Friday, November 27, 2015

Courtship in Crisis? Nah. The Book Review

He needs to be courageous. He needs to be the kind of writer who punches up. As King Lune of Archenland puts it, "Never taunt a man save when he is stronger than you. Then, as you please." And the motive force of all that he writes should be that he deeply loves what he is defending. Some people sign up because they have to shoot something, and wolves will do in a pinch. But others, who are more faithful at the task, fight because they love what they defend. (Douglas Wilson "Pithy or Toxic? How to Write Good Satire" Intercollegiate Review, Fall 2015.)
So I'm in a bit of a pickle. A while back, the anti-courtship blog post came out, and I came out swinging. So far, so good. But I also speculated publicly about the author's motives. Not so good. I should mention here that the author and I have never been introduced. To me, he's just Joe Stranger, author of Book. But as we live in the same region and our social circles have significant overlap, weighing in is not inconsequential. He's an 'international speaker,' as his book cover reminds us, and a public persona. I'm not even a blip on the regional radar screen. In that respect, I should feel free to 'punch up', as Douglas Wilson suggests. On the other hand, he is my younger brother in the Lord, and I should not taunt the man.

Alas, this is a two-edged pickle. I would like to be known as the Courtship Lady about as much as I would like to be known as the Sabbath Lady or the Libertarian Lady. I am fully convinced, but conviction needs a conscience, not a fan club. And Majority has always been a poor way of plumbing wisdom. I do not defend courtship because I deeply love courtship. I defend courtship because I deeply love my children, and I deeply love wisdom. The trick, then, was to write a response in which I say nothing that should not be said and everything that should be. I think this post succeeds.

My wish for Mr. Umstattd is the same as my prayers for my own single adult children: a godly spouse and a rugged marriage, and a heaping helping of contentment in this interim of singleness providentially appointed for him by his good and sovereign Heavenly Father. What follows, then, should not be taken as personal attack but as a critique of his methods and assertions.

Courtship in Crisis by Thomas Umstattd, Jr.
1. The Hook
The book opens with the author's personal story of a courtship gone very, very wrong. If events unfolded exactly as is documented in the book, then it was truly a hurtful, horrifying experience. If. However, I would caution readers here that  one man seems right until another states his case. It is natural for us to rally around someone who has been wounded. I found myself thinking, "Poor guy! This is just terr--HEY! Wait a minute!" I've been bitten too many times, taking up one person's offense, only to have the other side come to light, and the villain, it turns out, is no villain at all. It may be absolutely true that the dad in this story was unreasonable and capricious. Or it might not be true. There is another, untold side to this story. And as it was a private affair, we should expect never to be enlightened; there can be much honor in silence. This narrative can only be regarded as complete when BOTH sides have stated their cases. If the dad were to bring contradictory facts to light, well...We would be naive to take sides right now. As it stands now, it is an appeal to pity.

2. The Research
There were several problems with the claim that lots of research was done for this book. First, when there were personal stories, there seemed to be zero effort to corroborate facts with the accused. Even a simple, "Mr. Jones declined to comment' would have eased my mind at least a little. And the guy who was rejected by twenty fathers. TWENTY? This is a claim of legendary proportions. No footnotes, no verifiable facts whatsoever. Did the author 'do the research' and get those twenty names, dates, locations? And if it is true, should we not consider with Douglas Wilson that this is a feature, not a flaw, of the system? Are you not curious about just what kind of guy could get rejected by twenty fathers? You should be. Second, the author does seem to have read some opposing viewpoints, like Wilson or Harris, and that's commendable. However, the silence on Baucham was deafening. I don't know why What He Must Be If He Wants to Marry My Daughter was never addressed. But this is the handbook on courtship, after all, and it's hard for an "I googled courtship, and it's not in the Bible" hermeneutic to stand up to Baucham's level of exegesis. (To be fair, the 'google' comment was not made in the book but in the time leading up to the book.)
For every bad idea that gets its own book, there's a better book with a better idea. Engel has his Bastiat; Bell has his DeYoung; Umstattd has his Baucham.
Third, scriptural proof was scant at best. It gave this reader the impression of having been waved lightly over the flames of scripture in an effort be be taken seriously as Christian meat--but it was still mooing. If we're going to talk about how scripture informs this area of our lives, we should probably talk about how scripture informs this area of our lives.

3. Sweeping Statements
This one could link back to the research concern. "In many churches, it's taboo for married couples to talk about sex." Stats? Footnotes? Sources? Did the author visit 'many churches' and interview the married couples? Unfortunately, it was sweeping assertions like this one that seriously weakened this reader's trust in the author's ability to present a strong argument. And it isn't the only one. "One of the common modifications in Modern Courtship is for couples to keep their relationship secret from friends until the engagement. Couples do this because they fear their community will blow out the fire of their budding relationship with expectations, pressure, and meddling." Ehhhh, not sure he got his facts. I expected more scholarship than this.

4. Naivete
(Okay. I think I've been quite restrained, golden even, up to this point. But here's where I 'punch up.' If one is old enough to be an international speaker/public persona/thrower down of anti-courtship gauntlets, one is old enough to have the smack laid down wherever smack is required. And, boy howdy, some smack needs to get laid down here regarding just horrid comments on sin and sexuality. If my own adult children said this stuff, they'd get the same response. So you can swallow back the 'You're so mean' nonsense. I'm not mean; I'm Mom.)
The author asserts that willpower will keep us out of sexual sin. Just say no to Froyo after the movie. And his proof text is not scripture, but a study on cookies and radishes. Not.even.kidding.
He also says, and I quote, "If we focus on the banquet, we won't be tempted by the dumpster of premarital and extramarital sex." I have this hilarious friend who would quip, "Hey kids, sex is GREAT. Now go have fun, and don't put anything of yours into anything of hers!" Focusing on the banquet of all of God's righteousness does NOT keep us out of the dumpster of sin. Thus, Romans chapter 7...and the rest of the epistles. And the gospels. And the Law. And the pro--well, you get the point.
Here's another one: "In Erica's community, no strict ritual full of 'guard your heart' rules governed dating, and the community lacked a 'hook up and break up' culture. Because of this, most hearts were guarded and most promiscuity disappeared naturally." Um. I may or may not have laughed out loud at this point. Promiscuity has been going on since time immemorial. Without even trying, I can think of five people conceived in the good ol' days of going steady. If his grandmother thought boys weren't thinking about sex when they were dating, perhaps he would have done better to talk to his grandfather. His grandfather would have assured him, as men have assured me, that boys were thinking about sex. Boys think about sex because that's how God made them. And that's good, good for marriage, good for creation; it just needs boundaries.
Umstattd's flippant treatment of sin and sexuality incensed me, especially when I think of impressionable young people reading it. 

Back to restraint...

5. Jurisdictions
"We value liberty more than life itself." Aha. THERE it is. There is the driving force behind this book, a kind of 'you're not the boss of me!' approach to life. My problem with this statement is the confusion between 'liberty' and 'libertine.' Someone who values liberty values good government. So we value a state that does what a state is supposed to do, a church that does what a church is supposed to do, and a family that does what a family is supposed to do. We disdain a state that excommunicates adulterers or raises children, a church that raises children or punishes criminals, a family that punishes criminals or excommunicates adulterers. We are glad when the state punishes criminals, the church excommunicates adulterers, the family raises children. In contrast, the author speaks like a libertine who disdains the role of the family in an adult who is ready for marriage. But listen to Baucham: "Nothing in the New Testament would suggest that fathers should stand down as protectors of their daughters' virginity." (55) There's an example of the heavy lifting in What He Must Be. Umstattd's book doesn't even break a sweat.

Honestly, I'm puzzled by all of this. I am left wondering what the burr is under the author's saddle. What I would love to see is some statistics on the percentage of the Church that actually favors courtship; I imagine it's minuscule. And if it is, courtship can hardly be left holding the bag for what the author sees as prolonged singleness. But attacking the families who do courtship (like all twelve of us) is like attacking your quiet neighbor for being quiet. You might as well wage war on Zoroastrians.

Did I get anything positive out of the book? Yes. While the author's fundamental premise, 'courtship hurts people' is about as sound as 'guns kill people,' I am mindful that even gun enthusiasts respect guns. Likewise, as parents, we would do well to approach courtship with the same respect. These are real people. These are real men and women with real giftings and uniqueness and hurts and sin and baggage. These are Image Bearers. And they deserve courtesy, gentleness, and kindness even in the midst of rigorous inspection. I like to think that by the time all of our children are married, anyone who has ever interacted with our family will have been treated respectfully, even if firmly.

Let me reiterate. I wish the absolute best to the author in his pursuit of marriage. I have a high view of marriage because God has a high view of marriage, and it doesn't matter a whit to me whether you got to the altar via dating or courtship. This post is not about my view of courtship. There are several places I could have elaborated on what I think, but this is strictly a book review, so I refrained. Second, maybe courtship is really in crisis, or maybe not. I am not personally convinced, but only time will tell. We have not gotten a child to the altar via courtship, but it seems like the wisest course of action at this time.

The work that can ably prove that courtship is truly in crisis will require:
1. A publisher who oversees bona fide research, as in actively gathering hard data, corroborating facts, interviewing representatives from all sides (yes, even the dreaded dragons), not merely passively assembling a bunch of blog comments. No scholar worth his salt would regard that as actual research.
2. A pastor/theologian who oversees and ensures careful use of scripture.
Maybe someone will write that work. But Courtship in Crisis in not that work.

In the final analysis, I predict this book will find a comfortable spot on the shelves of the average Christian bookstore, alongside Osteen and Eldredge. I predict it will get rave reviews from teens and twentysomethings, egalitarians, and hands-off fathers.

I'll be over here giving thanks for my Dragon. :)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Beauty of Stewardship

Just finished Wendell Berry's The Way of Ignorance.
Mind blown.

I've always had a rather suspicious view of art. First, there's my own make-up. I am much more comfortable with things that are measurable and quantifiable. I much prefer things I can track or prove to things that are subjective. Facts don't need a beholder; they just are.

Second, though, is my experience with representatives from the art world. I get all squinty-eyed and suspicious when dealing with artists. And my art appreciation prof back in college essentially finished me off.

He defined art as "the manipulation of materials by a human being for aesthetic purposes." Dr. Courtney would be pleased, I suppose, that I still remember his definition, word for word, twenty-six years later. He would probably be less pleased to know that it was because I was on to him.

'By a human being.' That was the important part. Why? I'll tell you why. The great art hoax of 1964. One Pierre Brassau, who wowed the art world in Goteborg, Sweden, and prompted one art critic to write that he "paints with powerful strokes but also with clear determination. His brushstrokes twist with furious fastidiousness. Pierre is an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer."

Modern Art is Dumb.
Exhibit A:
Brassau was really a monkey named Peter.
Not even kidding.

Yup. Journalist Ake Axelsson gave a monkey a canvas and some paints--and dumped the modern art world on its head. You know you're in trouble when a monkey can keep up with your brilliance...

Anyway, back to my class.  Dr.Courtney also insisted, when not attacking Truth with broad strokes (and I'll get to that in a moment), that art does not imitate life. Up went a slide of Eric Enstrom's Grace accompanied by a monologue peppered with disdain and a flick of the thumb and 'anyone can do that.'

Oh? 'Cause I couldn't.

No, real art shakes off the surly bonds of earth and transcends mere creation. Catch what he was saying there. The work of the Master Artist was not worth imitating. We creatures could do better. And speaking of God, who really believed all that stuff about sin and salvation anyway? His eyes surveyed the class.

Seminar class.
Over 300 students.
This was my heart-pound-in-my-chest, I-don't-have-a-choice, I-have-to-do-this moment.
I raised my hand. I was the only one.
His eyes locked on mine.
"Do you?" he asked. "And can you briefly explain what you think the Bible says to the rest of the class?"

Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.
"That we are all sinners; that Jesus had to die for us because of that; that without Him, we go to hell--

"Actually," the good doctor interrupted, "the Bible never mentions hell. Not once. But thank you for being honest."

Oh, he was a peach.

Alas, the midterm was a nightmare. I can't even remember the picture, but I remember the test. He put a slide up on the screen. We wrote an analysis in our blue books. The end. I got a 'D.' Apparently, though, so did the rest of the class. So the last half of the semester came and went, during which he continued his relentless attack on 'bad' art, which was really good art,  and praised 'good' art, which was really not art at all. Then there was that field trip to the Norton Museum of Art where he told us (I promise I am not making this up) that the best painting in there was a Jackson Pollock. No way. I could have sworn it was a drop cloth.

Modern Art is Dumb.
Exhibit B.
Jackson Pollock.
Rumor has it that Pollock set out, with his drip paintings, to prove chaos. What he did, though, was prove order. Tortured soul? Perhaps. Artist? I can't even.

But the final. That was memorable. Here was the deal. He told us that if we could ace the final, he would toss the midterm and give us an 'A' in the class.

And the slide? Oh gosh, I couldn't believe it. The slide was...
Composition III in Red, Yellow, and Blue by Piet Mondrian. (Look it up; I'll wait... ... ...) I about fell out of my chair. I didn't know whether to laugh or get really angry, throw my blue book at him, and march out of the auditorium.

Modern Art is Dumb.
Exhibit C.
Piet Mondrian.
I could paint this thing with no eyes, no hands, and the stump of my tongue. Peter the Monkey could paint this thing. And I was supposed to analyze this?

Now let me just say that I am not one to get on your prayer chain unless there is blood, fire, or exposed bone.  But I did call in the reinforcements for this day. And knowing that people I loved were praying for me, I started to write. I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote. Oh, this was rich. This was good. I knew it was good. And I didn't believe a word of it.

I got an 'A.' (Thank you, Lord!)
The great art hoax of 1989. Trust me.

So. Have I sufficiently defended my squinty-eyed suspicion of art?

Modern art is manipulation of materials, dappled by human arrogance and disdain for the Creator, for the purpose of self-glorification.

Enter Wendell Berry.
Start with arrogance, and end in destruction.
Start by humbly admitting our human limitations, and end with creational flourishing.

I don't just mean human flourishing. I have been very focused on human flourishing, certainly in term of what is most important to me: my marriage, my children, my friends, the Church. I mean creational flourishing. I mean taking this world we steward and treating it with greater care, greater understanding, greater awe. I mean seeing the art of the Creator everywhere.

It is Berry's fascination with the earth that has really shaken up my take on the world. And by 'earth', I don't mean 'planet' so much as 'dirt.' When I think of the beauty of the earth, I think of our planet: the magnificent mountains, the towering redwoods, and our vast oceans. I think in grand, large-scale, epic proportions. But Berry thinks of the dirt right underneath our feet, the creek running through our property, the working animals, and the diligent caretaker.

Berry loves the dirt. He loves the things that live in the dirt and on the dirt and off the dirt. He loves living forests and clean water and working farms. This agrarian topic is so far outside my areas of interest, part of me couldn't believe I was still reading. But Berry's humble, gentle love for Creation compelled me to read one essay after another. My art prof thought Creation wasn't even worth imitating; Berry leaves his reader understanding that Creation is not just worth imitating; it's worth preserving.

Art has always been the Ecclesiastes of my story: meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless.

I now see art in other places. I see art in a logger and the way he loves his horses and his forests.
I see art in a rancher who turns his land from an overgrazed wasteland to a working wilderness.
I see art in man finding, not job, but vocation.

In short, I now see art in stewardship, and I'm inclined to re-write my art prof's definition of art:
Art is the use of Creation by the stewards of Creation to reflect back glory to the Creator. 

I don't think God ever intended for elbows coming out of foreheads to be art. Or nudes walking down staircases. Or green crayons on notebook paper.

But that's precisely what we get when we forget there is a Creator, and He has a purpose.
That's what we get, Denethor, when we forget we're stewards, and we think we're king.
We act like monkeys trying to make masterpieces--and it shows.

Modern 'art' today fails because of its insipid self-absorption and its disdain of creation. On the other hand, environmentalism fails because it deifies the earth and vilifies the steward. Only dominion helps us to see everything as God intended in the very good beginning.  Therefore, only dominion will bring about creational flourishing, for flora, for fauna, and for man.

It's as if the Master Artist had beauty in mind all along. Only His plan of dominion can redeem the manipulation of materials by a human being for aesthetic purposes. Veer into either the ditch of modern art or the ditch of environmentalism...
and we miss beauty completely.

We have a great capacity to hurt. That includes not just each other, but the places where we live. That's the Fall. But we have a great ability to rule and to restore. That's grace.
And that's beautiful.

That's a beauty that Pollock and Mondrian and Dr. Courtney know not of.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Blood Moons and Suckers

We've been told,
God has warned us,
Jesus is comin' soon. (Blind Willie Johnson) 

I watched the blood moon last night. I don't know about your house, but over here, we've pretty much had a collective shrug at all the eschatological hubbub around this event. Like I tell my kids, "If anyone starts telling you that they've figured this thing out, run. Run fast. In the other direction." There's only one thing we know for sure. No man knows the hour. I have that on good authority.

But as I sat there that night and watched the shadow of the earth creep across the face of the moon, I couldn't help but think. Jesus IS going to come. There WILL BE a day when that happens. Until then, He orchestrates these beautiful lunar eclipses that demonstrate His glory and His majesty. I hope you didn't miss that as you watched.

A few years ago, Brett attended a conference on eschatology, in which seven different views of the end times were presented. Seven. Talk about a theological fun-house. Someone is distorting what's said in the scripture. The problem is...I'm just not sure which one. They were each, after all, arguing from the scriptures. You gotta give them credit for that.

John Piper recently wrote an article in which he exhorted his students not to be suckers--eschatological suckers. He pointed out that we all have a tendency to think that there are nothing but blue skies head, even though God has warned us, in the scriptures, of a coming final judgment.

Seems John Piper and Blind Willie are of the same mind on that point. I have to agree.
Where is the promise of His coming? 
I don't want to be that sucker.

Still, there is another side to that coin. We can be suckers in another way, too. We can be suckers by getting sucked into much ado about blood moons. I don't want to be that sucker, either. I don't want that distraction.

I want to be a good wife, honoring and helping my husband.
I want to be a good mom, bringing up my kids in the fear and nurture of the Lord.
I want to be a contributing part of my church.
I want to work out my salvation in fear and trembling.
I want to be kind and tender-hearted and put away all anger, wrath, and malice.
I want to make it my aim to live a peaceful and quiet life.
I want to be transformed by the renewing of my mind.
I want to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all things.
I want to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God.

I do not want to distracted, not even for a moment, by blood moons. I don't want to suspend any of the good things, things I know I'm told to do, to run to the hills. Blood moons shouldn't make me scoff; neither should they make me fear. Blood moons should make me worship the One who holds the world together by the word of His power.

We are salt and light. But some people track Jesus' return like NORAD tracks Santa on Christmas Eve. What a waste of the brief time that's been given to us. I suspect that while they're circling the wagons around their star charts and their 'prophets,' they are salt losing its saltiness; they are lights under a bushel.

(Pause here for a rant about John Hagee. John "I left my wife for the church secretary and I don't care" Hagee? Hagee's got a thing or two comin', none of which look like a crown of life. If Hagee's your hobby, you need a new hobby. And that's all I'm going to say on that point...)

Jesus did not come back the other night. No surprise there. Some of you are laughing that I even had to say that. On the other hand, some of you were seriously thinking about hunkering down.

I don't want to be a blue skies sucker.
I don't want to be a run-for-the-hills sucker.
I want to be the Church.
I want to be a salty preservative in a culture of death.
I want to be light in a dark place.

So let's keep on keepin' on, one foot in front of the other, loving God and living holy out in front of a watching and dying world. Let's live in such a way that our Lord receives us with, "Well done, Salt and Light. Enter into the joy of your Master."

Like a bride waiting for her groom, we'll be a church ready for You,
Every heart longing for her King, we sing, 
Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come.*

*(Even So, Come by Jason Ingram, Chris Tomlin, Jess Cates, 2015) 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Shout Your Abortions?

Shout your abortions?

Dear woman who has had an abortion,

If you had an abortion because your father failed to protect you, because he thought treating you 'like an adult' meant cutting you loose to do your own thing, because he abdicated his responsibility, because he'd rather be your 'friend' than your 'father,' because he insisted that confronting you would drive you away rather than bring you to safety,
or because he abandoned you, never knew you, abused you, or had better things to do or more important relationships to pursue, I am so sorry.
Please know that there is a better Father out there.

If you had an abortion because your church shamed you, rejected you, cast you aside, tossed you out, I am so sorry. Please know that there is a better church  out there.

But be honest.
Did you give your father a chance to protect you?
Did you give your church a chance to support you?
Or, if you're really, really honest with yourself, down in that part of your heart where only you and God can see...
Were you proud?
Were you willful?
Determined to have the quick fix?

Do you find that you have, not so much a compassion for women who have had abortions, as a solidarity with them?
Do you find that you want to lend your voice to the cacophony, rejoicing in this murderous, self-worshipping, God-rejecting mayhem?
Do  you find that you try to civilize abortion by shifting the terms of the debate?
Do you find that you'd rather talk about a barrel full of red herrings (like government programs or blame-shifting or social 'justice'...) than the tiny soul who has inherent worth and is entitled to life?
That's right; that baby is more than just a tiny body with a beating heart. There's a soul there, a soul, and you have NO IDEA what you are dealing with. Or Whom.
Do you find a certain smugness for mincing pro-life and pro-birth? or 'yeah, but' attitudes that claim I can't have principles if I don't also have perfection?
Do you find it cathartic to shout your abortion?

Don't do this wicked thing. Please don't do it.
There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. Proverbs 14:12 
You think your way leads to validation.
You think your way leads to freedom.
You think your way leads to life.
But it doesn't; it leads to death.

There is a way that leads to life.
There is a faithful and just Father who will forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness, if you confess your sin to Him.
There is a Savior who became abortion and selfishness and rebellion on the Cross and absorbed all of God's wrath against those things, so that you could boldly approach the Throne of Grace.
There is a real body of bona fide believers who have received mercy and grace in their time of need, and they stand ready to be conduits of that same mercy and grace for you.

Do you know where the dignity is found in this debate?
Not amongst the shrieking divas shouting their abortions and waving hangers around like deviant keepsakes. Dignity is found in the sisterhood of saints who love much because they have been forgiven much.

Lay down your weapons and your arguments and your fight.
You will not win this one.
Neither your volume, nor your passion, nor your numbers will win this one.

This is not about winning.
This is about living.
You living.
Living with a forgiven past, a new heart, a fresh start, by way of a faithful Savior.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?
Such were some of you. But you were washed; but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
I Corinthians 6:9,11

Now, that's something to shout about!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Gospel of Psalm 121

I flagged the other night. I could feel it. Funny when sin comes upon you unsuspecting, crouching at your door. I was just puttering around the kitchen, and, whamo! there it was in my heart. It spread to my mind, and I was beginning to 'go there' where I shouldn't. It spread through my body, where I could feel my jaw tighten and my muscles clench.

Take every thought captive...
Master it, or it will master you...

It was a momentary stand on the precipice of sin, vanishing almost as quickly as it came. I fought it; I caught it--thanks only to the Holy Spirit. But it had come. I can't deny that. I don't mean to imply that me battling sin is somehow infrequent. It's just that this time was more like a weird out-of-body experience in which I was simultaneously fighting the battle and observing it.

The heart is desperately wicked...
Every inclination of the heart is only evil all the time...

Sin did not pounce on me from the outside. It was not lurking around the corner. The devil didn't make me do it. Sin came from inside my heart because that's where sin always comes from. I was nobody's victim. I didn't need therapy, counseling, or healing. I needed to repent.

I lift my eyes to the mountains. From where shall my help come?

Psalm 121, my favorite psalm, is a Song of Ascents. When the Jews made each of three annual, required pilgrimages to Jerusalem, they sang songs of ascent. And those mountains? We're inclined to read into the text that they were a source of help. But Ligon Duncan disagrees. Those mountains, which signified Jerusalem, were a menace. They were the reason the psalmist was crying for help in the first place. I have to agree.

But forget for a moment the physical dangers of the road. Forget the wild beasts. Forget the lawless men. Forget the blistering heat of the day or the terrifying darkness of the road at night. They were going to Jerusalem to meet the Lord.

If there's one area where the ancient Jew has the modern Christian licked--in spades--it would be the way he feared the Lord, as in, he was terrified. These were people intimately acquainted with what the Lord could do, not for them, but to them. It was part of their psyche because it was part of their history:
the earth opening up and swallowing people whole...
serpents biting and killing them...
fire consuming them...
plagues decimating them...
enemies dragging them off to captivity...
(For a more complete catalog of God-induced misery, see Deuteronomy 28. Yikes.)

So here's the Jew, making his annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It was supposed to be a time of feasting, celebrating, not what the Lord had done to them, but for them. Nevertheless...he will be cut off from his people if he doesn't go. And he must not appear before the Lord empty-handed when he does go--you know, the same Lord who did those things cited above...

Where does his help come from, indeed.

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Oh. So the Lord, who is making this requirement of me, is going to help me carry it out. Now hold on. What does that sound like? The gospel. This sounds like the gospel. God is going to ask me to do something hard...and then He's going to help me get it done.

Author Trevin Wax says in his book, Gospel-Centered Teaching, that we must be careful to read all of Scripture in a way that is distinctively Christian. He says that if we read, for instance, the Old Testament in a way that a faithful rabbi would concur with...we're reading it wrongly.

So how does the gospel impact the way I read this, my favorite psalm? I can see how the Jew on his pilgrimage might read it. But how do I read it through a cross-centered lens?

He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.

Sleep is an incredible gift. On a good night, the sun sets, the work is over, the melatonin kicks in, and we're off to LaLa Land. On a good night. But not all nights are good nights. I can think of a number of things that keep me from having a good night:
A child heavy on my heart...
A difficult relationship...
A health issue...
The future...
The past...
But most of all, the ultimate sleep stealer is the reality of my sin and the fact that that makes me not right with the Lord. Scares the livin' daylights out of me. For some reason, I'm able to think more clearly when the sun is up. For some reason, I'm able to see the facts, preach the gospel to myself, and understand the renewing mercies of the Lord during the day. And that's why I need to sleep, not think, at night.

But He will not allow my foot to slip. That truth should give me rest. He keeps me, AND He will not slumber. Here's the good news: the Lord does the work of wakefulness so that I can find rest and sleep. No wonder the psalmist says elsewhere that He gives sleep to those He loves.

The Lord will protect you from all evil; he will keep your soul.

Evil. My first thought of evil is bad guys. Criminals. Terrorists. Tyrants. People who seek to do me harm. But the fact is that the most damaging evil is the evil in my own heart. I know that. Deep, deep down, I know that. We have got to start thinking correctly about evil. God does NOT promise to keep me from the bad guys. He promises to keep my soul.

When I had that out-of-body experience the other night, it was sobering. I was instantly aware of how sinful that was against the Lord, what a precarious place that put me, how quickly something offensive could bubble up out of my heart. But He was faithful. As quickly as I sinned, He was right there with a warning. And He was right there with forgiveness. He was keeping my soul.

The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.

One day, two thousand years ago, another Man made this pilgrimage. He looked to the hills of Jerusalem, set His face like flint, and went. He went, not to celebrate what the Father had done for Him, but to receive what the Father was about to do to Him. He did not come empty-handed; He offered Himself. And the awful irony is that His sacrifice cut Him off from the land of the living. The Father poured out His wrath...and then the Father turned His face away.

Because Jesus did not appear empty-handed before the Lord, I do not appear empty-handed before the Lord.
Because Jesus was cut off, I will never be cut off.
Because of what the Father did to Him, I can celebrate what He will do for me.

The Cross is not ancillary to Psalm 121.
The Cross is key to Psalm 121. 
So let's read it again, this time through the lens of the Cross.

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains. From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord who made Heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day nor the moon by night. 
The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. 
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever. 

The Lord brought me in. And the Lord will bring me all the way home.
My help comes from the Lord.
That's gospel, people.
That's gospel.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

God's Not Finished With Me Yet--The Power of Hope

I saw the power of hope this week.

It was a tough week for one of my kids. Seemed that every time I turned around, I was rebuking, scolding, and yes, I even yelled at her one evening. She was tangling with everyone; her jaw was stubbornly set in a 'so what' posture; her eyes blazed.

I truly have no idea what set her off. But I could see it was ruling her.

After three straight days of hauling her into the Crisis Room--I mean, study--hauling her into the study, she and I were both emotionally spent. So, after I triaged her to get littler ones put to bed, I took her--and my Bible--and headed out back for a little one on one time.

There was a particularly despairing moment when she put her head down on the table and sobbed. This girl needed some hope. She needed it desperately.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 
Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. 
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit. 
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You. (Psalm 51:10-13)

Do you know who wrote this? I asked.
No, she didn't.
King David. Do you know who he is?
Yes, she did.
And do you know that while he was a man after God's own heart, he sinned grievously?
Her eyes were focused. I had her full attention now.

That evening, sitting in the back yard, my little 8 yr old heard the story of David, and his sin against Bathsheba, Uriah, and the Lord. It's safe to say, by the audible gasps, that she was fairly thunderstruck.

Do you know that God heard David's prayer that day? forgave him? restored him?
And do you know that David never failed to have a man sit on the throne of Israel? and that was God's promise to him?
She nodded in wonder. The light was going on...

There is a reason the writer of Hebrews refers to hope as the "Anchor of the Soul."
Without hope, our souls would drift like a ship lost at sea,
no particular direction, no particular destination.
But with hope...
With hope, our souls stay rooted, anchored to exactly the place we should be.
Hope gives us the energy to do the next thing.
Hope gives us courage to do hard things.
And hope has this amazing power to take our eyes off of ourselves and to fix them upon Jesus, who is the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)

Author AND Finisher.
God goes by lots of titles in the Bible.
But that one is my favorite.
He is the author of my faith.
He chose me. He raised me to life. He gave me the gift of repentance. He forgave me. He adopted me as his daughter.
He is the finisher of my faith.
He will not un-choose me, un-raise me, un-give to me, un-forgive me, un-adopt me. That would be the Un-Gospel.
He will sanctify me. He will conform me to His image. He will bring me to the Father.
And on that last day, He will save me.
He started this work. And He will finish what He started.

Between the beginning and the end...
it is hope that anchors me in the Now and the Not Yet.
It is hope that keeps my eyes on Him.
It is hope that keeps me from despair when I fail Him.
And when I fail Him again.
And again.
It is hope that makes me get to my feet, dust myself off, and get back in the race.
It is hope that brings me sleep at night.

So we sat there, the 8 yr old and I, in the backyard, and we prayed. We prayed for forgiveness. We asked God to do what we can't: to create a clean heart in us.

She came out to the meeting, a despondent, hopeless soul.
She left, laughing and light-hearted.
The joy of her salvation was restored.
THAT is the power of hope.

Create in me a clean, clean heart.
Create in me a work of art.
Create in me a miracle,
Something real, something beautiful.
God's not finished with me yet.
God's not finished with me yet.
By His help, I can change, I can change.
God's not finished with me yet.*

*(Rend Collective, 2014)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

After the Darkness, Light

This post has been simmering in my heart for a few months, especially as I meet with more friends who, like me, are well into the season of life where we are launching grown children and coming alongside as they navigate adulthood. Or maybe you're one who's just now walking into this season. Without even trying, I can rattle off name after name of friends who are finding this season more challenging than anyone prepared us for.

Sometimes we are tentative. Things look good; then again, he has yet to be proven in the fires of the big, bad world. And we see further down the pike than he does. We know some of what lies ahead. Like a friend said to me, "He doesn't know what he doesn't know."

Sometimes we are tearful; that gap we left, that unturned stone, it is now showing up, wreaking havoc in her life, and breaking our hearts.

Rarely are any of my friends finding this to be seamless. After spending twenty-ish years laying a foundation, and then building upon it, we finally take the scaffolding down and stand back. It's an awesome thing to watch them stand on their own. Then we breathe again.

Or maybe you're still holding your breath.
Pensive doubting, fearful heart.
This one's for you.

"He is still risen."
The day after Easter, my newsfeed was lit up with this proclamation. I don't have a problem with setting a day aside to remember the Resurrection. As long as...
As long as we don't forget on all those other days.  But if I greeted you today with the joyous proclamation "He is risen!" you would think me odd or maybe clever. I know that because it's June, and there's nary a hint of Resurrection on my newsfeed today. We are forgetful creatures, indeed.

He is risen!
We need this Truth.
We need it on a random Tuesday.
We need it in August.
We need it in the dead of winter.

He is risen!
We need to steep in this hope.
We need it in our church families.
We need it in our marriages.
And we need it in our parenting.

We need, every day, the Truth that God is in the business of raising dead people to life.

"Post tenebras lux."
After darkness, light.

It was the theme of the Geneva Reformation after literally centuries of darkness for the Church, brought on largely by bad soteriology (doctrine of salvation) and bad ecclesiology (doctrine of the church). Throw in widespread illiteracy and an elitist oligarchy which functioned under the misnomer 'priesthood', and we had a first class mess that practically guaranteed no one could be a Berean, even if they wanted to.

Then--at just the right time--God raised up men who would stand up to the Enemy and bring the Gospel to the people. Their goal was to preach salvation to every corner of society, from the king on his throne to the boy who drove the plow. The darkness was beginning to die. The good news of the Resurrection was gaining ground. A full-blown reformation was at hand.

The hope of this reformation was anchored in the Resurrection, that God, who raised Jesus from the dead, could also raise the king and the plow boy to life, justified by a faith that came from God Himself.

After the darkness, light.
Likewise, the hope of reformation in our children is anchored in the Resurrection. The same Father who raised His Son to life can raise your child to life. The same Father can turn your child's heart of stone into a heart of flesh.

Relating to these new adults we know as our children is delightful. There's nothing as wonderful as investing in this parenting relationship and then waking up one day to realize that these fascinating, deep, gifted people are our friends. And we enjoy being with them. More amazing still, they enjoy being with us! Who knew?

They aren't 'fun size' any more, though.
These adult kids are like Texas; everything's bigger.
Gone are the days of potty training and spilled milk.
Gone even are the days of junior high awkwardness, immaturity, and insecurity.
Gone are the simpler questions like, Which airsoft rifle should I buy?

Adults have adult questions.
Who am I, and why am I here?
Is God Who you always told me He is?
We're no longer talking about obedience; we're talking about accountability.
We're no longer talking about rules; we're talking about wisdom.
We're teaching less and dialoguing more.

Adults struggle with adult sins.
This is what has my mom friends in tears.
And this is where we need to remind ourselves that He is still risen.
When the reality of your children's sin nature smacks you in the face, find your hope in the Resurrection.

I was reading Exodus this morning. God toys with the Red Sea as the children of Israel look on. First, He parts it. He parts a sea. Are you grasping this? He parts a SEA in two and leads Israel through it! I would love to have been a fly on that wall. What were the little guys saying? Mommy, look at that big fish! What were the old folks saying? Never in all my born days...Then--at just the right time--He closes it over their enemies. Finished. Done. Kaput. God:1/Pharoah:0. Game over.

But then. In the fifteenth day of the second month, this: they grumble against the Lord.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  They just walked through a sea parted by the Lord on their behalf...and now they are grumbling?!?

Seems incredible to us. But we do the same thing when we fret over our kids.

God raised Jesus from the dead. Think about that. He died a death so horrible, so tortuous and terrible, that His body wasn't even recognizable. And God raised Him to life! God raised YOU from the dead, too. You were dead in your sin. You were at enmity with God. And--at just the right time--God made you the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus!

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too formerly lived in the lust of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us even when we were dead in our transgressions made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:1-6

Have you forgotten that? Did you witness the hand of God in your own life, but you grumble against the Lord that He has not worked in your child? Do you doubt the faithfulness of God because of the sinfulness of your child?

After the darkness, light.
Sometimes, there are sad seasons of darkness that you have to walk through with your child. If she is saved, grieve with her. Forgive her. Come alongside her. And remind her that Jesus has raised her to life. If he is not saved, bring him to the Father in prayer. Petition the Lord to save him. Trust the sovereignty and goodness of the Father.  Look at His Resurrection track record.

All the walls, I will repair.
Thou shalt be rebuilt anew.
And in thee it shall appear, 
What a God of love can do.*

Oh, mama, this is what the Gospel is for!
Jesus died because your children do sin, not because they might sin.
But, praise God, Jesus is Risen!
And the Father is in the business of bringing dead people to life.
That includes your children.

For if we have been united with him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like His. Romans 6:5

Can I get an amen?

*Pensive Doubting, Fearful Heart, words John Newton, 1779, music Justin Smith, 2012, Indelible Grace.