I won’t even do it for my pastor!

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Sunday morning.  The communion table’s shrouded plates drew my attention. My thoughts centered on Jesus and His saving work for me. “Father, give me a genuine sense of Your Son’s sacrifice for me!”

A bit of a grimace flickered across our pastor’s face as he prayed for our church and the world.  I decided to pray for him right then and there. An unbidden idea arrived -“What if I asked God to give ME Patrick’s headache or stomach discomfort for the duration of the service?”

As quickly as suggestion formed in my mind, I dispatched it with this humbling admittance:

  • I’m not willing to suffer Patrick’s stead, even for one hour!

My eyes settled once again on the surface bearing the elements.

Holy Spirit-inspired Truth landed on me.

Jesus PLANNED for and undertook to undergo my eternal punishment, cut off from the love of His Dad, a fellowship He had enjoyed since before time.

Not just MY eternal punishment but the weight of every other believer’s well-earned punishment too.  I sat there, half listening to Patrick and using my imagination to re-create the enormity of this formula:

  • Infinite punishment due one believer X number of men for whom Christ suffered X 3 days

My finite brain cells couldn’t expand sufficiently.  But I glimpsed a splinter of Jesus’ love for us.

The sacrament of the shared Supper drew forth a new kind of gratitude.  Thank you, good Father for answering my morning’s prayer.

 

Food and the Kingdom of God

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Gluten-free, slow foods, farm-to-table, organic, paleo, real food, vegan – who knows HOW or WHAT to eat anymore!

The Table Comes First

I just finished reading a compelling book The Table Comes First.  Adam Gopnik explores the history and philosophy of meals and restaurants.   At the end, however, he reveals that he belongs to that segment of the population who doesn’t worship God.  Therefore, in lieu of the salvation paradigm of Christianity, he makes the assertion that the elevation of the pleasures of dining and sharing a meal can provide meaning, purpose, depth and a sort of rescue to otherwise unmoored humans.

If I look at my own idolizing of ways of eating, I also plead guilty to seeking ‘salvation’ through food.  But with Gopnik’s bold claim, I was struck by how unnecessary it is to place food and Christianity into opposite camps.

Consider the following tangible examples:

  1. Human history originates in a garden with an abundance of fruitful trees for the sustenance and pleasure of God’s image-bearers.  The other bookend of the Bible and the human story are set as a heavenly feast with the host of the Party Himself!
  2. The resurrected Jesus asked for a piece of broiled fish to eat. (Luke 24: 41-42)
  3. A fair number of Jesus’ signs and miracles produced, transformed or multiplied food and drink.  Think of the wedding at Cana and the fine wine.  And the two accounts of the feeding of the 5000.  And manna and quail for the wandering Jews in the desert, accompanied by water from a rock.
  4. Honey revived King Saul’s son Jonathan after a long battle. (1 Sam 14:27)
  5. Gleaning in the barley fields led to Ruth’s marriage, the great-great grandma of King David from whose line Jesus came.
  6. Jesus dined with women and the marginalized segments of society, to the shock of the elite and rule-following average Hebrew.
  7. And let’s not forget the setting for the inaugural New Covenant of Grace, a Passover meal.

And if the above are examples of material food and drink, then there are all the image passages that point beyond food qua food:

  1. We are commanded to, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Ps 34:8)
  2. Jesus likened himself to the staff of life. “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35)
  3. Paul himself chose covenantal wine to symbolize his final days when writing to encourage Timothy – “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” (2 Tim 4:6)

What good news that we don’t have to choose either secular society’s view of food and drink or an ascetic version of Christianity!

My husband reminded me last night of one of CS Lewis’ main teachings about human desires.  These ‘hungers’ are NOT ends in themselves, but signposts to something greater that can only be satisfied in a better and deeper way.  So if we find that we are hungry for earthly food, then we were created for a more satisfying food that will be provided us upon receipt of our inheritance.  The desires ARE real and they WILL BE fulfilled, but in ways that we cannot begin to imagine.

My take away in thinking this through is to be BETTER prepared when describing true Christianity the way it really is to a world jaded and blasé about life.  This world doesn’t satisfy.  And it never was MEANT to.

Recall the excitement you might once have lived when you were very little and Mom and Dad treated you to one of your first outings for lunch or an ice-cream.  Or think back to one of your initial dining experiences as a young adult on a date in a fancy restaurant. The way they thrilled you can never be quite the same.

But Christians don’t have to be wearied with this present world.  The best truly IS yet to be.  We won’t miss out by being a Christian.  We get it all with Christ.

Bon appétit!

Bon appétit

Crazy Love – thoughts from Francis Chan

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Francis Chan shares a vision of what being crazy about God looks like.  Lloyd C. Douglas wrote a book in 1929 called Magnificent Obsession, loosely based on the Gospel of Matthew.  That title describes what Chan is trying to portray as the ideal Christian response to God.  Here are some kernels of thought that spoke to me.

  1. Quoting A. W. Tozer:  “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us”
  2. Regarding God’s command to ‘rejoice in the Lord always’, Chan says:  “When I am consumed by my problems, stressed out about my life, my family, my job, I actually convey the belief that I think the circumstances are more important than God’s command to always rejoice.”
  3. Regarding control in the face of the uncertainties of life:  turning inward is one   way to respond.  Acknowledging our lack of control and reaching out for God’s help is another
  4. If we indulge in worry and stress, we are displaying arrogance.  We are declaring our tendency to forget 4 things:  -we have been forgiven/ -our lives are brief/ -we’re headed to heaven/ -in the context of God’s strength, that our problems are small indeed.
  5. The greatest good on this earth is God
  6. A piercing question:  Has your relationship with God actually changed the way you live?
  7. How God measures our lives (and what matters to Him most) – how we love
  8. If life is a river, then pursuing Christ requires swimming upstream.  If we stop swimming (i.e. stop pursuing Christ), we get pushed downstream.  We are letting our relationship with Christ deteriorate.
  9. Nothing should concern me more than my relationship with God (not my weight, not my time)

10. When I look at my relationship with God as a duty, a chore, a sacrifice, then I am getting the glory, not God.

11. We have a choice.  Either we just let life happen or we actively run toward Christ.

12. Radical concept – how about aspiring to the Median – when people commit to live at or below the median US income and give the rest for missions.

13. ******What are you doing right now that requires faith?

14. ******We are consumed by safety.  Most of our prayers are for traveling mercies.  What about praying, “God, bring me closer to you during this trip, whatever it takes.”

15. ******Battling pride – we have to seek to make our self less known and Christ more known.

16. Joy doesn’t depend on circumstances (my job, my weight, my time) or environment.  It is a gift that must be chosen and cultivated, a gift that ultimately comes from God.  (which means that God must REALLY care about providing me with a way to cultivate joy, i.e. TRIALS)

17. A person who literally has to depend on God for his daily bread and all that includes stays in prayer, close to God.

18. Chan says he wrote the book because much of our talk doesn’t match our lives.  We ‘quote’:  “I can do all things through Christ…../ Trust in the Lord always….” But we try to set our lives up so everything will be fine, even if God doesn’t come through.

19. You don’t have to wait for a special calling from God to be obedient to what He commands in His word.  Jesus didn’t say, “If you love me, you will obey me when you feel called…..”

20. Chan quotes Daniel Webster:  ‘The greatest thought that has ever entered my mind is that one day I will have to stand before a holy God and give an account of my life.’(And we thought he just loved words!)

21. About churchgoers who are lukewarm – they will not be heaven.  He recalls God spitting them out of his mouth in Revelation 3.  If someone DOES have the HS, there will be fruit evident in his or her life.  His or hers will not be a lukewarm life.

22. His summary – most of us live CRAZY LIVES.  A crazy life is to live a safe life and to store up things while trying to enjoy our time on earth, yet knowing that any second God could take your life.  Better to have Crazy Love of God and let that guide you.  We should

–      Keep pursuing Christ

–      Keep the thought that we are not alone – the spiritual realm is watching us, both God’s force’s and the Enemy’s

–      Try for a whole day to be conscious of heaven

–      Remember that we have life and power in us through the Holy Spirit

–      Recall what Annie Dillard wrote – ‘the way we live out each day is the way we will live out our lives’

–      **The American Dream (i.e. build a bigger barn story from Luke 12) fuels a lukewarm life.  We should not conform to that pattern.

Chew well, fellow travelers, and may we burn brighter for Christ. May it never be said that we were lukewarm.

Dead to Sin and Remembering

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In Romans 6:2, Paul says, “We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein?

I am a typical human.  I forget most of what I hear or read.  When I wake up in the morning, I have to remind myself of God.  I’m usually awake 2-3 minutes before I think of Him, even if my last waking thoughts were about God.  Like morning mist, He has vanished and has to be beckoned back.  But this is an improvement on my earlier life.

I used to live my life not even thinking about God.  The first time I was in church was when I was in a children’s choir in 2nd and 3rd grade.  We didn’t go to that church or any church, but my mother must have thought it was a good idea.  At the end of the year, we kids would sing at the two services, making for a long Sunday morning.  But that had nothing to do with God.  That was just choir and I even came to dread Thursday afternoon rehearsals because I wasn’t very musical.

I share this with you so you know that my early childhood was not spent in church.  I have come to God gradually, regularly attending from age 9 on, initially as a church-goer, not yet a believer.  But even when the Gospel became real to me at age 23, I still wasn’t in the habit of thinking about God all the time.  And now, at age 53, although my conscious thoughts go more often to God, I still find myself even going a couple of hours at a time without a thought of God.  That is a dangerous place to be.  It’s like being unarmed in a war zone.

If there were any verb that I would rate next in importance to BELIEVE or TRUST, it would be REMEMBER.

Psalm 78:42
They did not remember his power— the day he redeemed them from the oppressor,

Deuteronomy 7:18
But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh

Deuteronomy 15:15
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today and to all Egypt.

Psalm 137:6
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy

Psalm 106:7
When our fathers were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

There are a host of verses like this.  They tell the truth about God and about who we are.  They call us to remember God’s past provisions to us, how He has rescued us when we called out to Him.  They remind us of God’s amazing promises – our true riches.  And finally they emphasize how we are new creations, recreated in Christ with certain powers and different duties and delights.

This brings me to the fact (that daily bears repeating) that we are NOW dead to sin.  Frequently I have to remind myself that I have a new nature with Holy Spirit power actually in me to resist those things my flesh tempts me to do.  Sometimes I forget and fall back into embracing as truth, the lies that call out to me:  eating this will be pleasurable/ sharing a juicy tidbit about someone will grant me the floor and everyone will listen for a moment / bragging on myself or my kids will make me feel important and I like that feeling.

So remembering who I am (an adopted daughter), where I am (in Christ at God’s right hand ……as well as…. here on earth with the HS in me) and what privileges and power I have (more than I can ask or imagine) all help to break the spell that sin has on me.

We would pity an heiress to a fortune who has forgotten that she has access to financial blessings and privileges.  It would be silly for her to live as a beggar-woman.  We, too, are rich beyond belief.  To the extent that we remember who and whose we are, then we can be free from the power of sin over us and live the life of the spirit which Paul tells us IS life and peace.   Now that is worth remembering!

An Experience in Sharing the Gospel

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Colossians 4:5-6 Be wise in the way you act with outsiders, make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt so that you may know how to answer everyone.

I clobbered my mother-in-law with doctrine.  I wrote her a letter outlining my concerns about her spiritual life.  I shared some basics about sin, repentance, the Good News of what Jesus has done for us and how to grow in the love & knowledge of God.  But I overwhelmed her with my intensity. And I have irrevocably moved our relationship into a new territory where neither of us knows how to maneuver.  All of this – 2 weeks before our youngest son’s wedding when family will gather.

My mother-in-law is 81.  She grew up in the Catholic Church, switched to the Episcopal Church in college, met & married a seminarian and shared the life of an Episcopal priest & bishop for almost 59 years.   Thus has the Episcopal Church been the center of her life.

My concerns for the state of her soul were cumulative over many years as my husband and I were graciously drawn out of the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of light.  Looking back on our past, Mike & I recall how we truly THOUGHT we were Christians all the years we were faithful church-goers and served in different ministries.  Indignation and denial most likely would have been our reaction had someone confronted us with the state of our souls.  So I understand how it must seem puzzling to someone living a ‘religious’ life, that it might be possible not even to belong to Christ.  “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”  Matt 7:21

As we discovered truth and life, we wanted to share this joy and the assurance of salvation with those closest to us.  My mother was a believer, yet died before I was regenerated.  I failed to share the Gospel with my father.  I tried, but was not equipped and backed off many times when he didn’t want to talk.  Out of that experience, my husband and I approached his parents.  Our concerns for their spiritual well-being intensified over the past months as my father-in-law was dying.  We prayed for opportunities to have authentic discussions about the reality of Christian hope.  But we could do no more than skirt the periphery of religiosity.

I don’t understand people’s boundaries.  To my discredit, it is very difficult to imagine or empathize, and therefore yield to limits and walls friends and family erect to protect emotions or comfortable routines of looking at life.  (Why wouldn’t you want to talk about the most important topic in life? – your future after you die?  Don’t you want to know if what you have staked your life on is valid?  Don’t you want to even know WHAT it is you believe?) My grown children and husband consider me intense.  But I can’t see that:  I am what I am.  Is a fish aware that he breathes in through gills?

So returning from my father-in-law’s funeral I wrote my mother-in-law THE letter and launched her on a roller-coaster of emotions of anger, shame, indignation and horror.

Here is what I have learned from this experience:

(1)   – Patience is not something I practice naturally, so just as a pilot must intentionally crab into a wind to keep her flight path straight, so must I wait longer than I think is necessary.  I composed THE letter on a Friday and sent it to two people whose opinion I value.  I received a green light from one, but did not wait long enough to hear back from the other person before mailing it off.  She replied 3 ½ days later and suggested restraint.  But I had already mailed off the letter. To my ‘partial credit’ I had slept on it and prayerfully revised it over a 3-day period.  Yet I should have waited for this second person’s wisdom, since I had explicitly asked for it.

(2)   Offhand remarks I wrote that were not even my main point were received poorly.  This really surprised me.  I should have considered every sentence.  When I closed the letter to my dear mother-in-law with the reassurance that her grandsons would be praying along with me for her, I thought that would encourage her.  Instead she was horrified that I had shared something ‘negative’ and had ‘misrepresented her’ to the boys.  I never would have anticipated that reaction.

(3)   Less is more.  I dumped TOO much on her (14 pagesL).  The quantity had two negative effects: a) she missed some important parts because it was too much to take in all at once and b) she felt bludgeoned by the sheer amount of what I wrote.

I failed to SEASON my written conversation with her; I just dumped out the whole blue container of Morton’s iodized salt.

So, I am trusting God now to work my blundering efforts for her good and for mine.  I am praying that we can sort out a way of relating that is safe and comfortable for her when she arrives next week for the wedding.  I am sorry that she will feel self-conscious around her grandsons and us.  That was not my intention.  But I don’t regret that I initiated the discussion.  I could never have said some of what I wrote face to face.  I will continue to share the Gospel with others when appropriate and will trust the Holy Spirit to let me know His timing and the proper words.

Reflections on the state of Dad’s soul

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Philippians 1:6 – being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus

We’re back from the funeral for Mike’s dad who died after a yearlong journey with cancer.  He was a retired Episcopal bishop living in Seattle, an Episcopalian all his life.  We, too, were brought up in the Episcopal Church.  But once my husband, I and our two sons started to grow in the knowledge of the Word about 10 years ago, (being transformed by the renewing of our minds à la Romans 12:2), we left the Episcopal church at different rates. Graham (age 27) & Wes (age 22) exited with no regrets once they moved on to college. Mike and I took a slower route, transferring first to a more orthodox-believing Episcopal Church and then finally altogether out of TEC (the Episcopal Church) in April 2009.  We now worship with all our minds and hearts, at home in a Reformed PCA community (Presbyterian Church of America). Our boys are not affiliated with any denomination, their only criterion being – does the church preach the Bible?

When Dad died we all hoped he was a believer.  He was the kind of man who didn’t seem to want to talk about his faith beyond the superficial.  Knowing that he was dying, I flew out in April during my spring break.  I prayed that I would have an opportunity to share about the Hope that awaits us.  He had to go the hospital during my 4–day visit, so we didn’t get to talk much.  I did ask my mother-in-law if she and Dad shared much about heaven.  Sadly to me, she said that they had talked only about funeral details and that she wasn’t going to bring up weightier issues if he didn’t.

When I left Dad in the hospital, parting for what I knew would be the last time on this earth, he seemed sweetly serious.  I told him I would see him again, either here in Seattle or in heaven.  He understood and affirmed the same.

Graham and his family were the next to fly out to Seattle. I thought, if ANYone can share the Gospel and be sure they were saved or at least sure that they heard the Word of God in all its fullness, then Graham could.  He is a worship leader with a student ministry down at the University of South Florida in Tampa.  But he, too, encountered pushback from his grandparents, the reaction of a couple who didn’t want to engage in something out of their comfort zone.

Then Mike flew out the first week of May to visit his dad, arriving about 10 hours before Dad actually died.  Mike took his Bible and read a few chapters out loud from Romans and from the Gospel of Mark.  Dad was mostly in and out of consciousness, but Mike’s mom was beside his bed and alertly engaged in a discussion about the Gospel.  She apparently doesn’t believe in a God of wrath – only the God of love in the New Testament.  At least we know where she stands.

The funeral was delayed 3 weeks to give us time to celebrate with Wes the end of his four years at West Point.  Mike, Wes, Graham & I flew back out to Seattle over Memorial Day weekend.  We had a lot of time to pray and to seek closure about where Dad actually is – in the presence of God or not.

The service, in its typical Episcopal liturgical style, was full of words that were very biblically sounding.  Unfortunately, many Episcopalians are ignorant of their original meaning due to the pernicious liberal movement in church scholarship, dating back to the end of the 19th century.  The church is focused NOT on the good news of God’s provision for our most serious problem- that we are saved from His justifiable wrath by Jesus dying for our sins.  Instead today’s Episcopal Church preaches the gospel of social justice. Furthermore, political peace and environmentalism are seen as pressing problems for the Church to address.

Yet, I came away from the funeral with hope for the man who had been my father-in-law for 30 years. Although we never had a serious discussion about the Bible or about God, I do think he was a believer.  But the state of his eternal soul was NOT helped by a church which continually re-interpreted its own doctrine, a set of beliefs that he had pledged to support first as a young deacon in 1951, then as a fully-ordained  priest,  and finally as a consecrated bishop in 1976.  Yet almost despite the Episcopal Church, he had sucked out basic truths from the Bible.  I saw this in the detailed instructions he left for his funeral, setting the tone with a theme that was centered on the Resurrection.  The scripture readings in particular were chosen to point all of us to the truth of life with Jesus after death.

I thank the Lord for His assurance that my father-in-law is in heaven.  Since our God is one who does more than we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20) I am praying that not only does my mother-in-law come to a saving faith, but my brother-in-law too and many who were in that gathering of 500 in Seattle.  The words my brother-in-law delivered in the eulogy were Gospel truth.  He labored over them as an act of love, a gift to his father.  Since God’s word is alive and full of power, I am hopeful that these words of truth will not return void to the Lord, but will actually convert Steve.  After all, faith comes from hearing the word of Christ.  I’ve read of an English preacher who became converted while delivering one of his own sermons he was preaching.  I am counting on God to do the same for Steve.  May many others present in that service also come to a saving faith in the Lord.

What are you going to fantasize about?

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Set your hearts on things above…….set your minds on things above – Colossians 3: 1b, 2a

God has given us the gift of imagination.  We can feed it and grow it into something that draws us closer to God, or we can feed it and grow it into something that becomes an idol.

I was listening to a recent ‘Focus on the Family’ discussion about the impact Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series has had on women of all ages. World-wide, 85 million copies have been sold since 2005. Apparently young girls are not the only ones feeding on this rich fantasy. There are married women, too, who are being drawn into an exciting fictional life.  Similar to the Harry Potter craze that made many children want to attend Hogwarts, Bella and Edward’s romance is being lived out vicariously by numerous women.  The guests on the show were saying that the attraction is akin to the lure men fall spell to when they indulge in porn.  They fantasize about something ‘better’ than real life.  The danger, however, is the disengagement from real life and the ensuing disappointment when one compares the two.

Thinking about the ease with which these readers can craft an imaginary world made me think about our God who is not imaginary.  Yes, He is invisible.  But He is real.  We, too, have a book, but what sets it apart is that is empowered by an actual living Holy Spirit.  What if we read our Bibles with the same intensity and devotion that girls are gobbling up the Twilight series?  Numerous girls, disappointed when they come to the end of the 4th novel, have read the series several times, even though they know the outcome.  Their reaction reminds me of the milestone set in Italy when James Cameron’s Titanic came out.  NPR interviewed one Italian teen who had been to the theaters 55 times to see the film.

If young women are so drawn to a secular series that isn’t even real OR healthy, shouldn’t we look at God’s word with at least AS MUCH interest?  After all, it is Truth. It’s about an exciting life that is here and not just in the future.

I’ve heard people complain that it is difficult to love God because He’s not flesh and blood, not tangible, like one’s husband or child.  Now I realize that is just an excuse.  Looking at the Twilight phenomenon is proof that we can use our imaginations.  It is a matter of feeding our mind, of re-reading our Book, of meditating.  Actually, we should be encouraged to know, that we, too, can have a ‘magnificent obsession’.  And when we encounter a fan of this vampire series, let us take advantage of the opening and share what a REAL lover is like, one who will never disappoint us or harm us, unlike Edward.

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