Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Some Thoughts on Christmas Carols

Warning, this post may offend your Christmas sensibilities!

Among the Christmas songs we've been playing in our house since Thanksgiving, one of them caught my particular attention. The song, recorded by Randy Travis, presents a rather different picture than what we have come to imagine of that night in Bethlehem:

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman crying
In the alleyway that night
On the streets of David's town
And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
with tears upon her face
had no mother's hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
with every beat of her beautiful heart
it was a labor of love.

Noble Joseph by her side
calloused hands and weary eyes
No midwives to be found
on the streets of David's town
in the middle of the night
so he held her and he prayed
shafts of moonlight on his face
but the baby in her womb
he was the maker of the moon
he was the author of the faith
that can make the mountains move

I like this song because I think it more accurately reflects the events of that night. While the song "Silent Night" has become beloved by many, I seriously question whether that night was in fact so silent and whether all was really calm and bright. And despite what another favorite song tells us, did the newborn baby Jesus really not cry? Maybe, but I suspect he behaved much like any other baby, complete with crying and all.

I'm not saying we shouldn't sing all these other classic Christmas songs. I just think that in singing them we must remember that they skew our view of the Christmas event. God entered the world in the most unexpected of ways. The birth of Jesus was full of scandal (a child conceived out of wedlock--do we forget that part, or have we become numbed to the cultural shame this would have brought?) and took place in the most humble of circumstances. We want to picture the scene in such heavenly terms, probably because we have a hard time imagining God coming to earth among such dirty, ordinary conditions. The Scriptures don't give us much detail concerning the process of the birth, but I think it probably wasn't any different than any other human birth. While remaining God he became a complete human and dealt with the realities of ordinary human life. I don't think that God arranged for his birth to be a uniquely beautiful, blissful event. He didn't book him a room at the local birthing center or the Bethlehem regional hospital. Instead he chose to enter the world through the ordinary labor pains of a young woman in a dirty stable full of farm animals. And he did this because he wanted to experience our reality and identify himself with us. Yes, it was a unique event, unparalleled in the history of humanity. It was a divine moment. But it was also a very human moment. This is the amazing reality about Jesus that we must always keep in proper tension: that he was both fully God AND fully human.

I for one find it difficult to sing "Silent Night" wholeheartedly anymore. (I told you I might offend your Christmas sensibilities.) While a lovely song in its own way, I just don't find it to capture adequately the significance of the Christmas event. Of all the Christmas songs that have been written over the centuries, I find it interesting that some of the most popular present the most idyllic view of Jesus' birth. It's as if we feel a need to picture it this way. But I think we do well to stop and reflect on the fact that God's entry into our world came in the most radically humble of conditions. Otherwise we risk creating a Jesus who wasn't really human like we are.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Am I the lost son?

When reading the story of the lost or prodigal son, I have always struggled to really identify with the lost son. While I acknowledge that I sin and fall short of God's glory, nonetheless I cannot picture myself as the son in the story because I cannot relate to the description of his experience. I have not strayed far from home. I have not indulged in wild living. To quote the words of Henri Nouwen:

"It is strange to say this, but, deep in my heart, I have known the feeling of envy toward the wayward son. It is the emotion that arises when I see my friends having a good time doing all sorts of things I condemn. I called their behavior reprehensible or even immoral, but at the same time I often wondered why I didn't have the nerve to do some of it or all of it myself."

It may seem strange to speak of envying sinful behavior. But for one who hasn't lived a wild life, sometimes I cannot appreciate the depth of God's love because I don't really appreciate the fullness of his forgiveness. As Jesus said to the Pharisee in Luke 7, "He who has been forgiven little, loves little." As long as I look at the lost son and see someone completely foreign to my experience, I cannot enter into the story and appreciate the magnitude of either his lostness or the love that welcomes him home.

Reading Nouwen's book The Return of the Prodigal Son opened my eyes to this story in a new way. Nouwen points out that a homecoming such as the one in the story must be proceeded by a "home-leaving." He reminds me that I have a home in the loving embrace of my heavenly Father. But I become the lost son if I choose to leave this home and seek my identity and my home anywhere else. "Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home and must look far and wide to find one," writes Nouwen. I can relate to this, because I know that I have done and still do this. How or where I seek this other "home" isn't really the issue. The issue is that I become the lost son because I reject that which God offers and seek to replace it with something, anything, that the world offers. Instead of hearing God's voice which calls me his beloved son, I choose to listen to the voices that tell me I must prove my worth. I must earn the right to be called his son. My fear of rejection, of being unloved and unwelcome, drive me further and further from my one true home. As Nouwen says:

"I am so afraid of being disliked, put aside, passed over, ignored, persecuted, and killed, that I am constantly developing strategies to defend myself and thereby assure myself of the love I think I need and deserve. And in so doing I move far away from my father's home and choose to dwell in a 'distant country'."

As I read this I recognized the extent to which I am, indeed, the lost son. I may not have thrown away my father's inheritance in wild living, but nevertheless I have chosen many times to reject it or to exchange it for the worthless garbage of this world. And the world has given me nothing lasting in return. Having understood better that I have indeed left home, like the lost son, I can now better appreciate the process of his return. I hope to share some thoughts on that in the near future.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Will I Choose Joy?

I've been reflecting this week on the story of the lost or prodigal son. To guide my reflections I read Henri Nouwen's book The Return of the Prodigal Son, in which he shares his insights into this story in light of Rembrandt's famous painting by the same name. As I finished reading the book this morning, I found myself challenged by a basic question. This question also indirectly arose from our Sunday morning worship time last week. In many places Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God as being a celebration--a party, to use the language Tony Campolo has used to describe it. The story of the lost son shows us a father who welcomes his wayward son home, not with recriminations and reluctance, but with joy and celebration, pulling out all the stops. Reflecting on this Nouwen writes: "Celebration belongs to God's kingdom....God does not want to keep his joy to himself. He wants everyone to share in it."

But Nouwen reminds us as well that we must choose to enter into this celebration. God does not force us. The elder son and others in the story face a choice. In Nouwen's words, "Will they understand the father's joy? Will they let the father embrace them? Will I?"

As I read this section of his book and probably in light of all that preceeded it in earlier chapters, I wrestled with the question he asks. Am I able to let the father embrace me? Am I able to understand and enter into the father's joy? I look at the world around me and more often than not respond with cynicism and gloom. I see the negative far more readily than the positive. I expect sadness, disappointment and pain. To quote Nouwen's words again, "Somehow I have become accustomed to living with sadness, and so have lost the eyes to see the joy and the ears to hear the gladness that belongs to God and which is to be found in the hidden corners of the world."

I see myself as a realist, one who sees things as they are. (My wife might disagree with this, since there is definitely an idealist in me as well.) Although I want to rejoice and celebrate God's goodness and love, I see a world filled with sorrow and suffering, with pain and grief. I see a world in which his kingdom, his shalom, have not yet been made complete. Not only that, but I look at my own life and I see the shortcomings and imperfections in myself and those closest to me. These things tend to draw more of my attention than the moments of joy, the moments of light, the moments when shalom breaks through in some small way. But God calls me to rejoice, not because everything has been made right in this world, but to rejoice when his kingdom breaks through in any way, no matter how small.

"God rejoices," writes Nouwen. "Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted and are now praising him for his goodness. No, God rejoices because one of his children who was lost has been found. What I am called to is to enter into that joy."

The recognition that I lack the ability to rejoice, that I more often choose cynicism or gloom rather than with joy and celebration, hurts deeply. I don't want to be this way. Changing this pattern of behavior won't be a quick and easy process though, nor will it be one that I can accomplish on my own. But I want to begin that journey. I want to choose joy. I want to choose to enter into the joy of my father, to join him at the table of celebration rather than standing outside, refusing to participate. The circumstances in which I currently live do not promote a lifestyle of joyful celebration, but I think that if we as God's children can learn to live in his shalom even in the midst of those circumstances, that joy can become a powerful magnet to others.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Learning to Love

I've been reflecting a lot lately on love, what it means to love and what it means to receive love. I began reading 1 Corinthians 13 again, intending to read a small portion and meditate on it. Well, I didn't get very far before the Spirit called specific issues to my attention.

In the first verse we read (following the New Living Translation): "If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn't love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal." My area of specialty for the past several years has been language learning, so when I read these words what struck me was that this verse speaks about that topic. If I, or any other person, undertakes the learn another language, particularly for the sake of communicating the Good News, but I do so without love, then my efforts are pointless and my ability to communicate in that other language will be meaningless, no matter how proficient I may become. In other words, if I don't love the people who speak that language, then there is no point in my learning the language to begin with. This brought me to the place of asking God to renew or fuel in my heart a love for the people whose language I am learning. I believe that this love already exists, but I also realize that it can certainly grow and increase.

Reflecting on this further I see that loving a people group can be quite a different thing from loving specific members of that group. I can (perhaps) easily say "I love the X people" and picture them in my mind as an abstract concept, an image I have in my mind of this group of people. That is not a bad thing, but it is only a first step. In some cases that step alone can be quite difficult. For example, I think many American Christians would find it difficult to say with all their heart that they love Arab people, because we have developed some very strong cultural biases against them. But loving a people group as a concept remains rather nebulous, until you find yourself confronted with the reality of loving particular members of that group. Sometimes this can make it easier to love, because the concept becomes a concrete reality with flesh and bones, with needs and emotions. But sometimes this reality can make it more difficult to express love from the heart, because some people are not very lovable. I may say "I love the X people," but can I love the specific X person who is crowded next to me on the bus, smelling like he or she hasn't bathed in several days? Or can I love the X person who is complicating my life by demands to do something for him or her? Can I love the person who has done things to hurt me or those I love? Confronted with these questions, I can only pray "Jesus, teach me to love."

I think that both of these aspects of loving others are useful. We as believers should ask God to give us a love for the different people groups of the world, particularly those for whom we currently feel enmity. But in order to express that love in action, we need to take the next step and love the members of a group as individuals, entering into their lives and listening to them, seeing them as Jesus does--as precious people uniquely and individually created and loved by him. In the end both of these aspects can only be done out of the overflow of Jesus' love in our hearts. I can manufacture love towards others to a certain point. I can seek to develop feelings of sympathy and humanity towards others and that's not a bad thing. But I cannot sustain it nor can I truly love others simply from my own understanding of human love. The well is simply not deep enough.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

On Turning 40

I recently celebrated my 40th birthday. My American culture presents this as a significant milestone, the point at which one has reached the pinnacle of life. The fact that we speak of turning 40 as being "over the hill" indicates that we look at the rest of life as a decline. I think most of my friends who are of similar age don't really look at it this way. In fact only those who are younger probably think in these terms. I was encouraged by a couple friends who informed me that in their culture reaching 40 marks the point of maturity. At 40 years old one can finally be considered to have grown up and the best years of life now lie ahead. I rather like this perspective. I certainly don't feel like I've reached the high point of life and all that awaits me from this point onward is a slow decline into old age.

Turning 40 does serve as a marker along the journey of life and offers an opportunity to stop and reflect on the path one has taken. For some, this reflection frightens them, because they realize that they have invested their lives in meaningless things that have no lasting value. Or maybe they measure their lives against the values pushed by our media-driven culture and feel that they have come up with the short end of the stick. In response they might push to obtain those "things" that they think will make life complete and fulfill their happiness, be it a newer, nicer car, a bigger house, or a different spouse.

Although I've spent some time ruminating on my life at this junction, I don't find myself experiencing a mid-life crisis. I don't feel the need to add some new spark to a dull and meaningless life because I have the privilege of living a purpose-driven, meaningful life. In fact, sometimes I wish my life were a little more mundane! I really have nothing to complain about. I have been blessed with a wonderful wife and two delightful (most of the time!) children. I enjoy my work (most of the time!) and am blessed with dear friends, friends from around the world. By the standards of the culture I may have sacrificed a lot. I haven't achieved much, if anything, that our culture considers significant. I don't own my own house. I don't even own a car! I'm not on the path of upward mobility. Sometimes these things tempt me, but then God reminds me of the blessings he's given me. He reminds me of the purpose and calling on my life. He reminds me that I have the opportunity to impact lives for eternity--though I may not see the fruit myself in this life. I haven't sacrificed anything that I haven't received something better in return.

Do I wish I could live life over? Not really. I could change some decisions I regret, but I would inevitably make other regrettable decisions in their place. No, I will thank God instead for the journey I have made and continue to make and for his grace and providence along the path. I will thank him that he has chosen me and filled my life with meaning and purpose for the sake of his name and his glory. And I will pray that my life will continue to be of service to him as long as I draw breath on this earth.


Friday, October 23, 2009

It's Not About Me

"For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake."
2 Cor. 4:5

Sometimes I forget that my work and my life isn't about me at all. I start wanting to receive honor and attention. I want people to recognize my work, even while acknowledging that the work is really for His sake. At such times I must come back to verses like this and remember who what, or rather who, it's all really about. It's not about me. It's about him.

Recently I had a sort of vision come to mind while I was meditating on the word. I saw a desert-like land, something like Arizona or many other places in the world. Where the river flowed, there was life, but outside of that there was no life. In such places humans often build irrigation canals to carry the life-giving water to new areas so that those areas can also grow and flourish. The irrigation ditch which delivers the water is important because it carries the water to the places that need it. But the ditch is not the main thing. The water is. If the ditch is doing its job, it really won't hardly be noticed at all. But as it does its job, entire regions can receive the life-giving water.

I understood that I am like one of those irrigation ditches. It's not about me. I am just a servant. May I take this message to heart and apply it daily.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dealing with Conflict

Growing up I learned to deal with conflict by avoiding it. More accurately, as I learned later in life, I learned to deal with it by running from it or denying that it exists. At the time I didn't realize that these were unhealthy ways of dealing with conflict (in most cases). I would not have articulated it in these terms at the time, but I believed that living at peace meant simply avoiding all conflict. Therefore, in my mind the more I "avoided" conflict, the more I was living a godly lifestyle.

A couple years ago I read the book The Peacemaker by Ken Sande and it radically changed my thinking about conflict. I had received teaching about conflict resolution prior to this, which had helped me make some positive adjustments to dealing with conflict. Being married has also helped, not because my marriage is filled with conflict, but simply because conflict will arise when you merge two lives into one. But reading The Peacemaker helped me to understand that conflict is normal (at least in this life) and that living the life of a peacemaker does not mean avoiding conflict, but rather dealing with it in a healthy manner. I highly recommend the book.

This doesn't mean that I have come to relish conflict. I think Sande would argue that this view is also unhealthy. In fact, I still have a lot of room to grow. Although I understand and accept that conflict naturally happens and I have learned better methods for dealing with it, I still don't like it and must often fight my innate inclination to deal with it by running away. I do better when the conflict arises with a friend or my spouse, because in those situations there is already established relationship and a better ability to communicate. But even then I don't always instinctively choose a healthy response of conflict resolution. When the conflict involves someone with whom my relationship is less personal my instinct to flee becomes even stronger.

I have a lot of room to grow in this area. I find that God regularly gives me opportunity for this growth. Sometimes I succeed, in the sense of making progress in handling conflict well. At other times I fail miserably, resorting to ingrained habits. I find myself in a particular conflict situation right now that is testing me. I pray for wisdom to respond wisely and in a godly manner. One potential solution would require us to withdraw from the conflict--to resolve by removing ourselves from the conflict situation, but I want to do so because God directs us to and not simply because I want to avoid the conflict. On the other hand, if the conflict cannot be resolved I don't want to continue to live in a situation that leaves me stressed and tense on a regular basis. Thus the need for wisdom.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Personality Pattern

I took this personality pattern test that a friend recommended. Here are my results. Considering it was a simple, on-line test, I think the results are actually a decent description of me. I don't particularly care for the term "buttoned-down", but the description fits me very well! Perhaps those who know me well would express a different view on these characteristics.

You are in touch with your emotions, and sometimes you react before you think. The good news: you don't tamp down your feelings. The bad news: you sometimes say or do things that you later wish you could take back.
You do not live your life on an even keel; you do not go for long periods without experiencing some mood swings.
You very rarely make a move without first considering the pros and cons and, therefore, rarely do anything foolish or extravagant.
You are not rash; you almost never act before you think and, therefore, rarely end up doing things you later regret.
You have a knack for knowing what's going on in the hearts and minds of those around you, without their having to tell you explicitly. People tend to turn to you with their problems because they know you care, and that you will likely offer good advice and a helping hand.
You do not feel that people with sad stories are just looking for attention, or have brought their problems upon themselves.
You like to know that everything is in its place; it's somehow empowering to know that the world around you is neat and organized. For you, schedules and timelines are great ways to stay on track, and mowing down the items on your "to do" list is a source of happiness.
You do not believe that a clean, orderly desk is the sign of a person who doesn't have enough to do; you don't thrive on a sense of personal anarchy.
You are an honest, fair person. You don't lie or cheat to get ahead. You treat others with respect and hope for the same in return.
You do not feel that you are above the rules that everyone else follows; you are definitely not willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead.
You fulfill your obligations and responsibilities, are true to your word, and generally obey the rules. While the majority of those who have a high score on the "responsible" trait enjoy traveling, they are usually very happy to return home — and don’t mind staying put for a while.
You're opposed to making hasty decisions, you don't insist that you're above the rules, nor do you feel compelled to color outside the lines.
You like to think a task through before you embark on it. If it's the slightest bit complicated, you make a list (even if it's only in your mind) and methodically work your way through it. When you have a goal in mind, you're not satisfied until you reach it.
You are not one of those people who ignore the details, and you don't understand how anyone can get anything accomplished without thoughtful planning ahead of time.
You appreciate art, beauty, and design; you know that they are not superficial but absolutely crucial to living the good life. You have good taste, and you're proud of it. Those with a high score on the "aesthetic" trait are often employed in literary or artistic professions, enjoy domestic activities — doing things around the house — and are enthusiastic about the arts, reading, and travel.
You don't think it's pretentious to be moved by art and beauty. You're not one of those who believe it doesn't matter what something looks like as long as it does its job.
You strive to master everything you undertake. You tend to learn quickly and do not shy away from challenges.
You are not a "que sera sera" type of person, nor do you go easy on yourself when attempting to master a new skill or get a job done.
You are thoughtful, rational, and comfortable in the world of ideas. People find you interesting to talk to. You're the living embodiment of the saying "You learn something new every day." In general, those with a high score on the "intellectual" trait are employed in such fields as teaching and research, and are enthusiastic about reading, foreign films, and classical music.
You do not avoid abstract conversation, experimenting with new ideas, or studying new things. It bores you to stick to the straight and narrow of what you already know.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Virtual Reality or Real Reality?

Drop by our house some afternoon or evening and you'll likely find several of us engaged in some type of electronic entertainment. In our family of four we have three computers, one Wii, two Nintendo DS and one Nintendo Gameboy. Wow. When I was my son's age we were thrilled to play my brother's Atari 2600. We spend a lot of our recreational time engaged in digital, virtual activities. I think we are not unusual in this regard. I wrote some time ago about the effort I had to exert to avoid seeing all my time absorbed by Facebook.

I don't think that playing video or computer games is inherently sinful. At times it provides a good way to relax, though like any activity this can become excessive and even addictive. But a recent message from a friend of ours who lives and works in one of the world's poorest countries caught my attention. She wrote:

"What [we] were discussing at the table tonight was that it makes me sad to realize how much effort, time and creative energy get sucked into virtual realities and video games when perhaps what people are really longing for is to come somewhere like [here], to be part of something that takes more than they can give, to sap all their brain cells trying to absorb a new language, to engage with reality . . . if only more of all that creativity and resources could be channeled into quests like disaster relief, education, peace-building, or providing basic sanitation and health care. Easy to say, harder to get off my chair or leave my laptop and go out..."

This statement resonated strongly with me. In the developed world we invest huge amounts of time, energy and money into entertainment, particularly into virtual entertainment--activities that accomplish nothing at all but which sap resources that could be used to accomplish good in a needy world. In light of what I recently wrote about responding to poverty, this contradiction really struck me. How much easier it is for us to sit in front of our computers and "exercise" our brain cells on virtual activities than to go out make a difference in the world. The latter requires much more creativity, energy, resourcefulness and dedication, but the rewards are also significantly greater. So many people are looking for that "great adventure" in cyberspace (and, I think in a similar vein, in extreme sports) when it is waiting for them already, if only they will get up off the chair and go out...

How can I make a difference in the world today?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Responding to Poverty

Many years ago, when I was still in high school, I had the opportunity to travel to Haiti with a group from my church. It was my first encounter with extreme poverty and it profoundly impacted the course of my life. In my present line of work I often encounter poor people as well. On a recent trip we passed through many remote villages where people live much as their ancestors probably lived 100 years ago or more. Driving through one such village I saw two young girls squatting by the side of the road. Their clothes and faces were dirty and my heart was moved with compassion for them. I try to imagine what it must be like for them. Do they have any hope for the future? Do they have any hope for eternity? How I would love to take them under my wing and offer them a better life.

At moments like these I return to one of the issues I have wrestled with throughout my life. What can one person do in the face of such conditions? What can I do? I cannot lift everyone in this country out of poverty. I cannot even deliver the fundamental message of hope to all of them. At times the immensity of the need overwhelms me and I am tempted to throw up my hands in despair.

Even if I had the resources, would it be truly beneficial for me to just give to everyone I see who is in need? Or by doing so am I perpetuating their poverty and instilling an attitude of dependency? In talking with a good friend about this recently, she mentioned a woman she knows who, despite being a believer, has developed this type of attitude. She expects that others will give her whatever she lacks and regularly makes requests for things. Surely this is not a healthy situation. At the same time I don't think we can just turn our backs. Scripture makes it quite clear that merely offering words of comfort counts for nothing. As James wrote:

"Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, 'Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well'--but then you don't give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?"

And through the prophet Isaiah God said:

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"

I want to take these words seriously, but I am overwhelmed by the immensity of the task. I could give away everything I have and still not begin to reduce the need around me. So what does God ask of me? I am learning to seek his voice every time a situation for giving presents itself. I am trying to walk in the Spirit, seeking to give freely as he leads but not feeling like I must meet every need around me. But I do want to learn to give more and more freely, not trying to determine from my own perspective whether the recipient is "worthy" or not, but simply to listen to the direction of the Spirit. Even after all these years I feel I still have so much to learn in this area. I don't think there is a simple answer or a convenient set of guidelines that one can refer to. But maybe this is part of what I am supposed to gain in the process--to learn to walk step by step with God and let him direct my actions.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Words of Wisdom

I was listening to some of my favorite music this evening and these words resonated in my mind, as they always do when I listen to this song:

Reject the worldly lie that says
That life lies always up ahead.
Let power go
Before control
Becomes a crust around your soul.
Forsake the hunger to possess
And soul-diminishing success
This world is full of narrow lies
I pray by grace your smile survives.

from the song Sunshine of Your Smile by Michael Card

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Establishing a Routine

I think most people prefer to have some type of routine to their lives. I certainly do. While I like some variety, I need a certain stability to my life, a pattern around which to organize my time and activities. Without this I feel lost and without focus and my time and energy seems to dissipate with limited effect. This in turn frustrates me.

The last month or two our family has lacked any rhythm to our lives. Summer itself is hard enough, when the children are out of school and lose that familiar (if not particularly favored) routine. On top of that we disrupted our lives for several weeks as we packed up to move, all the while undergoing the uncertainty of not knowing for sure if and when we would leave. Finding out that we were indeed going didn't really remove the basic issue of lack of routine. If anything it only worsened it.

After arriving in our new old home we spent the first week scrubbing, cleaning and shopping, trying to get our house in order. That was followed by a week of scrubbing, cleaning and trying to get the kid's school in order. Still no routine. Some days went more smoothly than others, but the lack of a rhythm to our life definitely made itself felt.

Finally this week the kids began school again. I won't pretend that they are excited about this, but I sure am. With the beginning of school we begin to reestablish some pattern to our lives. We have more pieces to pull together, but this first piece helps significantly. Even though the children won't admit it, I firmly believe that they will also benefit from having a routine to their days. No longer will they pass their time aimlessly, playing video games, reading books and telling us how bored they are. They will still have plenty of free time, but not so much that they cannot fill it. Being at school also gives them more opportunity to interact with other children--an outlet they definitely need.

Routine can be a good thing. Without it we lack boundaries. We lack a framework around which to structure our lives. Admittedly routine can become deadening and restrictive as well and I don't want to go that far with it. But somewhere in the middle there is a healthy balance. We've been way out on one end of the scale. It's good to be moving back toward the center.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

His Incomparably Great Power

This morning I was reading from Paul’s words to the Ephesians. In the first chapter starting with verse 17 he shares with them what he prays for on their behalf. The final item in his list is this:

“I pray also that the eyes of your may be enlightened in order that you may know…his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

His further description of this power particularly caught my eye. He continues:

“That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead.”

So Paul is praying that the Ephesians will know the same type of power that God used to raise Jesus from the dead. That would be some incredible power. No wonder he refers to it as “incomparably great.” As I reflected on this I realized that I do not pray in this manner. I do not pray that God will demonstrate his power in my life or the lives of those around me to this degree. I think I have come to expect God to work in small, quiet ways, which he often does. But I don’t look for him to demonstrate the kind of power he showed in the resurrection. But why shouldn’t I pray this way? Paul certainly felt no hesitation to pray this for the Ephesian believers and we can use that same outpouring of his power today as much as they could then.

In my prayers in the coming weeks I want to focus on the things Paul asks for here and pray them specifically for certain individuals and situations. I like it when God points me to specific ways to pray like this. But even more I feel recharged in this reminder that I can pray for God to help me and others know his amazing, incomparable power in the midst of our lives now. What might God do if we pray like this, expecting him to answer such prayers?

P.S. I was able to replace the door knob yesterday and I think I got the light switch working this evening. Yahoo!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Frustrated or, What is My Measure of Success?

I didn't get my workout in this morning. I intended to wake up at 6:30 and do it, but when the alarm went off, I just shut it off and rolled back over. I felt so tired after a long evening and night battling some severe sinus allergies. When I did finally get up I hit the ground running. I had a goal of replacing our front door handle and lock. This required a trip to one of the bazaars. The best bazaar for this type of item is located a long way from the house, so I chose one that is closer, hoping it would have what I needed. I found one man selling a set that looked like it might work, so I bought it and returned to the school, where Sharilyn was helping to clean and prepare for the new school year, which begins next week.

After joining our two new teachers and one of our friends for lunch, I returned home and tried installing the lock I had bought. No success. The holes for the key and the bolts that secure it when locked don't line up with the existing holes in the door. At moments like these I wish I were more handy with tools. Of course it would help if I actually had the right tools available, which I don't. After considering various options, I called a friend and asked him to come by sometime and take a look at it with me. The small victory here for me was admitting I need help and asking for it.

I also wanted to get our newsletter written today. I had started this yesterday and left it last night when I couldn't get the software to do what I wanted. That, combined with my allergies, made me quite irritable yesterday evening. My family bore the brunt of this, though they did not deserve it. Picking up the project again today at first it seemed that I would meet with continued frustration. But after taking a break for a while, I finally figured out where my problem lie. After correcting it, I produced the document I had been working at for so long. So at least I can finish the day feeling like I accomplished something.

In the midst of these two projects I decided to tackle another job I had been hoping to give to a man I know. But he is out of town and I decided it might be something I could handle. I need to figure out why one of our light switches does not work. So I disassembled the old switch, looked at the wiring and attached it all to a new switch I had bought at the market. No success. Lacking much knowledge of electrical circuits, I am out of ideas. So another project goes on hold until I can get the help I need.

Like most Americans I measure my value by how much I accomplish in a given period of time. I feel good if, when I lay down to sleep, I know I have completed some task or at least made acceptable progress on it. While there's nothing wrong with being productive, does this truly mark the measure of our worth? Probably the most truly productive part of my day was the time I spent in conversation with the Father this morning before I rose from bed. Father, help me to value my days correctly, investing my time and energy in those things that you desire, without neglecting the necessary activities of life. Help me to not be frustrated when my to-do list only grows longer through the course of the day. Help me to rest peacefully in you each evening, even when the day has not gone well.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Who is like the LORD my God,
Compassionate and full of mercy?
Who compares to your great love?
There's none in all the earth.

I will sing of your love and grace
That covers all my guilt and shame
In all the earth
Who is like the LORD?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Happy Birthday Teresa!

Thirteen years ago today (at 4:03 AM!) my daughter Teresa Joy entered this world. We'd been waiting for her for a long time, especially since she was two weeks overdue. Given that she was born in Phoenix, Arizona in mid-August, my wife was particularly relieved to see her born. By the time she's 50 Teresa may have covered the debt she owes to her mother for carrying her those 9+ months!
Teresa was the first born grandchild on both sides of the family. Much to her chagrin she was not joined by any female cousins for many years; the closest one being eight years younger than her. She has at times expressed a desire to have a sister, while at other times she's made it clear that she wishes she didn't have any siblings. Teresa has a strong need for time alone and finds her extroverted brother to be a nuisance much of the time. Thankfully they do have moments when they enjoy being together.

Teresa loves horses and dreams of owning her own someday. Her walls are decorated with horse pictures and she collects horse figurines and horse books. All this despite the fact that she's lived her entire life in cities! You will rarely find her happier than when she has the opportunity to be riding on a horse. If she's not doing that, you will most likely find her reading a book. Besides horse stories, she enjoys reading fantasy books. Among her favorites are the Eragon series and the books by Jeffrey Overstreet: Auralia's Colors and Cyndere's Midnight.

After Teresa was born I began to understand better the Father heart of God. I am frustrated at times by my daughter, but I love her with all my heart and want to see her grow into a mature woman who is devoted to God and full of grace and compassion. I enjoy spending time with her and look forward to what God will teach her and me in the years ahead.

Monday, August 3, 2009

What to wear

When we lived in Russia I observed that Russians normally have "indoor" and "outdoor" clothing. What I mean by this is something quite different than what we might associate with those terms in North America. For us, outdoor tends to refer to hats, coats, boots and such "extras" that are removed when one enters the house. For Russians, indoor clothing is that which one wears around one's own home. It is usually quite simple, often rather worn from years of use. For women it often includes some type of "housecoat" that goes over the top of whatever else one has on to protect it while doing household chores.

Outdoor clothing, by contrast, is the clothing one wears when in public. These clothes are always maintained in the nicest condition one can afford. It is very important to look nice when one is in public, regardless of one's status. The level of quality will of course vary depending on one's means and position. But nevertheless, one would never dream of going out in public wearing one's ordinary house clothes. Because most Russians cannot afford a large wardrobe, it is most important that these outdoor clothes be maintained as best as possible. For this reason they are taken off as soon as one returns home for an extended period (though not necessarily if one just drops in between errands, for example.)

I have adopted this mentality in many ways. I am often appalled by the clothing that Americans will wear in public. Going to Walmart can almost make my stomach churn. Have we lost all sense of public decency? Do people ever look in the mirror before going out of the house? I fully appreciate the comfort and convenience of dressing casually, but casual doesn't have to mean sloppy, exposing one's less-than-finest points for public viewing. Last week I had to drop the children off for a morning program. I was in a bit of a hurry, so I left on my morning workout clothes, which is basically a pair of casually fleece shorts and a t-shirt. On the way home I stopped at the gas station to fill the car. While pumping my gas, I stopped and looked at myself and realized that I was embarrassed by what I was wearing. I felt like I was much too casually dressed, even though I was only at the gas station. Probably no one else thought anything about my attire. But I sure did.

I am not calling for a return to a stuffy formalism in society. But I do wonder if society wouldn't benefit from restoring to some degree the boundary between the public and the private spheres. The clothing we wear represents a small but significant aspect of that. We don't need to institute "fashion police." But restoring some sense of "decorum" to society wouldn't hurt us. It might even help us move towards restoring the civility to society, the civility whose decline is often lamented these days.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Absorbed by Facebook

During the Lenten season this year one of my friends chose to "fast" from Facebook, Twitter and other such forms of communication. Since that time he has resumed using them, but I've noticed that he is very moderate, even infrequent, in posting updates. When I heard that he had done this I was both surprised and pleased. I was surprised because it had never occurred to me to pursue such a fast. I was pleased because I could see quite well the benefit of it.

I joined Facebook about a year ago. I signed up initially because I wanted to keep in touch with a friend of mine who works in Africa. Over time my list of friends grew. I reconnected with many old friends, including several that I had not seen or heard from in twenty years. I was also bombarded with friendship requests from people I barely remembered. More than once I had to pull out my high school yearbook to prompt my memory. On the whole I have come to value this aspect of Facebook and other social networking tools. It can be a good way to keep in touch with friends, especially those who do not live close by. It provides a forum for sharing a small portion of my life. At the same time, it is not a tool for maintaining in-depth relationships. I don't share my deepest thoughts and feelings on Facebook because they are not something I want all of my contacts to know. (Yes, there is the option of writing things to individuals, but that option existed earlier--it's called e-mail.) In fact, I'm appaled at times by the things people feel the need to share about themselves. One of the downsides of sites like Facebook is that they seem to contribute to the blurring of the personal and the non-personal spheres of life.

I don't have a problem with controlling my urge to reveal personal secrets or details about my life that really don't belong in the public domain. (Do you all really want to know when I'm running to the store?) I have, however, found that Facebook will absorb as much of my time as I choose to give it. There are fun games and activities. There are new pictures to see and links to explore. It can become an obsession. I don't think I have reached that point, yet. But I realized recently that I need to control my time, especially time spent playing games. I am not condemning them or those who play them. They can be a fun pastime. But they can also divert my attention from things that are far more meaningful and beneficial, like spending time in the Word or interacting with my family or friends in real time. I think of Paul's words to the Corinthians: "'Everything is permissible for me'--but not everything is beneficial."

So while I appreciate the benefits of Facebook and will continue to use it, I want to be more disciplined in the manner in which I do so. I will even continue to play games until we move and my internet connection makes that unfeasible. But I want to do so more moderately. I want Facebook to foster relationship, not be an escape from it. I may even fast from it altogether next spring.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Staying Fit

Being back in the United States has not been so good for my physical health. To put it bluntly, I've packed on the weight. I'm not obese, at least not yet, but I'm certainly carrying more than I did a year ago and more than I would like to. I won't blame it on Coca-cola or McDonalds. Yes, those temptations do exist and indulging in them (with moderation, I believe) has helped to add the pounds. But ultimately they cannot be blamed for the choices I make about my lifestyle. The simple fact is that the American way of life is not conducive to staying in shape. Whereas I used to walk a lot and ride public transport to get around, now I almost always end up driving the car. (I have walked or biked to our local grocery store at times, but when it's 108 outside, that's not a very pleasant undertaking.) I eat more than I need to because it's there and it tastes good. So I haven't achieved a healthy, balanced lifestyle as I had wanted. It's not the government or society's job to fix this inbalance. I need to be responsible for myself.

I think that much of this will naturally correct itself after we return to our work overseas. I'll be back into walking again and the availability of calorie-laden foods will diminish. But this year has made me aware that I'm not getting any younger and I need to be disciplined in maintaining this body, just as I need to be disciplined in maintaining my spiritual health. I think that this can be taken to an extreme, where the body becomes an object of worship and longevity becomes the goal of life, forgetting that no matter what we do these bodies of ours are temporary and our eternal home is not in this life. I have not been guilty of this. I'm much more guilty of neglecting the body, which Scripture refers to as God's temple. I've treated it carelessly and I am now understanding that by doing so I have dishonored God.

I want to honor God with my whole life, including the body he's given me. I cannot set the number of my days--that's in his hands. But I can determine to maintain my health so that I can live those days to the fullest for his glory. With this in mind I have begun an exercise regime. It sounds quite impressive when you say it that way: "exercise regime." In fact my plan is quite simple. I want to start the day with 30-40 minutes of exercise, utilizing the Wii Fit that we recently acquired. This program provides a helpful framework to keep me accountable as well as providing activities that I can do right in my own home. Once we relocate I want to augment that with time cycling, hiking or other activities. I started my morning workout a couple weeks ago and I already feel better physically, even though it has not yet made a significant dent in my waistline. (Why is weight so much harder to remove than it is to add?) I've got a long way to go, but it feels good to have started on the journey.

A admire a friend of mine, who although in his 70's remains very active around his home, building and creating things. In addition, his health has enabled him to travel overseas regularly, where God is using him to do some great things. I hope that when I reach that age, should God grant me that, to be as active as he is. But it won't happen if I don't maintain my health along the way.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Memento Mori

Yesterday I passed another milestone. On June 24 my Grandma, Maxine Carmichael passed away after 87 years on this earth. On June 30 we said good-bye to her at her funeral and laid her body to rest in the earth outside the small town of Kimball, Nebraska. Her body joins that of her husband, who passed away 21 years ago. My mother’s parents have also both moved beyond this life, so I am now without grandparents. Last year my favorite great-aunt also passed away, the last of her generation in that family.

I’m glad I was able to attend the funeral for my Grandma Carmichael. For various reasons I had not been able to attend the last three funerals: those of my mother’s parents and my great-aunt Fern. In fact the only funeral I had attended prior to this was that of my Grandpa Carmichael. It was good to be present to say good-bye to her, at least indirectly, and to allow the grief to come naturally. There was a sense of closure that I never had with my other set of grandparents. I was also able to see most of my cousins, aunts and uncles, most of whom I had not seen since my grandfather passed away. It’s sad that we see each other only at times like this, but the reality is that we live far apart and have never been particularly close. As we drove away from Kimball that day I realized that there is a strong likelihood I will never visit Kimball again. There simply isn’t any compelling reason to draw me there.

Funerals are difficult for us as Americans because they confront us with the reality of death. As a society we try very hard to ignore this reality. We try to extend our lives as long as possible through various means. We deny the existence of death until we can no longer avoid it. I don’t think this is only an American weakness. Many cultures, especially modern Western ones, don’t handle death well. Part of this comes from the dominant Western materialistic worldview that doesn’t believe in anything beyond this material world. In that worldview, death is a frightening thing because it means the complete cessation of being. It’s not a pleasant thing to contemplate.

In earlier centuries European cultures also addressed death more directly. The church in the medieval period used the phrase “Memento Mori” to remind people that they must eventually die and, therefore, should live their lives with this in mind. This is an important bit of wisdom that we have largely lost in our modern culture. We deny the reality of death and because of that we don’t live our lives with the end in mind. We live as though life will go on in the current manner forever. But how would our priorities change, how would our lifestyles be different if we lived every day with the knowledge that this life is but a passing vapor, as Scripture tells us? What would it look like if we lived in the light of eternity? Some books and speakers have dared to remind us of this. Our pastor used a long rope with one inch taped in red. He told us that the red part represented this life—just a short blip. The rest of the rope symbolized eternity, the life beyond this life. If we live believing that the “blip” is the only reality, we will miss out on the opportunities, the wonders and the joy that could be ours in the rest of eternity. But if we live for eternity even during this life, we will place our time, energy and resources into those things that will have eternal value.

Attending my grandmother’s funeral strengthened for me the recognition that I’m not getting any younger. I’m not complaining about this, though I do at times miss some of the aspects of being younger. I’m aware that my life too is passing—and doing so fairly quickly. I could choose to lament this and try to hold on to my youth as long as possible. I certainly don’t think we are wrong to try to take good care of our bodies for the period of this life. But no matter what I do to stay healthy, I will one day finish this race. And when I do I want to enter eternity with the knowledge that I invested my time and energy during this life in the things that will last for the life to come.

Memento Mori

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Life-giving Water

Living in the Southwest, I've become much more aware of the importance of water. Put simply, water equals life. Where there is water, there is life. Without it, there's not. It's that simple. This was clearly illustrated during our drive through New Mexico last week. Interstate 25 more or less follows the Rio Grande through most of the state and as you drive along the highway you see clearly the difference: near the river, the land is green and verdant. But away from the river, it is dry, parched and covered with sparse grass and sage. Using Google Earth, follow the course of the river south from Albuquerque and you will see for yourself. You have to zoom in fairly close, because the irrigated region is quite narrow compared to the vast open spaces on both sides of the river.

Compare these pictures of New Mexico (or Arizona, or any other southwestern state) with those from someplace back east, like Connecticut, since I used that as an illustration yesterday. Do you see the difference? When you live in a place like Connecticut, or almost anywhere east of the Mississippi, or even western Washington or Oregon, you can forget the importance of water because it exists in abundance most of the time. The land is lush and green and full of life. In such conditions it is easy to take water for granted.

Scripture talks a lot about water. I like Isaiah 41:18, which reads:

I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
and the parched ground into springs.

Or consider Isaiah 44:3

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.

There are many other great verses like this, so many that to recite them all here would make for a very long post. When I look at the dry land around me and consider these verses, I realize the significance of God's promise. He is saying that he will give life to his people. Where God's Spirit flows there is life. Without it, there is death.

Jesus pointed to something quite similar when he said these words:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a person remains in me and I in him, that person will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

In a grapevine, or other such vine, the vine brings water and other nutrients to the branches. If they detach themselves from the vine, they no longer will receive what they need to live. They will wither and die. It's like moving away from the Rio Grande. You can't go far before you will find yourself parched and lifeless. I want to be where there is water. I want to be filled with life. Scripture makes it clear where I need to be for that to happen. So why do I choose to wander into the desert?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Don't Fence Me In

Although I was born in the southeastern United States, I've spent most of my life west of the Mississippi, the vast majority of that time being in the Rocky Mountain states or further west. I've spent time back east, most particularly the summer after high school that I worked in Philadelphia. But in my heart I do prefer the open spaces that we have out west. My wife, who grew up in Montana, jokes that in Montana they considered the neighbors too close if you could see their house at all. I'm not quite that extreme. I enjoy the comforts of the city. But I love being able to drive down the road and see for miles around me, as we can here in Arizona. I'm not talking just a couple miles either--I'm talking 50-100 miles at times.

We just returned from a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. From our town that's a 9-hour drive one way, including time for a meal along the way. It's some of the most open highway you can imagine, with vistas that stretch from horizon to horizon. Admittedly, not all of it is the most scenic country, but it is open. You won't feel fenced in.

While taking a lunch break during our drive my wife and I were looking at the road atlas. We had just covered the stretch of 60 miles from Lordsburg to Deming, a stretch in which there are only a couple exits from the highway leading either to a small gas/souvenir station or to a dusty road leading off into the distance. Beyond that, no homes, no inhabitants. Just endless open space. The atlas before us happened to be open to the pages showing Colorado and Connecticut. We recently finished watching the Gilmore Girls series so we were perusing the map of Connecticut, trying to piece together the various places mentioned in the show. What caught our attention though was that the entire state of Connecticut could almost fit in the space between Lordsburg and Deming. What a constrast when you consider the number of people who live in Connecticut versus the absence of people in that same amount of space in New Mexico. I don't intend this as a criticism or put-down of Connecticut. I'm sure it's a lovely place. Maybe someday I'll have the chance to visit. But there is a big difference between living in the wide-open spaces of the west and living in the more populated spaces of the east. Given the choice, I'll stay with the west, thank you very much.

Having traveled a lot of places in my life, I continue to be amazed at the diversity of God's creation. Each place has its own unique character and beauty if we are open to seeing it. The same is true of people. It's easy to dismiss a person or place as being ugly or worthless if we don't stop and reflect on God's hand in shaping it. Yes, some places and people may be more attractive in appearance than others, but every person and every place bears the marks of the Creator's hand. I'm still learning to see it at times, but I know it's there.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Now and the Not Yet

One of the paradoxes of faith in Christ is the tension between what we are now and what we shall become. On the one hand, the Scriptures assure us that once we submit to Christ, we are already complete in him here and now (consider Colossians 1:22 and 2:10 or Romans 5:1 among others.) Yet at the same time we are encouraged to continue to grow into his likeness (as for example in Philippians 2:12, Colossians 3:1-17 and many others places.) Some like to use the fancy theological terms justification and sanctification to clarify these two conditions. While not rejecting that distinction, I find I wrestle to understand what this looks like in daily life. As I have shared recently, I am learning to live in the freedom that comes from my standing in Christ here and now. But I also am painfully aware of the degree to which I still fall short of his perfection. Amy Grant had a song years ago that spoke of this:

No longer what we were before
But not all that we will be
Tomorrow when we lock the door on all our compromising
When He appears
He'll draw us near and we'll be
Changed by His glory
Wrapped up in His glory

But I'm caught in between the now and the not yet
Sometimes it seems like forever and ever
That I've been reaching to be all that I am
But I'm only a few steps nearer
Yet I'm nearer

I recently relocated one of my favorite quotations, from Martin Luther. It echoes this sentiment:

This life therefore is not righteousness,
But growth in righteousness;
Not health, but healing;
Not being, but becoming;
Not rest, but exercise.
We are not yet what we shall be
But we are growing toward it.
The process is not yet finished,
But it is going on.
This is not the end,
But it is the road.
All does not yet gleam in glory,
But all is being purified.

"Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." 1 John 3:2

Monday, June 8, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

Eighteen years ago today I married my best friend. She's been a faithful and true companion throughout this journey together and I look forward to sharing the next 18 years and beyond with her.

Happy Anniversary, my beloved Sharilyn!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Heavens Declare

One of our goals for this summer is to visit some of the interesting sites around southern Arizona before we leave for another term working overseas. Last week we made our first excursion, visiting the Kitt Peak National Observatory. Kitt Peak is located about 60 miles southwest of Tucson, so it's an easy day trip. Our kids were a bit skeptical about how interesting it would be, but I think we all came away impressed.

Kitt Peak is one of the premier sites for astronomy in the world. On this single small mountain there are 24 telescopes, a solar observatory and 2 radio telescopes. There is also a small visitor's center where you can learn about the observatories and astronomy. The day we visited the skies were a bit overcast and it was very windy so there were few visitors. In fact, we were able to get an almost personal tour of one of the telescopes. (We were accompanied by two German astronomists who work with the solar telescope.) The 4m Mayall telescope was the second largest in the world when it was completed in 1970. Now, because of advances in astronomy and the art of casting telescopic mirrors, it is only a mid-sized but is still actively used. Nonetheless, it was a pretty amazing piece of engineering.

The magnitude of the telescopes themselves was quite fascinating to me. But even more stimulating was the information about the universe presented in the visitor center. I have not studied astronomy much (I think the only time I really studied it at all was in 9th grade!), so while I am in general familiar with general information about the universe, I hadn't really reflected on it. Perhaps you were already aware that the Milky Way galaxy alone is 100,000 light years across, a light year measuring approximately 5,878,630,000,000 miles. The numbers boggle the mind! But the Milky Way is only one of the estimated 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. The nearest star to our sun is Proxima Centauri, which is located 1.29 parsecs away, a parsec equalling approximately 3.262 light years. The distances are incredible.

As I tried to grasp in some limited way these vast numbers and distances, the improbability of life arising by chance on some small planet such as ours stood out to me. The conditions for life to occur are so specific. If our sun were a bit smaller and hotter, or larger, or closer or more distant, then life would not be sustainable. Yet here we are. One can attribute this to random natural selection, or one can admit that such specific detail points to an intelligent creator. If I were an astronomer, I think I would be overwhelmed by the display of God's hand in the universe. This is precisely what the Psalmist stated when he wrote:

The heavens declare the glory of God the skies proclaim the work of his hand

Similarly Isaiah proclaimed:

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength not one of them is missing.

Imagine that: human astronomers have only begun to study the stars in the sky. Most stars are given a simply letter and number designation, although some have fuller names. But God knows the name of every star in the universe already! Next time you look up at the night sky, reflect on this and remember the awesome and incredible Creator who shaped this universe and holds it together.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Right Person?

I haven't followed much the debate surrounding President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court. I know I should care more about this, but quite frankly I can only keep so many issues at the forefront of my attention, and this one isn't the most pressing at the moment. I've seen many positive comments about her and not a few negative ones. This quotation, however, certainly gives room for thought. I'm all for valuing the experience a woman can bring to anything, but to argue that a woman's experience or wisdom is better than that of a man simply because she's a woman, or because she's a latina is patently false, not to mention sexist and arrogant. The Palm Tree Pundit has nicely shown how appaling this argument would be if made of almost any other contrast. But in the modern world one doesn't have to be logical or balanced, as long as one chooses to denigrate the right opponent.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sinking to New Lows

I have never been much of a fan of "special interest" Bibles. I guess for me it comes down to the belief that the Scriptures in and of themselves are adequate to speak to every individual, regardless of any affiliations or backgrounds. I can see some value in a basic study Bible that provides background information on the text itself. But I see no purpose in the proliferation of Bible's that aim to "open" the Scriptures specifically to men, women, blacks, whites or any other group. It seems to me we are doing precisely the opposite of what God wants. He wants to unite us in his body. We, however, are trying to subdivide the body in the hopes of ever-greater sales.

Just when I thought we'd hit the bottom in this category, I saw the American Patriot Bible in the bookstore recently. Words cannot express the feelings that came to me. I think this review captures all of my criticisms quite well and probably more eloquently than I could, so I encourage you to take the time to read it.

Being a believer is not about being a patriotic American. I think that the two have fairly little in common, in fact. I'm not saying that we cannot love our country. But my allegiance is not first and foremost to my country. It is to my king and to his kingdom, which is above all countries and includes many and women from every nation, people and language. His kingdom is not a place to wave the flag of a particular nation. I cannot find any evidence in Scripture to support the idea that America is God's new chosen nation. To claim that is to implicitly claim that other nations just don't matter as much to him, which is arrogant and unbiblical. In the era of the New Covenant, there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, American or non-American. We all stand equal at the foot of the cross. So do we really need a Bible to tell us how wonderful it is to be American and how proud we should be of this fact, a fact which most of us had no control over anyway?

A Helpful Conversation

I had a helpful conversation with my beloved wife last night. She reminded me that our God more often than not reveals his plan to his people at what seems like the last minute. This is true throughout Scripture and has been true through our life together. As I said yesterday, I wish this weren't so. I'd so much prefer that God make the path clear and smooth, that I would know well in advance what is going to happen so that I can prepare accordingly. But that is not the road to growth in faith. I recognize that. But it doesn't necessarily make it easy to accept! So I continue to pray that he will give me a revelation, showing me day by day what to do so that I don't wander aimlessly. But I will pray this in the confidence that he will answer--in his time.