Sunday, April 6, 2014

Heaven and Hell and Teaching Your Children Well

One minute they were there. The next they were gone.

There we were at the zoo watching the hippos. It was a crowded room, and the four youngest asked if they could scoot closer to get a better view. Just stay together was my only instruction, and off they went. Alex and I stayed in the back with the baby in the stroller.

The hippos enthralled all of us, and when I did a headcount, I noticed that the 11 yr old and the 9 yr old had backed up through the crowd to be closer to us. But where were the 7 yr old and the 4 yr old? I craned my neck over heads; I squinted through legs and bags and shoes, looking for those two familiar faces. No luck.  Alarmed, I turned to Alex. "They're gone. Stay with the baby." And I took off around the corner, hoping that I could get to the front of the crowd and spot them from that vantage point. Again, no luck. I ran back to Alex. "Keep everyone together. They are not in the building. Stay here."

I flew out of the building. Looked to the right; nope, not there. I looked left. And there, far down the path, I could see that bashful 4 yr. old grin. Two teens were talking to him. But...where was the 7 yr old? I took off running, and as I got closer, I saw that she was standing there with him, her protective arm around his shoulders. My heart laughed and cried at the same time. The four year old was oblivious to the danger he had been in; the seven year old was in tears.  Even as I recall this, my adrenaline is rushing.

I fell to my knees and grabbed them and hugged them. The seven year old let her tears really go at that point, and the four year old just kept smiling bashfully. He knew something was wrong; he just wasn't sure what.

We went over rules that day. I asked the seven year old what those teens had been asking them. They asked for her phone number, she said, but she told them she wasn't allowed to give it to strangers. Good. She knew that. And my eyes still get misty when I remember her arm around her little brother. She knew it was her job to protect him. But she didn't know to stay put.

That day was a stark reminder to me that we have to have repeated discussions about what's wrong with the world, about potentially dangerous situations. As distasteful as those conversations are, we do it because we love our kids.

-------------------
A few weeks earlier...

I was tucking the four year old, who'd been having, shall we say, a bit of a behavioral slump, into bed. And I started telling him about the wonders of heaven. We were both getting excited and laughing and dreaming of that amazing eternity which awaits us. I came downstairs and told Brett, "I've been telling J all about heaven!

"Huh. I've been telling him all about hell."

Usually I'm the fire-breathing parent, and Brett is the nice guy.

Freaky Friday. 

But you know what? We have to tell the kids about both. They need a solid doctrine of heaven and a solid doctrine of hell. Just like they need to know about Stranger Danger in case we get separated, they need to know what awaits the disobedient, the perverse, the wicked for all eternity. They have to know this stuff because we won't always get to be with them. They need to know that there is a real bliss awaiting God's people. And there is a real torment awaiting the rest.

They also need to know a little bit about Stranger Danger in the Church.

Take self-styled Millennial spokeswoman, Rachel Held Evans, for example. (Though my own Millennials laugh out loud at her attempting to speak for them...) Ostensibly, she's waging war on evangelicalism. In truth, she's waging war on Truth. (But never--no, never--has God ever instructed us to stand down when it comes to Truth. Never.)
And I called her a goat..as in, not a sheep.
Upon further reflection, I'd like to recant.
It's far worse than that.
She's an Angel of Light. No, of course she's not THE Angel of Light. Think types and shadows here.
Second Class perhaps. Not quite got her wings. Yet.

You lead them into wrong; you make it look so right.
You lead them into darkness and make them think you lead them into light.

What's an Angel of Light?
First, they claim identity with Christ. They claim an excellent way.
Second, they take the Truth of Scripture and twist.
Third, they are offended by the True Gospel and are aggressive enemies of it.
They tame God; they civilize the Gospel; they make it palatable to the reprobate.

But the Gospel is offensive to the flesh. Regeneration is required to make it potent.
No amount of redrawing the lines or rewriting the rules will bring in converts, not real ones anyway. Redrawing and rewriting does not make Evans and her ilk Christians; it makes them rebels.

But I know where you're going, too bad you're not alone.
If it wasn't for the real Light, I might have never known. 

It is imperative that we raise our children to spot snakes in the Church lawn. Imperative. And I don't know of any other way than to continually tell them the Truth. It is imperative that we show little Johnny the filth they are spewing and sit down and walk through why that is wrong.

Or little Johnny will have no idea that it is wrong.
Because it's slick.
But horse puckey that is spit shined is still horse puckey.

And Little Johnny will be in serious danger of growing up to become a parent who tells his own children that sponsoring a child is more important than standing for the Truth. Wrong. Or that the Gospel is about social justice. Wrong. Or that Jesus died to redeem Creation rather than sinners. Wrong again. Or /cough/ that Jesus is not the God of the Old Testament. HA! Wrong.

You've got the clergy workin' overtime to widen the narrow way. 

It is imperative that our kids learn Stranger Danger in terms of false teachers. And the false teachers of our children's generation are masterful scripture twisters.

"God doesn't hate sin."
"The crucifixion is cosmic child abuse."
"Everyone goes to heaven."
"There's no such thing as hell."

And so goes the Millennial war on Truth.
Bible anyone?
Anyone?
Buehler?

Heaven.
Develop an appetite in yourself for Heaven.
Tell your kids what the Bible says about Heaven and who gets to go there.
Develop an affinity only for teachers who love the God of Heaven.

Hell.
Develop an aversion for hell.
Develop an aversion for Scripture twisters who are on the Wide Path to hell.
Tell your children what the Bible says about hell and who must go there.

Raise your kids to be so shrewd about and so steeped in Truth, that they can spot someone who lies about Heaven
about hell
about love
about judgment
about the Gospel,
For their spiritual safety.

Angel of Light, you're telling me wrong is right, but I won't let your evil take control.*

It was absolutely frightening to lose my precious little ones in the crowd that day. It was terrifying to realize that they didn't know to stay put. But that would be nothing, nothing, to losing them to hell.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions. 2 Timothy 4:3

*Angel of Light, Robert M. Hartman, 1981

Thursday, March 27, 2014

If We Could Lose Our Salvation, We Would

It all started with a cheeseburger. It was just about a year ago, and I came in from my morning walk feeling absolutely ravenous. I was finally getting on a consistent exercise regimen. I'd get up before anyone else, walk five miles, come home and have my quiet time all before anyone else in the house was up.

But this one day, I was starving. I opened the refrigerator and found last night's leftovers, cheeseburgers, sitting there on a plate just staring up at me. And it was simply too tantalizing to pass up. But this is where it gets weird. I didn't warm it up; I barely got it on the bun.

Chew, munch, swallow. Chew, munch, swallow. Chew, mu-uh ohhhhh...

I did some quick calendar math. And then my jaw hit the floor. I ran upstairs to wake Brett up.
Hey, are you conscious?
Mmmm?
I think I'm pregnant.
No way.
Yes way.
Why do you think that?
Because I'm eating a cheeseburger for breakfast.
Yep. You're pregnant!

That was a year ago. God was going to give us another little blessing. Wow!

The pregnancy was a cinch. Thank you, Lord.
And the birth? Let me put it this way. I am the Porsche of childbirth: zero to birth in sixty-three minutes. Two pushes. Voila! Baby! Thank you, thank you, Lord!

Fast forward to present day. Baby A is now four months old. Cute as a button. Flaming red hair. He has ten adoring siblings, which is why his backside rarely hits the floor...
which is why he wails when it does...
which is why I have to beat them off with a stick during tummy time.
Either that, or he won't learn to walk until he's fifteen years old.

Which brings me to...yoga pants. You just can't have a baby without it having some permanent affects on your bod. I mean, you can pretend to be spandex Barbie and kill yourself to get back to your original size and weight. But over here in Reality Land, I'm just...lumpy. And hungry.

So I can be skinny.
Or I can be fed.
I choose food.
Add to that the fact that if I even mention exercise, my milk supply starts to decrease. And there is no way I'm going to give up feeding my baby just to be 'fit.'
There are 'fit' moms.
And there are fit moms.
Know what I mean?

So I'm living this year in yoga pants. Every once in a while I take out my favorite pair of Banana Republic jeans and just look at them. And I remind myself that I'm not in a Banana Republic season right now. I'm in a nurturing season. Banana Republic will just have to wait.  But there are some days, I tell you truly, when I panic that I might never get into those jeans again. It's just that I'm starting to see that this season of nurturing may take longer than originally anticipated.

As I write this, my eleven children who range from a few months to 23 years need these things (in no particular order):
one needs us to come alongside
one needs to win the war with dishonesty
two are treading the turbulent waters of puberty
one needs a reign of terror
one needs some mommy time
one needs to know what's next
one needs the shepherd's crook--and a clonk on the head with my attack Bible
one needs to be less critical
one needs to be more patient
one needs a decent nap schedule.

And they all need hugs and encouragement, wisdom and exhortation. I'm better at some of these than at others.

Living in yoga pants is not exactly what I had in mind when I thought about being a parent.  And neither is the long haul. They may grow out of a certain kind of neediness, but it's really just to grow into another kind. The issues that arise from having older kids may not require as much physical endurance as when they were little. But we need more spiritual hardiness at this point. In the beginning, we get that warm, sweet, swaddled bundle handed to us fresh from the oven, and we plant our noses in their skin. We drink deeply of baby smells and coos and the absolute trust they place in us. We count fingers and toes and dream dreams of them growing up and impacting the world and having families of their own. No one dreams of the tough times, the questions, the doubts, the--gulp--rebellion.

Today, I'm feeling lumpy (and a little grumpy) about some tough times. I imagined myself with a Banana Republic sort of family photo at this point. Fit, polished, put together. Cool. The reality today, though, is there are still some lumps to be worked out. At this point, I volley between the depth of despair or just simple disdain for abject stupidity.

Right now, I'm realizing something else:
God is sovereign over salvation. We preach the Gospel to our children. We take them to church. We keep them accountable. We inspect. But we don't save. That's God's job. And consider this:

If we could lose our salvation, we would.

Ain't that the truth? I don't know who said that, but he was spot on. If we could lose our salvation, we would. We imperfect, hellbent sheep, who do what we don't want to do and don't do what we want to do. If we could lose our salvation, we would. We who have been offered a place in heaven and actually get tempted by the world's pig slops. Pfff. We couldn't keep an eye on our salvation for a whole day, let alone a whole lifetime. But GOD is the author and finisher of our faith. GOD will complete the good work that He began in us.

If He started it, He will finish it. He's faithful like that.

If we could lose our salvation, we would.

Alas, it's the corollary of that that's bothering me today. If we can't lose our salvation--and we cannot--then how do we interpret a picture that makes it look like salvation got lost? This is how: there was likely not salvation there to begin with. God preserves His Saints. People who grow up in Christian homes do not lose their faith when they leave home. They do not lose their faith because they cannot lose their faith. But some of them leave home without ever having had faith. And that's a fact.

This long haul of parenting is hard stuff sometimes. There are seasons of late night feedings...and there are seasons of fervent prayer. Who knew that I would one day be in a position where both are simultaneously required of me? The little ones keep me in yoga pants; the big ones keep me on my knees. I have eleven constant reminders that parenting is a call to vigilance, faithfulness, and grit.

A picture perfect family is no more my goal than Banana Republic jeans are.  That kind of silliness is for 'fit' moms. Raising grateful, sanctified wretches?  That's for fit moms. That is my hope. That is my prayer.

I'll keep preaching the Gospel. That's my job.

But salvation belongs to the Lord.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Marriage Manifesto

I believe that every marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church to the watching world. Some marriages tell the Truth. Some marriages do not.

I believe that the definition of marriage is one man plus one woman united to make one flesh, and that any other kind of union fails utterly to tell the truth about Christ and the Church.

I believe that when a woman submits to her husband, honoring him because this is how she honors God, she tells the truth about Christ and the Church.

I believe that when a man loves his wife because this is how he loves God, he tells the truth about Christ and the Church.

I believe that when a man and woman stay married, they tell the truth about Christ and the Church.

I believe that when a man or a woman leaves the marriage, for anything other than unfaithfulness or voluntary abandonment by an unbelieving spouse, they break the covenant and they lie to the world about Christ and the Church.

I believe that God hates divorce.

To that end...

I will stay married.
I will submit to my husband.
I will protect and nourish my marriage covenant.
I will esteem your marriage covenant.
I will encourage you, wife, to submit to and honor your husband--even when he is not honorable--because this is how you honor God.
I will encourage you, husband, to love your wife--even when she is not lovable--because this is how you love God.
I will rejoice alongside you in the blessed times.
I will weep alongside you in the difficult times.
I will exhort you to stay faithful to your covenant.
I will challenge you if you are unfaithful to your covenant, even if that means losing your good opinion of me.
I will build you up in your faithfulness.
I will grieve over your unfaithfulness.

No matter how you have entered into your marriage covenant,
Whether you were a believer or an unbeliever,
Whether you got your parents' blessing or you wed in rebellion,
Whether you had children first or got the order right,
Whether this is your first marriage or your fifth,
Once you say, "I do," you did.
And I will be a friend of your covenant.

May the Church be a friend of marriage.
May the Church tell the Truth to the watching world.
May it begin with me.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Gentle Apostate

I am a homeschool mom.
I keep to the "The Code."
You know. The Code.
I have a houseful of wonderful, amazing children.
I'm an ardent supporter of parental rights. And home birth.
I dig family integrated church.
I'm conservative and complementarian.

On the other hand...
The Code is more like a guideline.

I eat gluten--at every meal.
With heaping helpings of meat and dairy on the side.
And sugar for dessert.
Red food dye is something that we keep in the pantry.
Right next to the MSG.
Monsanto does not keep me up at night.
We eat what's put before us and give thanks.
Except for fish. Fish gags me.
Fish are friends, not food.
I think the concept of inoculation is good science
Because I think science is good science.
And common grace. And dominion.
Think smallpox.
But I would fiercely defend your right to differ. (See my support of parental rights above).
The only thing I miss from hospital birth? The epidural. Yeah, that's some Happy Juice right there.
I happen to know that 'wheat belly' is a compliment. See Song of Songs 7:2.

Now I realize the aforementioned list contains mere trivialities about which my homeschool sistren and I can agree to disagree. But I'm about to break with The Code in an unprecedented way.

Okay. Deep breath. Here I go.

Little House on the  Prairie.
Boring?
No.
Mind-numbing.
But it's homesteading! And living off the land! And progress! These things are important!
So are colonoscopies.
But we don't write novels about them.
Little Colon in the Big Woods
Colon Boy
The Long Colon
These Happy Colon Years

Yes, I will henceforward be known as 'Homeschool Mom Who Hates the Prairie.'
Make that the only Homeschool Mom Who Hates the Prairie.

It's true. I don't care how you build a log cabin, or what you do with pig bladders, or how to deal with grasshopper plagues. I did my duty. I read the whole blasted series out loud to the children--twice. And I can't take it anymore. Now I just hand it to them. Okay, kids, read this. You'll love this...if this is the kind of thing you love. I'll be upstairs reading something interesting.

And I mean that with all my little homeschooling heart.
But jesting aside...

I really, really dislike the Little House series for a more serious reason. It didn't set well with me the first tortuous time through, but I didn't see why until my second run. I think Little House is precisely the kind of moralistic storytelling that leads our little ones to believe that all good folks go to heaven. I mean, what's not to like about the Ingalls family? They are the example of a loving marriage and warm parent-child relationships. They exude comfort with stories of Pa playing the fiddle after dinner while Ma sews by candlelight, and the girls are all braiding their hair before bed.

Little House disturbs me, not for what it covers, but for what it lacks.
Blatantly.
Consider a family who documents hardship of living on a prairie in a dugout and the grasshoppers come and devastate their crops.
Or a winter so harsh and a blizzard so severe that people froze to death because they got lost between the barn and the house.
Or a daughter who goes blind without any way to treat or prevent it.
These were real hardships, the kind that devastate even the hardiest folk. But the silence about God is deafening. I would think that a godly family would be driven to their knees at times like these. They would be crying out to their merciful Maker for provision and grace. And, I think, a godly Pa would be leading his family in humbling themselves before a Mighty God. At least, at the very least, he would salve their difficult times by pointing to God's providence and love.

It is my belief that Pa Ingalls was apostate.
Gentle apostate, but apostate, nonetheless.
Did I miss it? Where does he, even once, lead his little ones to God?
The most telling incident, I think, is following the books through to the first difficult years of Laura's marriage, in which they lose a child. And we see that, tragically, the next generation also neglects to seek solace and wisdom from the Lord. The whole story left me cold, and I wondered why I was reading this to my children. How should I spin this for them? Well, now I know. We pass on our apostasy much like we pass on our faith. That's not interesting; that's disturbing.

We love Frank Gilbreth, Sr. of Cheaper By the Dozen.  We laugh at his antics and love his adoration of Lilly, whom he calls Boss. We can plainly see how committed he is to his brood of twelve children and how determined he was to pour the excitement and wonder of life into them. But Mr. Gilbreth disdained all things Christian, and he spoke contemptuously of pious things. To that end, he failed a dozen children and future generations.

We read Cheaper By the Dozen every few years. I love it. It's ingenious and laugh-out-loud funny and true. But the end always chokes me up. When he dies at the end of the story, our hearts go out to Lilly and the whole crazy family. More than that, though, I'm always sobered by the fact that he went to his Maker unknown by Him.

Another gentle apostate.
Another tragic loss for generations of one family.

As homeschool moms, we get the obvious apostates, like the ones listed in Kevin Swanson's book, Apostate.
We get Jean-Jacques Rousseau. who abandoned his children by a mistress on the steps of an orphanage. Five times he dropped infants there. And he never even checked their gender.
Or Karl Marx, who starved three of his own children to death. Two who lived to adulthood committed suicide.
We disdain men like Ernest Hemingway, who put a gun to his dad's head and cursed his mother, had numerous affairs--and was the fifth Hemingway to take his own life.
We warn our children about the John Steinbecks of the world, who made his wife abort their child, since children would interfere with his writing.

We get that Rousseau and Co. are punks. These men are obviously vile. The low-hanging fruit. And we work very hard at shepherding our children so they do not grow up to look like them. That's not what troubles me. What troubles me are gentle apostates, and the possibility of one living under my own roof.

I'm beginning to understand that it is imperative that we parents are always on the lookout for apostates in our own homes. And I'm not talking about the difficult ones who drive us to our knees and drive us crazy. I'm not talking about the kid who makes us throw up our hands, throw in the towel, and cry out to God, "Lord! This child you gave me. Really?"

I'm talking about that quiet one. The good kid. The one who not only doesn't make waves; he doesn't even make a ripple. Do you know the condition of that one's heart? Do you rest in his natural tendency to cooperation? his mild manners? his ability to lead or to get along well with others?

Or are you inspecting his heart?
Are you sure his fruit is the fruit of the Spirit?

I am disturbed by a tendency in the Church to give a pass to gentle apostates. But we read literature and teach history and raise kids like we believe in a Wide Path.  We had jolly well better start interpreting the world like we actually believe in the Narrow Path that Jesus preached.

Because false converts go to hell.

Being an advocate of homebirth or an opponent of vaccinations does not make me a homeschooler. Homeschooling, and homeschooling alone, makes me a homeschooler. Likewise, being a good parent or a good citizen does not make one a Christian. Only the Lordship of Jesus ruling and reigning in one's heart makes one a Christian. I know we're all working really hard at discipling our kids so we don't end up with a Rousseau or a Steinbeck on our hands. But we should work just as diligently to make sure we're not raising an Ingalls or a Gilbreth, either.

Good kids need Jesus, too.
So do good husbands and fathers, good wives and mothers.
We're not called to raise good kids;
We're called to raise godly kids.

That's a much more difficult task.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Your Kid's the Reason My Kid's Homeschooled

She had a fresh kill and two little cubs. And he never saw it coming.

This grizzly bear mama was feeding her cubs and herself when a bigger, hungrier male grizzly smelled food. Right before he did, she had taken her cubs to a safe place in the trees. And as the big male approached, WHAMO!, Mama came barreling out from the woods, charging and snarling. The male, slightly taken aback, snarled in return. But he didn't even stand a chance. She was swinging and biting and snarling, and he was backing away, despite his hunger.

He backed off temporarily, but he was apparently dumber than he looked because he came back. This time, he was standing on his hind legs. But she was having none of it. Again, he was taken aback by her sheer ferocity. And, finally, he was cowed into retreat.

Smart bear.

I'm trying to keep it dim and quiet at bedtime while I nurse the baby to sleep, so reading is out. But I can watch nature documentaries, which I find fascinating. And that's when I saw this bear account. I was mesmerized, and no small fan of that mama grizzly.

What kind of fool comes between a mama and her young?

The next scene was of a mother hippopotamus. She was leading her baby into the common area of the lake when a bull charged them both. I was thinking of the bear.
"Good luck with that, pal" I snarked.

But I was wrong.

The mother hippo turned and ran (or swam, actually). And the baby was in tow.
I was riveted...and appalled. What was this mother thinking? At the very least, she had made a tactical error, placing the baby--rather than herself--between her and harm's way. She was either afraid, or she was just thinking about herself. Either way, she was wrong. And guess what? The bull got the baby, and the baby died. Like we didn't see that coming.

Stupid hippo.

This has been a week for neighborhood kids, not in a good way. In fact, we've had weeks like this before. The issue is quite simple: I have a zero tolerance policy for bullying. And kids who bully my kids learn that in no uncertain terms. Probably comes from my seventh grade year, when I was bullied. I was small and mousy then. And sometimes I itch for a Back to the Future moment. Boy howdy, would things go differently. *cough*bringit*cough*

But I digress. I just include that so you don't get me confused with Ann Voskamp. I get that a lot.

So a couple days ago, a neighbor (I'd really like to call him Hell-boy, but we'll call him Eddie Haskell), and his little friend (who has more outfits than a Barbie doll, so we'll call her Princess Fru Fru) knocked on the door and asked if the kids could play. I should know to monitor these situations. But I didn't. And the seven year old and the four year old walked right into it. Wasn't long before the four year old was crying. Seems Eddie Haskell had hit him. Twice. With a stick.

grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.....

I march into the backyard to find that both Eddie Haskell and Princess Fru Fru have escaped faster than Houdini. Back in I go for wound care. Then I hear them back in my yard. Unbelievable! Grrrrr. Back out.
"Go home," I tell them. "You're not welcome when you're mean."

That's when I interview the seven year old a little more closely.
Oh. They hide from you?
Oh. Pinky promises and secrets?
By now, my spidey senses are tingling.
No more playing with the Hellions (that's the plural form of Eddie Haskell and Princess Fru Fru.)
The seven year old is crestfallen. My heart rate is elevated.
Mom.
No.

Next day, the doorbell rings. Seems Eddie and Fru have thicker skulls than I originally thought.
I let the seven year old go out again. Seems I have a thicker skull than I originally thought.
Next thing I know, they are ringing the doorbell accusing the seven year old of something.
Oh dear.
I find her, and it's true. She took something of Fru's.
Why??? I ask.
Because she's being mean. More hiding and more silent treatments.
Give Fru her things, I say.
To the hellions: Leave. Now.

I find the seven year old on her bed crying. I'm kneeling beside her and brushing her hair back.
I'm so sorry (for acting like the stupid hippo mama).
We have to love them. I wonder: does it have less impact when I say it through clenched teeth?

And, wonder of wonders, I look out my front window to see Hell-b-, I mean, Eddie and Fru having a snack together...on my lawn chairs. You've got to be kidding me.
I fling open my front door.
Leave, I say, with that flick of the monarch's wrist to his peons.
Whuuuu...???
(Oh seriously.) I enunciate s l o w l y so they can understand. Get.off.my.lawn.
They're stupefied. As if they can't figure me out.

Bad kids, at least at that age, are bad because they have bad parents. Either the parents are apathetic--which is shameful--or they are ignorant--which is at least understandable. It's not like children come with a manual. But that's no reason for my kids to be collateral damage. I wonder what Eddie's mom would say if I told her the truth:
Your kid's the reason my kid's homeschooled.

I don't ever want to look like a hippo mama, letting my kids dangle unprotected in that big, bad world.
One day, they'll be old enough and equipped enough to take it on.
But this is not that day.

This is the day that I'll be known as the Meanest Lady On the Street.
And I'm good with that.
I'm really, really good with that.

Grizzly Mama.
It's not just a job;
it's an adventure.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

When God Says 'No'

Dear Lord, Please let the lump in my mom's breast be benign.

No.

What do we do when God says no to our fervent prayers? It feels like I've been denied something really important. This isn't trivial; this is cancer, for goodness sake. I could stomp my foot and demand to know why. But I have more faith in God's providence than that. I trust that all that He does is for our good and His glory. Oh, I can ask why. But I should be prepared for silence. God often works in silence.

I'm reading The Good News We Almost Forgot, a book about the Heidelberg Catechism by Kevin DeYoung.  I love the Heidelberg Catechism. There is something comforting and sweet about it,  as catechisms go. As I read this morning, I was thinking of my mom. I was thinking of our phone call last night, when she told me she does have breast cancer. She'll have to have surgery. She'll have to have radiation.

My gorgeous, graying, godly mom.
Radiation.
What in the world?
This is not supposed to happen.

Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?
God's providence is His almighty and ever present power whereby, as if by His hand, He still upholds Heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed all things come not by chance but by His fatherly hand. 
(Lord's Day 10, Q and A 27, Heidelberg Catechism)

See what I mean about being comforting? See why I love it so? Whereas the Westminster Catechism is the plumb line you want to clonk Osteen over the head with (well, I can't speak for you; I know I want to clo--oh, never mind), the Heidelberg Catechism is a soft pillow where the weary pilgrim can lay his head.

I was thinking of my mom as I read question 27, of the cancer and the radiation and the effects. I was comforted by this reminder that God doesn't merely allow things to happen to His own, as if He is a passive bystander; He brings them by His own hand because He is active in His creation and in His Church.
For our good.
For His glory.

And then Alex called.

She had to get her visa renewed to stay the remaining three months in Israel. We knew that going into this. We knew that she and her friends would have to re-up at the halfway point so they could stay the whole time. Two days ago, they made the trek to Jordan in order to re-enter Israel and renew the visas.

They enjoyed Petra and the Jordanian people and drank in more middle-eastern hospitality. They rode camels and went parasailing.

But don't all go to the same application window, they were told. It would look suspicious.
So two women went to one window; Alex went to the other.
Sounds like a plan.

Until the visa agent decided she didn't like Alex.
She doesn't want Alex in her country.
And she gave her seven days to get out.
The other women got their new three-month visas on the spot.
Alex got one week.

Nothing is random.
Brett and I have been talking about that this week.
God does not sleep; He doesn't slumber.
He never lets anyone else take Creation's wheel.
And He doesn't share His glory with another.

How do open theists get out of bed every morning serving their weak little god? 
Anti-depressants, I guess. 

So this dream-big adventure of Alex's may be coming to an early close. Scuttling home to stay in the good graces of the international community? That was not part of the plan. It was supposed to last for three more months. She was supposed to keep learning Hebrew and befriending the locals and walking where Jesus walked. She was supposed to keep meeting new people on her team from all over the world and serving people from all over the world. There was more to do, more to see, more to minister.

Nothing is random.
Not visa agents or application windows.
Not well-intentioned advice.
Not breast lumps.
Not cancer.

All prayers get answered. Can I really charge my Creator-Redeemer with deafness, as if He's a doddering old man? or hardness, as if He's a tyrant?
It's just that sometimes God says no.
That's not random. That's sovereignty.
Too, sometimes things just come to us without our even seeing them coming.
Those, as well, are not random.
They are God's providence.

We have often heard, DeYoung reminds us, that God is our Father, which is true, but we don't always remember that the opposite is true: your Father is God.

Do we trust our Father with the what-just-happened-here's?
The aborted dreams and the I-didn't-see-that-coming's?
Those no's dressed in Divine Silence,
even if we asked nicely.

Q. How does the knowledge of God's creation and providence help us?
A. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from His love. All creatures are so completely in His hands that without His will they can neither move nor be moved. 
(Lord's Day 10, Q and A 28, Heidelberg Catechism)

You can accuse me of being a theology nerd.
But it is times precisely like this, that what I believe about God anchors me.
Sometimes God brings us to the brink of danger--like cancer.
Sometimes God brings us through disappointment--like interrupted adventures.
But He always brings us through His plan.

Today, this pilgrim is going to lay her weary head on the downy Heidelberg Pillow,
'Cause while God is the Author of Calamity,
He also happens to be my Dad.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

In Which I Rant Against Digital Books; My 2013 Reading List

Barnes and Noble is threatening to close its brick and mortar stores. Kindle and Nook are quickly becoming a normal device in the average American home. In fact, if you google the topic, all of the articles will tell you which one is more popular. No longer is anyone addressing whether they should be popular.

Sniff.
I am grieving the death of books. By 'book', I don't mean a collection of words, sentences, and ideas that someone has accumulated and given a title. I mean the physical object which is paper, lined with words, and bound by a cover. Books are dying. People now read from a tablet the size of my palm, back lit, and stored in their purse or backpack.

What is this? Fahrenheit 451?  Let me tell you what we lose when we lose books. In the best, best, best argument against digital books, Brandon Booth says this:
It is my duty to curate, and comment in, a library for my children. It will be their joy to pour over those pages, absorbing their content and psychoanalyzing my margin notes. Paper books are a legacy; digital books are a commodity. (emphasis mine)
Sniff.
This time, I sniff in disdain.
Disdain of digitals and nooks and kindles.

What are we doing when we buy digital books? We are making a plan for the intellectual malnourishment of our children. We are setting them up to see books merely as sources of information. We are depriving them of how we interacted with our own books.

I don't know about you, but I read with a pencil. And I write in my books. I agree and I argue and I snark and I underline and I laugh. And it's all in my handwriting. My passion is even caught by how hard I bear down on the page. When someone asks me to borrow a book, my first private thought is, "Hm. I wonder what I wrote in the margins of that one." I kid you not. And I hand books to people with this disclaimer: Read my margin notes at your own risk.

Get that in a digital book? Make me laugh. I think not.
So, I'll continue my crusade against digital books. And the world will continue to call me a Luddite.
And I'll continue not to give a flying fig.

What follows is this past year's reading list. There was gold there, like To Kill a Mockingbird. If you want to spend time with courage, integrity, and heroism, you need to read this one. And then read it again; I do. Penelope Wilcock continued to write like the best classic authors with The Hardest Thing to Do and The Hour Before Dawn.

There was dross, like The Secret Life of Bees, 302 pages I'll never get back. This one just solidifies in my mind why reading a best seller is usually a waste of time. Best sellers are merely what most of culture finds valuable. And I want to be like 'most of culture' because...why??? No more best sellers for me, thanks.

There were books I read because I should, like The Federalist Papers. I admit it; this was a painful read. It's way too long and verbose. But...I was amazed at how many times I referred my kids back to it when the question, "Why do we do this?" would come up in a civic context.

There were phenomenal books that challenged me to be a better exegete, like Graeme Goldsworthy's Gospel books. But I think the book that tops my list this year, the one that held me riveted and amazed, the one that I keep thinking about, long after I have finished it, is The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton.

Good or bad, I read them all in paper. And if I owned it, chances are I probably wrote in it, too! Or at least underlined things and wrote exclamation points in the margins. ;)

Without further ado, the 55 books on my 2013 list:

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung
From the Library of CS Lewis by James Stuart Bell
Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers
The Scarlet Pimpernel (again) by Baroness Orczy
Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home by Derek Thomas
Hoping for Something Better by Nancy Guthrie
Gospel by JD Greear
The Tutor's Daughter by Julia Klassen
Reformation, Yesterday Today Tomorrow by Carl Trueman
G.O.S.P.E.L. by DA Horton
Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay
Chestnut King (again) by ND Wilson
The Hardest Thing to Do by Penelope Wilcock
Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling
House of Dark Shadows by Ron Liparulo
Disciplines of a Godly Woman by Barbara Hughes
Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge
Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy
At the Back of the North Wind by George Macdonald
To Kill a Mockingbird (again) by Harper Lee
The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of... by Sam Kean
Gospel and Wisdom by Graeme Goldsworthy
The Elusive Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder
Five Red Herrings by Dorothy Sayers
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
Favorite Father Brown Stories by GK Chesterton
Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age by Maggie Jackson
Midwives by Chris Bohjalian
Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton
Emma Brown by Clare Boylan
Gospel and Revelation by Graeme Goldsworthy
The Cross and Christian Ministry by DA Carson
Walden Two by BF Skinner
Darwin on Trial by Phillip Johnson
The Yanks are Coming by Albert Marrin
Standing on the Promises (again) by Douglas Wilson
Cheaper by the Dozen (again) by Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
Apostate by Kevin Swanson
Children of the Great Depression by Russell Freedman
Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Shoulder the Sky by Anne Perry
Law and Liberty by RJ Rushdoony
Jane and His Lordship's Legacy by Stephanie Barron
Angel on the Square by Gloria Whelan
The Promised One by Nancy Guthrie
Lost World of Genesis One by John H. Walton
The Hour Before Dawn by Penelope Wilcock
Radical Womanhood by Carolyn McCulley
Second Mayflower by Kevin Swanson
The Holy Spirit: His Gifts and Power by John Owen
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Everyday Prayers by Scotty Smith