Friday, September 29, 2006
“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it…” (Rom.14:5-6a)
Although it is made up of a great host of true absolutes, the Word of God also includes a surprising amount of either/or’s. The Book that gives us dogmatic assurance of our origin, purpose, and final destiny, gives us plenty of elbow room when it comes to choices in life that are purely preferential. Those of us who function best in a highly structured environment can easily find a body of believers who are similarly inclined; while others of us who prize our freedom to “work out our own salvation” (Philip.2:12), so to speak, are able to fellowship with other like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ, as well. I say this to prepare those you who have chosen not to celebrate Christmas at all for the fact that, by year’s end, our family will have celebrated it twice!
You see, our grandson, Benjamin, who is a young engineer in the Air Force will be in Iraq by the time 2007 is here; and besides seeing an Oakland A’s baseball game, his also wanted to have Christmas with his family while he was home for a week. Fortunately, our daughter-in-law, who loves Christmas, is always happy for any excuse to put up a Christmas tree! There was turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn-on-the cob and both vegetable and fruit salads. (By the way, Sharon somehow managed all this between duties as a hospice nurse.) The biggest gifts were for Ben, of course, but Sharon saw to it that all of us got something. While the rest of us played games, she wrapped presents and cooked, all the while keeping an eye on her grandson (and our great-grandson), Ethan. Mostly, though, her eyes were following the son who would soon be in harms way, as he laughed and joked and wolfed down his Christmas dinner.
Whatever our feelings about observing the birth of Christ, we are all agreed that had God not chosen to give His Son, there would be no reason for any of us to celebrate. Mothers and fathers like our son and his wife have some small insight into what it feels like to send a child into a foreign country to face a mortal enemy, just as God did. I told Ben, as I hugged his neck one last time before going home that I would be praying and waiting for Christmas next year, when we would all, God willing, once more sit around the table together. And one day, we who are the children of God will all sit around God’s table, and our eyes will look upon the One who stepped into harm’s way for us. We will rejoice that then there will be no more heartache, no more sickness, no more pain, no more dying…and no more war.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
“As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings:” (Deut.32:11)
According to this verse in Deuteronomy, the husband and father may rule the roost, but the wife and mother is the one who feathers the nest. He puts a roof over their heads, but she puts home in their hearts. I am speaking of the ideal situation, of course. We all know that in single parent homes, one parent is faced with the daunting task of trying to play two roles calling for completely different abilities. No father should be forced to flutter and spread comforting wings; and no mother should have to single-handedly face outside forces that would endanger her young. Only sin, in one form or another, leads to such confusion of duties.
Whether a mother is able to play her role as God ordained it, or if she is forced, as I said, to cover all the bases, at least part if not all of the time, she should never forget that her chief role in life is that of a “nester.” Her wings of love and protection may flutter and spread over her young when they are small, or they may only be a “shadow,” when they are older; but either way, they will always be a refuge (Psl.57:1). When our Lord wanted to show the depth of his love and agony of soul for a Jerusalem that had turned its back on Him, He cried, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” (Luke 13:34). A wayward son or daughter cannot be forced back into the fold, but that does not keep a mother from crying from the depths of her soul, “Oh, my child!”
In addition, I would remind us that it is the mother who must be one to actually “stir up the nest.” The father may (and should) be the one to prepare the child for the day when he or she will leave the nest. But it is the mother who will have to give the final shove. Perhaps not literally, but certainly, emotionally. She made it comfortable, now she must make it leave-able. No eaglet can soar to the heavens while always looking back to the nest. According to Luke 7:1-10, those with the greatest faith require the least attention; and those children who are most confident have less need for regular booster shots from their parents. (Note to my children: This has nothing to do with the practice of maternal updates, which is a very good thing!)
I, for one, relish my role as a mother eagle…or a mother hen. I have had many interests, and I like to think I am always trying to hone the gifts God has given me; but I have had only one “career.” It has brought all the fulfillment one could hope for. It is five-fold: the husband God gave me, and the four children we produced together. Everything else is just icing on the cake. So go ahead; mark me up as a “happy-nester!”
Friday, September 15, 2006
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, The daughters of Zelophehad speak right…” (Num.27:6-7a)
C.S. Lewis considered a woman’s powers of reasoning, generally speaking, to be better suited for “psychological and sociological problems,” while the “masculine mind” (in general) is more capable of a “disinterested concern for truth for truth’s own sake.” He recognized the need for both and felt that one of many bad results of the “equality” argument was the forced mixing of the two, which, more often then not, only serves to water down both. I must admit, it seems to me that women come to conclusions (even the same conclusions) in different ways than men do (again, generally speaking); but to refer to ours as being mere feminine intuition does not, in my opinion, acknowledge the possibilities of the mind God has given each of us with which to love Him (Matt.22:37).
In the story found in Numbers twenty-seven, the daughters of Zelphehad came to Moses for recourse against a perceived injustice. God had said, through Moses, that the land they would soon be coming into possession of, was to be divided among the families of Israel, passing from the fathers to the sons. In the case of these young women, however, their father, who had faithfully followed Moses, was dead; and he had left no sons, only five daughters. Had there been sons, these girls would not have sought to usurp their place. They merely pointed out that, unless some exception was made, their father’s inheritance, and his good name, would be forgotten. Moses immediately saw this for what it was: a thoughtful—reasoned—argument. And as verse seven tells us, God agreed. He did not say, “These are just women worked up over some petty grievance.” He said, “They’re right; give ‘em what they asked for!” God loves to be worshipped and adored, but He also likes to be reasoned with. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord” (Isa.1:18). And mark it well; He did not limit this invitation to men. Ask the Syrophenician woman in Mark seven, if you have any doubts about it. In both of these instances, we find the Creator agreeing with His creation. Only a truly omnipotent God would dare to bestow the gift of reasoning upon His creation.
Never relinquish your claim to a personal audience with the Father because you are questioning something that is happening to you. He already knows about your doubts, and for you not to acknowledge them in His presence is to question His reasonableness. You have the right to reason; and, even better, when the will of God is certain, you have the power to obey (Philip.2:13).
Sunday, September 10, 2006
“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.”
“Church is not my thing.” It might surprise you to know that this statement came from a Christian. Then again, it might not. I was somewhat taken back, however, because, contrary to this individual’s habits, church was our Lord’s “thing” (Luke 4:16), as well as Paul’s (Acts 17:2) and the disciples’ (Acts 20:17). I am well aware that church attendance is not a prerequisite for justification before God, nor is it a guarantee of an intimate relationship with Him as a Father. But I am also aware that the Church of Jesus Christ, from its inception, has always met together in local bodies to hear the Word of God expounded, encourage one another in holy living, observe the two ordinances given to the Church (The Lord’s Table and Believer’s Baptism), and discover ways of sharing the Gospel around the world. The size of the meeting place or the number of people involved is inconsequential so long as these things are happening.
This is not a bone of contention with me. I understand there are times when one is unable to be in the Lord’s house. It is a lack of any desire to be there that I find inscrutable—that “solitary conceit,” as C.S. Lewis calls it. Church membership, or even fellowship, does not make one a Christian any more than swimming in water makes one a fish. But there is something about actual fish that makes them at home in the water…something innate. Here’s the thing: wherever my husband, children, grandchildren, great-grandbaby, brother, sisters, or those related by marriage are, that’s where I want to be. “Of course,” you say, “They’re family!” Hmmm….
I’m glad church has always been “my thing.” One could (and does) do a whole lot worse.
Friday, September 8, 2006
“And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” (1Cor. 2:4)
In a day when free speech has claimed for itself the right of forced listening, we can hardly turn on the TV or radio without seeing or hearing about “demonstrations.” That is, men, women (and children) on streets somewhere, sitting, standing, or marching in order to call attention to some cause or injustice, real or merely perceived. In some cases, I may be sympathetic to their premise, though not their procedure. Strength of numbers is never a substitute for strength of argument, as far as I am concerned. Others may disagree, and, obviously, they have their right, as they have demonstrated. (Sorry!)
However, I would contend that demonstration, in the original sense of the word, is a fact of life, whether in a street or in a life. We are all demonstrating in one way or another. The Latin meaning of the word “demonstrate” is “to completely show.” It is giving visual meaning to audible claims, in the same way that the life of Joseph puts clothes on Romans 8:28. That precious promise in the New Testament is true and always applicable, but seeing it played out in the life of a young boy unjustly mistreated, but eventually raised to a throne, makes it—can I say, more believable?
Our witnessing for the Lord will be much more “believable” if our lives are not sending out contradictory signals. Under most circumstances, acknowledging that I am a child of God should be the natural conclusion of a life that has preceded that acknowledgement. I thought about this a few days ago when I found myself walking laps around a soccer field with a young woman who was telling she had never really had a good friend. Having become acquainted with her the previous semester, and knowing she had sought me out for companionship, it was easy to say to her, “I have known my best Friend since I was nine.” She was instantly intrigued and I was then able to share my Faith with her. She explained she had never been religious (her father was an atheist), and I remarked, “Neither have I. I’m not talking about a religion; I’m talking about a relationship.” None of this seemed odd to her, although I could tell it was new. When I found out she came from a very unaffectionate family, I told her, “Whenever you need a hug, just let me know.” She smiled and said, “O.K.” It is a good start, I think, to a truly meaningful witness. I pray so.
I study and read and try to prepare myself for arguments that I face in the classroom, but I am conscious that, like Paul, in the final analysis, it will not be my “enticing words,” that win the day, but the “demonstration of the Spirit and of power” in my everyday life. The message of the Cross and salvation in Christ needs to be “preached” to the world; but I have to earn the right to be heard, if I expect to be an effective witness. Like you, I am demonstrating—every day of my life. The question is: What are we demonstrating?
What you are, it speaks so loud,
That the world can’t hear what you say.
They’re looking at your walk,
Not listening to your talk;
They’re judging from your actions everyday.
Don’t believe you’ll deceive
By claiming what you’ve never known.
They’ll accept what they see and know you to be;
They’ll judge from your life alone.
Sunday, September 3, 2006
“But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end...” (1 Cor.15:23-24a)
I thought about this last week when I faced the daunting task of changing from a larger to a smaller purse (for now). At times like this, you are forced to choose between the handy and the essential, right? Fortunately, I have ceased trying to play the role of the universal donor for every minor crisis. Now that my children are gone, there is less need for the virtual first-aid kit I used to carry!
The longer I live, the more I see that the people who accomplish the most in life—spiritually and otherwise—are the ones who know how to effectively prioritize. God Himself, Who has neither beginning nor ending, nevertheless works with man in an orderly fashion, putting first things first, as the cited verse shows. I talked to someone recently who related to me a conversation he had with someone who was allowing something truly harmful to be a part of his or her child’s entertainment. When he pointed this out, the parent acknowledged the problem, but stated that removing the bad would cost the loss of something that was not bad, as well; as though that were a legitimate reason for leaving the child morally in danger. This is a classic case of warped priorities.
It all goes back to mindset. If my goal is temporal, seeking to get all I can out of life and experience all that my physical senses are capable of, this will determine what I put first in line in my choices. On the other hand, if my goal is eternal, putting all I can into life and experiencing the exhilaration of holy purpose, this, too, will be manifested by the position of importance I give to the kingdom of God. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt.6:33). C.S. Lewis wrote in a letter: “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things.”
The thing to remember is, in most cases, the “second things” are quite legitimate. It is simply that they are of less consequence than the “first things.” Perhaps this is why so many people get it wrong. It takes maturity to discern good from better, and there are many immature individuals, both in and out of the church.
I am doing quite well now with my smaller purse. As you might imagine, I have played this scenario before—both ways. I know now what is truly important and what, in the final analysis, only amounts to clutter. And one nice thing about perfecting the art of wise prioritizing in life is that when the time comes to begin downsizing, you will already know where to start. Like the smaller purse, I am finding that I need less and less to maneuver through these final steps in my walk of faith; because, in the final analysis, much of life is just clutter.