Sunday, March 31, 2013

Some Random Thoughts on Easter Afternoon

*Jesus is risen! Hallelujah, what a Savior!

*He is risen! He is risen indeed! I enjoyed teaching the Kindergarten-First Grade Sunday school class to say that this morning. I’m thankful for The Gospel Project. The kids are responding well and listening to the lessons, and we are having a great time using the curriculum. 

*You know, every Sunday is a celebration of Resurrection Sunday really, but there is something extra special about gathering together on Easter. There was such joy this morning in the worship service, and I count it a blessing to be able to meet with other believers as a family to share in worshiping our Lord and Savior together.

*There are a lot of things about social media that can be negatives, but today it was really neat to see all the Resurrection greetings flooding the Facebook and Twitter feeds. It was a neat reminder of the bond Christians have with believers all around the world. There was one especially moving post on Facebook as a friend who is currently in another country adopting their daughter posted Easter greetings from that country She told a moving story of being able to worship with an international group of believers in several different languages, and how she and her husband were able to share the gospel with someone they met  during their travels who was asking questions. 

*Speaking of negatives of social media, I felt a little frustrated with people who were over the top offended by Google’s most recent stupidity today, by calling for us to write Google and complain because Christians need to let their voice be heard. Here’s my take on that: The best way for us to make our voice heard, in my opinion, is to do what I commended in the paragraph above - rejoice in the real meaning of today, loudly and clearly and joyfully. If we’re known for being prickly and offended by a company that has never claimed to be a “Christian” company, we come off sounding whiny and negative all the time. I’m not a big fan of boycotting, because to be consistent we’re going to have to boycott just about everyone and go live in the woods somewhere, and we just end up sounding hateful. They didn’t tell us we couldn’t celebrate Easter, they just didn’t choose to do so themselves. I don’t expect Google to act like Christians, and, let’s face it, if they HAD chosen to portray something about Easter it would have been the Easter bunny and Easter eggs most likely, and that isn't what today is about, either.  Complaining to them won’t change their opinion if they are already not inclined toward Christianity, and we come off looking angry and mean-spirited and easily offended on a day when we should be celebrating the greatest announcement ever made to mankind, “He is not here. He is risen, just as He said!” If we get sidetracked into barking at Google, then they win. Just move on over to Bing and forget ‘em, which is what I did. 

*On a lighter note, my husband requested that we try lamb this year for our meal, because he just loved the food when he was in Bosnia several years ago and has always wanted me to try making something like it here. We made Greek style roast leg of lamb today, and it was VERY good. I also made deviled eggs to please my middle son - they are his favorite. I very much dislike making them, because I am a disaster when it comes to peeling hard boiled eggs, but for love of the boy I did it. Took an insane amount of time to make for how quickly they are eaten, but he liked them.

*And last, but not least, there were a few blog posts I read during the last week that I’ve been meaning to corral into a post to share, so I’ll add those here.

Christ Forsaken from the Ligonier blog was very good.

Here Come the Bunnies! from Tom Chantry I liked, too. Every year it seems that Easter becomes more and more secularized by the world, but that should not mean we have to cave to it. Big surprise, but we don’t “Easter Bunny” at our house. Here again, the holiday just is too rich with meaning to trivialize it by focusing on bunnies and eggs. Do it or don’t, but I also don’t think we need to worry about not calling it “Easter.” 

Raising Daughters in a World that Devalues Them: 7 Things We Must Tell Them. As a mother of a daughter, I really appreciated this post. 

How to Rock Twitter Like a Pharisee was good, too. Great reminder to check our motives before posting our thoughts, and I'm trying to remember and practice it.

Biblical Christianity Needs Both Javert and Valjean. Y’all know how much I like Les Miserables, and I enjoyed this post. Good thoughts in the post, but also in the comments, at least in the first few I read the other day (I haven’t checked since then).

Friday, March 22, 2013

I Finally Finished the Book!!

I finished it! I finished reading Les Miserables last night. Whew. That is a long book. I feel  a little silly to feel such a huge sense of accomplishment. All I did was read a book. But what a book! (Funny typo....I almost had 'Hugh' for huge. Ha ha! Get it, Hugh Jackman?) The first time I tried to read it, years ago, I didn’t make it very far, and I’d always meant to try again, so after seeing the new movie, I bought a translated copy for my Nook. Not the easiest thing I’ve ever read, either, but I’m glad I did. I can’t say I understood every page, as he goes into great detail about things I couldn’t follow since I didn’t know the French history or all the philosophers he mentioned, and the translator chose to leave several poems and songs untranslated including the last lines of what was written in pencil on the tomb stone and I don’t know French, and, frankly, some of the longer digressions were a little bit hard to wade through, but in the end the story is worth it.

Though it goes against my usual opinion, I have to say that this is probably the only time I’ve found where I think I like the movie better. It’s a good thing I saw the movie and loved it, so I would recognize that the difficult passages are very much worth wading through. I’m impressed with how well the musical sticks to the story for the most part. I found myself humming songs from it as I read. There are some changes, of course, I mean it’s a 4015 page book after all, but it is remarkably faithful to the main story. For most of the book I liked the movie version of Marius much better than the book version, though I ended up liking him better near the end. And I loved Little Gavroche in the book. You learn much more about him than in the movie, and I cried when he died. Lots of crying in this book. Hence the title.

I cried when Marius and Cosette married, because the description of Jean Valjean’s emotional turmoil is heart wrenching. And I cried at the end. Side note: I might have snapped a bit at my husband who, when noticing my sobs at the end proceeded to take that precise moment. while I was enjoying all the pathos and still reading, to tease me with, "Cheer up, you knew how it ended, right?"  Seriously, don't spoil the moment when someone is in that other place while reading a good book!! I enjoy the catharsis. Sorry, Drew.....

Speaking of that, I saw this on one of those e-card things on Facebook today: "That moment when you finish a book, look around, and realize that everyone is just carrying on with their lives as though you didn't just experience emotional trauma at the hands of a paperback."  Exactly! 

I’m not sad to be finished, as it took me just shy of 3 months to finish the thing, but I’m glad I read it, and I’m glad I read it unabridged. Those more boring passages are important, too. Even the 53 pages discussing the sewers of Paris. Wowza. Made the mistake of starting that section while I was eating lunch one day. Urp. 

But what a story. One thing I found interesting was how both Javert and Marius did not seem to have a capacity to understand or allow for true repentance. Once a convict, always a convict. But while the true nature of Jean Valjean’s repentance proved to be Javert’s undoing in that he just could not come to terms with it, it proved to be Marius’ undoing in that he finally saw it for what it was, and what a shame to have that understanding come so late. I love this story. I won’t go into English paper mode and try to break it all down for all its symbolic glory, but I really did enjoy this book. 

Is it geeky that I’m so excited that today is the release date for the DVD that I had to go out this morning and buy this?

Guess what we’re watching tonight!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Random Thoughts in March

Something about the promise of spring makes me want to start blogging again. I don’t know that I will be any more regular about posting, but I do miss writing here. I realize my last few posts have been sort of heavy, and it occurred to me that I could write a fluff post now and then to keep the blog alive.

So, some random thoughts for today.

I have a rather large amount of homemade butter frosting left over from an earlier project, and upon pondering what I could do with it, I thought, “Homemade cinnamon rolls!” They don’t have to be only for special days, right? Consequently, I am waiting for the bread machine to finish the dough and thought I’d work on a blog post while I wait. My kids will call me blessed in the morning, I’m sure, because we’re having cinnamon rolls on an ordinary Saturday with really good frosting. Of course, it will blow my whole calorie budget for the day if I don’t exercise somewhere along the way tomorrow, but, the kids will enjoy it. The boys will, anyway. My daughter informed me on Christmas morning that she ‘doesn’t really care for’ my cinnamon rolls. That sounded very funny coming out of a 6-year-old mouth. At least she was polite about it. She doesn’t seem to like sweets a whole lot. Just give the girl a hunk of cheese and she’s a happy camper. 

Speaking of my daughter and her quirky cuteness, I once wrote a post here about how she hated my hair when I cut it short. Well, since about October I've been trying to grow out my hair. Growing out my bangs has been driving me crazy, but it's almost to the point where I could think about showing a before and after picture. Not quite, but we're almost there.

It’s nice to see that spring is on the way. One of my very favorite things about spring is the flowers blooming. My daffodils are almost here, the tulips are starting to sprout, and one little purple flower that is lovely even if I can’t remember what it is called has already bloomed and been damaged by the frosty mornings we’ve had. Brings this scripture to mind: “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” (1Peter 1:24). As thankful as I am for the pretty flowers that last for a season, I’m so much more thankful that the word of the Lord remains forever! 

As far as what I’m calling the Scripture memory personal challenge for 2013, I’ve been working on memorizing Isaiah 53 and reviewing Philippians. I’m not sure what I’ll work on next yet. The time spent pondering on scripture as you spend time trying to memorize it is priceless. It takes me longer than it used to take to master a passage, but I enjoy the effort and how it often spurs me toward prayer as I think on it.

As to writing that children’s story I mentioned a while back, I did get it started, then life got super busy and I didn’t get very far. I need to get back to it as things settle down a bit, hopefully.

As to reading, I am STILL working my way through Les Miserables, which I started right after Christmas. Granted, I also read two other books during the past 2 1/2 months, but it’s taking me a long time to get through this one. I’ve read more than 3000 Nook pages, and still have about 600 or so more to go - I’m about 85% finished. :-) I am enjoying it mostly. I say mostly because there are parts I find tedious and don’t really understand what he’s talking about, but when he tells the story, I like it. And the translator of the version I’m reading chose to leave most of the songs and poems untranslated, so I have to flip through pages of French. Kind of misses the point of reading an English translation if you don’t know what those sections are saying. But, it’s a great story. This may be the one and only instance I’ve found where I liked the movie better than the book. It’s probably a good thing I saw the new musical movie first. That way, I knew the story is incredibly worth wading through the more boring sections. Then again, I find myself with songs from it stuck in my head as I read. 

Speaking of liking the book better than the movie, I didn’t even try to watch ‘The Bible’ on the History channel. I just didn’t feel confident they’d get it right, and judging by some of what I’m hearing about it, they didn’t so much. I’ll keep reading my Bible, and leave the movie alone, I think. Judging by all the buzz, just one more thing where I’m out of step with, well, just about most people I know. That and the fact that I don’t get all the Protestants who are giddy and gushing about the selection of a new pope. As my husband says, the Reformation happened for a reason. Know your history!

Well, the dough is ready for me to make it into cinnamon rolls to be baked in the morning, so I should bring this post to an end. Mission accomplished.

But before I go, I would be remiss if I didn't share the latest goofy church sign sighting: "Feeling chilly? Let God be your comforter." My husband told me he almost drove off the road when he saw that one the other day. 

And on that note, Happy Friday! And happy (almost) spring!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Where Assurance Rests

I ran across this post today, and I think it’s very good. It’s a review of a book that is very popular among evangelicals, at least, judging by its ubiquitous presence in various manifestations throughout the Lifeway catalogue that regularly shows up in my mailbox(book, study Bible?????, and children’s version, to name a few) and by how many people mention it and quote from it often on Facebook. I found this review of the book very good, and I recommend it if you’re one of those people who has friends raving about the book Jesus Calling. I have not read it, and do not intend to.

However, what I want to discuss here isn’t the book Michael Horton is reviewing but the fact that several of the concerns he raises meshed exactly with something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, and that is that the concerns he raises aren’t exclusive to that particular book, but with MUCH of the teaching, writing, preaching, talking, singing and culture of the evangelical movement. In fact, the reason that book with those particular concerns is SO popular is a symptom of something disturbing, and that is that we in the evangelical movement for a large part are not teaching the gospel well and exclusively. I think we are losing, or in many cases have already lost our way. We say in our doctrinal statements and mission statements and the like that we believe the gospel, but what practically comes out in our teaching is that we don’t really trust it. Not really, because we end up teaching a kind of ‘trust Jesus and try harder’ sort of thing that ends up being works moralism not grace, though I don’t think we intend it. I’ll see if I can explain what I mean.

First, I highlight some excellent, excellent points from Michael Horton’s blog post that I referenced and linked to above: 

"Yet I kept asking, “What purposes”? “Who is Jesus and why should I fix my eyes on him?” In short, the gospel is taken for granted. When exhortations to trust are separated from a clear proclamation of who Christ is, what he has done, and why he is therefore trustworthy, trust simply becomes a work—something that I need to gin up within myself." 

And this: 

"Compared with the Psalms, for example, Jesus Calling is remarkably shallow. I do not say that with a snarky tone, but with all seriousness. The Psalms first place before us the mighty acts of God and then call us to respond in confession, trust, and thankfulness. But in Jesus Calling I’m repeatedly exhorted to look to Christ, rest in Christ, trust in Christ, to be thankful and long for a deeper sense of his presence, with little that might provoke any of this. Which means that I’m directed not actually to Christ but to my own inner struggle to be more trustful, restful, and thankful."

I think this is a problem with MUCH of the teaching and books and preaching and ‘Bible studies’ and thinking in evangelicalism today. We focus too much on OUR purpose and finding 'something more' and finding the BIG thing we're supposedly to be about and what WE are FEELING and struggling with internally and focus MUCH too little on Jesus: who He is, what He has done in saving us, and how to rest our hope in HIM and in HIS finished work on our behalf, and instead of always spinning and spinning searching for 'something more' we would do much better to seek to know His revealed word, study and meditate upon and learn and pray for wisdom to understand and obey what He teaches us as we spend time in the Bible that He has given us and listen to preaching that faithfully teaches the BIBLE - and to do that we need to hear the scripture taught and explained, not ideas or the latest church growth strategy or pep talk, but the WORD. THAT is how we know Him. 

We say Jesus is beautiful and we say that we want to know Him more and that we want to be Christ followers and we sing songs that endlessly repeat how we love Him and He loves us, but they are shallow, emotion ginner-uppers that don’t really talk much about WHY we love Him and WHAT He has done to show His love to us and WHO He is that makes Him so worthy of our love and worship and following, and it leaves us trying so hard to gin up that emotion for Him with nothing solid to point us there.

Here’s something I’ve come to realize over the past few months or so, and that is that we too often take passages that are all about grace and preach law from them instead. I have spent my life listening to pep rally sermons that focus on favorite Bible verses taken out of context to spur us on to really, really, really live for Jesus, especially during my stint as a teenager growing up in youth ministry, exhorting me to not waste my life, dream BIG dreams for God, find my PURPOSE for being ON THIS PLANET, finding the way to CHANGE THE WORLD, find the BIG thing I’m to do for God, live better, do better, serve Him harder, seek Him more deeply, seek for more-more-more of Him, love Him better, get it from my head to my heart. But we weren't really told how to do that, exactly. We weren't explicitly taught to hear Him in His word alone. I spent a large part of my older teen years and young adult years as went to Bible studies and retreats and conferences that fed the discontent BEGGING God to show me the BIG thing I was supposed to be doing that surely I was missing it! PLEASE, God, I don’t want to waste my life, PLEASE don’t let me miss the big, kingdom thing I’m supposed to be doing, and PLEASE, why do I feel this way? What am I missing? How many times have I prayed and asked Jesus into my heart, so worried that maybe I didn’t REALLY mean it the last time but I SO want to MEAN it this time. I went to concerts and got all pumped and I went to retreats and camps and revival meetings and nailed papers with my sins to a cross or sent those sin-filled papers through a shredder and promised that THIS time I’d really be on fire, THIS time I really was surrendering all, surely THIS time I REALLY meant it, crying real, genuine, heartfelt tears every time! And when Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.....came and I went back to the boring ol’ humdrum of life and, well, the passion of the mountain top fizzled to the daily drag of everyday life and I once again began wondering, did I REALLY mean it? Was I REALLY saved? I remember sitting in a women’s retreat Bible study meeting BEGGING God to show me what I was missing. I was a young wife and mom, but surely that’s not all I was supposed to be doing, was it? Was I impacting anyone for the kingdom just being a wife and mom, was I missing the BIG thing, maybe I’d already missed it, maybe it was too late? I went to so many church leaders over the years and begged them to help me know why I was feeling this way, why I felt so defeated all the time, and I don’t think I ever got the clear, explicit gospel answer I desperately needed.

Friends, that is EXHAUSTING. And it is NOT the gospel. Finding your purpose for BEING ON THIS PLANET (can you tell I’m getting weary of hearing that phrase?), begging and pleading with God to show me the BIG thing I’m supposed to do with my life, trust Jesus, yes, but also try harder, do NOT the gospel. 

The good news of the gospel is that I am a wretch. I CAN’T do it. That is the point. Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to His cross I cling. Jesus paid it ALL. ALL to Him I owe. These are NOT just words to songs (and more’s the pity we don’t sing such gospel rich songs as often anymore. Ahem.) My life is hid in Christ. Because He fulfilled the law and suffered the wrath I deserve for my sin on the cross and rose again, I am free from the curse of the law. As His forgiven, blood-bought child, He very well may place a burden to do some ‘big’ thing on my heart, He may call me to go somewhere far from home and share the gospel there.....or He may call me to be a wife and mom here, faithfully serving Him day in and day out, being a faithful church member, community member, sharing the faith, teaching children’s Sunday school, teaching my children day in and day out as we arise, as we sit and as we walk along the way. And that is NOT a small thing.  Somewhere along the way we have lost the idea of vocation - that everything we do is to be done as unto the Lord. It’s not that some things are BIG things but others are boring and not what we should aspire to. 

For every person in the history of Christianity whose name we have heard, there are thousands more who we have never heard of, but who were faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our passion ought to be to serve our Savior whole-heartedly and with abandon, not to be spinning and spinning and begging and pleading for our BIG thing. Our purpose is to know God, to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. Spend time in His word, pray, learn to obey Him in the small, everyday things, and when and if He leads you to so-called bigger things, obey Him there, too, but don't discount the joy and importance of living for Him and serving Him in the 'mundane' things and don't miss out on the everyday graces and progress in the faith He is working in you because you're so concerned you're missing the big thing. Learn to find your satisfaction not in how passionate youfeel’ about Him, but in HIM. 

My assurance does not rest in how sincere I think I was or wasn’t at each of those pep rally type events. My assurance does not rest in how sincere I think I was when I prayed ‘the prayer’ for the umpteenth time, or whether I prayed it just right. My assurance rests in what Jesus did on the cross. I cannot stress how important it has been for me to finally get to this understanding in the midst of the do more, do more, try harder, try harder, dream bigger, love more preaching I have heard my whole life. 

I spent the first 4 months of 2011 memorizing the book of Philippians. And I have spent February of this year reviewing it, meaning, I have spent countless hours meditating on Philippians. I love chapter 3:7-12, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith - that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Did you catch that the righteousness is not my own, but that which comes through faith in Christ, and that we do what we do, obey Him, seek Him, seek to live for Him because He has MADE US HIS OWN. The things that Paul lost and left behind and counted as rubbish, were the do more, try harder, be better of legalistic Phariseeism, as he spells it out in the beginning of chapter 3. We do not have to do, do, do, strive, strive, strive, for more, more, more to gain acceptance with God. If we are in Christ, we ARE accepted in the beloved. We ARE His. We ARE counted righteous in Christ. To finally understand the significance of this is to finally, finally, stop wondering if I really, really meant it or if I really, really repented or wondering if I’ll waste my life while I plead to find the BIG thing and to rest in the fact that Jesus did it ALL. I am accepted and beloved and positionally righteous in God’s sight because Jesus took the wrath I deserve on the cross. I am free from striving to nail it down AGAIN. And I am free to obey Him and serve Him with abandon from a heart overflowing with gratitude that is founded on WHO He is and WHAT He has done. Knowing who He is and what He has done, I WANT to live for Him. I don’t want to waste the life He has placed me in and I want to live faithfully day in and day out, and when I stumble and confess it, He is faithful and just to forgive me and cleanse me from all unrighteousness.

And one more thing, I have learned in my years of walking with Jesus that change might happen all at once in a life, but more often, it is a gradual growing in grace as you submit yourself to God’s word. When you look back over the course of your life, you begin to realize that you are not the same person you were five years ago, ten years ago, and that the Holy Spirit has been shaping you to be more like Christ as your desires change to be more like His and as you learn to love His word more, love others more, and share your faith as an outpouring of a life devoted to Christ. 

Jesus IS beautiful and worthy of praise, and worthy of being served wholeheartedly and given our very best. Let’s do a better job of lifting HIM up and telling WHY we should love Him and worry less about OUR purpose and OUR dreams and visions and wants and desires and seek to see HIM glorified. 

Two books I highly recommend that have helped me to process through these things recently:

The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler
Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved by J. D. Greear