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.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

My Anti-Lord's Prayer, from Mother's Day

Preface: I wrote this "post" in a journal shortly after Mother's Day, and then I put it away to marinate until a time when it didn't feel quite as raw. I remembered it yesterday evening after a particularly rough few days with one of my kids, and I'm putting it up here today as I slowly enjoy a latte (still hot!) on a blissfully quiet morning while the kids are away for a few hours. This is a Mother's Day post, and it's a post for every day, since moms don't really get vacation or sick days (except, apparently, me on Saturday mornings).

************

Now that the glow of Mother's Day is over and the Facebook posts of flowers and brunches have faded into the black hole of FB memories, be honest: was your Mother's Day as good as the card commercials? As good as you made it out to be, because that's what's expected?

It was? Oh. Well, at least I'm not the only one because one honest friend admitted to muttering "Happy effing Mother's Day" to herself while she managed two cranky kids at home and her husband worked all day.

Here was my Mother's Day: two adults sick all weekend and two high energy, healthy kids who still needed clothes, food, and poopy diaper changes. I was the least sick by a long shot (I would call my husband "walking dead," but he wasn't actually walking anywhere), so the burden of care fell on me. On Saturday, the two kids couldn't go more than three minutes without an altercation, and I got so tired of it, I strapped them both in car seats and drove around town for two hours until lunch and naps. (Magic! I recommend it! A quarter tank of gas is still cheaper than a babysitter, a hospital bill, or the psych ward.)

The kids were delightful on Sunday, but they still needed 3+ meals, clothes (who am I kidding - they wore pajamas all day), entertainment, and diapers. And 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.

It's still hard to connect Scripture to life, though, isn't it? Oh, I can grab onto a verse or a chapter here and there, but so much of it eludes me, and I feel like I'm missing out on really knowing the God who knows.

One of the most meaningful pieces of modern writing that I've read is David Powlison's "Anti-Psalm 23." It took having him show me what life without Psalm 23 looks like in order to understand what it really means that "the Lord is my Shepherd."

So I decided to give that technique a try with a well-known passage relevant to my manna-eating, my daily bread. And here it is: "My Anti-Lord's Prayer, On Mother's Day." (You may want to note that each paragraph maps onto a request/line from the Lord's Prayer; it's hard to think of a way to show that on a blog without getting really complicated and fancy, so I did it with a simple table but in case that's hard to read, I'm also including the text at the bottom of the post.) 


The Lord's Prayer shows me the surpassing greatness of being in and living for God's kingdom. Greater purpose, greater vision, greater perspective. But it kind of took taking it all away (theoretically) for me to realize that.


Oh Lord, let this next day of manna-living not be about me, the eater, but about you, the Giver.

**************

And the text, in case you can't read the chart:

I am a mother on Mother’s Day; the world must revolve around me, at least for today 

My home is my little kingdom and I want it just the way I like it. 

Please don’t make extra work for me or cross me right now, or I will make you pay. My home is supposed to be my little slice of heaven on earth, right? 

Day after day I am responsible for feeding hungry – and complaining – mouths. It’s trying and thankless. I would love to just have a day off. I feel like I’m never doing enough and I get so discouraged because it’s more of the same tomorrow. 

I work so hard for no pay and no time off; is it so bad to just want a break every now and then? Time to go shop or go out for a warm cup of coffee? Peeing with the bathroom door shut? Is that too much to ask? (I spend so much time feeling like the universe owes me for all this work.) 

You know what? Let’s take that a step further: the universe (or somebody) DOES owe me. I deserve a break. I deserve to indulge myself, maybe with some extra spending, a pedicure, lazy time online or a few extra bites of chocolate. It’s not like I haven’t earned it, and these kids are giving me no breaks today. 

I may not be able to control the rest of the world, but inside of these walls? I should at least be queen here, where people try to make me happy and tell me what a good job I’m doing. I’m so often stuck between “cherish every moment” and “is it bedtime yet?” I’ll probably go to bed again tonight exhausted, frustrated at myself and a little bit resentful at everyone else in my house. 

I guess that’s just the way it is until the kids leave for college.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Do I have diabetes? Meh, I can manage on my own.

So this weekend was filled with a level of uncertainty for me on the physical level that highlighted an underlying spiritual condition.

Let me explain: on Friday morning, I went to the doctor for my routine glucose test (to determine if I have gestational diabetes). I failed miserably, much to my surprise because I've done this twice before and never had a problem. I had to take an extended glucose test as soon as possible, which for me was Monday morning, because that was a day when I could spend three hours at a lab while being food-deprived and sugar-hyped, and have my husband stay home with the kids. I was pretty sure I'd fail that test given my results from Friday morning, so I spent the weekend stewing and researching and worrying and feeling overwhelmed at the thought of overhauling my diet and lifestyle (basically no carbs until the New Year, AND blood tests via finger pricks multiple times a day).

And I kept thinking something else: "Geez, if the doctors weren't so picky, I wouldn't have to worry about all this. Maybe if I test borderline, it won't be so bad and I won't have to go to all those extremes and I can just sort of muddle along with half-hearted attempts at changing my diet and lifestyle."

You know, because I can't just be grateful for access to medical care that can provide relatively easy remedies for issues that could become major medical complications for both me and my baby.

And then I realized, I really think the same thing a lot of the time about my spiritual condition. "Do I have diabetes? Meh, I can manage it on my own" is a lot like minimizing my sin (for which the Great Physician has given me a terminal diagnosis) and figuring that a few minor adjustments here and there can help me get along just fine, no need for intrusive, annoying, potentially painful and inconvenient remedies for what ails me.

I'm grateful that God is an honest doctor. I'm grateful that he's persistent in bringing me an accurate diagnosis and a proper cure.

Good news: my test results on Monday came back negative, so I had bread and butter for lunch today to celebrate. Even better news:

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
    in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
    my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
    or let your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16:7-11

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Obedience of Faith; Me, You and Us

I've been reflecting a lot lately about how incredibly personal and individual God is in the life of faith that he designs for each of us and calls us into.

What he gives to some he withholds from others. What some receive immediately others are told, "Wait." What is easy for some is difficult for others; what to some is an onerous burden to others is a barely noticeable blip.

I'm talking about everything here, friends. Marriage, singleness, divorce, marriage health. Childbearing. Childrearing. Health. Defeating sin. Is making friends easy or hard. Is cooking easy or hard. Is managing money easy or hard.

You: fearfully and wonderfully made. He knows your whole frame. You: created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he prepared in advance for you to do. Specifically for you.

In my observation and experience, we always tend to think most other people's faith-lives are easier than our own. It's the hardest thing in the world to say to ourselves, "Soul, God loves you so much and so specifically that he designed these trials and these blessings just for you. Do not compare yourself to them, do not envy them because this thing, this life, this everything, this is between you and He who is your Maker and Redeemer."

And yet ... and yet.

This life is faith is also a community project. My friend's miscarriage is very much my own grief. Also, I can't do this, any of this, without you (not for long, anyway). I need people encouraging me, praying for me, offering counsel, offering a kind word. We, made in God's image, are inherently relational because God, Father-Son-Holy Spirit, is inherently relational. Our vertical relationship has horizontal components, just as our horizontal relationships always reflect the vertical.

Sometimes I hear about a life that an acquaintance has been living, learning for the first time about hardships that she has been bearing up under, and I marvel at her: what perseverance, what pain, what faith, hide just below the surface.

Really, this is all of us, to one degree or another. Sometimes our job is to encourage or serve that friend, when he or she lets us into the struggle.

There are different types of blog posts, and I would call this an "awareness" post. Awareness of yourself. Awareness of others. Awareness of the God who is always in it with you, next to you, for you, ahead of you and behind you.

"But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
    peoples in exchange for your life.
Fear not, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you.
I will say to the north, Give up,
    and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”

Isaiah 43:1-7

PS - I've read two really good blog posts in the last day on struggles that it seems God has called friends of mine to, compassionate, winsome, wise words of God-centered suffering.

On miscarriage - "What All Have Borne, Each Can Bear"
On singleness - "Sleeping Alone" (This is an old post, but if you click on her "singleness" topic at the bottom of the page, there are some other great posts on singleness.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dear Tito and Lili (a summer 2014 letter)

Dear Tito, Dear Lili,

You are, as I write this, both asleep in your beds. I love naptime. It gives me a chance to pause and take a deep breath, to recover a little bit, and to gather my strength for the hours ahead. Don't get me wrong, they will undoubtedly be delightful hours (especially when we get over the post-nap grumpies), but they will probably stretch out longer than I want; and they will involve tears in one way or another, probably a few fights, some disappointments, some delights, and dinner, which is usually a bit of all of the above, and always a lot of work.

You know what I was thinking about this morning as we went about our day, not doing anything particularly special at all? I was thinking that all of it was special. I was thinking that it is completely impossible to capture the moment-by-moment delights that are our daily reality in a way that could possibly communicate to somebody outside of this time and this place, how life with my two small children was lived moment-to-moment, many of which were filled with a wonder so ordinary it is impossible to record.

When you are older, you will see pictures of yourselves laughing and playing with bubbles. These pictures will make it seem like bubbles were an event, maybe a once-or-twice thing that delighted you. In reality, it is an event, but it's one that happens every few days and yet still never fails to delight. The happy moments in the bathtub that I occasionally catch on camera? Those are a microcosm for every time you take a bath. Every dinner you make each other giggle with new antics while your dad and I sit back and watch. Every bike ride is exciting, every walk is an adventure. You didn't just empty out the cabinet once and laugh hilariously while you popped in and out. We didn't just read the same sweet book once. Lili didn't just shout "Me, ICE" once when ice cream was mentioned.

Our lives are a series of moments; every moment is unique and special, but the uniqueness is lost when everything blurs together into hot summer days and soon-forgotten lunches or treats or crafts, and bedtimes that mean the all-too-soon end of a day for a little heart that wants to experience more than his little body has the capacity for at this age.

I take a lot of pictures, even recognizing the weakness of the medium to capture memories like a little girl's kisses (loud but not sloppy anymore) and a little boy's laugh (free and contagious). I take pictures because I love beauty, and photos are one way that I can both capture and create beauty. I also take pictures because I want to try my best to capture those moments - the ones where you stand at the window waiting for daddy's car to pull into the driveway, or the way you both laid out next to daddy the other night when we did our evening devotions on the grass, or the way Lili drove most of the way home from the cabin with Tito's sunglasses on upside down, or the way Tito invited Callie the dog to sit on his lap for much of that same drive. You will look at those pictures and see moments, but I will look at those pictures and see them strung together into our life. I will do my best to string them together for you, even though I am now grasping some of the mother's secret that was discovered by Mary when she "treasured up all of these things, pondering them in her heart."

Even knowing this, I take these pictures because I want you to look at them some day and see laughter on your faces and smiles in our eyes. I want you to have a tangible reminder that you were happy and that you were loved. I will save these images not just in my ever-fading-memory, but in a book that we will look at together and we will tell stories of the times that we treasured you, not just in the big events, but even more so in the little moments. I may have been so fed up that I put you both down for naps so early this afternoon that it took you hours to fall asleep, but I wouldn't trade anything for the times that you are awake.

Life will not always be easy, and I cannot protect you from pain. But I will try my best to give you a gift of memories of a bright time, one that laid a foundation of joy and more importantly of trust in parents and in God; and I will pray that these moments light a spark in your hearts that will never go out, a deep conviction that you were once filled with joy and no matter how dark the night may feel, "weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning."

We have so much joy in the little moments now, but it will not always last, no matter how many pictures I take. The best news is that joy always comes in the Morning.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bless You!

I hope it's okay to post a devotional thought from Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing in its entirety -- it's brief, so I can't really just quote the small bit that I like. I do like this, though, and hope you do, too.

BLESS YOU!

[God said,] "I will surely bless you." Genesis 22:17 (NIV)

People say, "Bless you!" when you sneeze.
"Bless" has turned into a bit of a feeble word.

But in the Bible it's much stronger.
(And it has nothing to do with sneezing!)

When God promises to bless you, he is saying, "I'm going to make you into everything I ever meant for you to be!"

It means God is taking every day and every single thing that happens in it -- good or bad -- to make you stronger, to mend whatever is broken inside, to change you into the person you were always meant to be.

Just as a caterpillar is totally changed into a butterfly, being blessed means being totally transformed.

God is transforming everything - his broken world - and you.

Sally Lloyd-Jones, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, pp 48-49

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Is there a balm?



I went to sleep with tears on my pillow last night.

My children were tucked away in their beds – safe, secure, healthy, happy. But on the other side of the world, 

A voice is heard in Ramah,
    lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
    she refuses to be comforted for her children,
    because they are no more.”
(Jeremiah 31:15)

My mom heart, probably fueled by some pregnancy-hormone imagination, weeps with them. I see the headlines, “ISIS is decapitating children” and can’t click on the article. That’s all I need to know (although I also know that families who flee to the mountains are watching their children wither and die from hunger and thirst); I wouldn’t sleep at all with those images fueling my imagination.

Is there a balm for these kinds of tears? The trauma may fade (it may not – much of Rwanda is still raw), but I cannot imagine such a balm this side of heaven.

Speaking of heaven, I saw a quote on Pinterest a few weeks ago that didn’t interest me enough at the time to save it, but it has stuck in my mind since then (fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be popular enough for me to be able to find it again through searches). It was an old-style picture of the Paris skyline, and had written over it, “What if when you die … they ask you, ‘how was heaven?’” Obviously, the impulse was to encourage the reader to seize the day, make the most of life right now, count your blessings, etc, etc. It was probably created by a white girl who was a college freshman feeling angsty about finals or only having an iPhone 4, so she sat on her fluffy dorm bed and used her Macbook to make a cute reminder that life really isn’t all that bad (sorry, I snark). 

I’m so glad the sentiment isn’t popular, though, because I ultimately find it not just an object for snark, but deeply offensive. Should we speak of blessings and be grateful for God’s gifts? Yes, but to suggest that this world is remotely heavenly belittles human suffering and belittles the glories of heaven. I’m offended on behalf of these weeping moms in Iraq. I’m offended on behalf of entire communities in West Africa that are stricken with an incurable hemorrhaging disease. I’m offended on behalf of trafficked little girls. I’m offended on behalf of American soldiers with PTSD. I’m offended on behalf of moms whose wee ones are battling cancer. I’m offended on behalf of those who have suffered the pain of divorce. I’m offended on behalf of hard-working people around the world who are trapped in poverty. Hell, I’m offended on behalf of myself, not only because I have an achy back and a sin-filled heart and I long for heaven even amidst the genuine joys of this earth, but because I have identified myself with a Savior who experienced hell in order to bring heaven back to us after mankind arrogantly opened pandora’s box and let loose hell on earth.

Every Sunday morning when I eat that little piece of bread and drink that little cup of wine, I am proclaiming that very suffering and death until He comes again. Tomorrow morning, I will eat and drink not only to have my fill of grace for the coming week, but also to proclaim that the Body and the Blood were also broken and shed for tiny broken bodies and gallons of shed blood in Iraq. For moms and dads whose tears may as well as be blood. Oh, that they may somehow taste that grace right now, although it may taste more now like the gall that was offered to Christ on the cross, than the sweet, life-giving wine that will cross my lips.

Miroslav Volf, arguably one of the most theological, articulate and winsome voices on reconciliation of our time, has written that there can be no peace (temporal or eternal) without justice; and in cases like these, it requires a sober and appropriate view of divine justice. Hell is real, God’s wrath is real, and it will come when Christ returns like no disaster that has ever been known to mankind in history.

Excuse the long quote:

A nonindignant God would be an accomplice in injustice, deception, and violence … Without an eschatological dimension, the talk of God’s wrath degenerates into a naïve and woefully inadequate ideology about the self-cancellation of evil. Outside the world of wishful thinking, evildoers all too often thrive, and when they are overthrown, the victors are not much better than the defeated. God’s eschatological anger is the obverse of the impotence of God’s love in the face of the self-immunization of evildoers caught in the self-generating mechanism of evil. A ‘nice’ God is a figment of liberal imagination, a projection onto the sky of the inability to give up cherished illusions about goodness, freedom, and the rationality of social actors.
…There is no trace of this nonindignant God in the biblical texts, be it Old Testament  or New Testament, be it Jesus of Nazareth or John of Patmos. The evildoers who ‘eat up my people as they eat bread,’ says the Psalmist in God’s name, will be put ‘in great terror’ (Psalm 14:5). Why terror? Why not simply reproach? Even better, why not reasoning together? Why not just display suffering love? Because evildoers ‘are corrupt’ and ‘they do abominable deeds’ (v. 1); they have ‘gone astray,’ they are ‘perverse’ (v. 3). God will judge, not because God gives people what they deserve, but because some people refuse to receive what no one deserves; if evildoers experience God’s terror, it will not be because they have done evil, but because they have resisted to the end the powerful lure of the open arms of the crucified Messiah.
…Should not a loving God be patient and keep luring the perpetrator into goodness? This is exactly what God does: God suffers the evildoers through history as God has suffered them on the cross. But how patient should God be? The day of reckoning must come, not because God is too eager to pull the trigger, but because every day of patience in a world of violence means more violence and every postponement of vindication means letting insult accompany injury. ‘How long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood,’ cry out the souls under the altar to the Sovereign Lord (Revelation 6:10). We are uncomfortable with the response which calls the souls to ‘rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed’ (v. 11). But the response underlines that God’s patience is costly, not simply for God, but for the innocent. Waiting for the evildoers to reform means letting suffering continue.      (Exclusion and Embrace, pp 297-300)

There are two sides to every coin. When I sing “Jesus Loves Me” to my children every night, I sing a comforting promise of forgiveness for sins, no matter how great (even for mass murderers). Peace be upon those moms who can understand so much better than I; but the promise of God’s love also includes a promise of his wrath.

Jesus loves me, this I know,

For the Bible tells me so (bank on his promises, dear Iraqi moms; they may not feel true right now, but they are. This is your only comfort and hope.).

Little ones to Him belong (in heaven now, even as they did on earth),

They were weak (beneath guns and swords),

But HE is strong (“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. – Rev 22:12)

Yes, Jesus loves me (“O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
         blessed shall he be who repays you
         with what you have done to us!
      Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
         and dashes them against the rock!” – Psalm 137:8-9)

Yes, Jesus loves me (“He who sits in the heavens laughs;
         the Lord holds them in derision.
      Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
         and terrify them in his fury.” Psalm 2:4-5)

Yes, Jesus loves me (“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. – Rev 6:9-11)

The Bible tells me so (He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! – Rev 22:20)

Is this hope of balm?  It comes not from Gilead but from heaven, and it is red as blood. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Crunchy Mom Stuff (warning: inane mom post)

I've got a bit of crunchy mom inside of me; here's how some of that is working out right now (I spend a frightening amount of my time thinking about things like this when I'm not keeping children happy, clean(ish), fed or not fighting).

  • After 14 weeks of morning sickness (started getting sick at 4.5 weeks, just passed the 18 week mark last week), I've decided that I've got the gaggies enough under control that I'm going back into cloth diapering, starting today. The first cloth diaper I had to change this morning was a doozy -- almost made me change my mind ... permanently!  But I survived with no gagging!
  • I've been doing the super frugal water-vinegar cleaning thing for almost every part of my house, but I bit the bullet and bought a tub of Seventh Generation essential oil disinfecting wipes for the express purpose of teaching Tito how to clean his own bathroom. It's awesome. Now every few days, T wipes down his own toilet and sink ... a very important skill for him to be learning now since he is a boy and boys are, um, messy in the bathroom.
  • Since I'm doing the mostly-natural house cleaning route, I have a lot of vinegar and baking soda on hand, which also turns out to be great for science experiments for kids. Last week, we made exploding ice chalk, which they loved. This week, we're going to put drops of vinegar in trays of vinegar and watch it fizz and explode. It's too hot for this pregnant lady to go outside for most of the day, so I'm having to get creative with ways to keep two energetic kids busy inside.
  • I was disappointed to realize yesterday that the Method hand soap that I have next to every sink in my house has Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS) as its second ingredient. Here, I've been working so hard to avoid that ingredient in other body care products in our house, and the item we use the most is full of it! (SLS is a skin irritant, generally avoided now in the "natural skin care" community, and particularly of interest to me because I have a few charges with sensitive skin in my house). I'm thinking of checking out The Honest Company's soap, but I'm wondering if there's a cheaper option available. I like The Honest Company's marketing (hello, ADORABLE diapers!), but it's not exactly cheap.
  • I take a lot of baths in epsom salts: it's supposed to be detoxifying, and the magnesium that your skin absorbs is supposedly a mineral that many people are deficient in, purportedly -- according to some people -- a contributor to morning sickness, which is why I started it in the first place. A side benefit is that the salt stays in my hair after I rinse it, and if I have it braided while it dries (or I sleep on it), it creates that "beach hair" look that's so coveted on Pinterest right now. That's me: fashion forward.
  • This isn't really a crunchy thing, but I made this Bobby Flay citrus grilled halibut recipe for dinner last week, and it was really good. I'm going to try it next week using salmon (we have a freezer full of fish due to a recent spousal fishing trip to Alaska). The citrus-butter-thyme sauce was also delicious over some carrots that I grilled in a foil packet (with butter) alongside the halibut.
  • More on the food front: JR and T are going camping for two nights next weekend, and I'm trying to come up with frugal, healthy, easy meals to send with them. I think I'm going to make a lot of use of foil packets that they can just throw on the grill -- sausages with veggies, breakfast burritos wrapped in foil, and maybe even a variation of grilled cheese sandwiches (literally grilled over the campfire) for lunch? I'm also going to make banana bread cookies for breakfast and snacks -- I haven't found a recipe for that specifically that appeals to me, so I'll probably use my regular recipe for banana bread and drop the batter in balls on a cookie sheet and see how it comes out. Seems like a more camp-friendly way to consume your banana bread, plus, the kid will be super excited to be eating cookies for breakfast.
  • One more food item: have you guys ever had grilled onions in foil packets? You can either peel and core a whole onion and fill it with butter and salt and pepper, wrap it in foil and grill it for a long time, or you can cut it into quarters and do the same thing, maybe over medium heat. Wrap it tightly enough that you can flip it a few times, leave it on long enough for the outside layers to get nice and brown (use lots of butter!), and it turns out to be melty soft and sweet and caramelized and delicious. We (the adults) each ate a whole onion cooked like this the other night.  Mmmm... I love not being sick any more so I can cook and enjoy my food!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Whenever you eat or drink...

Even though he hasn't aged out of the nursery yet (that comes in December), T has started asking to sit through church with us. We make him pay attention for the singing, the Bible reading and the prayers, but then he pretty much does his own thing for the sermon. He knows the service is coming to an end when we begin to celebrate communion (we do it every week at my church), and though he hasn't asked, I've started to contemplate how to give him a simple, clear explanation for what's going on with those little pieces of bread and those little cups of wine.

Leave it to Sally Lloyd-Jones!

We read this tonight in the Jesus Storybook Bible (emphasis mine):

Then Jesus picked up some bread and broke it. He gave it to his friends. He picked up a cup of wine and thanked God for it. He poured it out and shared it.
"My body is like this bread. It will break," Jesus told them. "This cup of wine is like my blood. It will pour out."
"But this is how God will rescue the whole world. My life will break and God's broken world will mend. My heart will tear apart - and your hearts will heal. Just as the passover lamb died, so now I will die instead of you. My blood will wash away all your sins. And you'll be clean on the inside - in your hearts."
"So whenever you eat and drink, remember," Jesus said, "I've rescued you!"

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

1 Corinthians 13: A Mother’s Meditation, Confession, and Plea



This is a meditation that I offered at a baby shower tonight; for some understanding of my interpretation of various parts of this passage, please check out my last post, "...And the Greatest of these is Love."

1 Corinthians 13: A Mother’s Meditation, Confession, and Plea

If I speak perfect toddler-ease (even with a calm voice all day)
but have not love, I may as well have just put the kids in front of the TV all day.

If I can communicate the gospel perfectly and eloquently, and I always understand what’s going on in my little peoples’ hearts, and if I miraculously keep a perfect home in perfect order and my kids on a perfect schedule (that’s the mountain-moving part)
 but have not love, I am nothing.

If I give and give and give of myself to my family and my church,
and if I serve until the point of total burnout
but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient,
even after the fourth water spill and a toddler who still refuses to let me put a lid on that cup.

Love is kind,
 responding gently to the endless toy battles and showing mercy instead of “I told you so’s.”

Love does not envy
another mom’s gifts or social position or husband or child’s developmental milestones,
and does not boast
(even inwardly) of her own gifts, achievements or family.

It is not arrogant or rude
to the husband who is inexplicably delayed in coming home from work and seems blissfully ignorant of how horrible the children have been all day and what that extra 20 minutes is costing me.

It does not insist on its own way,
even though I am (of course) right.

It is not irritable,
even after barely sleeping the night before

Or resentful
that I seriously can’t get a moment’s peace and instead am being force-fed fake jalapenos and cheese while two kids and a 100-pound dog crush around me on the toilet (true story).

It does not gloat or feel better about myself when other people’s kids melt down in public,
but rejoices when my kids or anyone shows even the slightest inclination toward repentance or loving the truth.

Love presses on, even when I’m so, so tired;
strives for consistency and joy, even when I don’t feel like it;
trusts that seeds sown now will reap a harvest;
reads Curious George Makes Pancakes for the umpteenth time in a row, with enthusiasm.

Love keeps doing all this not just because I’m a mom and that’s what moms do,
but also because my children are a precious gift to be stewarded for a short time, and so I press on through tears of laughter and tears of pain and tears of sheer exhaustion.

As cliché as it sounds, this time of intense work will fade away.
The little achievements that seem to define my sense of well-being or self-worth, they will cease.
As for the all-consuming schooling decisions and parenting what-if’s, they will pass away.

For we only see a small glimmer of who God created our kids to be, and we often only see the hard work of each day, but when Christ returns, the true value of our efforts (or not) will be revealed.

Everything that I do here on earth is temporary, and yet how I do it is eternal. When Christ returns, it won’t matter how early my kids knew the catechism, how clean my kitchen and bathrooms were, or how well-behaved my kids were at restaurants. These things are important, but only if I see them as the training ground for eternity. When Christ returns, he will make plain to us what is really important and valuable, and in the meanwhile …

Oh, Lord!

Paul intended this passage to be a mirror, held up before the Corinthians to see how, even at their best, they were rotten through-and-through, pursuing their own glory at the expense of their community.

As a mirror to my own life, 1 Corinthians 13 shows me a lot of rottenness, too. I see so many deficiencies in how I love my family and my community. But I do not do justice to the cross if I stop there. The cross tells me that it is impossible for me to ever love like this, but that love like this is possible, and that it is within reach.

Above all, God, I pray that you would pour your love into my children’s hearts, that they would know, deep inside, with unshakeable conviction, that you have loved them like this … to the death.

As a mom, I want so badly to control my kids’ lives, for my own comfort and glory, and for theirs. In your infinite love and wisdom, you teach me through this parenting journey that my kids are not my own, that I cannot control them, and that I cannot control or bargain with you where they are concerned.

My job is to be faithful where you have called me,
to sow with hope,
and to love those entrusted to me.

“And so these three remain: faith, hope, and love…”

Give me faith, Lord, in all that you are and all that you have promised.
Give me hope, Lord, that the seeds I sow will bear fruit in your time and plan.
Above all, Lord, give me love, love for you. Love that spills over into my family, my friends, and my community in joyful worship and service. So much that when my children one day reflect on their upbringing, they will do so with gratitude, not for my love, but because my love pointed them to this promise:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love.”
Amen.