Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Bursting with Pride

We've taken our kids skiing three times in the last two weeks. We are officially crazy, especially since I carried E2 (2 months) around in my Ergo on that first day while holding kids up and eventually chasing them down the bunny slopes, but that is beside the point. (Also, beside the point, but a big shout out to grandmothers who are willing to give up an entire day to sit in the lodge in between nursing so I don't have to kill my back -- just my kees and thighs and gluts and wrists -- and can just ski with one kiddo.)

We had just been skiing the "magic carpet," which is free at our little local ski area, but at the end of the day on Monday we decided to splurge and bought tickets for me and T to ride the lift and try out a real run. Once you've done that, there's no going back.

So today, we did a few warm-ups on the Magic Carpet and then hit the chair lift, to the excitement of the more experienced one and the terror of the other (she loved it after approximately 25 seconds).

I might be biased, but there is not much in the world that is cuter than a two year old and a four year old in their little helmets and goggles and on their little skis that hardly seem longer than an adult's pair of shoes.

And, I'm pretty sure there aren't many better feelings in the world than for a parent's heart to burst with pride at seeing a son or daughter begin to "get" something you love to do. By the end of the day, my little boy was skiing by himself with great comfort and control, and he would occasionally just throw his hands into the air and shout, "Woohoo!"

There actually aren't even words in the English language (that I am capable of harnessing, anyway) to describe the joy in my heart when he let out those screams. I'm sure that this is why parents the world over teach their children how to play baseball or chess or fly fishing or how to drive the truck, and why we spend billions of dollars collectively every year taking them to the beach and to Disney World.

Pardon me if I'm over-spiritualizing my ski day, but do you think our Heavenly Father often feels that way about us? When we take particular delight in something that he has made? Or we master a challenge that has befuddled us? When we use God-given talents coupled with God-given perseverance and enjoy the experience all the more for the effort it entailed? (Trust me, a ski day with a four year old and a two year old involves tears as well as cheers.) What about when we make progress in conquering a besetting sin, even just a little?

Our Heavenly Father is up there rooting for you to live with determination, trust, and joy; and I wouldn't be the least surprised if he doesn't occasionally beam with pride when we find our groove doing what he made us to do. Woohoo!

Friday, March 20, 2015

TGIF

Life is full of strange juxtapositions.

You finish reading a moving account of a godly woman's final days on earth, and then you click over to Facebook where people are proclaiming "TGIF" and broadcasting fun plans for their weekend.

In a sense, it's Friday for Kara Tippetts, too, and many others like her. TGIF signals the end of a long journey, one marked with all kinds of thorns from the curse. Whether it's the challenges of work or the challenges of parenting or sin or sickness or -- most often -- any combination of these, Monday through Friday reminds us that "this life is but a constant death."

On Friday, the week is almost over. We are but a few breaths from getting some rest and having some fun. In truth, Friday might be the hardest day of the week. Death is never pretty. The worst day in the history of the world was a Friday that we will celebrate in just a few weeks.

And celebrate we will. With somber hearts but with eyes fixed on the weekend. A celebration of Sunday, of Son-Day, that will someday never be marred by another Monday.


Thank God it's Friday, because that means we're this much closer to Sunday.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

the Audacity

I read a verse in Numbers last week that stopped me in my tracks.

(It's not every day that you make a statement like that. Let's just pause for a minute and relish that statement ........................... and now back to our regularly-scheduled programming.)

In our Bible study, we've gotten to the point in Numbers where the Israelites are on the edge of the Promised Land. The older, grumbling, unbelieving generation has mostly died off. Miriam is dead. Aaron is dead. They've all died because of grumbling and disbelief, and yet God is still going to bring them in and give them the land that they have been promised.

They have also been sustained in the desert for nearly forty years. Every morning, they wake up and food is waiting for them. They don't do anything except go out and gather it, and day after day, it's always there. (Sounds a lot like grace, doesn't it?)

Forty years of provision, forty years of tangible, edible grace, and what do they have to say to God in response? This: "We loathe this worthless food."

We loathe this worthless food!

The audacity! The. Audacity. At least when I think these things, I'm savvy enough to couch these emotions in more subtle disgruntlement. "I'm just tired," "I'm weary," "It just seems like the onslaught never stops."

I had a period in the middle of last year when my daily, nay hourly, mantra was, "Eat the manna." I was surviving physically on very little food that remained in my belly on account of the embryonic stages of our sweet baby Elese (translation: severe morning sickness), and my constant propensity to vomiting was affecting every aspect of daily life. I was miserable and barely functional and I actually ordered a pregnancy devotional that I couldn't stomach (metaphorically, this time) because she was so ushy-gushy about what was going on in the reader's belly. Barely surviving doesn't often mix well with happy-clappy, even though the sober and mature mind should know better than to respond with snark.

Look, Israelites, we're not expecting you to think that manna is Five Star dining, but can't you muster a little gratitude? Or at least cloak your bitterness in the slightest?

Here's my response (marinated in time and Scripture) from last year (is it cheating to just quote myself at length?):

I was weary, both physically and emotionally.

I laid down on my bed at naptime and thanked God for the manna. This has been my mantra lately: "eat the manna." God will give you grace for the moment, no more, no less. I still need to grow so much in my joy, in my serving, in my dying to self; but I see it as a gift that I recognize the manna for what it is, which is God sustaining me from moment to moment.

This is, after all, what our Lord teaches us to ask him for: our daily bread. No more, no less.

But let's be honest again: the manna life is hard. It's scary and it feels so sparse and it takes so much faith and I found myself saying, "Oh Lord, I need to know you more in order to trust you in this. I know that as a man you were tempted in every way without sin, but I'm a woman, a wife and a mom, and these are my challenges. Do you really know what it's like? I know you are my great high priest who sympathizes with my weaknesses, but do you really know?"

And I was taken to the great interpreter of human emotion and experience, the psalter, where I'm reminded by these Holy Spirit-inspired writings that God does know.
Oh, Lord, take me back to you, back to your Word, over and over. Forgive me for the daily, the hourly, ways that I declare your grace as loathesome, worthless food. Give me today my daily bread and a heart to recognize the sweetness of grace when I taste it.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Let the Crumbs of Mercy Fall

People who go to my church will recognize the title of this post as a reference to a worship song that we sing, but you know who lives in a world filled with literal crumbs? This girl!

I think most moms will agree that it often feels like we are surviving on crumbs. There's that take-off of the book "If you give a mouse a cookie" about "if you give a mom a muffin." I just re-read it for the first time in a long time, and sure enough: it ends (spoiler alert!) with the kids eating the mom's muffin, which is a pretty likely scenario in my house.

So, we moms survive on crumbs, eating our kids' leftovers, snatching little bites in between cleaning up spills and breaking up fights. I've been trying to be mindful of having healthy snacks lying around so I can fuel up quickly when the crumbs aren't enough, and I put my leftovers away in single-serving, microwaveable dishes that I can just pop in for a minute and eat. It's keeping me alive and, I'd argue, relatively healthy. If the meals were healthy, the crumbs are still healthy.

I realized a few weeks ago that I'm sort of doing this spiritually, too. I've never heard anyone commend this spiritual diet, and so the fact that I am going to say that it's an okay diet for this season of my life might be going out on a limb (new ideas in Christian theology are more often bad than good), but I'm going to say it anyway: I don't think you should feel guilty about surviving spiritually on your kids' crumbs. Just make sure they're healthy crumbs.

Now, what do I mean? I mean that a daily quiet time and deep personal Bible Study, and consistent attendance at another Bible Study and Sunday worship and Sunday School might not be in the cards for you. I can't tell you the last time I felt like I was really paying attention through a whole sermon. I also can't tell you the number of times I've been highly distracted during a sermon and thought, "This is good! I really need to remember to download and actually listen to this sermon sometime this week." Did it again today ... hope springs eternal that it will actually happen.

But, I'm living on faith right now, and that faith includes belief that the little spiritual crumbs that I collect throughout the day are enough to nourish me from day to day. I eat a literal crumb of bread on Sunday morning, and sometimes I feel like that's the only thing I "take away" from church that day. But I go, even if it's just for that crumb (I love having a robust doctrine of the Lord's Supper).

And what often gets me out the door on a Sunday morning is the fact that I want my kids in Sunday School. They get a full "meal," and I benefit. And when they ask me questions during the week like, "Mom, why did God have to die?" I reap much more benefit in thinking through the answer than the four year old, who happened to be focused on trying to stand on his head while I fumbled through an answer. When we do the catechism, I'm serving up the meal for him, but I am also turning my eyes to God for a few minutes. Evening Bible reading is ostensibly for the kids, but it's the Word of God, living and active for kids and adults alike. Even a sweet story like "Just Because Your Mine" reminds me each time I read it that God loves me and takes care of me just because I'm his (see also: baptism, sign and seal).

Somehow, my stolen bites of food add up to enough calories in a day to keep me and baby running. It's not how I'd like to eat forever. I like to cook elaborate meals and sit down and enjoy them while they're hot. I'd like someday to enjoy an entire meal without wiping up a spill, or telling somebody to sit down in their chair for the 16th time, or yelling, "don't forget to flush!" down the hallway. I like to go out to nice restaurants and relish an amazing meal that somebody else has prepared and served in a beautiful way. There's a time for that, and there's a time for eating microwaved minestrone soup for the fifth meal in a row with a side of cheddar bunnies that happen to be lying on the counter.

Are you surviving on crumbs? Make sure you're feeding your kids a healthy diet, and I think you can rest assured that you're getting some healthy nuggets, too. God fed thousands of people with the crumbs of a little boy's lunch; this is the same God who promises to give you your daily bread if you just ask.

Monday, March 02, 2015

A Little Bit of Gratitude and a Whole Lot of Joy

We are THOSE PARENTS, the ones who have taken our small children to Hawaii. Twice. Once when T was only two months old, and again when T was 3 and E was only one. We schlepped all the gear, we had crying kids on the plane, we paid exorbitant prices for meals and hotels ... All for a vacation that they would little appreciate and probably not remember.

Why? Why not just take them up to Lake Elmo for an afternoon on the beach or wait until they are old enough to appreciate it? ...all arguments that I was perfectly comfortable making until I took my kids to Hawaii.

I love my kids so much, but I'm perfectly comfortable arguing that taking them to Hawaii was ultimately for my pleasure and not so much about theirs. Not in a completely selfish way, but who comes away with the lifelong memories of little kids splashing in the waves for the first time or learning how to build sand castles and bury daddy in the sand. I would argue that my joy in visits to Hawaii have been enhanced by having taken my kids. I get great joy - and I go to great lengths - to see them laugh, to delight in things both small and great. They show a little bit of gratitude and a whole lot of joy and I would do it all over in a heartbeat.

I was thinking about this last night in light of a Sunday School class on the doctrine of God and a sermon series on Genesis. God, who is eternally self-existent and needs nothing or nobody outside of himself to exist or to be happy, neither needed to create Hawaii nor the people to go there. He doesn't need to give those people in Hawaii amazing beach sunsets every night, but he does. And I think that my joy in taking my own kids to Hawaii bears some faint resemblance to why God went to all the energy and expense of creating the world and then redeeming it. A little bit of gratitude (even if it's all I've got, it's hardly enough) and a whole lot of joy, and that's how my Father expects me to live in his world today.

What is the primary purpose of man? To glorify God and to enjoy him forever. Like a kid whose parents have taken him on a beach vacation.

PS - my header on this blog is me and E in of those amazing Hawaiian sunsets. For what it's worth.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

So You're Going to Have Your Third Baby...

I'm about 7 1/2 weeks into this whole "mom of three" gig, so take this advice for what it's worth. I sort of freaked out on my first night at home, already feeling overwhelmed not only for that moment, but also for all the moments that I feared would be like that in the days, weeks, and months to come.

The good news is, we've had many fewer of those moments (all the kids crying, mom crying too) than I anticipated. The other good news is, you know, those moments happen, and then they pass, and we've all survived, and my kids are still relatively happy and healthy and they still love me and know that I love them.

In between those moments, though, I've had some coping strategies, and I thought I'd share some of them here with you, because there are a handful of you out there who are expecting that third baby to pop out any day now (sorry to those moms whose third babies have already popped! I know there are at least two of you who have had that baby between when I started this post 4 weeks ago and now ... I guess taking four weeks to write a blog post is part of the gig!).

So, here we go, in no particular order, some of my coping strategies for those first few weeks with three...

* Train your kids to be totally okay with nothing but milk and bananas for breakfast. Breakfast on day 1 for us was a bowl of Cheerios at 11:45. Lunch was a second bowl of Cheerios at about 11:57 (this is neither a joke nor hyperbole).

* If you have/had a back/belly support belt, consider wearing it again. After my stomach still felt like I'd done a million crunches on day 3 (and I was still cramping a ton), the extra support helped my back and gut feel way better.

* Related to the above, after-birth pains get worse with each kid (this is not a secret; all my nurses and my doc told me this). On top of the hospital-provided Ibuprofin and Tylenol and heating pads (love those!), I took arnica pills... and then I forgot to take anything when I got home until I had tears in my eyes from the cramps. Remember to keep taking your pain meds at home!

* Lower your standards! We rarely watch TV at home, but we have been watching an awful lot of Blues Clues lately, and you know what? It hasn't ruined them yet!

* Plan meals and snacks, especially ones that you won't feel guilty about. Chocolate-Covered Katie's Fudge Babies are great - there's no guilt in consuming an entire batch, and my kids are convinced that they are eating a decadent treat. If you want some help coming up with other ideas, I'm glad to help you out, just ping me somehow. Also, there's no shame in cereal bars, applesauce packets, and eating your meals on paper plates.

* Be okay telling your kids to go play in their rooms because mommy needs a break. Enforce them staying in there (with a timer, maybe), even if it initially makes them cry.

* When you do let them out of their rooms, have new and interesting things for your kids to do. We were close enough to Christmas that they still had joy in their new toys. Also, new stickers and puzzles. I ordered a roll of like 1,000 stickers from Amazon and let them go to town with them (in appropriate places). Rolls of paper taped to the floor for the kids to color on. Coloring pages. Tito (and consequently his younger, copy-cat sister), became obsessed with the movie Planes 2 over Christmas, and I started printing coloring sheets of the characters for them to color. We literally went through an entire ream of printer paper and an entire set of printer cartridges printing out coloring pages and other activity sheets for them. Totally worth it. When they got tired of markers, they switched to watercolor paints, which I like because they're easy to quickly wipe off the table and put away. A source that I like for preschool-level activity sheets is 3dinosaurs.com. Tito especially likes a lot of the pages that she puts together, but Lili is getting into them, too.

* I wish I'd planned out some things from Pinterest beforehand, but I had enough time nursing that I scanned through old pins that I'd never taken the time to do, things that would be easy to put together, to throw at the kids in their mid-morning or post-nap slumps. A few things that we did do (in addition to stickers, markers, coloring pages and watercolors mentioned above) are making water bottle aquariums (water bottles filled with almost anything would have been a hit, but I happened to have some tiny plastic fish figures and the grandparents have a salt-water aquarium that the kids love), balloon/paper plate ping pong, squirt bottles of colored water to play in the snow, baking soda + colored vinegar from spoons or eye-droppers.

* Consider babywearing. I got a Baby K'Tan with my first but never felt like it was tight enough for my newborn (and my 6'4" husband couldn't wear it because it's fitted to my 5'4" frame). I got an Ergo for baby #2 and while it's great for a lot of things, it was too bulky for everyday wear, especially with the newborn insert. For #3, I got a Boba and I've worn E2 in it almost every day. It was super for a trip to Costco when I knew I'd need my whole cart, and it's great at bedtime when I need both hands for pj's and teeth-brushing and I have a tired baby who wants to be held. I wear it for walks and for making meals; it's seriously something I'm thankful for every time I put it on... but of course, babywearing isn't for everybody and needs/preferences differ from person to person and even from baby to baby.

* Be okay with crying (I'm talking about your kids here; I'll get to you next). I'm surprised at how okay I am with letting my littlest cry for a few minutes while I do something else that needs to be done. I had to do it when #2 was a baby, but it stressed me out. #3? A little crying (emphasis on "a little" - I'm not letting my two week old "cry it out") won't hurt her while I got to the bathroom or fix lunch. The other two run back-and-forth reporting, "Baby's wy-ing" and I'm like, "Yup. But I'm making you a burrito so you can eat while she eats." I'm not oblivious, but I'm usually okay.

* Even with all this, you just might be singing "Jesus Loves Me" to your #2 at naptime after just having had to discipline her, while #3 lies on the floor crying, and #1 stands in the doorway demanding something from you, and you might have trouble finishing the song because you are tired, you are overwhelmed, and this moment is a crescendo of all that made this morning both normal and super stressful. And this is what I tell myself: 1) you are normal, 2) try, try, try to keep the perspective of a grateful heart, because thankfulness quells a multitude of sins, and 3) cling to Jesus, who is with you in the flood, even if it's just a flood of tears and pee and poop and spilled milk and watercolor paint water. It's a legitimate flood, and his is a sufficient grace.

And, so I don't end on a down-note, here are some words I wrote the other day to a friend who is expecting her first and was listening to me and another mom reflect on what was different about #3, since we both agreed that some of our time with number three felt especially sweet, moreso than with our first two.
 You know what? Having babies is kind of like your wedding day - no matter how much people tell you to savor it and you know that what they tell you is true and you stand on that stage and try so hard to soak it all in, it's still just a moment that passes. It was special and you loved it and lived it well and the memories are sweet, but you can't make it last forever, and now you are moving forward in the joy of the relationship that was established in that moment... Baby #3 is sort of like getting a third act to your "baby wedding" - it's special in a way because you get to prolong the "magic" that refuses to be bottled because we are time-bound creatures. But your time with your little July bundle? So much magic awaits, just like your wedding day.

PS - Am I really "adult" enough to have three kids??? It sure doesn't feel like it!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Thanking God for Poopy Diapers

Last night, I did what I normally do just before I click off the last light: I quickly swept through the house and checked on all my little people, enjoying their peaceful countenances, pulling up covers, breathing out quick prayers. In Lili's room, I also breathed in another odor and quickly determined that a diaper change was in order.

Working as quickly as I could in as much darkness as I could (you really don't want to change a poopy diaper in too much dark), I got her changed and during the process I smiled at her total relaxation, her drowsy murmurs and her slightly-sweaty, totally cuddly, sweet toddler self, and I was overcome with a wave of gratitude.

It started because I thought, "Man, I'm so glad I caught this, because she would have had some serious diaper rash in the morning" (in case you didn't know, skin gets really irritated at prolonged exposure to poop, and an acidic diaper - from lots of fruit or tomatoes, e.g. - actually eats away at the skin and leaves raw spots). Gratitude was mixed with sadness then as I thought of all the kids in the world who suffer through diaper rash because they don't have parents to change their diapers in the middle of the night or the middle of the day or any time at all.  Or parents who are unwilling or unable.

Then I thought how thankful I am that we can afford diapers and don't have to ration them when she needs a change. I'm thankful we can buy food - healthy and delicious food - that eventually fills those diapers. Thankful that she has a healthy body that processes that food. Thankful for a warm home where we can all sleep peacefully at night.

Thankful for the opportunity to have kids in the first place, thankful that God gave me a husband and these three children. Thankful that I have an incredible wealth of resources around me as I raise them, grandparents who serve and nurture, friends who share burdens and laughs, older men and women who encourage and admonish, a church body that teaches us and helps us to raise them up in the Lord's love. Thankful for grace that covers over my failures, for even with all those resources and all these gifts, tempers run short and gratitude is so often eclipsed by selfishness and self-righteousness.

In a life that should be filled with nothing but gratitude and praise, I receive mercy upon mercy each day for many things, not the least I which is my lack of giving thanks.

"Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to thy cross I cling.
Naked come to the for dress,
Helpless look to thee for grace.
Foul I to the fountain fly,
Wash me Savior or I die."

Kind of a funny hymn to think of in light of a poopy diaper, but there you go. Deep truth mixed with every day normalcy, which is the best kind and maybe the only kind.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

This is the Day that the Lord has Made

Huh.

So it turns out that Psalm 139 isn't just for sweet babes in the womb, but it's also for those babes' impatient moms when said wee ones are past-due.

This is the most uncomfortable I've been in any of my pregnancies (setting aside 6+ months straight of puking each time). I am so ready for this to be done, and I go to bed each night hardly daring to hope that tonight will be tonight, that tomorrow will be the day.

And then (so far) that day comes and I wake up cranky and it just goes downhill from there. I don't even like being around myself most of the time, although I'd really like to blame most of it on offspring #1 & 2.

And then God's Word tells me that this day -- this day of discomfort, this day of overly-sharp words and overreactions to minor infractions, this night of nonstop Braxton Hicks that prevent sleep: this day was ordained for me before I was even born.

Not even just known or anticipated, but planned.

"All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."

Also: "Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely." (Ouch.)

Psalm 139 is rife with quotables: the classic pro-life bit, the parts that have been turned into song (read it for yourself for a refresher!). Not so oft quoted: verses 19-21.

Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
    O men of blood, depart from me!
They speak against you with malicious intent;
    your enemies take your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

Last night, I went to bed wondering if I could read David as I read Paul in Romans 7: 
"Oh, that you would slay the wicked [woman inside of me], O God! 
     O murderous thoughts and words, depart from me!
So many words and actions every day belie my confession that you are Savior and King;
    I am your enemy every time I seize control or take your name in vain.
    [Wretched woman that I am!]
Should I not hate everything that shows me hating (even just momentarily turning my back on) you?
    Can I loathe my own sin as much as I loathe those who loathe you (or who just inconvenience me)?  I do, I hate my sin with complete hatred; it is my constant companion and my enemy."

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!  ... I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. ... 

Maybe today will bring a baby. Maybe not. Either way, I need to choose to rest in knowing that this day was ordained for me before there was time. Not just the fact of the day, but the content, down to my very thoughts and words. 

...Lead me in the way everlasting!

Monday, December 22, 2014

What Child is This?

In my last blog post, I posed the question, "What kind of God is this?" and posited that this is a question we should all be regularly asking of ourselves as we grow in the grace and knowledge of God.

This week, I have had occasion to ask this question of myself as I wait not-so-patiently on the Lord.

It is my own season of waiting in wonder, in fellowship with another Mary of 2000 years ago (Mary is my given name). My due date is Dec. 31, but gosh it would sure be nice to have this baby out of my belly sooner. And so we have asked the Lord for the small mercy (a tiny one, really, and inconsequential, I know), of an early arrival. And so far, his answer has been "no."

What does the Lord think of requests like these? Is there a point to even asking? God, who has orchestrated all of history down to the tiniest flutter of the butterfly wing, who numbers the hairs on my head ... and who promises, "If you ask anything in my name, it will be given to you." And again, "You do not have because you do not ask."

Who also models for us asking big things and getting "no" for an answer: "Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done."

And so I wonder, what kind of God is this? (Prayer is a perpetually sticky point for me, one that I really need to ponder at great length and depth; I'm not convinced that I'm ever really convinced that prayer works. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!)

I take comfort in the fact that Tim Keller has said, "Prayer runs on more paradoxical principles than most anything," likening prayer's paradoxes to the incomprehensibility of Jesus being both fully God and fully man. Keller again: "It's taken me many years to get comfortable with prayer, so it's not going to happen overnight." (Btw, both quotes are from this little video, which I just watched several times in a row.)

I read from Andree Seu Peterson over lunch:
My get-together with Howard and Betsy has been bumped three times for circumstances beyond our control. But God’s calendar date for the spread of the Messiah’s message is a flawless confluence of thousand-mile Roman road-building projects, the Pax Romana, the religious vacuum following conquest, a universal linguistic delivery system in Koine Greek, a language unassociated with imperialism yet capable of the necessary subtlety. 
And, in a small way, the paradox resolves: God will answer "in the fullness of time." In the meantime, I submit this tiny portion of the hidden will of God to his revealed will, and I ask him to help me pray according to his Word:
"Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress" 
(Psalm 46:10-11)

and 
 "Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!"
(Psalm 27:14)

This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing. 
Haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The "Why" Matters Most



I had a pre-baby date night with JR last night, and being the nerds that we are, most of our conversation (that wasn’t kid related) was related to the movie he had watched “on assignment” for Dead Reckoning earlier that day: Exodus

He told me about the biblical inaccuracies in the movie (hint: pretty much everything), as well as the blasphemous way in which God is portrayed (hint: he is the most unlikable character in the movie, amidst a cast of generally unlikable characters). I had a question about Ridley Scott or something and so I did a quick google search and the first search result that came up was a link to a Time magazine article about the biblical inaccuracies of Ridley Scott’s Exodus movie (I didn't follow the link or save it, so I can't link it now). 

I expect that a kabillion Christian bloggers are going to be all over all the inconsistencies, but it gave me pause to consider why that would matter to Time. Maybe they are just jumping on the bandwagon that they know many Christians will champion: we didn’t like the movie , and here are all the reasons that it was bad. But for a secular magazine in an increasingly secular culture, seriously: why does it matter? If we don’t believe in the God of the Bible in the first place, if we mock and intentionally try to subvert the rules that are laid out in the second part of the book of Exodus, or if we simply believe that the Bible is irrelevant and the story told in the book of Exodus is purely unhistorical myth, why does it matter if a movie that shares its name shares no other similarities with its story?

For that matter, as Christians, why does it matter if we get the facts straight? I think the “what” of the inconsistencies will be irrelevant to many so-called Christians who already find much of the church irrelevant, because we will fail to address the “why.” And I think the “why” matters most: the facts matter because a) they tell us what type of God God is, and b) they tell us how he works.

More on these two reasons.

First of all, JR told me that following the Passover, as Pharoah holds a dead son (or something like that), he asks Moses bitterly, “What kind of god does this?” Atheist Ridley Scott’s answer is clear: not a god that I  want anything to do with; and, indeed, a god that I’m trying to drive people away from. The question, though, might be the best theological point of the whole movie (speculation since I haven’t seen it), and it’s one that every Christian needs to wrestle with. Indeed, Moses asks virtually the same question of God himself later in Exodus 34, “God, if you expect me to lead this group of 2 million people through a desert and into a new land, I need to know what kind of God you are.” “In your own words, what kind of God are you; I need to know because my very life depends on it.”
Is this a question you’ve asked? Because your life depends on it, too.

Don’t brush it off too quickly. It’s a question with perpetual relevance in any community that reads its Bible closely. The scholarly community is fond of asking right now, “What kind of God wipes out entire people groups (implied: at his whim)?” You should read your Bible and ask that question, too; but keep in mind, you can have Ridley Scott or some scholar from Harvard answer that question for you, or you can let God have the first word: “I am the Lord, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness … but I will not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34, loosely, from memory).

It’s not just a question for out there; it’s a question for in here (points at chest). The mom whose 4 year old has cancer: “What kind of God does this?” I am continually humbled and amazed at this mom whose answer to that question involves an echo of Moses, “God, hide me in the cleft of your rock, and show me your glory.”
If you’re not honestly wrestling with this question for yourself, or helping those you disciple to ask the question before the tsunami hits, you are probably going to have more of a Pharaoh answer to the question than a Job answer. Here’s how God answers the question in the book of Exodus: a) his “glory” (you might say, what God views as his most important, most prominent characteristic) is his compassion, grace and mercy, and b) God is predominantly a God who saves. Getting the “what” right in this story is important because it helps us understand the “who” and the “why,” not just in Exodus, but in all of Scripture and indeed in all of history.

My second reason that I believe the “why” matters more than the “what” is that this story, this book, dramatically define for God’s people how God works. As I said in my last paragraph, God is a God who saves, and the exodus from Egypt is THE defining salvific event for God’s people for over a thousand years, right up to the time of Christ. His mighty power and love in saving his people was not only celebrated immediately afterwards (e.g. Miriam’s song after the Red Sea), but for generations afterwards. If there was ever doubt if God could or would intervene to help his people, they would hearken back to the major, concrete, historical event of the Exodus and then answer with a resounding “yes.” “God saves” defines how God works, and the Exodus is only surpassed as the premier example of this when Jesus (whose name, incidentally, means “Yahweh saves”) dies on the cross and is raised again. That, now, is our definitive proof that God saves. So the entire Old Testament, and in a lot of ways, the events of the New Testament, have to be read in light of this saving event of God. The Exodus isn’t just a random episode in a big book of random episodes; it’s an integral part of a cohesive story of a God who sees and knows (words from the book of Exodus) the suffering of his people and enters into history to do something about it.

Which leads to my final point: we have to know how God acts in order to understand what sort of people we are, we who have been saved according to the events described in this Bible. You’ve gotta get the facts straight, because even the chronology (the “when”) helps to define the “why.” If we don’t understand the “why,” we may as well have the sort of random, arbitrary, selfish, feckless, misanthropic God of Ridley Scott’s movie. Sure, a lot of Americans  wouldn’t go that far, but I bet your average churchgoing American deep down inside sort of agrees that a lot of God’s commands for us feel pretty random and arbitrary. Why else would so many young, professing Christians (and old professing Christians) blatantly disregard, for example, the sexual ethics set forth in the Bible? Because they feel random to us, not an integral part of who God is and the story that he has invited us into as part of his saving us.

Theologians have two words they use: the “Indicative” and the “imperative.” An indicative is a statement of fact, in this case, a historical fact of something that has been done. The exodus. The Red Sea. The cross. The imperative is a command. “You shall have no other gods before me.” “Take up your cross and follow me.” In the biblical story, the indicative always precedes the imperative; in other words, God always acts before he calls us to act. He saves, we respond. Even the giving of the Ten Commandments (a weird, disconnected part of the plot for Ridley Scott, and how could it be anything else), starts with this: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of slavery … thereforeGod saves, we respond. This is consistently true throughout Scripture: the God who has revealed himself to us as compassionate, merciful and gracious, even to ungrateful and rebellious people, rescues us and then inducts us into a lifestyle that is consistent with our new identity as saved people. "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved..." Any other understanding of God’s commands throughout Scripture is selling God short and, really, provides no motivation to obey.

I think the exodus of young people from our churches today (pun intended) reflects an increasing comfortableness that this generation has with acknowledging the disconnect: God’s commands are irrelevant because we’ve done a lot of teaching about the “what” but not a lot about the “why.” So as you process the movie (if you want to waste your money on it) or even as you process life, Christmas, and everything else, don’t just get your facts straight. Ask yourself, and ask God, “What kind of God is this?” and pray for eyes to see his salvation in the answer.