a den beneath my screen porch. After which I decide it is a good idea to catch and release her and her large family during a severe weather outbreak with widespread flooding. Concluding with a happy ending, as all—human and animal alike—live to tell the tale. Details are available for the curious. 

Don't get me wrong, I like our wildlife—it's one of the reasons we moved where we did. I enjoy watching it do its thing, but I want it to do its thing and then go home...somewhere far, far away from me and mine. Yes, I admit I am a city girl playing at country living. Possums may be beneficial creatures, but I want to enjoy the benefit from behind my windows, not up close and personal. 

In the aftermath of my Turn-around-Don't-Drown-Possum Adventure(!) I have had several thoughts about that mama possum. Over the past five years I've caught a variety of critters in my live trap.* Rabbits freeze in terror. Squirrels frenetically jump around the cage, ceaselessly looking for escape. Pack rats restlessly pace and chew the wire, and neighborhood cats look annoyed. The possum was different. Not exactly broke out with brains, she was ridiculously easy to catch. When I checked the trap right before I went to bed, she calmly considered me through the wire. Her babies—cute as they could be—crawled over her, unconcerned by their confinement. 

I don't want to anthropomorphize a wild animal, and I understand that 'my' possum may not be illustrative of all possums. Still, my encounter with her made an impression. And if God can speak through a donkey, why not a possum? Lesson number one: the mama possum's calm demeanor during what was in wildlife terms, a catastrophe, spoke to me. Anyone who has known me for even a little while knows that I am a nervous creature. I've been dismayed to find that I grow more anxious as I grow older. She was in tight surroundings with no way of escape, no place to hide, no ability to hunt and provide for her babies. She had no idea of my intentions, yet she was placid as she awaited her fate. Of course her knowledge and experience of the world is bounded by the fact that she is a creature of instinct. She lacks the capacity to worry or think things through. I am supposed to be smarter, yet a day doesn't pass without my indulging in pointless speculation and worry about the future. 

Luke 12:24 says, "Consider the ravens [and possums too]: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds![and possums too!]" God watches over them; He opens His hand and feeds them. I am are much more valuable, yet I am always thinking anxiously about what's happening and what it means and what's coming down the highway. I carry on my back a burden far too big and heavy for me, which God never intended. To take what comes as it comes is a blessing the possum is born with. I am still learning to rest in the knowledge that God has a plan. I am still learning to believe that I am valued and loved, when all around me nature declares that its Maker is good and cares for His own.

Lesson number two: while possums look like rodents of unusual size, they aren't. Possums are marsupials. Females have a pouch and keep their babies close, but only until they are old enough to handle life on their own. As they outgrow her pouch, they cling to her back for a few more weeks. At that time, they simply fall off the mother's back and go their own way. Possum mamas don't run around trying to fix things. They do their part and then it's up to the kids to figure it out for themselves. As a card-carrying helicopter Mom, that certainly speaks to me! As my youngest approaches adulthood and (hopefully) independent living, I am striving to let him find his own way, without having a nervous fit over every choice he makes on his path. 

When I released mama possum, she didn't hiss or growl or in any way complain about her imprisonment. She just waddled, pouch stuffed full to bursting, out of the cage and into the adjacent field. Granted, it was in the midst of a spectacular thunderstorm, but still. She did not stop and did not—even once—look back. I am musing on her example. I am learning to rest (with less hissing and growling) while God carries my future and my children in His capable arms. 

And I am learning how to get along with my animal neighbors

*I release the animals I catch, except the rats. Sorry if it offends the more sensitive-minded,
 but in my world, rats that interfere in my living space must die. That's all there is to it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Why I'm a Arminiacalvinist

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech
or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.
For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ,
and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear  and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words
of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith
would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. 
I Corinthinians 2:1-5

I've attended churches teaching Arminian theology. I've attended churches teaching Calvinist theology. I've also attended a few that I'm pretty sure might have been teaching Oprah's theology, but that's a story for another time. Sitting under the teachings and serving among the people of all those various churches has largely been an enriching and positive experience. Though I have to confess it is not easy to follow the path of truth when different churches say it lies in different directions. 

In a nutshell, Arminianism teaches that free-will is the deciding factor in salvation. God provides grace to permit people to see and choose Him, knowing ahead of time who will say 'yes.' Calvinism teaches that God has determined beforehand who will be saved and who will be damned and Man, being dead in his sins, has nothing whatever to do with it. There is much more besides, but that's the heart of the matter. Both sides are full of people who are sincere and thoughtful and serious students of the Word. And each side is convinced that the other is mistaken...and possibly a little careless with their scholarship. 

But have we done ourselves a disservice in forcing a choice? What if it's less an either-or and more a both-and question? The God I find in Scripture seems to have no problem operating in a world in which both predestination and free-will are essential ingredients. He doesn't struggle with opposing sides both being true at the same time. This is the God who says that one must lose his life to gain it. The One who says that leaders must be the servants of all. The One who designed the universe to follow the laws of physics... then fairly regularly breaks them to make His miracles. God doesn't have a problem with paradox, in fact He seems to revel in it. The tension of holding two seemingly opposing truths doesn't wear Him out. He has offered Scriptural evidence for the truth of both pre-destination and free-will—without mentioning there might be conflict between the two. We are the ones who have trouble with this, thinking we must find and choose the one, correct side.

The God of order and decorum is also the one who delighted when David danced before the Lord with all his might...showing his underpants and possibly more besides. The God who designed the vast universe and ordained all things before they even existed, also orchestrates the details of the tiniest insect's life cycle. He is a mighty sovereign, high and exalted, enthroned above all kings and powers, yet also humble and lowly, the servant of all. How can it be that He left us an important theological muddle to figure out? Is it possible He couldn't decide which side to pick? Did He forget to erase from Scripture all the evidence for the other side?

History is full of men and women who thought long and hard about what God means in His word, which is a good thing. There have been thousands of books written on theology, saying all sorts of—sometimes conflicting—things. But all these books, as serious, well-meaning and beneficial as they are, are not the Word of God. They are simply the thoughtful opinions of good and scholarly folks.

I may be slapping some sacred cows here, but weren't John Calvin and Jacob Arminius both men and therefore by definition creatures with limited minds? Why must we make God fit into either of their particular theological boxes, as if we fail the test if we don't answer this question? It isn't that they weren't serious scholars, or sincere believers or good men. They gave their all, trying to wrap their heads around what is essentially a mystery. I'm grateful for both and for all the great minds and tender hearts who've wrestled with the big questions of the faith. But God is simply bigger, higher and wiser than any human mind's ability to understand Him. Some things He has revealed, some things we may search out and some things remain mysteries, no matter how much and how long we cogitate on them. He has simply not definitively answered all our questions.

Isn't that what we long for—a God bigger than Man's biggest minds can fathom? A God who could easily have told us that one side or the other is correct, but chose instead to give us ample evidence for both? Selah. So with a wry smile (and a little rebellion) I'm refusing to choose, unofficially calling myself an “Arminiacalvinist.”
He is too big to fit neatly into our little systems. He is too wise and too busy to involve Himself in solving our theological controversies. He delights in bringing us to the end of our own wisdom as He brings many sons to glory and builds His kingdom... which is kind of the point. I like to think that God enjoys our attempts to understand and explain Him, but prefers our loving friendship and cheerful obedience. 

But the Lord is in His holy temple;
let all the earth hush and keep silence before Him.
Habakkuk 2:20

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

On becoming a person given to prayer

My Pastor recently called our church to become people given more to prayer in 2017. His exhortation was to persistently, consistently give ourselves to prayer for just one thing. He had made it easy even...just focus on one particular thing. It was a biblical, encouraging message, yet as I mused over it I couldn’t help but feel a sense of deva vu…and a bit of dread. How many times over the course of my Christian life have I heard this same message, set myself to pray hard—even prayed hard for a time—then gradually let my schedule make me too busy for prayer time? How often have I found myself believing in prayer, yet not really praying? How do I move a call to prayer from a nice-sounding New Year’s resolution to a vital, life-giving, daily part of my life?

Prayer changed for me when I noticed that my prayer life was most consistent (and the most satisfying) during seasons when I enjoyed a particular closeness to Jesus. Which makes sense, for we tend to talk to our friends. We tell how our day has been. We share our joys and sorrows. We listen. We ask for help with our challenges. At its most basic, prayer is conversation with God, so prayer is most natural, most likely when I remember that God is a real person. He thinks and feels, sees and hears. He's not a cold, ethereal being, far, far away who bends near with Sunday School countenance to listen politely to my list of requests. Among all the things Jesus is, He is my friend. But that natural conversation is harder to maintain when the friend is invisible.

What helps is recalling what Jesus has said about me and my relationship with Him. He calls me His child, His beloved, His own. I am forgiven, chosen, and delighted in. I am His bride; He watches over me with a jealousy based not on selfishness but the right of a husband to protect his wife, guarding her affections. His wisdom is always perfect, His direction inerrant. His love is constant and complete. My relationship with Him cannot fail because it is based on His faithfulness, not mine (hallelujah!). His gentleness is never in conflict with His fierce anger at sin, or His just determination to burn away everything I've let come between us. He is my faithful shepherd, my tender guardian, my diligent protector, my greatest good. He says I am the treasure He came to Earth to redeem. I was the joy set before Him as He endured the horrible cross. My determination to hold onto Him is but dust on the balance compared to His promise never to let me go. When my mind is related rightly to Jesus, engaging in prayer becomes as natural as breathing and as necessary as air.

But knowing this does not mean I always put it into practice. I can become preoccupied with my life, growing too busy to spend time with Jesus. Then as my desire for Him cools, I 'forget' to talk to Him. I find myself guiltily throwing prayers up as I go, knowing I'm supposed to pray. I feel ashamed and begin to avoid my friend, thinking that He must be irritated with me. But I resist saying, "sorry," out of a misperception. Jesus is not angry with me—He knows in advance my every failure, fall, and outright rebellion. He is not surprised. Like the father of the prodigal, He waits with open arms for me to come to my senses and return to Him. 

Far from being an item on my spiritual 'to-do' list, prayer is necessary to the health of my soul. Through prayer I express my love, share my needs, and hear my Master's voice. It is the pipeline through which flows the fuel of satisfaction, peace and joy. Prayer fills me with power, because prayer connects me to the Source of all power. My enjoyment of prayer is directly related to my enjoyment of Jesus. 

So my resolution for this year is to stop beating myself up over needing to pray. Instead I resolve to wait quietly for my Master, meditating on His beauty and perfection, basking in His love, and listening for His voice. I resolve to repent quickly when I find myself feeling distant from Jesus, confident that as I draw near to Him, He will draw near to me. His presence will spark a fire that illuminates and warms my heart, drawing me back to conversation with Him. He is not disappointed—or surprised—when I fail, but eagerly waits for me to come to Him for restoration. He longs for my company because He loves me. To be a person of prayer is to be a person actively seeking friendship with God. So I resolve to open myself, allowing Him to woo me into spending more time with Him, listening for His heart and telling him the secrets of mine. How lovely is that?

"You make me know the path of life;
in your presence is unbounded joy,
in your right hand eternal delight."
Psalm 16:11

Thursday, February 2, 2017

"These aren't the gods you're looking for..."

Remember the scene in the first Star Wars movie when Obi-wan Kanobi uses the Force on some storm troopers, telling them "these aren't the droids you're looking for"? We were surprised when the troopers agreed and sent the Jedi, the droids and an incredulous Luke Skywalker on their way. Obi-wan explains that the Force can exert a powerful influence on the mind. Since that moment in film history we've seen the Force used over and over to persuade unsuspecting folks to do what they did not intend to do.

It's a fun bit of movie magic, but don't we have that very thing happening today? Isn't America now harvesting the fruit of believing what she's been told by news anchors and Hollywood, politicians and universities? Haven't these cultural Jedis unwittingly channeled the spirit of this world, using their talents and their platforms to allure, tease, and otherwise convince us that their philosophies are the ones to follow? And when they fail to persuade, they threaten, bully and shame us, illustrating the peril of refusing to worship as they direct. The whole world is under the deception that humanity has the answer to what ails it, that all we need do is celebrate every man doing what is right in his own eyes and we will usher in a paradise of peace, equality and abundance. Those who dare disagree are seen as obstacles to that peace—even dangers to be overcome. 

I confess that I am fighting anger. My sense of fairness has been poked hard. It seems it was perfectly fine for my values to be ridiculed, warred against, or ignored, but when the shoe is on the other foot, rioting is justified. I don't know why I expected anything different. Our Jedis are now telling us that the world is tearing itself apart because Donald Trump won the White House. But the truth is the world is fractured and hurting because the gods it trusts to protect and provide have proved inadequate to the task. Because these really aren't the gods they're looking for. Our country is terribly divided, and no election could fix that. But the divide of rich vs poor, black vs white, gay vs straight and left vs right are only symptoms. The foundational divide is between those who know God and those who don't. This divide is of God's making; He is using current events to draw a line to help us see our desperate need for Him. 

It is one thing to know that the world is lost, quite another to turn on the TV or computer and see what happens when people put their faith only in themselves and fall under the delusion that God is an irrelevance, safely mocked (Romans 1:21-32,  II Thess. 2:11-12). Every day we see new evidence of satan's rage working itself out in people who, having rejected the rule of God, have fallen under the bondage of sin. The search for love and significance has taken a very wrong turn when it results in vile proclamations and vicious rioting. Far from being convinced that there is another side to consider, the world is doubling down on its insistence that we do things its way.

But if I can look away from the drama on the brightly lit stage, my spiritual eyes can refocus on what God is doing behind the curtain. If I can quiet my understandable anger and frustration, I can begin to hear His voice giving me direction and strategy. 
If I allow His Spirit to fill and indwell me, my thinking can align more closely to His. I can chose to let His word predict the future, rather than the reports filling the evening news and social media. I can invite His peace to overcome my outrage. My anxiety fades as I worship in His presence. I can rest, trusting His faithfulness, and allow His perspective to enlarge my own. Instead of Facebook, I can get my "likes" from Jesus, the only audience that matters. He is not absent, weak or afraid. He is not confused about what to do next. He has promised to be my refuge, my portion, my joy. He is absolutely trustworthy; I can lean completely on Him with full confidence, even amidst a people given over to politically correct group think and mob rule. And that is very good news.

I am seeing as never before my deep-rooted desire for my own way. But God has a better way, if I can choose it. And that is the question. Can I set aside my desire for justice, trusting God to handle such things? Can I separate myself from the philosophy that the world demands I embrace, while developing a love for the people trapped in its net? Jesus does not want any to be lost...can I love the world as He did? Can I remain silent when reviled? Can I resolve to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified? Can I lay down my cleverness and sarcasm and go forth armed with weakness and humility, loving the enemies of God even as they hate me? Well, not so much. So I am repenting and asking my Father to hold my stony heart between his loving, faithful hands while He does the necessary crushing and reshaping. 

The times are frightening, but we needn't fear, because our God is with us. I love Daniel 11:32 which says, "By smooth words [satan] will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action." Our enemy is the ultimate Jedi, using his power to deceive the whole world. Not only are we immune, we have Someone greater to offer confused and hurting people. If we can keep our eyes on Jesus, rather than the storm around us, we can do exploits because He is the God we are looking for.

“Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. 
Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], 
slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], 
slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]; for the [resentful, deep-seated]
anger of man does not produce the righteousness 
of God [that standard of behavior which He requires from us]. 
James 1:19-20 AMP

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Peace where there is no peace...

"Come," they say, "let us destroy them as a nation,
so that Israel's name is remembered no more."
With one mind they plot together;
they form an alliance against you. Psalm 83:4-5

Tomorrow, representatives of seventy nations will gather in Paris ostensibly to suss out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This conference falls about two weeks after the passage of UN resolution 2334 condemning Israel (again) and two days before another meeting at the UN, at which it is expected another resolution against Israel will be passed. There is evidence that there have been secret negotiations between the Palestinians and diplomats of Western nations. The scuttlebutt is that this is a coordinated plan to force Israel to accept a two state solution with conditions and borders which not only disfavor Israel, but will endanger its existence.

It is interesting that seventy have been invited, as Jewish tradition holds that seventy nations represent all the nations of the earth. Could this be the beginning of 'all the nations of the earth' setting themselves against Israel mentioned in Zechariah 12? Add the blood moon tetrad pointing to times of change for Israel and I find myself observing these impending events both with dread and anticipation. Are we at the tipping point, or will the more favorable policies promised by the incoming administration bring this situation back into a tense status quo? It feels like an ocean wave lifting toward a flood wall—a wall behind which sits all of history. Will the wave build and overwhelm us or will it subside, rolling back with a sigh and disappear? I am praying for God's mercy and forbearance but also for His will to be done, for there is a time certain at which God will press play and the final chapters of human history will begin. Is this that? We just don't know. 

And why should we care? Why should Gentile Christians care about a small people in a small country on the other side of the world? Isn't God done with the Jews? Didn't they have their chance and blow it? Didn't their rejection of Jesus disqualify them forever? May it never be! Scripture is full of statements in which God promises never to abandon the Jewish people. Second, a God who binds Himself to a people and then abandons them in frustration when they prove problematic is a problem for us. If God does not have to keep His promises to the Jewish people, what makes us think He will keep His promises to us? And we are fooling ourselves if we think Gentiles are somehow better or more deserving than Jews. Or that the New Testament somehow is a do-over of the Old. No, the welfare of the Jewish people should matter very much to those of us who call on the name of Jesus. God's faithfulness, veracity and ability—His very reputation—are at stake.

The question of Israel and the future of the Jewish people in God's plan is contentious. Whole streams of theology have been created in order to explain it or explain it away. But it remains the quintessential, defining issue, because it asks the ultimate question, Is God really in charge? Does He have the right to do whatever He wants? The question of this very small people group remains a stubborn pebble in the world's shoe precisely because it so accurately pinpoints our heart problem--we don't want God telling us what to do. The very idea that He would choose a people group simply because He chose them, seems unfair. We don't like it, secretly believing that if anyone was going to be chosen, it should have been us.* It chafes that He feels no particular need to explain it to us or justify His decision. So Israel is a litmus test, illustrating whether we are willing to trust what God is doing. Our opinion, our words and our actions toward Israel expose our hearts. Are we willing to submit to God even when His choices don't make sense to us, even if we feel we know better?

Israel is the apple of God's eye...not because they are better or smarter or more moral. He loves them because he loves them (just like us). He has chosen them and promises to keep them. He has loved them, disciplined them, judged them and, with regard to Jesus, temporarily blinded them. Yet even during this long, spiritual time-out, He is tirelessly working to bring His wayward people back to Himself. He is preparing them for that day when they recognize Jesus as their Messiah, and repent with tears as they embrace Him. God's actions for and against Israel have never been an invitation to destroy them, though many have tried. God's discipline is always redemptive and His ultimate plan is to save them, which is why satan has always been so intent on annihilation. He has asked His church to stand with them, though we haven't always proved faithful to that call. He is asking now that we identify with them, stand with them and help them. Not because they deserve it, not because we will gain anything by it, but because God asks us to. It has never been widely popular to be friends with Israel. Eventually, it will be dangerous. This issue, at bottom, is whether or not we will submit to and obey God. Will we choose what God chooses?

The world can swell with self-important posturing. It can hold all the conferences and pass all the resolutions it wants. Genuine, lasting peace will never come to the Middle East until the Prince of Peace Himself returns. At that time, Jew and Arab will be truly and forever reconciled. The world will know peace. God has placed this people at the center of world conflict because the question of the Jewish people is not about nations or political agendas. It is about so much more than the land and who it belongs to. It is about the all too human refusal to submit to God's rule. We love the teachings of Jesus until they run counter to our personal inclinations, our pet sins. It is the problem human beings run into whenever they encounter God's reign. Then we have a decision to make—will we massage His message until we are comfortable, or bring our thinking in line with His? 

Israel the secular nation may fall, but Israel the people are ours to love because God loves them. So the wave approaches and as we watch and pray and trust in God's goodness, the question remains, "Does God have the right to do as He chooses and to tell us what to do?" Will we love and protect and serve the Jewish people simply because God asks us to?


*And of course we are chosen. We are grafted into the olive tree of Israel. All the promises and blessings are ours, not because Israel forfeited them but because we are now included with them through accepting their Messiah, Jesus. And of course Jewish people must come through that same gate...there is no separate, different salvation for Jews than for Gentiles.

Show, don't Tell

In fiction writing an author's greatest sin is  telling , rather than showing . Explaining plot points in large paragraphs is vastly in...