Sunday, February 8, 2015

God in the Free-Fall

I was about 14 years old when I went repelling in the Shenandoah Mountains. It was at once the most thrilling and the most intimidating thing I have ever done. The hardest part? Going over the edge. I had the harness and diaper firmly attached by a repelling expert, but trusting that it would keep me safe as I went backwards over the edge was very hard to do.
-----------
When we are little, we dream of growing up to become successful. And while 'successful' itself is defined in any number of ways, we all tend to see it as a basic presence of comfort, be that comfortable spouses, children, and friendships, a comfortable income, a comfortable soul housed in a comfortable body.

Oh, we know that marriage and raising children is hard work. We're familiar with things like infertility and cancer, accidents and infidelity, unemployment and financial disaster. But they dance on the edge of impossible. Those things don't really happen, at least not to us, because we go to great lengths to ensure that they don't. We eat right and exercise, take care of our houses and our cars, are ethical employees and business owners. We enter carefully into covenant relationships. We set aside the Dave Ramsey emergency fund. The list goes on and on and on...We pursue success, however we define that, with all seriousness.

Last week, on Christian radio: "Pastor Mary" came on and chatted with the D.J. for a few minutes about calamity and how she reassures that her people that calamity is never from God, but God uses it.

sighhhhh....
Unfortunately, Christian radio doesn't always offer more value than its secular counterpart. The account I cite above was wrong on a couple levels, one of which is for another day, but I jabbed my finger at the off-button in disgust.
Wrong.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I form light and create darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these. Isaiah 45:7

God is the author of calamity. He gets to do whatever He wants to do. That's what makes Him sovereign. Or let me say it this way: that's what makes Him God. When we grow up, we often discover that Life does not go the way we dreamed it would when we were young. Along the way, we forgot to factor in the storms, the cliffs, the free-falls.

We know that He is sovereign over light; we forget He is sovereign over darkness.
We know that He is sovereign over life; we forget that He is sovereign over death.
We know that He is sovereign over sight; we forget that He is sovereign over blindness.

So,  we buckle our kids securely in the car; we work to keep them healthy; we pray for them. And sometimes, God puts His sovereign hand on the small of our back and pushes us to the edge of the cliff....

We set aside a rainy day fund. We budget carefully, tithe faithfully and live frugally. And sometimes, God puts His sovereign hand in the small of our back and pushes us to the edge of the cliff...

We work hard at our marriages and our friendships. We commit to walking with integrity. And sometimes, God puts His sovereign hand in the small of our back and pushes us to the edge of the cliff...

Life will bring us to the edge of the cliff for one reason or another because it is at the edge of the cliff where God teaches you things you would never learn when you are happy, healthy, and well-fed. But it's worse. Sometimes God puts His sovereign hand in the small of your back--and pushes you over the cliff's edge. Dear one, when that happens, give credit where credit is due. You are not being 'attacked.' (Where do we get that???) You are being discipled.

Fact: the only way that you know that God is everywhere, I mean really know it, is that you've been everywhere with Him. Or rather, He's been everywhere with you. God is there for your walk in the park. God is there at the cliff's edge.

And God is still there in free-fall.

He humbled you and let you be hungry and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live on bread alone but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:3

I love author Linda Dillow's name for God: Blessed Controller of All Things. He is in control of everything that comes your way. He does not blink; He does not forget; He is not bound by human action. But He is the blessed Controller. He is, in every way, good. And sometimes, his goodness takes us through the storm or over the cliff's edge.

A few months ago, I was visiting a friend in the hospital. Her son had been in a horrible car accident the week before, and he had not yet awakened. I gave her a hug in the hallway, and she smiled at me through the tears, "God is good." Wow. Just wow. Here in the quiet bustling hall of a hospital, I came face to face with a mighty woman of God. I will never forget that. Here is a woman who knows what it is to be in free-fall--and knows that God is there with her.

I never planned on free-fall. But I sure spent a lot of time presuming on what God would and would not do to me. I presumed that God would never push me to the edge of the cliff. I rested in that. Then He pushed me to the edge of the cliff. I presumed that God would never push me over the cliff. And I rested there, too, thinking how much I had matured. Then He pushed me over the cliff.

I've spent a fair amount of time in free-fall. And I don't presume upon God anymore. I was talking to another friend the other day, a friend who has also done time in free-fall. And he said, "Oh, I am so far beyond anxiety now." Exactly. The only thing I presume now is that God will do whatever it takes to accomplish His purposes.

My first experiences in free-fall brought out some ugly things in my heart.
Hold your peace, you rebellious pot. The Lord is God, and you are not.* 
Now, I understand a wee bit better. And like my friend, I am SO over much (maybe not quite all...) of the anxiety I used to have. I've just seen God too often to waste my time biting my fingernails.

Free fall clarifies things very quickly. It teaches us that solid ground is not what we stand on. Oh, it seems like it is. We like the feel of the solid-ground-of-good-planning beneath our feet. But we confuse that feel with the Sure Foundation. Only going over the edge, with wide-open space beneath us, shows us that God is the only Rock we are really standing on.

That's how it's always been.
We just didn't always know it.

Your way was through the sea
Your path through the great waters;
Yet your footprints were unseen. 
You led Your people like a flock
by the hand of  Moses and Aaron. Psalm 77:19-20
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*Hold Your Peace, 2014, Douglas Wilson

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Acclimating to an Unsuspicious Grace

It was all very innocent. I was working with the children on a writing curriculum, and as I turned the page, there it was, this magnificent work of art. I'm an art stoic in that I do not typically speak the language of art, and art rarely moves me. But this. This moved me. I'm sure it took only a few seconds. Yet the world stopped for just those few seconds as my eyes and my heart connected with the painting. I smiled. Deeply. From my lips to my soul. For in those few seconds, I finally got it.

It took me forty-seven years, but I finally got it.



We are suspicious of grace. We are afraid of the very lavishness of the gift.
(Madeleine L'Engle)

Truer words were never spoken of me. I am, by nature, suspicious of grace. I'm inclined to think that if I show some unmerited favor to my kids, they'll be on the fast track to hell. I stare at grace with squinty eyes and closed fists, unwilling to relinquish the upper hand. I doubt that letting go, letting favor flow from me to the favored one will elicit anything...favorable. I walk circles around grace, giving it a pinch-lipped once-over. When it comes to grace, I hesitate.

There in the shadows of this life...

One of the worst memories I have of parenting is going toe to toe with one of my children over dinner. What he didn't eat for dinner, he would eat for breakfast. What he didn't eat for breakfast, he would eat for lunch.I am horrified by that, and my heart still hurts, all these many years later. It really does.

There in the darkest night of the soul...

So I won the war.
Big.
Freaking.
Deal.

What I did not win was his heart.

Unfortunately, that's not the only time I sank that low. There was the time I rummaged through my closet, found a suitcase, and handed it to my rebellious teenager. "Pack. And get out." No heart-winning there either. But my husband came home and reached out with unmerited favor to that hardened heart. Guess which parent had that child's ear that day.

Same for the saint and the sinner...

I hate those parenting books, the ones that tell you to set them up for a fail, and then discipline them for it. Tricksy parentses. I want to build a bonfire, collect every copy from every corner of the globe, and roast marshmallows with my children over the sorry, burnt carcasses. They fail utterly in replicating God's parenting of us because they are suspicious of grace

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children...
obey me the first time?
No.
come when they are called?
No.
treat me with respect?
No.
walk in the Truth?
Yes.

The aforementioned Truth is the gospel of
works?
No.
goodness?
No.
grace?
Yes.

I'm going to say something radical here. It is not our job to raise good kids; that's God's job. It is my job to take their hand and lead them to the Cross. It is my job to sit there with them, at the foot of the Cross, and tell them my story: that I was created in God's image, that I have inherent worth, Imago Dei; that I was at enmity with God and under His wrath, that I was a woman of unclean lips from a people of unclean lips; that He redeemed me from the pit, that God made Him who had no sin to become sin for me so that I might become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. And it's my job to tell them that this is their story, too.

There in the everyday and the mundane...

What does unsuspicious grace do?
Unsuspicious grace considers my child's frame.
When they are tired, I give them rest.
When they are dehydrated, I give them water.
When they are hormonal I give them space.
Unsuspicious grace takes time to discern whether my child is being foolish or rebellious.
Unsuspicious grace refuses to view my child's sin as a declaration of war against me, either personally or positionally.
Unsuspicious grace disciplines, not with a view to reducing my stress or making my life easier. It disciplines with a view to opening my child's eyes to his need for a Savior.

Unsuspicious grace raises children who fall before the Cross, beat their chests, and plead with the Lord, "Have mercy on me, a sinner."

Suspicious grace?
Every offense is a spanking offense. Or a food-withholding, shelter-withholding, affection-withholding offense.
And it produces good kids, sure as shootin'.
It also produces a Pharisee who thanks the Lord that she is not like those sinners.
It produces a 45 or 46 or 47 year old who has a crisis of grace, who wakes up one day and realizes that she has never been good, will never be good, outside of God's intervention,
that every drop of goodness in her is an alien goodness that comes outside herself, that was imputed to her at the Cross.

Grace: unmerited favor.
I've said this before, but it bears repeating.
Emphasize unmerited. Then emphasize favor.
And now you've got it.

This past spring, I came face to face with the miracle of grace. That kid who lost the war over dinnertime? Same kid; different war. Much, much higher stakes. Last time law. And loss. This time, grace. And life. It was supernatural. I don't know how else to say it. It was like God went before us and came after us and walked us step by step through grace.

I saw the difference. I saw it with my own eyes. Or I would not have believed it. It drained away every drop of suspicion I ever had of grace. For I saw that grace does not repel; grace attracts. Grace does the work that law could never, ever do.

There in the sweetest songs of victory...

I was smack in the middle of this lesson, running my son back and forth to the airport so he could make things right, when this song came on the radio. It took my breath away. And it defined my whole year.

From the Creation to the Cross.
There from the Cross into Eternity,
Your grace finds me. 
Yes, Your grace finds me. 

I'm still used to the thick, heavy air of suspicious grace. Up here on the Mountain of Grace, the air is different; it's crisp and unsuspicious. This is where the Prodigal comes to be restored because this is where the Father is. And I'm still acclimating.

But, man, you ought to see the view.

I'm breathing in Your grace, 
And breathing out Your praise.
Breathing in Your grace forever.
----------------------------------
"Your Grace Finds Me" by Matt Redman.
My song of the year:


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Homosexuality: The Challenge to Think and Act Biblically

A gay pair shows up at your Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching, Truth-loving church.
Now what?

Twice in the past month, I have found myself having impromptu discussions about homosexuality with two different adult children. One child was blindsided by The Tolerance Game when an innocent remark got a friend's ire up. "Never say that in my presence again." The offensive topic? Those people who can't easily be identified as either a 'he' or a 'she.' Recognizing personhood puts one in an awkward grammatical position, to say the least. Is the person 'he' or 'she?' Certainly not an 'it,' the only pronoun my child could come up with was 'heshe.' And she got her hand slapped by false, pagan piety.

The second conversation happened when another child was musing aloud, "What do you do if a gay person shows up in your living room? What about the partner?"
Do you have them over for dinner? What about the partner?
Can they stay in your home?
And what about your children?
As a parent, I recognize that one of my most important jobs is to protect my children. But my other important job is to be a gospel bearer. I've asked this question before. How do we get close enough to the world to be salt and light, but stay far enough back to keep the kids out of harms' way?

Like it or not, this is the world our children are growing up to inherit.

I've been accused in the past of being too focused on theology, of treating life as if it was a test of doctrine, of treating heaven like the Big Theology Test in the sky. If theology were my hobby, that would be fair enough.

But that entirely misses the point. Theology teaches me about God, Whom I love. I want to know what He thinks, what He loves, what He does not love. And I want to do likewise. 

I want to do likewise.
Doctrine and theology are not a moral high horse. Don't let anyone ever tell you that!
I want an orthodox faith because it leads to an orthodox life. 
Orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy. 
And orthopraxy is worship.

I've long heard that we Christians need a theology of suffering firmly in place because suffering is a matter of 'when,' not 'if.' The surer our foundation, the more likely we are to survive the battering wind and waves of suffering.

Likewise, I was telling my daughter, we need a theology about homosexuality.
This is certainly not a new sin; the writer of Ecclesiastes affirms that there is nothing new under the sun. But it is a more brazen sin than it used to be. There is no more coming out of the closet because a closet implies shame. In our day, the word 'pride' is more likely to be associated with it than 'sin.'

It is no longer a matter of 'if' a gay person enters our social circle; it's a matter of 'when.' Perhaps some of you, like me, even number relatives among the ranks. That's just the way it is now. And it is imperative that we have a gospel response. We must figure out how to think and act biblically about homosexuality.

Enter Sam Allberry's book  Is God Anti-gay? It was probably a day after one of these conversations with my kids that I found this book sitting on a pile of books in the study. So I picked it up. And I couldn't put it down.

I mean this sincerely when I say, this may be THE most important book you read this year. I want all of my adult kids to read it.
And every kid old enough after that.

Allberry is a single man and pastor who struggles himself with same-sex attraction. So he has the insider story of what that is like for a man who names the name of Jesus yet fights this battle. I love his transparency. He talks about what it's like to live with SSA. He talks about what it means to submit to the Truth of Scripture. And he talks about how the Church can respond to both those who battle SSA and those who have caved to the temptation and taken it as a lifestyle. Allberry talks about how hard it has been to live without a family to call his own, to hold an infant and know that he will never be a father, to know that he will never experience the intimacy of biblical sexuality.

I am challenged by this book.
I am broken by this book.
I admit that I have not responded well; I have not had compassion. I have not fully appreciated the struggle of these humans, their need to be whole, to be healed, to be saved. This is a segment of society who needs the light of the gospel as much as any of us.

Allberry reminds me that the gay person's identity is not his sexuality. It is one of the sins he battles, but it is not the only sin.
Allberry reminds me that demanding immediate, perfect, sinless conformity to the commands of scripture reduces the gay person to just gay, not lost.
Allberry reminds me that it is more profitable to work from the inside out, rather than the edges in.
Just like the rest of us.

To borrow from Paul David Tripp, do you want to see their heart changed so they can bear real fruit? or do you just want to staple fake apples on a dead tree?

Some may question whether SSA itself is a sin. All lust is a sin, as my husband points out. And this is a broken, sinful world. We are saddled with our sinful flesh until Jesus comes back or takes us home. But I don't see a difference between that and the person who battles drugs. Every time the believer craves another high but resists the devil and flees the temptation, he is taking up his cross and following Jesus. In the same way, Allberry reminds his readers that the believer with SSA can take up his cross and follow Jesus--to the glory of God.

As for the rest of us?
Jesus went outside the camp.
He touched the untouchables, cleansed the dirty, and saved the sinners.
And will I now shrink back from doing the same? I, who once belonged outside the camp, too?
May it never be!

We've got some work cut out for us. If my home is to be gospel-centered, then my home must have a gospel-informed response to homosexuality. We've got some conversations to have and some wrestling to do.

Allberry does a great job of discussing the scriptural view of homosexuality without changing it or imposing a post-modern interpretation on it. He debunks the arguments of liberals to re-write scripture or to say things that God didn't say.

He reminds his reader that being biblical and being compassionate peacefully coexist.
He breathes grace.
I want to breathe grace, too.

Blessed Redeemer, Precious Redeemer,
Seems now I see him on Calvary's tree.
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading,
Blind and unheeding, dying for me. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Feast of Books--My 2014 Reading List

When my daughter-in-law had a baby shower, I did not send a blanket or a onesie or diapers. I sent books. Specifically, I sent The Big Picture Story Bible, because it's never too early to lead little ones to God, and I sent Ferdinand the Bull, because some children's books simply demand continuous reading. Over and over.

To have read a good book once is to have only breakfasted. Charlotte Mason.
Amen, sista.
2014 was a year of reading books again.

This spring, one of our children was having a gospel crisis. Some of it was intellectual. I found it helpful to re-read some books by gospel-saturated intellectuals. What is Reformed Theology by RC Sproul, Creation Regained by Albert Wolters, and Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey offered fantastic insight, much of which I saw more clearly the second time around.

Over the summer, a debate (and an unfortunate blog post) kicked up over courtship. Hmmm. I'd read some really good books in the past. Could it be that I had missed something? So I read them again. Did I miss something? In a word--no. In many words...I may or may not be working on a future post. But in one dispassionate, purely logical comment, let me say just this: If you want a bona fide perspective on courtship, rather than a faulty appeal to authority, you should only be reading and heeding parents of marriageable-age children. Courtship, after all, is merely a sub-category of parenting.

Douglas Wilson's Her Hand In Marriage reaffirmed our commitment and responsibility to our children. And Voddie Baucham's What He Must Be If He Wants to Marry My Daughter offers a sound hermeneutic for marriage and manhood, as well as fatherhood. Any courtship critic, if he wants to be taken seriously, is going to have to contend with Baucham's deeply biblical assertions. 

But my re-reading was not limited to family and doctrine. There's some glorious, glorious fiction out there that deserves some attention. I admit my tastes are a bit outside the mainstream. I barely made it to the end of Harry Potter and didn't even care enough to pick up the second book. Hunger Games, besides just being dark and depressing, is a veritable hero famine.

Hungering for something noble instead? Let me highly HIGHLY recommend The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson. This four-book series (On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, North! Or Be Eaten, Monster in the Hollows, The Warden and the Wolf King) is an absolute gem which, I'm betting, both Jack and JRR would read. And read again. Don't be fooled by the fact that it was written for middle-schoolers. Don't be fooled by the zany humor. This, dear reader, is pure, literary brilliance. Good guys who are really good. Bad guys who are really bad. Story lines intertwined over layers of scriptural insights. We've read it twice out loud. And twice it has stopped me in my tracks as I've had to collect myself before I could continue reading. If you don't see yourself somewhere here, if you don't see The Maker, you are not paying attention. Read it. Buy it. And read it again.

Fear not; I read some new stuff, too. Boy in the Striped Pajamas took my breath away. And John Buchan, author of Thirty-Nine Steps and Huntingtower, is my new favorite spy novelist.

But my magnum opus this year, from a reader's point of view, was From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, a tome edited by JI Packer and others on definite atonement. Yeah. Definite. As in Jesus came and died for a specific number of people, his elect. I was already convinced of the "L" in TULIP, but this cinched it for me. A collection of essays by various theologians, From Heaven proves definite atonement from both a scriptural and a theological point of view, as well as demonstrating how it was the orthodox teaching on atonement until recent history. The final set of essays discusses definite atonement from a pastoral point of view; it's the 'what this means for me' part of the book. It took me all summer to read, and some of it I had to slog through. But most of it was very readable. Mostly, it confirmed that God is a Big God with a Big Love for a definite people.

It was a good year in books. :)

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers
Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Dragon's Tooth by ND Wilson
Holidays in Heck by PJ O'Rourke
What to Expect When No One's Expecting by Jonathan Last
Boys of Winter by Wayne Coffey
Cyrano d'Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
Beyond Courage--Untold Stories of the Jewish Resistance by Doreen Rappaport
Heiress of Wisterwood by Sarah Ladd
The Chase by Clive Cussler
The Good News We Almost Forgot by Kevin DeYoung
Cold War by James Warren
Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan
To Live is Christ by Matt Chandler
Huntingtower by John Buchan
God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew
Second American Revolution by John Whitehead
Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt
And Now, Miguel by Joseph Krumgold
The Passion of Jesus Christ by John Piper
Lord Peter by Dorothy Sayers
The Big House by Carolyn Coman
Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
Assumptions that Affect Our Lives by Christian Overman
Creation Regained by Albert Wolters
Just David by Eleanor Portis
A Shelter in the Storm by Paul David Tripp
Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung
Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis
What is Reformed Theology by RC Sproul
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers
The Silver Chair by CS Lewis
Remember Me by Penelope Wilcock
Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
Tree of Life by Graeme Goldsworthy
Scots Worthies by John Howie
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola
How Do I Love Thee by Nancy Moser
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson
From Heaven He Came and Sought Her edited by JI Packer, et al
Recovering Redemption by Matt Chandler
The Innocence of Father Brown by GK Chesterton
Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung
Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt by Elizabeth Payne
North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson
Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler
Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers
Expositional Preaching by David Helm
True Beauty by Carolyn Mahaney
Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson
Her Hand in Marriage by Douglas Wilson
The Horse and His Boy by CS Lewis
What He Must Be if He Wants to Marry My Daughter by Voddie Bauchum
Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins
Truth Matters by Andreas Kostenberger, et al
Mistress Masham's Repose by TH White
The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson
Thirteen Days in September by Lawrence Wright

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Dreaming of a White Christmas

Snow.
One of my favorite things in the whole world.
Clean.
Cold.
Quiet.

Free of all the things I can't stand in the world
like heat
or sand
or noise.

Memories from childhood of sledding
and snowballs
and opening my bedroom dormer window and climbing out on the roof with my dad to watch as it fell.
So quiet, it makes its own music.
So beautiful, it is its own art.

No, there is nothing like snow.

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. 
Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow. (Isaiah 1:18)

That is what the Incarnation set it motion.
Clean.
It gave us hope that the stain of our sin would be cleansed.
Cold.
It rescued us from the flames of Hell that were licking at our feet and beckoning us to our own destruction.
Quiet.
It silenced the noise of our flesh that tries to interfere with the noise of our Father.

There is just something about snow.
It is clean and cold and quiet whether it lies in the peaceful valley or on the rugged mountaintop. The constancy of the properties of snow just stuns me into awe at my Creator and makes me fall to my knees in worship of my Redeemer.

We still do battle with the heat and the sand and the noise.

But it's temporary.
What the Incarnation set in motion,
and what the Resurrection permanently secured,
will one day, once and for all,
make a permanent reality.

Until then, I remember the clean, cold, quiet snow of my childhood,
and I dream of the clean, cold, quiet snow to come.

Merry Christmas from my family to yours.

May all your Christmases be white.

Monday, December 1, 2014

How Not To Be Insufferable

Like a song of ego that clings to me,
How the thought of you does things to me.
Never before has someone been more...
Insufferable. (Nat King Cole--sorta)

"Everyone under 30 is an idiot." (Pastor Bill Wilson--verbatim)

I remember distinctly where I was when crusty Brooklyn evangelist Bill Wilson said that. I was 29, married for almost 9 years, and the mother of four children. Well, alrighty then.

Now that I've got three adult children in their twenties, with a fourth almost there, I've been observing a lot about this demographic. I'm now interacting with twentysomethings more than I have since I was a twentysomething all those years ago.  For the most part, this is a delightful portion of the population. They are zealous, idealistic, and enthusiastic. They have the world before them and almost nothing in their way. I love them; I love hanging out with them; I love our chats; I love hearing them think out loud or grapple with life's issues. Of every four twentysomethings I personally know, three of them are a delight because those are the kind of people my adult children choose for friends.

But there's often an undercurrent of omniscience, insufferable omniscience.

Insufferability. It sets in about the senior year of high school and crescendoes during the college/early career years. (Think 18 to 25. But Wilson isn't far off.) Then, with any luck and a whole lot of God's intervention, it tapers off--much to the relief of our family and friends.

And don't bluster at me. Your mother agrees with me. She told me so. :)
Nobody loves me but my mother, but she could be jivin', too. (BB King)
No. She loves you; she's your mother. But unconditional love and blind adoration are not the same thing. At least, they shouldn't be.

Is it because they're fresh out of the logic stage? Is it because so many of  them debated in high school?  Is it because they've argued with their peers so long that they think everyone is their peer? Is it because they've learned so much stuff that they confuse a 'vast-knowledge-of-stuff' with 'wisdom?'

I've also noticed that marriage changes things.
Probably because there's nothing like a spouse and children to get your eyes off your own fascinating navel. You think your parents are bad? or your sibling roommate? Your spouse is all of that rolled into one, plus more. Methinks it's no accident that marriage often begins right in this season.

Now don't get your underoos in a wad. It took me more than twenty-nine years to reach the age of 30. I know of what I speak. I wouldn't go back and re-live my twenties for anything. I shudder at the person I was. And to be fair, the battle between your ego and God's glory is a battle you will fight your whole life. It just seems to be less sanctified at this stage of life. At least, that's my own story.

Theologian/pastor/author Dr. RC Sproul wrote, "As I reach my twilight years, perhaps the last three holes of the back nine, I have lost the omniscience I briefly enjoyed as a college sophomore."

I love that quote.
I.love.that.quote.
I love it so much it's my favorite quote of all time. And I hooted aloud when I first read it in Dr. Sproul's book, The Consequence of Ideas, because I remember the omniscience of my own sophomore year.
It's true.
And it's accurate.
Deathly, scathingly accurate.

I love it so much that I'm going to say it again.
As I reach my twilight years, perhaps the last three holes of the back nine, I have lost the omniscience I briefly enjoyed as a college sophomore.

Youth is awesome. But it's still youth.
Young adults are awesome. But they're still young adults.

Timothy, who pastored the church of Ephesus, was young. And it is in Paul's letter to Timothy where we find the oft-quoted (by youth) "Let  no one despise you for your youth..." passage (I Timothy 4:12). So let's back up and see what God had to say to young Timothy. I think the secret to not being insufferable might be found in this letter.

Pretend you're on Google Earth. Take one step out. The whole verse, which we are wont to abridge, says, "Let no one despise you for your youth, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe." Translation: there's a whole boatload of valid reasons to disdain youth. But you, you, don't supply any good reason for that disdain from your own life. You be an example that contradicts the well-earned, bad reputation of youth. You be an example in your speech, your conduct, your love, your faith, your purity.

GoogleEarth, another step out. Let's look at the whole letter, I Timothy, which I shall herein subtitle, Listen Up, Young'n. What did the Apostle Paul feel was important enough to write this young man? Let's see...

Once upon a time, in the faraway city of Ephesus, there was a young pastor named Timothy...

(This is your cue to go get your bible. I'll wait.)*

Chapter one...
Grace, mercy, and peace.
Dear Timothy, don't forget God's grace--getting what you don't deserve, God's mercy--not getting what you do deserve, and God's peace--which comes from being thankful for aforementioned grace and mercy.
Pure heart, good conscience, sincere faith.
Dear Timothy, remember this is the aim. By all means, drink deeply of pure doctrine, but it's not so you can win arguments. It's so your heart will be pure, you conscience will be good, your faith will be sincere.
How not to be insufferable according to chapter one.

Chapter two...
Pray for all men.
Dear Timothy, prayer will remind you that, while you can't change people, God can. Prayer for all men will remind you that other people have worth.
How not to be insufferable according to chapter two.

Chapter three...
How to conduct oneself in the household of God.
Dear Timothy, just in case you thought your vast wealth of knowledge qualifies you for leadership...
Let me remind you that it is the humble success of a well-ordered home and a disciplined life that makes you truly qualified.
How not to be insufferable according to chapter three.

Chapter four...
Public reading of scripture, exhortation, teaching. Devote yourself to these. Practice, immerse, persist. 
Dear Timothy, public scripture reading, public exhortation, public teaching, these will grow you and the ones around you. There's nothing like scripture, and the exhortation and teaching of it, to remind you of who you were without Christ, who you are and will be because of Christ.
How not to be insufferable according to chapter four.

Chapter five...
Widow, elders, rebuking someone older than you.
Now I'm all for being on a first name basis with young adults, say high school graduates. I think it's important that they be included in the adult circle of fellowship, in iron sharpening iron. On the one hand, they become peers; on the other hand, there will always be different levels of wisdom, purely because one has walked this earth longer than another. Like Moses said, Rise in the presence of the aged, young'n.
How not to be insufferable according to chapter five.

Chapter six...
Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called 'knowledge.'
Timothy, don't be a dufflepud, dear one. If someone declares persuasively that watermelons are of the devil, take a deep breath because your peers will be saying, "Watermelons are of the devil? Hear him, hear him! Watermelons are of the devil! Watermelons are of the devil!" Sometimes, ideas masquerade as knowledge, and fools masquerade as sages. Don't be their town crier.  And don't follow them over the edge of the cliff. Stop. Think. Refer back to chapter four.
How not to be insufferable according to chapter six.

And Timothy lived wisely ever after.

I don't mean to imply that I Timothy is just for young adults. All of us get the benefit of  the Holy Spirit's wisdom, through Paul, to Timothy. In fact, of all the lessons above, the one God is most deeply impressing upon my own conscience this past fall is rising in the presence of the aged. I see how far off I am, how far I have to go. But I am thankful for the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the power to change through Him.

Google Earth, final step back. Timothy is the New Testament's example of young adulthood...
Because a man of Paul's spiritual calibre had vetted him--and approved him.
Because a man like Paul installed him as a pastor, wrote to him, walked alongside him.
We don't know he was living a commendable life because of his stack of medals or his popularity on campus or his whizbang intellect.  We know he was living a commendable life because an older, wiser man in the faith was investing in him.

I suggest that a man who has walked with God for decades has more to offer than a young seminarian.
I suggest that a woman who has finished parenting has more valuable advice to offer than an early-childhood education major.
I suggest that a finely aged pastor with one brain tied behind his back will trump a therapist on her best day.
I suggest that a small-business owner who has lived through business cycles, bear and bull markets both, will have more valuable economic wisdom than the Armani-suited Wharton graduate.

I suggest you imitate Reheboam less, seeking wisdom from your peers. It didn't work well for him; it won't work well for you.
I suggest that you imitate Timothy more.
Find your Paul, and drink him dry.

So flee youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. II Timothy 2:22 

*This is not an exegetical reading of  I Timothy. :)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Sweet Ride

"Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. 
Let my soul come not into their council; 
O my glory, be not joined to their company. 
For in their anger they killed men, and in their willfulness, they hamstrung oxen. 
Cursed be their anger, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel." 
Genesis 49:5-7

In response to the rape of their young sister, Dinah, Simeon and Levi plot and exact revenge on the men of Shechem. There is a part of me, to be quite honest, that cheers their fierceness in defending their sister. But Jacob was dismayed at their violence.  It would have been one thing to demand justice from the perpetrator. It was another thing to exceed the eye-for-eye bounds of justice in pouring out their fury on an entire city. Jacob, from his deathbed, has not forgotten their behavior. And he offers his blessing. But his blessing sounds more like a curse.

But Simeon and Levi are sheep of God's flock. And He is the Good Shepherd. Turns out theirs is a story of hope amid the consequences.

Consider Simeon. He is destined to be scattered because of his violent anger. Yet we find Simeon nestled right inside the territory of Judah. Simeon's storyline will find him alternately defending the tribe of the Messiah and being protected deep within its bounds.

Our stories find us there, too. Our lives are laid before before Him with Whom we have to do. He will bring judgment; He will remove middle ground. We are, in essence, cornered by God. But we are carried by God, too. When we stray out of bounds, the Good Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to come get us. He lifts us to His shoulders and brings us back. And sometimes, sometimes, He buries us deep within the Messiah's boundary.

Can't get out...
Can't breathe...
Claustrophobic...
Terrified...
But when I calm down enough to think,..
Surrounded by strong arms.
Not pinning me down...
Wrapping themselves around me...
Inspecting.
Correcting.
Healing.
Restoring.

Maybe being hemmed in by this Messiah isn't such a bad deal...

Consider Levi. Scattered indeed. Of all the tribes, Levi is the only one who doesn't get any territory. Their inheritance is the Lord.
Yeah, yeah, God's my passion.
Not really. Though they did have an occasional good day, like the time they rallied to Moses against the golden calf, Levi's commitment is, shall we say, rather spotty.
Levi, who made such a show of strength in Genesis 34, will be beholden to the rest of the tribes for sustenance and shelter.
Levi will be the ransom for the firstborn.

Levi, who intentionally spilled the blood of Shechem, will administer the cities of refuge.
Cities of refuge, which offer shelter to the unintentional spiller of blood, but turn over the cold-blooded killer for justice...
Daily reminders of what should have been for Levi,
Of the mercy of God...
Of not getting what was so justly deserved...
Oh, and Shechem, the very site of Levi's vicious carnage?
That would be one of the refuges.

More importantly, Levi will deal in bloodshed in a whole new way.
Every day.
Rams, bulls, goats, sheep, pigeons, turtledoves...
Blood running down the altar, down their garments...
Everywhere the sights, sounds, smell of death...
I will show you what you must suffer for My name...
And every day they would be the ones to make intercession for the people.
How ironic.

God did not give Levi the boot after Shechem. But he did have a plan for them.
He carried that sheep back into the flock.
And up there, on His shoulders, from that perspective, Levi saw the cost of sin.
Levi did the work of atonement...
Levi did the work of inspection...
It was Levi who went into the Holy of Holies...
To face a holy, holy, holy God once a year.

Life up on His shoulders. Sometimes we do time up there.
Some of us more than others.
So next time you blow it, and He hoists you up, yeah, you might lose some independence.
Yeah, you might be getting a ride that the other sheep all see.
But He's not casting you out.
He's holding you close.

And maybe you'll get a glimpse, just a small glimpse, of life from God's perspective.
That's a sweet ride.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, 
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 
He will not always chide, nor will He keep His anger forever. 
He does not deal with us according to our sins, 
nor repay us according to our iniquities. Psalm 103:8-10

(Many thanks to my elders, Brett and Craig, for helping me connect some of these dots.)