Saturday, January 30, 2010

Titus in Cyber Space

Potty training isn’t going so well. (By the way if you’re not into potty training blogs, stick with me, this moves on to deeper things, promise.) Unfortunately I have a lot of families around us for whom this was a cynch over the time frame of a weekend. So it’s been a little discouraging. I went shopping a couple of weeks ago for the perfect underwear. I found Minnie mouse as well as all the Disney princesses. I felt like that plus some cute stickers were all Jason and I needed in hand to head into our potty training weekend. We read next to nothing, didn’t talk to anyone, and just thought it would work out like it has for so many other toddlers.

It all started off well and good. The girls really liked the underwear. They wanted to put it on. I think they liked the freedom of no pants and they really liked the sticker rewards. They would alternate having accidents and having successful elmo potty runs. Their sticker charts were filling up. I had not a care about doing this by myself after the weekend was over and I expected even more progress and initiation from the girls.

But come Monday I was on my own and everything hit the fan. Grace not only was begging and tantruming for diapers but she also had progressively been relapsing with her eating habits starting around the same time we first put the panties on. She was eating very little, covering her face, throwing fits, and a handful of meals literally eating not even one bite. We used to go to an occupational therapist for her eating aversions when she was around age one but slowly saw improvement as we worked at her own pace. I think she was sensing a push again with something that made her uncomfortable. We needed to lay off.

Now they’re in pull-ups during the awake hours, diapers for sleep, and we’ve up-ed the anty with two chocolate chips (plus the sticker) for every success. We’re in a comfortable place and I think we’ve got to take it easy.

Throughout the process we also realized we’ve got to do some more research and advice hunting. I mean, there are entire books on this. I am not going to read a book. But just that they exist should tell me it’s more than buying underwear and not making plans for a weekend. There are almost certainly going to be exceptions and “if this happens” type situations that can throw kinks into the training plans.

Bottom line. We don’t know anything about this. We’re newbies and we need wisdom. I’ve got none in my brain. The only thing I do have is the truth I have carried in my pocket since my kids were born – that a huge favor you can do yourself in parenting is to be an observer of your children, looking to see what they need, when they are ready for things, and who they are in the uniqueness of their creation. Besides that observation though, there is much additional, helpful wisdom that I can get my hands on. Just like seeing that occupational therapist, she was able to observe Grace with wise eyes that I did not have. We were watching the same child, but she could see behaviors that resembled children’s she had given therapy to before, so she empowered me as a mom to be a better support to Grace.

On to the title of this blog and on to a deeper burden on my heart. I am a big lover and believer in the Titus 2 life of mentoring those who are on the road just behind you. If you haven’t read the Titus 2 passage for women, here it is:

"But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine…Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”

As we have been potty training, I’ll tell you that the easy thing to do is hop on the internet, do a little research and gain some “wisdom.” I think sometimes it’s helpful, but lately I have felt the burden that this is a sad rippling effect for a number of reasons.

First, and simply, when you come to a woman in person looking for wisdom on anything from potty training to confronting someone in their habitual sin, there is wisdom from that Christian women in that she discerns exactly how to guide you with that particular person or need. Take our simple example with Grace. She is almost three and speaking in full sentences and seems on paper (or on internet sites or books) as ready for potty training. But there’s much wisdom in exploring her particular issues and contributing personality traits that might change how we should train her. A woman of wisdom might be able to talk with me over an hour about her peculiarities and I might come to a more Grace-specific conclusion instead of making a black and white blanket decision about what to do with her from what I read on the internet.

I think about this too with how to raise my kids, how to discipline them, how to love my husband in our particular circumstance, how to love a friend, how to confront a friend, how to receive a piece of counsel, how to plan my house management, etc. The list goes on about what I need wisdom for as it relates to that verse above on topics like: loving my husband, loving my children, being self-controlled, being pure, working at home, being kind, and being submissive.

Sometimes, of course!, there is truth and wisdom on the internet. On a personal level, I would hope that my blog is a written display of the wisdom that God is teaching me about particular circumstances in my own life. However, if what I write on a certain subject resonates with someone regarding something they need counsel for in their own lives, I would pray that they would also “check” their life and wisdom received from me/my blog with a closer counsel in their lives, with someone who can see into the particular realities in their own hearts.

My other concern with what I will call Titus in Cyber Space counsel is that I am deeply grieved and saddened for both 1. the lack of vision Christian women seem to have these days for being a Titus woman who mentor women behind her in life (not by age but by what she has matured in with Christ) and 2. the lack of desire in women to be led and mentored by more mature women in their lives. It saddens me that both the mentor and the mentee are becoming more scarce and it is my prayer that we will always see ourselves as both. That we are called to Titus 2 both as women who need to grow in Jesus and also women who have already grown in Jesus in many areas and we need to share our wisdom (gently and humbly) with younger women in the faith. I am desperate for this to happen.

Last January I felt a clear call from Proverbs 14:1 “The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.” I blogged about it and made a list of women I wanted to meet with and learn from about a variety of subjects in need wisdom in, mostly all included somehow in the verses above. Then I had Salem. :) So now, I am picking up that list again, determined to not seek the Titus woman out in cyber space, and to be a wise woman who builds her house by seeking wisdom where God has placed it in the lives of mature women all around me. I will continue to listen to the Holy Spirit personally, put myself under the treasured authority of my pastors on Sundays, have conversations with lovely hearts of friends who are closest to me, as well as pursue women I admire to grow in wisdom and build my house.

I’d love to know what you guys think about Titus in cyber space vs. Titus women in your community! Tell me your experience and burdens. And also…if you so feel led by the Holy Spirit, give us a shout out about potty training if you have any wisdom on it!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Creation groans

When a man I respect cries or yells out with urgent, righteous indignation I am stilled and awed and moved.

My pastor, Mark Driscoll, is fairly well known for his occasional loud, convicting calls for the church to wake up or come to repentance, but not nearly as well known, though he should be, for his deeply compassionate and broken side which brings him to tears. But I think they both rise up from the same well in his spirit. And both came over him this past Sunday.

Our church took a break from Luke to show clips of videos and photography and short stories from our pastor who just got back from a very short, and very spontaneous trip to Haiti to evaluate the state of the churches and their recovery needs. I don’t think I can even begin to sum up all his pictures and stories between getting into his caravan from the Haiti airport with the UN informing them that they would not be allowed back in for safety, to the man shot within feet of him who laid on the street for hours because no help was planning on coming. It’s something you must see.

It really is difficult to live in this world, if you are awake to it. Creation groans in every direction and earthquakes like this one have happened and will happen all the time. Since the shock of Haiti I have gone on to sleep and eat plenty and think of it again and then laugh and watch my favorite shows and write and cook blue berry muffins and change diapers and think of it again. I have to live the life in front of me but I also have to stay burdened and it’s such an interesting and confusing way to live life sometimes.

And thank the Lord for prayer.

Because some people are “light” about the world’s tragedies because they’re oblivious. And some are light about them because they know but they push them out of their minds with a shake of their heads. And then some are heavy because every piece of bad news in their lives and in the world is one more real heart break that they don’t know what to do with besides medicate in various forms or throw money at it. Which has to be just about everybody without Jesus, unless they fell into that obliviously light category earlier. And some are heavy because it’s devastatingly difficult for them to swallow and they mourn and break inside, but they also pray. And Jesus has a promise for them, that their yoke will be easy and their burden will be light. So they are light, though their hearts may stay burdened. It’s a spiritual mystery to me.

There is an amazing verse that I will never forget about this very thing and it is actually the same passage that Jesus himself read as he stood up in the temple, which was a declaration that he was the fulfillment of this prophesy:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion – to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” Isaiah 61:1-4

Look who he comes to, praise God. The poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, those who are bound, all who mourn, those in ashes, those with a faint spirit. And look at all he came to give to them. Amen to that. Just reading and writing that out once lightens my spirit.

If you read my blog, you already saw that I posted John Piper’s sermon on suffering and if you haven’t listened to it, I am now actually begging you. (Picture me on my face here please). Reading a sweet friend’s blog, I was reminded that our worship pastor talked about something similar to Piper’s sermon prior to Mark’s sermon. The devastation, the torn down buildings, the utter despair, the mourning, the desolation in the streets, the smoke in the air, and the hopeless spirit lingering in every stinch of death in the air is a reminder of who we are and where we were before Christ came to redeem us.

Piper hits heavy on this too as he runs through Romans 8, explaining what it means that all creation groans for redemption. He stated that our sin is the corporate reality that is being documented as horrific by all disease and tragedy. Read that again, because it has taken me ten years to understand that very truth. When sin entered the world, we were subjected to futility/frustration but so was creation. And creation’s groanings and imperfections and tragedies and diseases are supposed to mirror our hearts corporately. Piper says, “The ultimate meaning of suffering is that sin is ghastly. It shows how serious sin is.” He is careful to point out that the truth of Romans 8 is not about your sin = a zap from God. Putting it into a close encounter, he is not saying that God was specifically judging the sins of those who died in 9-11 or those who are suffering or have died in Haiti. It is supposed to reflect our corporate sin as a human race for all of time. This is a clear distinction from those who might say that God blesses the righteous with good things in this life and withholds good things from the unrighteous in this life and on this earth. In fact, Scripture says that it rains and shines on the righteous and unrighteous alike. But suffering does make a statement about our hearts. All of our hearts. It is a shocking, grand depiction of our tragic inner reality, without the redemption of Christ. It’s as if, like Pastor Mark, God is outwardly grieving and yelling out to us all at once.

The most lovely words in that text to me are this: IN HOPE. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from it’s bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

As Piper encourages, be broken by all suffering. If you do not know Christ, (if you will allow me to so encourage you), humble yourself with brokenness to see your need for God in your state of hopelessness. If you do know Christ, stay humble that you continue to need him and let this remind you of the rampant need for Jesus and his redemption in hearts all around you so that this world may have H O P E.

For ways to help keep up with

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Biggest Loser in me

Another season of Biggest Loser has begun. They say it’s the biggest, heaviest group ever. And this year trainers Bob and Jillian joke that they feel like they say that every year, but seriously it’s true and the heaviest guy came in at 526 pounds at his first weigh in. I don’t love everything about the show and much prefer to watch it in the slowest fast forward setting since they drag it out so long, but last season something very unlikely happened in me as I was watching the finale.

I swear the Lord comes to me in the strangest times. Toilet. Stoplight. Head on the pillow. Brushing teeth. Browsing pantry. And, apparently, watching Biggest Loser.

To show everyone what had been accomplished on the final episode, the finalists came bursting through a paper image of their old selves, as if in a victory lap, and with hands raised and audience wildly cheering as they rejoiced in their new bodies. It was literally a miracle seeing who they were before and who they had become. They were clearly not the same people. They had accomplished something that literally felt completely impossible to them. But there they were, changed in a drastic and wonderful way and my heart was so happy that they had physically found freedom from their old bodies. I actually found myself in tears as the Lord gave me a word from him for my life.

You see, I have been on about a three year journey through a sin tendency in my life that has clung to me like static. I have tried to shake it and peel it off and shoo it away and fight it and wrestle it and relinquish it and defeat it with small victories but mainly a lot of frustration that it’s still around. I have seen my sin vaguely on a “oh, who are you?” level and then more familiarly on a “oh, you’re still around?” level and then a couple years into it, it was more like a, “are you kidding me? GO AWAY!” level.

If I could display it in a physical sense I guess it wouldn’t look much different than an overweight person dealing with gluttony. They eat well for a meal and then have got to have that package of oreos and then they work out a couple days and then find themselves doing other things. Back and forth. Back and forth. Ups and downs. Blah blahh blahhhhhh.

Romans puts it perfectly. “For I DO NOT UNDERSTAND MY OWN ACTIONS. (I know!!! Seriously!!!) For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (I know!!!!) For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man am I! Who will deliver me from this body of death? THANKS BE TO GOD THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD!”

I do not understand my actions. True. True. True. This is craziness at times. It is true I literally have in my head who I want to be in certain circumstances. I even pray just before the rocky circumstances or conversations happen, as I usually anticipate them. Then in that terrible moment of testing, I just BAIL on what I really really want! I go for the bait, as my pastor said during Sunday’s sermon. I go for the tempting thing. For the shallow desires in my heart that linger and lay out their tasty bait for me because they know I always go for it.

For me, that would be expectations (what I set as a standard for another), self-justification (really wanting justice for myself and to be treated with absolute fairness) and self-preservation (all about reputation and being right and being on top) and being understood (though it is never promised to us that we will be perfectly understood). Those are my likely baits and they are so alluring. They are certainly something I want, but as the Romans verses say, my heart DOES want to obey God IN MY INNER BEING. Pastor Mark has talked about this before, that my deepest desires are from the Spirit as a Christian. That is what I really really want to do, want to obey, want to carry out. But I just cannot, cannot, cannot seem to carry it out.

The Lord has revealed so much to me over three years about these sin patterns in my life. I have been learning, growing, changing at a turtles pace but thankfully changing non-the-less. Losing my two pounds a week of my “flesh”. Though like a 526 pound human being, the two pounds a week is so torturous and frustrating.

I remember a testimony from a couple of years ago at a women’s retreat. She was telling her dark story and as God would enter the story she would say, “But God.” This part of my testimony has felt dark and grim and low for some time. But lately I feel a turning. And I am sensing that my story is seeing the corner where I will be able to say “But God…” Ephesians 2 has a passage like this. Read this:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. BUT GOD, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…”

I am sensing a BUT GOD in my story. I am sensing that I am going to be made able to carry out what I actually want to be and do. You can’t possible imagine how many exclamation points I want to put behind that because I’ve hated who I have been!!!!!! I am so thankful for this turning.

But it’s not like it’s God’s fault and I’ve just been waiting for him to show up. I think he’s just speaking up lately about what this change will take. What kind of obedience it will require. What I will have to lay on the alter. Namely, my baits I mentioned above.

And as my pastor talked about in Sunday’s sermon, God is faithful to provide a way out of our temptation. I can take the door or take the bait. And many times I just have not chosen to go with the Spirit. And even now, it’s only been a week since I have felt all of this changing in me, but I am going with it. And going with it tangibly looks like really really rough, abandoned, scary, selfless obedience in each moment. And I don’t want to do it! But I do want to do it! The me that doesn’t want to do it is the one that would rather preserve self and be treated fairly and given justice and experience perfect understanding and basically sacrifice everything else, especially humility in order to achieve those pleasures. The me that wants to do it is the NEW CREATION in me. The me that God created me to be. She’s the girl that I take joy in being because she’s God’s daughter who delights in Him and in Him being enough for her. When I let her come out, I am free.

I am reading Sacred Marriage, which is all about what I am writing about, but now in addition I am also reading Pursuit of Holiness. I got stuck on like page four and I’m frozen there because God showed me something very important about HIS PRESENCE in my sinful cycles. I know this but I didn’t knooooooow this in my heart in each moment of temptation. The author says about those having trouble defeating sin, “Our first problem is that our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God-centered. We are more concerned about our own ‘victory’ over sin than we are about the fact that our sins grieve the heart of God. We cannot tolerate failure in our struggle with sin chiefly because we are success-oriented, not because we know it is offensive to God…God wants us to walk in obedience, not victory. Obedience is oriented toward God; victory is oriented toward self. This may seem to be merely splitting hairs over semantics, but there is a subtle, self-centered attitude at the root of many of our difficulties with sin. Until we face this attitude and deal with it we will not consistently walk in holiness. This is not to say God doesn’t want us to experience victory, but rather to emphasize that victory is a by-product of obedience.”

So. How this theology becomes practical is that in my moment of temptation, I need to see that me treating this other person (namely my spouse) the way that I am called to love them is OBEDIENCE to God. If I can see God present in the scenario I am in and find obeying him my highest joy, then I find myself in a whole different ball park. I am less likely to be run by my emotions, led by my instincts, reacting to my spouse’s behaviors and tempted by my baits. I need to see real life in light of what is going on spiritually, with Jesus present in that very room, believing that my obedience or disobedience is something I am doing to him.

So all of this to say that I’m sitting there watching Biggest Loser’s finale from last season and I’m on the couch crying because the Lord is piercing my heart that what happened to those people physically is what He will accomplish in me IN THE SPIRIT. He is going to tear away my flesh, enable me to carry out my deepest desires of the Spirit so that I become unrecognizable from who I was before. And all I could see was my sweet husband sitting in the front row, looking at me like – Who is this wife of mine? Who has she become? And he will rejoice over the new creation in me! Lord let it be as you have shown me. Make me new. Let me come forth in 2010 as someone I would not recognize from last year. I can see her in my mind and I want to see her in the mirror. Can this change come? Yes! “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ my Lord!”

Monday, January 11, 2010

This IS extraordinary

It's only 1:47pm. And this is an extraordinary day.

Our day started at 5:45a.m. with Salem waking early, which prompts me to make his bottle, walk into his room, change his diaper while he has breakfast, and dump a container of toys into his crib so I can doze for thirty more minutes. Kanah wakes up early next, at 6:30 a.m., and crawls into bed with me (her new routine) and sips on her milk while snuggling. I don't know when it happened but she has become a morning snoozer and wants to have nothing to do with playing or jumping up or down or any such things. She wants to be on my pillow with me, cuddling and sipping her milk. Grace woke up "early" (for her) next at 7:30 a.m. and by this time she had to come find the other three of us downstairs where we were watching cartoons. With daddy off to work super early today and the forementioned and abhored word "early" mentioned so many times, we were all lazily hanging out in the downstairs living room, not exactly starting the day.

The next three hours involved me finally getting off the couch and turning off the tv, Salem going to sleep on my shoulder for nap, breakfast, verse of the day on our new blackboard and signing it with our hands, prayer for a boy named Jack, learning about the weather today and me drawing a silly picture of it, web camming it with Mimi and Pop, the girls doing an art project with markers and rolling paints (you are COOL, whoever made those), making a care package for baby Zach Thomas as well as our little friend Reilly Brunson, hair, new clothes, an outfit and a couple bobby pins for me, a little email, a big living room mess, the dress switch-a-roo game with the princess dolls, oh coffee with cinnamon creamer should have gone way earlier on this list, and then Salem woke up.

Want to take our boxes to the post office?
I asked before I calculated so now we were all hands in for our one outting of the day. Now began what must have been a one hour prep time to get us out the door. Salem clothes. Change diapers. Make snack bags. Find cups. Pour milk. Break up a fight. Discipline. Confession. Repentance. Forgiveness. Pour my self some water in my Starbucks cup. Ah, super parched. Third re-heat of my coffee. Tell Kanah to find her socks and put her pants on. Bobby pin in each girls' hair. Lay Salem down with bottle. One sip of coffee. Tell Kanah her pants are backwards. Break up another fight over Snow White's dress. Confession. Repentance. Forgiveness. See what's in Salem's mouth and quickly sneak away to use the bathroom. Hurry back because when I leave the room I always come back to three cries.

Are we ready? Okay girls put on your vests. Pick one thing to take with you. I hurry out to the car to throw the boxes and my purse in the front seat, put on my own shoes, and as I return to living room am straping on my front baby carrier. (Promise, I've learned if it's raining and I am going to use the carrier when I get out of the car, it's just a way better idea to put it on before you leave, though it's silly looking). The girls stumble to the car, put on dot boots and put themselves in their seats. I carry Salem out, strap him in, and see he has no socks. Oh well. No socks. It's cold and rainy but today, no socks. Double check seat belts. Start the car and turn up the music.

Ah. Driving.

Five minutes later at the Fall City post office I unbuckle the girls and instruct them to stand against the building wall right in front of our car. I put Salem in the carrier and go to the other side to grab the packages. I shoo the girls into the front door, balancing the two boxes in one hand like a tray and Salem turning his head every which way trying to see the "show" going on all around him. Someone opens the next door for us, to which I applaud him verbally with all sorts of encouragements. (So many people let the door go right in our faces). We are finally in a square,enclosed room with minimal distractions(important details to any mom) and are only one of two customers. The highlight for the girls is looking at all the designs on the envelopes the post office sells and they like to point them all out to me. Then they talk about "the man" for like 20 minutes. (The man who took our packages). I am thrilled that this is going so well (did it seem that way??). The woman behind me thinks I deserve a mom of the year award (I do! How do I get one? I might just make one.) And then she goes on and on about how she can't even believe we are all dressed and out the door (finally a person who gets it!!!) I instantly love her and would like to have her over once a week but...she's a stranger. We're all done at the post office but with all this work getting here I'm thinking gosh, can't they read us a book or let us do something cool in the back room? But alas, letting them look at my stamps I just bought will have to do. Another man opens the door for us on the way out (Fall City I am proud of you for raising all these gentlemen!) who asks if I have twins but is more interested in me having a baby boy, which he says is "lucky." Hmm?

Similar story getting back in the car and into our house and sigh...morning done.

THIS IS extraordinary. I was reading a blog by a friend recently who was talking to her husband about all they wanted to do and see and experience in their lives and she wanted "extraordinary". For them, this looks more like risk-taking and saying "yes" to life and maybe moving and certainly just living more. God is speaking to them about opening their free time and lives and hands to MORE in places where they have maybe taken the easy route or the comfy thing. I am excited for them in their obedience to the Spirit and for what God is doing in them.

I think a lot of people hit these places and sometimes like our friends, it's an answer to God saying "live a life worthy of the calling you have received" and for some it's an ITCH, which is not a call to something extraordinary. It's just an itch and they need to sit still in obedience in that which doesn't seem too extraordinarily exciting as a Christian. Though it's what God wants. I think there are people like me who read about someone else's conviction for extraordinary callings and think for a minute, Wait. What about me? Because I can't even think about that because of our circumstances. And I always hear the Lord instantly, because I think we've had this conversation so many times. He usually says something like:

This IS extraordinary. You have had participation in the divine in creating these three little beings who are now under your authority, care, and stewardship. They are eternal souls, entrusted to your care, concern, teaching, and love. This is an extraordinary task. An extraordinary reward. Most will not see this and will scurry after other things but I will enable you to see them as arrows in your quiver, as a great heritage, the fruit of your vine, a great reward and a delight. I will enable you to see yourself as a Teacher, a Warrior for hearts, a Counselor, an Evangelist, a MOTHER. This is my daily gift, my daily stewardship, my daily delight. THIS is extraordinary.

There will be other seasons when I, like my friend, will sit and evaluate life and I will see places and opportunities and adventures on the horizon to jump into and enjoy and pursue. But for now, especially for this oh, six or more intense years of my life, I am focused, determined, enabled, and gifted for the task of raising these little beings. Who breathe and have life and who I want to DRINK and TASTE of the goodness of the Lord for them.

THIS IS extraordinary. And today, resting on my couch after an eventful morning with a simple outting alongside my three little people, I let myself be encouraged to go into "part two" of our day with peace, a will to sustain me, and an extraordinary purpose.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Is Grandma good? - BLJ Mediations ch 1&2

I just posted about thoughts on Chapters three and four of Blue Like Jazz for my long distance book club and now I'm sliding back to post on my discussion through chapters one and two. This is a slightly edited version of my response to a friend about why I think all people, regardless of appearance and outward behavior all sinful in the core of their hearts. I would certainly love to have feed back on further views of this argument.

My initial thoughts are that sometimes we hold back with all our strength what is inevitably in our hearts and it may just take a certain circumstance to pull it out. And sometimes we don’t have to hold our “sin” back with much strength because we have surrounded ourselves with our comfy versions of heaven and happiness that fulfill our “needs” and desires enough to pacify. Most people in this world do not have that priveledge, if you would even call it that, to put pillows all around our behavioral responses.

If I lived in Hawaii on vacation 24-7, withdrawn from all relationship, conflict, and strife in the world, totally withdrawn from culture…I think my “good” side would come out too. I see glimpses of this when I go on vacation, when I get alone time or when other people are treating me the way I would like to be treated. It’s the same heart. Add different circumstances, relationships, suffering, and temptation, and you’ll see what was really in my heart all along. Or at least where my heart was capable of going.

A perfect word picture. John Piper did a sermon on not wasting the recession that America found itself it not so long ago. He gave the picture of a flask of water with some sediment settled in the bottom. We would all agree that the water is not clean, though it appears to be clear and drinkable. However, if you add some turmoil and shake up the flask, the sediment permeates the entire flask instantly and what rises to the top is what was there all along. This is the word picture of our hearts. Sometimes, in ideal circumstances, we are able to settle down what is in our hearts or attempt to modify our behavior over time, but what is truly in our hearts always rises up to the surface because we are sinners and cannot respond perfectly to life.

Keep it personal. Even if I am being good, almost all the time it is because of this culture. I am performing. It is a selfish desire to be seen as admired, accepted, normal. As a Christian I can actually tell the difference between times I am insincerely behaving a certain way, without the matching heart that should go along with it verses the times I can sense the power of the Holy Spirit changing my heart to help me be kind, compassionate, sincere, etc. along with my behavior.

See how different this is?

What if we ONLY judged behavior? Sticky with me on this…Well then maybe an 78 yr old sticky sweet southern belle who makes cornbread for all of her neighbors, waves wildly at every car letting her in and becomes president of very board in her hometown – but who vehemently hates her life, performs out of obligation and cultural expectation and only pretends to enjoy her friends and family – becomes our “winner” for “Person of the Year.” She is “good”. Right? I don’t think so. Behavior does not = goodness. It absolutely must be about the heart and a behavior that flows out of that heart.

Let’s put that Congo guy (picture from the book about the rape and murder pervasive in the Congo) in the Buddist monastery (this word picture was of a peaceful, happy small mountain community). I bet his conduct record would be A+ all year long because he doesn’t find his heart in a pressure cooker anymore. But the Buddist guy smack in the middle of the Congo and you might see something different from who he was before. Maybe he’d behave how he didn’t think he would. But even if he didn’t act out, what he would do would most certainly represent interest #1= himself/survival of the fittest (opposite of selflessness, which most certainly would lead to self preservation at the expense of maybe others lives).

Also I think it’s worth mentioning that this “badness” we talk about is thought, word, action and deeds of co-mission (meaning – things you should NOT do) and deeds of omission (things you should do but you didn’t. Would you agree that all of those are good reflections of goodness/badness? (They include both heart and behavior).

Sins (or deeds) of omission are things that we avoid. I think I would say for certain that if I decided to become a recluse (not so different than the life of a monk)…perhaps my behavior would be more easily modified BUT would I even be able to practice love, whose greatest expression is when it is not returned? Would I even be able to practice serving, whose greatest expression is when the person did not expect it? Would I be able to forgive? Because I would have avoided all of my unpleasant relationships? And further, I would not have to deal with much suffering, patience, gratitude, acts of hatred against me, temptation of all kinds, or any of the like. I would have so distanced myself from CULTURE AND REALITY of the human condition that I truly would only have to deal with myself. And although I am a handful I think that would certainly change me.

But if I walked my same self back into reality, back into culture, back into relationships, back into the sins of others against me, back into lack of love, back into irritation and annoyances of all kinds…who would I be? What would rise up in my heart? Most certainly I would be battling the sin response within me.

What are we to focus on? Just behaviors/actions/deeds? Or the heart behind them? It’s an important question, I believe.

Look at Luke 6:43-45 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briars. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

First of all, this Scripture is addressing the issue in that day of the religious fanatics (the Pharisees, Saduccees, etc.) who hated Jesus because he wasn’t interested in judging “goodness” (or what we might also call “righteousness”) based on performance or behavior. Jesus was always first interested in the state of the heart and the religious men of that day were proud of their list of morals and accomplishments and standards they lived their lives to and Jesus declared that they were a “brood of vipers”. Sounds harsh but the philosophic disease that they spread was that you could be good on your own, without dealing with having a clean heart.

If you really want to be blown away by what Jesus thinks about “religious” people who do not surrender their hearts to him, then read Matthew 23. Here are some selections: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness….(he concludes all of this and more with this statement which is profound and merciful…) O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

Obviously there’s a lot there but the big picture is that without a clean heart, which is what I continue to say is the heart of the Christian message, there are not any pure thoughts, deeds or behaviors and it is meaningless because it is still utterly tainted. We must be willing to surrender our hearts and to receive a clean heart or else our behaviors end up looking like the Pharisees to some degree. And a modern-day, year 2010, proud heart relying on behavior but taking no look at the condition of its heart would look at the Pharisees and think that it looks nothing like them. Which makes that heart exactly like the heart of the Pharisee. Squeaky clean on the outside and filthy on the inside.

And this is what Jesus addresses. Jesus is not at all interested in behavior modification without a radical change of the heart. In fact, he says we need to be a new creation. And that his forgiveness gives us that new heart, with new desires and the power to make new choices and be a new person. So that as we do life in this culture and reality, we can experience things we did not think possible except on a lifetime vacation: peace, joy, love, hope, patience, endurance through suffering, compassion, kindness, REDMEPTION.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Part 1: Mediatations on Blue Like Jazz

I am reading Blue Like Jazz for about the ninth time. In each chapter there are a rainbow of different colored pens, different for each time I’ve read it. I have spoken out loud to a number of people that it’s probably one of a small handful of Christian books that I would unreservedly place into the hands of someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus and not worry over the complicated theology or distance in language from our modern way of dialogue. It’s probably the ONLY one I would place in the hands of someone who is almost unwilling to even talk about God at all, for fear they might be set on fire by their hatred of him. Blue Like Jazz is like this because…it’s someone’s story. Who is being real about his confusion and doubts prior to his decision to trust Christ. And after becoming a Christian doesn’t explain it as roses and like a puzzle that came together all perfect. It’s a real testimony. It’s one anybody would listen to.

I have heard a number of Christians tell me they don’t like the book. I don’t get it. Maybe because they want it to be cleaner or maybe they are legalistic or maybe they are great evangelists and this is not really mainstream for that kind of thing. But if you strip away all the direct, modern, witty way of writing and the journey through doubts about theology, there is Jesus, without a doubt. It’s a testimony of an everyday guy with everyday questions who, eloquently and with much thought, articulates how in the world he met Jesus, even though he didn’t really want to.

(For the record, the second book I might place in this person’s hands would be All of Grace, which is an entirely different book altogether, written from a totally different way of speaking, but is very very clear about the gospel, is not annoying at all, and is written with a Paul-like tenderness).

I am reading Blue Like Jazz again as a sort of long distance book club with two different friends who don’t know Jesus. We’re a little unfaithful but we’re attempting to write once a week, covering our thoughts on two chapters at a time. We’re now in chapters three and four and the following are some of my takeaways for my semi-book club from the west coast to my friends’ computer screens all the way on the east coast.

Something that was in chapter four in particular spoke to me about how Christians communicate with non-Christians about our faith. There was a girl named Nadine who was a Christian and she had a friend named Penny who was not. They hung out all the time and every once in a while they would have conversations about God and Christianity. This is what Penny said about Nadine to Donald Miller, the author:

“The thing I loved about Nadine was that I never felt like she was selling anything. She would talk about God as if she knew him, as if she had talked to Him on the phone that day. She was never ashamed, which is the thing with some Christians I had encountered. They felt like they had to sell God, as if he were soap or a vacuum cleaner, and it’s like they really weren’t listening to me; they didn’t care, they just wanted me to buy their product.”

Um. Conviction. I think my brain just scrolled through about ten conversations I now wish I could burn out of my past. I definitely think there have been times where I’ve been trying to sell God like a vacuum cleaner. Or my version of a vacuum cleaner, like a chick-fil-a sandwich (because I am in love with those, but you likely already know that b/c I try to get everyone to buy one. And boy do I try to sell them to northwesterners but they sure don’t get it. I digress…). Actually I am totally wrong (I was about to post this blog and re-read this and now I am seeing this more clearly). Selling a chick-fil-a sandwich IS actually like me sharing Jesus (bare with me) because I do sincerely love them and want everyone to enjoy one just like I want everyone to enjoy Jesus (I know, the same but totally stupid-different). But a great picture of me trying to sell something w/ no heart was when I worked at Pottery Barn Kids. You have to be all happy and "on" people and trying to add to their purchases as you get them to the cash register. Yuck. Definitely a picture of me following the guidelines of selling a product, without a thought about my heart or theirs.

My most sweet moments, for certain, talking about Jesus have been sincere moments of desiring to just talk about the Lord. And it is not formulaic, but…enjoyable. I am definitely a formula person. I like for things to stay in an order, for things to make sense, and to see clearly how something is going. This drives my husband a little crazy! I’m working on it. In many regards. Especially this one. I think the freedom in talking about Christ is that it’s something that has become real to us. And what God is asking us to do as a “minister of reconciliation” is to sincerely convey what is True. To tell the testimony of Jesus, the story that has become intimate in our hearts. If we’re feeling stiff, perhaps we need to go back to the testimony of God – that he loves us, has created a relationship with us and wants us to walk with him closely all our days. I need to dig deeper into that story, let it ring true, and then let that overflow into my conversations, instead of memorizing an evangelism plan.

(Hey, but I’m sure there’s a time for everything so I’m not trying to create a black and white strategy for evangelism here, note takers. Not that there are any :)).

This brings me to a nice segway (spelling?) to the other giant “wow!” point of chapter three for me. Here’s a series of quotes, all pointing to the same concept:

“Everybody wants to be fancy and new. Nobody wants to be themselves…If there was a guy who just liked being himself and didn’t want to be anybody else, that guy would be the most different guy in the world and everybody would want to be him…The whole idea of wanting to be somebody new was an important insight in terms of liking God. God was selling something I wanted. Still, God was in the same boat as the guy selling knives and Juliet promising to make Romeo new (stories from earlier in the chapter, but you’ll get it). Everybody exaggerates when they are selling something. Everybody says their product works like magic…I felt as if Christianity, as a religious system, was a product that kept falling apart, and whoever was selling it would hold the broken parts behind his back trying to divert everyone’s attention…for thousands of years big haired preachers have talked about the idea that we need to make a decision, to follow or reject Christ. They would offer these ideas as a sort of magical solution to the dilemma of life. I had always hated hearing about it because it seemed to entirely unfashionable a thing to believe, but it did explain things. Maybe these unfashionable ideas were pointing at something mystical and true. And, perhaps, I was judging the idea, not by its merit, but by the fashionable or unfashionable delivery of the message.”

If you boil it down, there IS something that Christianity is putting out there. But are we putting it out there like we’re selling a vacuum cleaner? Why would we do that? Why do we feel so responsible for getting everyone “saved”? We certainly are responsible to share Jesus, to shine our light before men, to be the salt of the earth, to be the feet of those who bring the good news. But does it have to be with a neon sign and straight teeth smiles with red lipstick? (I don’t know, seems flashy, which is what I’m saying).

So even if we don’t share the testimony of Jesus with a strobe light spinning behind us, what Don is saying is that it still has two things that are difficult: 1. a history of people selling it who are “unfashionable” – people that many of my unbelieving friends don’t want to be associated with (which Donald admitted was something he had to get over, since it was an obstacle to what he realized was true despite this deterance) and 2. (and more importantly what I want to talk about) Christianity’s message feels like a magic solution that resembles to a least a small degree other magic tricks people have done for us before, so we’re not easily convinced.

It’s true that the world tries to sell everyone a magical solution. I could name a hundred. (Maybe I will in another blog). And they all wind and weave their pointed fingers back to a similar struggle within all of our hearts: our brokenness. But their magic fades of course. Inevitably and always. So the “magic” that the gospel seems to sell comes to us, veiled by our own disillusionment with magic tricks.

But what if, like Donald said, we could peel away the unfashionable delivery of the message? Just what if the “magic” that we’ve heard from all the other salesmen were just a false reproduction of the TRUE “magic” of the gospel? They hit just enough on the truth that they seem like they might work.

Like the magic of relationships: your heart is broken, it doesn’t want to be lonely, you long for completion, to be known and loved wholly (all Biblical conepts from the True “magic” story of the gospel) but the false reproduction of the truth then preaches to you that these longings in your heart can be healed by falling in love with your perfect mate and you’ll live happily ever after. False magic trick. The “true magic” of the gospel for that same brokenness is that we were created by God and for relationship with a God who loved us unconditionally and went to unimaginable lengths in restoring us to Him in our brokenness by sending His Son Jesus to take on our sin in his death, and rise to life, bringing us forgiveness and redemption. And now we can be whole as a new creation in our spirit and in intimate relationship with the God who created us. That is the “true” magic of the gospel.

I hope as I walk away from this computer screen tonight, I can just be myself. The me that has for sure met Jesus. The me that has been changed. The me that is simply…thankful and teary about it and hopeful for everybody in this Starbucks I’m sitting in. Lord let me be true. True in my heart and true about you by how I get to talk about you. I don’t want to be a salesman. I want to be in love with you and gush about it to everyone.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sorry, I just don't like the guy

I grew up loving him. He was good to me. I always expected him to come around eventually, though most of the year I forgot he existed. When his visits came closer I’d get excited and expect a lot of great things from him. But then he’d go away again, like one of those dads that says they love you and brings you lots of cool things, but then it turns out they’ve got other places to be. Everybody loves the guy, but these days I just don’t like the guy. In fact, this year I found myself hating him. Every time I saw him or saw someone else talking him up I’d think, What’s all the hype about? What’s so great about him? I don’t know why anyone wants him around at all.

He’s already gone again. And this time I am glad. I am glad I won’t hear his name for a while again and I don’t want to see his pictures. Even the name Santa spoken excitedly gets under my skin for hours.

For our Christmas date, Jason and I went to a musical in downtown Seattle that featured the Rockettes and was one of those flashy, keep ‘em clappin’, toe tappin’ shows in a huge theatre with a packed out crowd. It was fun and light hearted and silly and for part of the show I was there mentally and just smiled and applauded when I was supposed to and hugged Jason’s arm. But as the show went on and that jolly belly of a man kept showing up for the glamour of each act, I got increasingly agitated with his presence. Not in this show. I get it. It’s a secular Christmas show. Christmas to the secular world = Santa and presents and the like. But for me it was annoying to see him and I literally leaned over and said to Jason, “I’ve never felt this way before but I literally hate Santa.”

I’m not saying this emotional place I’m in is the perfectly righteous one. But it’s interesting that each year that our family tries to make Christmas more about Jesus and more about the deepest, most beautiful meaning not just of this season but of life, the more irritated I get with the fasade that the world has veiled layer after layer over the truth about Christmas. I know that my irritation with Santa is more than whether we are going to wear a costume at Halloween or put Easter eggs out in the garden. It’s more because it’s a person who comes every December 25th and brings gifts and for weeks and weeks prior to this day of celebration we talk about him and sing about him and lift him up and we put our hope in him and tell his story and look forward to him, celebrating advent (his coming). Sound familiar?

Also, it’s not actually even the people who celebrate Santa that irritate me. It’s Santa himself.

I so want Jesus to be famous that it bothers me that Santa has become such a THIEF. I mourn because I love Jesus. I mourn because I wish people could see him, not all the other crap. Jason and I have discussed remembering the age we were when we didn’t “believe” anymore and Christmas was a little more bland and dismal and unsurprising and how disappointing that was. “Doing Santa” was a little light in our year and made childhood magical and fun – we would say. But how sad is a magic, a lie, that you outgrow and pass along to the next generation of children? I don’t blame those who don’t believe in the story about Jesus. I actually don’t even want them to pretend they care about the Bible or the nativity or the story of a baby in Bethlehem. Let their hearts reveal what is true. But as Christians I think we still celebrate Santa sometimes because we want some magic for our kids. But wait…isn’t the fairytale, the magic, the wonder of HIS story…far more amazing? Mind blowing? And TRUE? I don’t have to outgrow it.

Where I am now about Santa is way different than where I have been about him mentally any other time in my life. Each Christmas I’ve weighed him, kept an eye on him and wondered what to do with him. I’ve loved him, I’ve been nonchalant about him, I’ve cast him out of our holidays but still not cared much about who else did. But as I watch the wonder in my children’s eyes as they watched Christmas movies and watched figurines dance in store windows and on tv screens and on mantel places, I got kind of sick this year.

I don’t want them to be confused. I don’t want to take the chance that their hearts can sort out fun grown up pretend from what is the greatest truth of all their lives. Hey kids, this is Santa, and he’s not real but he’s super fun and we’re not going to tell you until you figure it out all by yourself that it’s not real. And look, here’s a nativity right here beside the Santa figurine but hey, this story is real and it’s the most important story you will ever believe with your whole heart so make sure you listen up closely. Confusing to cast both heavy things on their hearts at once? Confusing that they are somehow supposed to sort that out? Confusing even for us adults to sort out explaining to them? Um, yeah. Just in case their hearts can’t sort out a fun, pretend twelve year prank from the greatest story ever told, I’m not even going to try.

My deepest, greatest, most insistent reason I’ve finally jumped ship on Santa is that it has taken me my entire adult life to understand the most important concept I will ever wrap my mind around: GRACE. Grace = an undeserved gift, not earned by merit. Ephesians 2:8-10 says that grace is the gift of God, not from man, so that no man can boast. The “theology” that Santa perpetuates when you boil it down is that we are being watched by him continually and his favor for us is based on our good works verses our bad works and we can expect rewards or consequences based on this (my husband wrote an incredible blog on this, so please read this). That is the saddest, most hopeless theology any of us could believe because our good works on a scale would be utterly weightless. Even our best works are corrupted by selfish intention and prideful thoughts about how great we are for performing them. Transversely, the most hopeful, joy-giving theology we could ever hope for would be GRACE. Comparing to Santa, the story of God’s grace is that we, who have done wrong all the year long, have fallen short of God’s standard perpetually. Yet each day of that year, God has graciously extended his good gift of His Son to us, inviting us to relationship with him if we will only admit we are a wreck without him and give our lives to him. Now THAT is a theology I’d like to celebrate every year. And I am so thankful that my husband and I’s hearts are in the same place with this.

Now that I’ve been bold enough to say I literally hate Santa, I need to say a couple of words wrapped up in one.

One. We still have Santa movies, books with Santa in them and maybe even some ornaments with him on them. We’ve also got Rudolf and Frosty hanging around our book basket and dvd cabinet this time of year. If you say the word Santa around our kids, I’m not going to gasp, cover their ears and walk away hurridly (although the vision strikes me as hilarious and sounds like a fun prank to play on someone, he he!). Just like we don’t scoff at the Easter bunny or Cupid the Valentine and whatever else we do. They are pretend. So is Santa. So if we can downplay Santa to imaginary and pretend, we’re cool. We are going to watch Polar Express and Frosty the Snowman and all that good stuff. But we’re not going to perpetuate FAITH in these characters. I think this is the clearest distinction I can make. And if Santa or Frosty or whoever is becoming too much of who the kids are talking about, we’ll just pull the reigns back a little on it. But praise God, this Christmas the girls were most obsessed with “baby Jesus” which was a sweet gift.

Two. I don’t know how you celebrate or don’t celebrate Christmas. If you celebrate Santa or not, that’s fine. This is not a closed handed issue. I don’t think you are a Christian or not based on what you do with Santa. If you’re a Christian, you’ve got to decide that for you and your family. You should pray, consider, and step back from the flow of culture long enough to decide for you what the Lord is saying to you about how to celebrate Christmas. It has taken us eight years of marriage and twenty years of being Christians to decide. Lots of grace there.

Three. Legalism. The first ten to maybe even fifteen years of my relationship with the Lord I had very legalistic tendencies. Legalism is all about trying to appear godly, while in your heart you are creating rules and regulations and standards with a prideful heart in order to lean on your own “acts of righteousness” instead of leaning on the grace of Jesus. I would tell non-Christians to not cuss. I would expect stores to say Merry Christmas, not Happy Holidays. I would go to church on Sundays and frown on those who didn’t, while forgetting to talk to the Lord all week long. The Lord would reveal truth to me and I would instantly expect everyone in my life to understand the same truths on my timeline. I compared my walk with Christ to others. I felt good about myself when I obeyed God instead of feeling secure in my identity in Christ every moment. I performed. In my heart, I know I still lean this way. I have to let the Holy Spirit check me. And with this Santa issue, a little religious voice in me perks up in me, and I have to let God check my heart again and keep me humble so that what convictions we have developed about how we celebrate Christmas don’t become a set of rules or ways we can look better. Lord let it not be that.

Let it be that we simply love Jesus and we want to lift him up and no one else. And we don’t want there to be any confusion about what we’re about on this holiday or about this story. We want to be implicitly clear: We are awed, amazed and graced with a redemptive story about the God-man, Jesus, who came into this world humbly to save sinners, of whom I am the worst. So with that, we’re going to skip out on what I will call the “prank” of Santa, and stick to the sure thing, which is the greatest story ever told and whose “magic” never ends and never fails. Halleluia.