Thanks for stopping by, whether you got here by a link or hitting "next blog" -- I am glad you are here. I've also done some writing on homeschooling, and what I learned thinking I was teaching.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Keeping the Message Real

I enjoy reading website, RealClearReligion.org, and a recent post, and its subsequent comments showed me what Paul meant when he warned the Ephesians church times were coming when folks’ itching ears hardened their hearts to sound preaching – and godly living. (2 Timothy 4:3-4) Paul saw what was going on in 1st Rome, and I see America in the 21st century, and nothing much has changed in the public arena of promoting our religion. 

What’s changed over two millenniums or more are all the people who met Christ through the preaching and practice of His followers. Truth be told, however, as Mark Osler reminds us in Christianity Without Arrogance Christians’ arrogance may be the reason others back away from Christ, preferring to follow their own path of spirituality. 


Talking too much and loving too little.

How to make a proper introduction to the living God in times where so many gods compete for our affection and loyalty is one thing – living out everything I’ve commended is another.   One part of me wants others to know that peace of God that passes understanding – to have hope – to be set free from the bondage. Another side of me just wants people to straighten up and fly right because I am so done with their drama! And another part of me just wants to be able to keep doing the little harmless things I love doing and really aren’t so terrible.

So, can I minimize the appearance or reality of arrogance?  Mark Osler makes helpful suggestions – and they reminded me of how Agatha Christie described a powerful Christian witness that she heard early on, and it remained with her  all her life. She could not recall the name of the teacher, but her lesson when Agatha Christie was young, never left her.  Agatha Christie wrote:

She was short and spare, and I remember her eager jutting chin. Quite unexpectedly one day (in the middle, I thing of an arithmetic class) she suddenly launched forth on a speech on life and religion.

All of you,’ she said, ‘every one of you — will pass through a time of despair. If you never face despair, you will never have faced or become a Christian, or known a Christian life. To be a Christian, you must face and accept the life that Christ faced and lived; you must enjoy things as he enjoyed them; be as happy as he was at the marriage at Cana, know the peace and happiness that it means to be in harmony with God and with God's will. But you must also know as he did, what it means to be alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, to feel that all your friends have forsaken you.Hold on then to the belief that is not the end. If you love you will suffer, and if you do not suffer you do not know the meaning of the Christian life.’

She then returned to the problems of compound interest with her usual vigor, but it is odd that those words, more than any sermon I have ever heard, remained with me, and years later they were to come back to me and give me hope at a time when despair had me in its grip.

This passage has been a goad – reminding me that the conviction, passion, of our faith in Christ can drive truth home to hearts in ways we may never fully know – this unnamed woman spoke from her heart, a reality of living the Gospel. In times of tears, this is not the end – anymore than the most joyful moments, all there is to the grand life. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Where is the Baby Nest?

My daughter and her family have a collection of crèches – all are kid-friendly.  But one figure in the largest crèche they withhold until Christmas morning – the infant Jesus. The manger, filled with hay, is empty.  The children handle all the pieces – indeed the figures in the crèche migrate;  sometimes the Virgin Mary goes into the play-mobile kitchen –and sometimes Joseph and the shepherds join Darth Vader in an adventure or two. But one morning our grandson couldn’t find that hay-filled manger and tore around the house crying out: Where’s the baby nest? 

It became a question I asked when I learned that Revelation 12, the current topic of our weekly Bible study has been described as another view of the Christmas story – reading it, I want to know where that baby nest is too!  What John saw sure doesn’t sound like what Luke and Matthew report! Eugene Peterson agrees and writes:

It is St. John’s Spirit-appointed task to supplement the work of St. Matthew and St. Luke so that the nativity cannot be sentimentalized into coziness nor domesticated into drabness, nor commercialized into worldliness. He makes explicit what is implicit in the Gospel stories . . . The splendors of creation and the agonies of redemption combine in this event, this center where God in Christ invades existence with redeeming life and decisively defeats evil. It is St. John’s genius to take Jesus in a manger attended by shepherds and wise men and put him in a cosmos attacked by a dragon. The consequence to our faith is that we are fortified against intimidation. Our response to the Nativity cannot be reduced to shutting the door against a wintry world, drinking hot chocolate and singing carols. Rather, we are ready to walk out of the door with, as one psalmist puts it, high praises of God in our throats and two-edged swords in our hands. (See Psalm 149:6, Reversed Thunder –The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination, pp121-122)

Is that how the remembrance of Christ’s birth inspired you? 

 In spite of good spiritual intentions, I bought into the world’s celebration of a baby’s birth, holed myself up with loved ones, and had myself a merry little Christmas. By the season’s end, I am just so glad the hoopla is past, and so looking for a fresh start in the New Year, that I forget to remember the person whose birthday I just observed is A Savior – which is Christ the Lord.  No wonder, I don’t have much of a new song, nor have I much of a sword.  
Revelation depicts spiritual warfare – the supernatural battles between God and Satan.    Such a revelation isn’t the lens through which most of us admit we see the world in which we live, even as we live in a world filled with spiritual longing and superstition. The Bible is plain, though, from Genesis to Revelation that God is an infinite and personal spirit. (Not symbolic) And His enemy, while not flesh and blood, is also spirit, and masquerades so we don’t immediately recognize him, or his servants. (2 Corinthians 11:14) He is no symbol either; he is God’s most unwilling servant.  A created being, he serves God’s purposes. Unhappily, the visible church says too frequently – Satan isn’t really real – and the Holy Spirit is just a symbol. (George Barna)   
Dealing with realities beyond us doesn’t make them non-existent or invincible.

C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, wrote: 

"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight." 

And he warned
"The safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."
Curling up and falling asleep in the comforts of this great nation is a great way to gradually squander a great inheritance. Willfully ignoring a holy and personal God may seem desirable – Eve thought so.

 God help me wake up and sing --   – and make useful a limp sword.  (Hebrews 4:12)

"Only when we stand in awe of God will we cease to stand in awe of Satan."  (Erwin Lutzer, The Serpent of Paradise

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Abolitionists

“The American Experience on PBS has produced an engrossing series, The Abolitionists, that has captured my imagination. Viewing the setbacks, the quarrels, and the pain that people endured . . . so that the curse of the enslavement of Africans might be ended reminds me how easy it has been to turn away from hard issues.

Weaving together biographies and history, the docudrama is a primer on how long and costly the fight for the abolition of human slavery was in the United States. People, who were too often names to be memorized, are emerging three- dimensionally. Historical events, like the Mexican War, and subsequent laws that Congress passed to appease the South are more comprehensible, when people’s reactions to them are dramatized.  Being reminded of this “history” isn’t quite the same as watching the rise and fall of folks living in a grand manner across the pond.  (A.K.A. “Downton Abbey)     

The writers freely credit the Christian faith many leading protagonists shared in this struggle.  Many abolitionists would not bow to the conventional wisdom that slavery was an unavoidable evil; many who fought the good fight were not ashamed of Christ’s name. Nor, did they recant that slavery was (is) an abomination when facing the cost of their convictions.

Some people believed God would use them to change their world. This series on the abolitionists showed that over decades the things they spoke and wrote changed their nation – it was a dreadful battle, a long battle; but each did what they could, and involved many whose names we don’t know to take a part in forcing the end to chattel slavery.  And even as they fought with other Christians who justified the institution!

What would Harriet Beecher Stowe or Angelina Grimké say if they could speak today to the women in the church? What message would Frederick Douglass, or William Lloyd Garrison say to the young men who have so many children by so many women they couldn’t remember their names (a possible new reality TV series)? 

Theirs was an era that was more biblically literate than ours – our challenge is change the minds of many who have no idea or interest in what God thinks.  Maybe too many Americans have never even been taught the value of human life?

Believing we have a purpose, and the infinite, personal God has a plan – who knows, that for such a time as this we engage again the hearts of some? We might save one child or their mom and dad from the pain of abortion? (Esther 4:14)

If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?"

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Is God MIA?

A writer for Christianity Today wonders why God is missing from Downton Abbey, the PBS series that has engaged Americans as surely as Brideshead Revisited did almost three decades ago.

It's been well reported that Downton Abbey is the most successful British period piece since Brideshead Revisited, the series based on the Evelyn Waugh novel. Both are set in roughly the same geographic and economic regions—and as of Season 3, with some time overlap as well. Both stories mark long and descending trajectories for once-in its characters' passionate and complex relationships with God. great English families. But the plot of Brideshead is driven by and steeped Waugh's story turns on a crisis of faith that both sums up the sea changes of aristocratic life at the end of the nineteenth century and transcends earthly questions with spiritual ones.  (Why is GOD Still Absent from Downton Abbey?) 

Perhaps God’s  “absence” from the new series testifies that folks in the second decade of the 21st century have stopped grappling with God and left the wrestling ring of faith. (Jacob wrestles with God) The Genesis account of an all-night wrestling match between Jacob and a man captures my heart’s struggle with the knowledge of my guilt and grief and my understanding of God – but I doubt I could make it through a literal night like Jacob did.  Too often, I give up struggling because of my own willfulness or worries.  And sometimes it just hurts too much to keep hanging on to an unseen God.   

This isn’t so distinct from the struggles of Americans or Brits in last century – or from the angst of Evelyn Waugh’s memorable characters, or our new friends from Downton Abbey.  Real life hurts – and our struggles alongside the reality of war, human frailty and financial ruin that both works of fiction captured are recognizable.  But none of struggles, or the author, Evelyn Waugh, faced the cultural, social and legal marginalization that Christians face today.

Britain: Judge Rules Christians Have No Right to Refuse to Work on Sundays
A new court ruling in Britain says Christians have no right to refuse to work on Sundays because it is not a "core component" of their beliefs, The Telegraph reports . . . The ruling  . . . essentially means the courts are now in a position of deciding what is and what is not a "core" doctrine of Christianity. (Crosswalk)

Explaining our faith may become more problematical as Christianity is no longer an influencer of the culture. But living out our faith – well, that's the history of what it’s all about. Here’s where the Bible can be helpful. (Psalm 119:65-72)

And here’s where I hope Christian artists and writers will succeed – pointing folks to God in times when His enemy seems more powerful and attractive than HE is.

God, I believe – help thou my unbelief  (Mark 9:24)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Amending the Constitution - and Myself

Were you surprised that Congress made a last minute “rescue” of the US economy from the so-called fiscal cliff? 

The last minute rescue added to the debt we owe, without changing anyone’s expectations of what the government will do for them. What was rescued was the politicians!   These legislators and the President and Vice-President have jobs and secure pensions and health care most of us do not have.  So, an e-mail forward I received recently made sense.

Proposed  28th Amendment to the United States Constitution: "Congress shall make  no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not  apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and, Congress  shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives  that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States ."  

Whichever side we rooted for, neither side protecting us from the “fiscal cliff” ever had the courage to get real on all the government promises in which we have encouraged Americans to trust.  These legislators struck a deal negotiated behind closed doors after years of failing to legislate. It appears the majority of them struck a deal primarily to save their own skin!

Because neither the politicians nor the media pundits could or would put in plain words the implications of what we owe nationally and personally, we may be forgiven for thinking we now have a bit of breathing space in an oxygen-depleting economy. 

Have we?

I don’t know – but I think the late “rescue” surely means most of us will be paying more to live in the United States of America, under more regulations, local, state and federal.  One explanation of the rescue I heard this morning on HNL television said: Americans will have 2% less in their paychecks.  

Maybe if the incoming 113th Congress will finally give us a budget, from which we can discern the government’s goals and objectives, we can hazard an informed guess about our financial future.  

Here  are two troubling bits of information that point in a scary direction. Take a deep breath before reading them:

My humble advice: Keep watching C-SPAN television! More important, consider accepting the invitation God offers through His prophet, Isaiah:

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.