Jul 30, 2010

Pervasive Discontent - Contempt for God

That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?" And they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt. . . . But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites.The LORD said to Moses, "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? (Numbers 14:1-4, 10-11).

Monotony in our everyday life is no surprise. But what happens when we start to get restless--when things don't go our way? What happens when we feel fettered by our life's circumstances? Do we start to complain? Does wander lust fill our souls so that we'd rather be everywhere and anywhere else but here with the people and situations that surround us? Do we start to hyper-ventilate because we feel confined and restricted?

Think about how restricted Jesus was. He was born into poverty, in a backwater, out-of-the-way place. His friends and family struggled just to make ends meet, to have enough food and clothes for what they needed. He was far from the cultural centers of Athens, Rome, and Alexandria. I doubt the daily conversation stimulated his theological and intellectual curiosity. He chose to limit his power. Very few people knew who he was; others didn't believe he was who he claimed to be so they didn't give him the honor, respect, and glory due his name. Wasn't it better in heaven, where every knew his name and respected him? But he chose to come here to be despised--to lay his life down for us. It was the will of the Father for the salvation of the world. He was confined for us, but not discontent.

God delivered the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians. But they didn't do well with not knowing what would happen day to day. They didn't do well with not being in control of their circumstances. Although God did miracles and spectacularly freed them from bondage--when things began to get a little tough, when they didn't know what to expect, when they started giving into the fear of the giants in the land, forgetting what God had just done, they began to complain. They chucked their trust in God out the window.

They became discontent because what God was doing was not what they had in mind or what they had expected. They figured that after he had delivered them from the Egyptians, they'd cruise through the promise land unencumbered and unopposed. But then the possible opposition in the form of giants caused them to forget everything God had done. They became so discontent, so fearful that they uttered the unimaginable--Egypt was better. Bondage was better to this! They were out of their minds.

And we are just like them. We go out of our spiritual minds when we have to wait on God or when we don't see him working the way we think he should in the time we think he should. We start to question everything. Unlike Jesus who faced so much opposition and bore it with humility and trust, we call God's character into question. We put him on the witness stand--we put God on the dock. We stop depending on him for peace and try to work out circumstances ourselves. We figure that since he ain't doing the job, we might as well give it a try ourselves. We become bitter. We become negative. We color our world and relationships with the darkness of our unbelief.

God renders a harsh judgment for such behavior because such behavior shows contempt for him. I looked up the word contempt and this is what Merriam Webster's Dictionary says it means: 1) the act of despising; the state of mind of one who despises 2) the state of being despised 3) disobedience to or open disrespect of a court or legislature. Here are synonyms: despise, disdain, scorn; also abhorrence, abomination, execration, hate, hatred, loathing.

By all means, let us pray for better circumstances--flee abuse if that is what is happening. But if God has us in normal life circumstances in which we feel uneasy and restless, yet circumstances we are convinced he has allowed us to be in or even appointed us to be in, let us not act like the Israelites by treating God with contempt.

Jul 28, 2010

Thinking Christianly About Death

These words are from Dallas Willard in his book Divine Conspiracy:

"So as we think of our life and make plans for it, we should not anticipate going through some terrible event called 'death,' to be avoided at all costs even though it can't be avoided. But, immersed in Christ in action, we may be sure that our life--yes, the familiar one we are each so well acquainted with--will never stop. We should be anticipating what we will be doing, three hundred or a thousand or ten thousand years from now in this marvelous universe . . . . Of course something is going to happen. We will leave our present body at a certain point, and our going and what we leave behind will not seem pleasant to those who care for us. But we are at that point simply 'absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8).' . . . To those who remain behind there is an obvious, if superficial, similarity between the body of one who sleeps and that of one who has stepped into the full world. But there is no intention in this language to say we will be unconscious. Consciousness continues while we are asleep, and likewise when we 'sleep in Jesus' (I Thess. 4:14, Acts 7:60)."

Willard then goes on to describe two pictures for death:

"One was made famous by Peter Marshall some years ago. It is the picture of a child playing in the evening among her toys. Gradually she grows weary and lays her head down for a moment of rest, lazily continuing to play. The next thing she experiences or 'tastes' is the morning light of a new dewy day flooding the bed and the room where her mother or father took her. Interestingly, we never remember falling asleep. We do not 'see it' or 'taste' it.

Another picture is of one who walks to a doorway between rooms. While still interacting with those in the room she is leaving, she begins to see and converse with people in a room beyond., who may be totally concealed from those left behind. Before the widespread use of heavy sedation, it was quite common for those keeping watch to observe something like this. The one making the transition often begins to speak to those who have gone before. They come to meet us while we are still in touch with those left behind. The curtain parts for us briefly before we go through."

pp. 86-87 from the Divine Conspiracy

I hope you find this comforting like I did.

Jul 26, 2010

Living Our Theology

You know, we live out our theology (what we believe about God). Our thoughts about God are related to our everyday life. Do we see God as generous or do we take him to be tight-fisted? Is he crazy in love with us, wishing for our best, or is he waiting just to strike us down with a lightning bolt? Is he only chummy with us or  transcendent too? Do we really believe that we're supposed to put off anger, rage, malice, and greed which is idolatry and then clothe ourselves with humility, patience and kindness (Colossians 3)? Or do we believe it is fine to make intellectual assents to the gospel but live like the Devil? Do we believe that God is capable of changing us, that he has the power to do so, or do we think those are unbelievable words that scripture utters? Do we really believe that God allows us the option of loving or not loving our neighbors? We cannot transform ourselves. That is God's work. But, we have to allow him to transform us in and through Jesus. We have to make the choice to put off anger etc...and then God's grace helps us. We have to make the decision to clothe ourselves with humility and God gives us the power to drape humility over our shoulders. And sometimes, he works despite us and our bad decisions.

How is our theology affecting us? Are there points where we might be off? Let us ask God to show us.

Jul 17, 2010

Away at Uncle Larry's Farm!

We'll be heading way up north to Uncle Larry's farm. He's so far north in NY that you can see Canada less than a mile away and Vermont to the east. If we look south, we see the Adirondack Mountains. So yes, I'll be away from posting. But that's not so bad. Shawn and I have been discussing the soul forming effects of a computer. While it can be a wonderful tool, it can also suck you in, and keep you from really living.

That said, if you haven't stopped by in a while or are new to this site, go ahead and check out the most recent posts. Hopefully you'll be nourished by how the computer is used on this site.

Blessings to you this day. Remember, you are not alone.

Jul 15, 2010

God's Joy

"We  should, to begin with, think that God leads a very interesting life, and that he is full of joy. Undoubtedly he is the most joyous being in the universe. The abundance of his love and generosity is inseperable from his infinite joy. All of the good and the beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilirating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breadth and depth and richness . . . . Great tidal waves of joy must wash through his being . . . . Now, Jesus himself was and is a joyous, creative person. He does not allow us to continue thinking of our Father who fills and overflows space as a morose and miserable monarch, a frustrated and petty parent, or a policeman on the prowl . . . . So we must understand that God does not 'love' us without liking us--through gritted teeth--as 'Christian' love is sometimes thought to do. Rather, out of the eternal freshness of his perpetually self-renewed being, the heavenly Father cherishes the earth and each human being upon it. The fondness, the endearment, the unstintingly affectionate regard of God toward all of his creatures is the natural outflow of what he is to the core--which we vainly try to capture with our tired but indispensable old word love."

~ Dallas Willard in the Divine Conspiracy pp.62, 63, 64

Jul 13, 2010

The Illusion of Control ~ Holding It All Together

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
Colossians 1:17-18

We want what's best for others and for ourselves. And many times we think we know best. We know who those single friends and family members of ours desiring to be married should marry; so we dive in head first trying to arrange a relationship we're hoping blossoms into marriage. We desperately want to control our lives, so we lay awake at night worrying about finances and our futures and our children and family members who seem to be circling the drain of destruction--about to go down. We're awake; we're the ones losing sleep, not them. We want our churches to flourish, so we are awake at 4 a.m. trying to control and solve problems human beings can't. Only, we don't know it yet. Out of good intentions, we seek to right the wrong in the world, the wrong in our neighborhoods, in corrupt systems, and others. We have the answers.

There is nothing wrong with doing all the good we can to all the people we can for as long as we can. Wasn't it Wesley who said something along those lines? But can we discern when we've crossed the line, when it has turned from bearing each other's burdens to playing God? It all starts off with good intentions. But then we start functioning under the illusion that we can control others if we just reason well enough, if we are just persuasive enough, if we exert enough effort. We confuse ourselves with the Holy Spirit.

As the 90's lingo goes, we need to learn how to step off. We have to act, yes, but really we have to surrender control and our desire to hold it all together. We have to let go of the illusion of being in control. There is only so much we can do and say. We have to practice trusting God instead of just saying we trust him. Our controlling acts and attempts at holding-it-all-together actually reveal our lack of trust. We all want to be gods. We all want to assert our wills. And often, we prefer our will to the divine will.

Recognition is the first step. Recognizing what we are doing. And then we confess it to God and to others if need be. When we do, we hear God whisper that it is all right, that in him all things hold together. That includes our lives, and health, and mental health. Some may say, "Well my health is gone, my mental health is gone, and the innocents suffer abuse and terror." Yes. This is hard. But in the end, the Bible calls us to appropriate the hope that in Christ all things hold together. He will make all things right, hold it all together, where human effort fails or where human effort is insufficient.

We don't know what it all will look like, this holding all things together of Jesus, this control of God's. But he does ask us to be still, to know that he is God and to let him be God. We can only do so much. Do we know where our efforts need to stop and where God takes up the slack? Really it is his grace, it is him that enables us to do anything at all. Let us remember that we serve a good and righteous and just God. A God full of kindness and compassion and abounding in love.  Let us remember that when we are weakest he is strong. Let us not play God even when tempted.

Jul 11, 2010

Idolatry ~ Good Words from Miroslav Volf

"There is God. And there are images of God. And some people don't see any difference between the two . . . . They simply assume that who they believe God to be and who God truly is are one and the same. God is as large (or as small) as they make the Infinite One to be, and none of the beliefs they entertain  about God could possibly be wrong . . . . Our  hearts become factories of idols in which we fashion and refashion God to fit our needs and desires."

From  Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace p. 22

Jul 9, 2010

Attaining Lasting Peace ~ Jean-Pierre de Cassade (d. 1751)

"The soul who is not committed solely to the will of God will find neither its satisfaction nor sanctification in the various methods--not even in the most excellent devotional exercises. If that which God Himself chooses for you does not satisfy you, from whom do you expect to receive what you desire? If you turn from the food prepared for you by God's own will, what food could satisfy a taste so depraved? A soul can only be nourished, strengthened, purified, enriched, and sanctified by the fullness of the present moment. What more would you have? Since you can find all that is good here, why seek it anywhere else? Do you know better than God? Since He ordains it this way, why do you want it to be different? Can His wisdom and goodness be deceived? When you find that something is in accord with His divine wisdom and goodness, should you not conclude that it must be the best that could happen? Do you think you will find peace in struggling with the Almighty? Is it not, rather, this resistance, this struggle, too often continued without admitting it even to ourselves, that is the cause of all our inward agitations? It is only just, therefore, that the soul which is not satisfied with the divine fullness of each present moment should be punished by being unable to find happiness in anything else."

Taken from The Joy of Full Surrender pp. 94-95.

Jul 7, 2010

God's Timing

"There is a time for everything  under the sun." Ecclesiastes 3

I can mentally assent to the truth that God does everything in his proper time but I don't always appreciate that truth experientially. Many times, I'd like God to expedite my prayer request and desires. I want them now! Why can't he understand that? When I don't get my way, I sometimes behave like my just-turned-three-year-old Iliana. I throw a tantrum. I moan and groan to God. I mope around--at least internally. But when I step back, I think about how distasteful unripe fruits and vegetables are. Or really anything that we eat uncooked or half-baked. There is a natural rhythm on the earth, seasons. There are seasons of life. There are natural rhythms and seasons in the spiritual life, too.

God is not a "shove-it-through-half-baked-sloppily-done" God. He does all things well and everything happens in its time. While we're in the process of bearing fruit, really we shouldn't be self-concious of it, that is unhealthy, but if we think of it for this particular metaphor, we must think about the fact that God wishes us to bear healthy, ripe fruit. He does not wish it to be plucked or offered until it is ripe.

All throughout the book of John we hear Jesus say, "My time has not yet come" or hear the disciples report "his time had not yet come." Jesus did not do anything out of turn. He didn't try to make a puzzle piece fit where it didn't go. We often do that. And then we wonder why we are having trouble or why there is chaos in our lives.

If we would just submit to God's timing, to the natural rhythm of his universe and kingdom, then we'd be filled with peace and see that he does make everything beautiful in his time.

Jul 6, 2010

Good Quotes From Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

I met Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove at a Duke conference recently. He is as humble in person as on stage. I recommend his book: The Discipline of Stability. It is excellent. I posted an excerpt from it a few weeks ago. I am about to read his other one, God's Economy. Here are some quotes (that I got from Cindy who just heard him speak recently) that will help you follow Christ through this wilderness of a world and  the sometimes wilderness of an American Church:

"If your church disappeared tomorrow...would the neighborhood notice...would they care?"

"Everyone is looking for places that are OK to not be OK."
"We cannot end extreme poverty unless we end extreme wealth."

"Love your ecological neighbor...the one living downstream...as yourself"

The Lord Be With You This Day!

Jul 5, 2010

On Going To Church & God's Will

"Henry Drummond warned of a 'worship which ends with the worshiper, a religion expressed only in ceremony, and a faith unrelated to life.' He goes on later to make this observation:

The great use of the church is to help men to do without it . . . . Church services are 'diets' of worship. They are meals. All who are hungry will take them, and, if they are wise, regularly. But no workman is paid for his meals. No Christian is paid for going to church. He goes there for a meal, for strength from God and form his fellow-worshipers to do the work of life--which is the work of Christ.

If all you do is sing to  God but never offer your service to him, then you're living on your lunch hour. And what kind of faithfulness is that?

No man can do more with his life than the will of God--that though we may never be famous or powerful, or called to heroic suffering or acts of self-denial which will vibrate through history: that though we are neither intended to be apostles nor missinonaries nor martyrs, but to be common people living in common houses, spending the day in common offices or common kitchens, yet doing the will of God there, we shall do as much as apostle or missionary or martyr--seeing that they can do no more than do God's will than where they are--even as we can do as much where we are--and answer the end of our life as truly, faithfully, and triumphantly as they. "

As quoted in Gary Thomas' book the Beautiful Fight p. 136.

One of  my favorite contemporary books!

Jul 2, 2010

Blessed are the poor

I grew up poor by American standards. I had to take out school loans for college and am still paying them off. My husband grew up poor too. But, we've lived and worked among the middle class for a long time. I guess we've subconsciously learned middle class norms.  Several times I've been told that I have a knack for getting along with the less fortunate, those who are down and out. I never thought of that much, but it's probably because I was and in some sense still am one of them.

Neither my husband nor I have parents to foot any kind of bills.  We help our families. And I never used to think about money much, but as I said in a post a few months ago, I've learned that many times in the church and in Christian organizations--money still talks.  We show favoritism towards the wealthy over the wise. That said, I understand that wealth and wisdom are not mutually exclusive. Yet many times those with money are on the boards solely because they have money. And with money often times comes power. People fail to speak truth because they don't want to offend a donor of their organization or a big tither in their church. Money silences truth telling in those cases. Money and social status make a huge difference in the church, even though we claim it shouldn't be so. It's not just in politics. Sadly, our practice is different than our theology. Like politicians, we can be easily bought off. We must remember that all that glitters is not Christian.

Whenever I start feeling pangs of self-pity, whenever I forget that I am eminently wealthy because God is my inheritance, I remember that Jesus, though he was rich, for our sakes became poor. My poverty is nothing like that of others in the rest of the world. So really, I should never have self-pity. But unfortunately, there are times when I start feeling it. But when I do, I recall Jesus. In some way, I am in solidarity with him.

We can serve Mammon through greed or by always worrying about life because of our lack of money. Both are serving Mammon.  But honestly, in my opinion, I believe the American church for the most part is trying to serve two gods, the true Lord and Mammon. Which one do we despise? And which one do we love? Jesus said we would love and serve one and hate the other. We can't serve both.

I have a great inheritance. My relationship with the Lord and all the blessings that he has given me in this life are much to rejoice over.

Forgive me God when I give into self-pity. Thank you Jesus that you are not controlled by power moves or wealth. Thank you that you are close to the humble and contrite in spirit. Thank you that you move on behalf of the poor. You came to preach good news to us. Your Spirit and enabling transcend the chariots and horses of humankind. You aren't inhibited by the systems or injustices of humankind.  O God, you are my help. With you I can scale a wall.

Jul 1, 2010

A Glimpse of Grace

" . . . it is a gift of God not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:9).

God in our Lord Jesus Christ initiated salvation. God extended his lovingkindness to us, his enemies. We were hostile to him, not even wanting the gift he offered. If we were in Jerusalem, in the crowd that stood before Pontius Pilate as he asked whether Jesus or Barabbas should be released, you can bet that most of us, knowing what we knew at the time, would've swelled with passion as we screamed, "Barabbas! Barabbas!" And if we stood by at the foot of the cross, hurling insults, or egging on the soldiers who nailed him to the cross, we would've heard him pray for us, "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they are doing." And we would've called him crazy, saying he was delusional from all the pain. Yet God in his grace--gave us what we don't deserve. God extended his kindness and love and salvation and the eternal and incomprhensible treasure of relationship with us to us. He initiated.

There are people who hate and despise us. They take advantage of us. They could be within the church. So-called brothers and sisters acting as enemies. It could be people within the church acting in spite towards us, gossiping about us, acting in hate not love toward us. It could be an unbelieving coworker. It could be a family member that uses us. Being loving and kind to them when they have done nothing to deserve it, when they don't even acknowledge or appreciate our love and kindness, is grace. Doing unto them what we would have lovingly done to us is grace.

I am not speaking of allowing ourselves to be physically, emotionally, or sexually abused. That is a different matter all together.

But I am saying that we are to extend the same grace to others that God continually extends to us. And it can only be consistently done with the help of the Holy  Spirit. Left to our sinful selves, we hate and despise God and our neighbors.