Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Waiting Game

I read Psalm 37 this morning with the kids. Once again, I am amazed by the prescription found there. I'm starting to think of Psalms as the Bible's pharmacy.

Fear? Prescription dispensed in Psalm 27
Depression? Prescription dispensed in Psalm 13
Lack of sleep? Slanderous friends? Swimming in the cesspool of your own depravity? You'll find just the cure, right there in the Psalms. I'm sure of it. 

There are a few questions I typically ask the kids as we cram around the table with all of our Bibles opened. First, what is the tone of the psalmist in this particular psalm? Some people are really affected by 'tone', as in, "I really don't like your tone." My seven year old is like that. One word spoken emphatically and out comes the lower lip; down droop the eyebrows. And behold: he's in the "I really don't like your tone" snit. Sometimes he's justified--which earns him a hug and an apology, and sometimes he's just being too sensitive--which earns him a 'get over it.'  Tone is as much a part of communication as words. And all communication has a tone. We should be listening for it, because it's a very effective tool. 

So, we look for tone in each psalm. Is he angry, fearful, snarky, peaceful, depressed, moody, thankful, prayerful?  Does the tone stay consistent throughout the psalm or does it change from beginning to end?  And if it changed, what understanding did he gain to bring about that change?

Second, how does this psalm teach us to worship God? Psalms are so real. This is one regular guy living life's ups and downs. He deals with family problems, depression, fear of death, enemies who seek his harm, his own sin, and a great big God.  Every psalm offers us a glimpse of just how big God really is, right there in the midst of life's most sanctifying trials. 

Honestly, though, the most important thing I've learned reading through Psalms is that God's Word gives us solutions, that resorting to 'therapy' or 'psychology' or 'psychiatry' which is not based nouthetically on the whole council of God often diverts us from God's solutions to man's solutions. The danger is that man's solutions come from man and are fraught with flaws.

Today, I was struck by the emphasis on fretting in Psalm 37. There's the typical dismissive shrug of the wicked, which always makes me smile, something like...
The wicked, he's a cockroach. De nada. And his guts are gonna splatter all over the fly swatter. Fuggedabowdit. He's so outta here. 
Doesn't the smug assurance of the psalmist over God's ability to deal with the wicked just crack you up?
Today's dismissal went like this: 
He's gonna wither and die like the grass.
You're gonna look for him and he won't be any more.


But then focus changed to the fretting of the righteous. Why? The kids and I mused together that if the exhortation is to not fret in the presence of the wicked, that must be because our natural reaction would be to...fret in the presence of the wicked. You know that's true; I know that's true. And, of course, someone merely telling me not to fret does not suddenly turn off my fret switch. 

The psalmist is an excellent debater, too. He knows we need a little convincing.  He reasons with us by telling us why fretting is not okay: it will only lead to evildoing. 
So, if I fret in the presence of the wicked, it will lead to evildoing? My evildoing? 
Always one step ahead of me, the psalmist gets out his pad. 
There's his pen...
Here comes the prescription...
I can't wait, because I'm a woman of action. 
Chop, chop, people. Let's solve this problem. Let's get 'er done.  And he says?

He says, "Wait." 

So, when I'm in the presence of the wicked, and they're getting away with things no decent person would do, I'm supposed to...wait. 
Not solve the problem?
Not plot their downfall?
Not lie on my bed at night and review their rap sheet and dream up all the punishment I surely hope is coming to them?
Uh, no.

Waiting is as much against my nature as fretting is natural to my nature. Waiting is hard. Waiting does not accomplish anything. Waiting means sitting still and doing nothing.  Ugh. I do not like waiting.  I do not like it, Sam-I-am. But fretting does not do anything either.  So, on its face, the solution is either fret or wait--which I translate as either accomplish nothing or accomplish nothing. 

Really, the fretter and the waiter look the same from the outside. That's because fretting and waiting are conditions of the heart and mind. Heart and mind. That's starting to sound awfully familiar. Let's climb over to the other side of that hill called Calvary and see what the New Testament has to say about ideas like fretting.  Yep. There it is.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:6-7
From the supreme Cardiologist, Himself...
God's prescription for fretting, chronic or acute:
Take a daily dose of Thanksgiving and a supplement of Waiting.  
Do not refrigerate. 
Repeat as needed. 
Risk of addiction: High.

Wait for the Lord and keep His way,
And He will exalt you to inherit the land;
You will look on when the wicked are cut off. Psalm 37:34

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Praying for the Three Branches of Government

What a privilege to be an American. We are blessed with more freedom and more prosperity than any other nation. Many of us, though, are grieving over the current state of our nation. For an intercessor like me, this is simply a reminder to pray. I've been praying for our nation for years, and here are the things I ask for.

For the president:
That he will be saved
That he will surround himself with godly counselors with a godly agenda
That God will confound the advice of his wicked counselors
That he will be wise in his domestic policies
That he will be wise in his foreign policy
That God will bless his good governing
That God will block his bad governing
That he would respect the Constitution and the rule of law
That God would even now be raising up a godly man for the next administration

For Congress:
That God would raise up the righteous and remove the wicked
That the good would refuse to compromise in any form with the evil
That the wise would refuse to compromise in any form with the foolish
That God would block the evil from succeeding
That they would respect the Constitution and the rule of law

For the Supreme Court:
That God would raise up righteous judges and remove the wicked
That the current judges would be passionate about justice
That they would render just verdicts and write just opinions
That they would have God's agenda and not their own
That they would respect the Constitution and the rule of law

The grand potential we have for good government will only be realized to the extent that we have good governors in place in every branch.  As American Christians, we can come boldly before the Throne of Grace and intercede. We can pray for wisdom, mercy, and direction. We can plea with God to stay His righteous hand of judgment. Who knows but that we have survived this long because a remnant of God's people are praying.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Praying for the President

In the circle I move in, there's nothing quite like politics to get the blood boiling.  Politics is, after all, the way we American Christians grapple with how to take dominion in the good and godly jurisdiction of government. And those of us who are passionate about this good and godly jurisdiction know that the outcome of every election cycle can bring us one step closer to blessing or destruction.

Then, of course, there are the Christians who would not deign to get their hands dirty in such a secular, filthy pursuit. "I only care about the Gospel," they sniff, as if the Gospel-driven Christian would not care about God's jurisdiction of government. That seems misguided to me, considering the all-encompassing range of the Cross's finished work.

We can disagree about whether the American Christian should or should not care about government. But we cannot disagree about God's marching orders to every Christian citizen on the planet. We must pray for our leaders.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 1 Timothy 2:1-3
Today is Inauguration Day. President Obama begins his second term as arguably the most Constitutionally dangerous president of our time--after FDR and Woodrow Wilson.  He will assemble his cabinet and his closest advisers, architect his foreign and domestic policies, and move forward with his agenda to dismantle our individual liberty.

But, love him or hate him, he will be the most powerful man on the planet for the next four years, and he will feel that burden acutely. He will be asked to handle crises and make critical decisions in the blink of an eye. If we have national emergencies, he is the one who will be expected to maintain poise and offer comfort. And he will age. Power and authority and 'the buck stops here' does that to a president.

Love him or hate him? Hate him, dear Christian? I wish it weren't so, but there are Christians of my acquaintance who hate our president. They withhold their prayers for the president like the four-year old who decides to get even with his parents by breaking his own toys. They bluster childishly, "He's not my president."

Please. Yes, he is your president. He won the election, even if you didn't vote for him. That's how elections work. And, yes, you have to pray for him. And, yes, it would be best if you would start by praying for his salvation. That's how adult Christians behave.

But perhaps you think he is beyond the power of salvation. He's too wicked for the Gospel. Then let me introduce you to two evil kings who were humbled--and saved--by the mighty hand of God.

King Manasseh became king of Judah when he was twelve years old. Raised by his father, Hezekiah, he must have had plenty of exposure to good and godly governing. But Manasseh was not like his father, and the blessing which Hezekiah had brought to the kingdom of Judah by purging the land of wickedness was short-lived. Evil came back to Judah, and Manasseh led the way, enthusiastically and capably.
He rebuilt the abominable high places.
He built altars for Baal and Asherah.
He worshiped the stars.
He built an image in the Lord's house.
He sacrificed his son by burning him on an altar.
He consulted occult practitioners.
He provoked the Lord to anger.

It's that last one that makes me quake. Even the most simple-minded Christian can see that things looked dire for King Manasseh. And his situation did, indeed, turn dire. The Lord sent the army of Assyria who captured him with hooks (I don't know what that means--but it cannot have been good) and took him away. But there in the darkness and despair of his captivity--which was a direct consequence to his own sin--there, lying in the bed he had made, so to speak, he finally turned to God. Now that is remarkable.

Yet even more remarkable than Manasseh turning to God is that God turned to Manasseh. In fact, God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God. (2Chron 33)

But most remarkable of all?
Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.
He restored the altar of the Lord.
He commanded Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.
Where is evil King Manasseh today? I strongly suspect he's casting his crown around the throne of King Jesus.

Wicked kings and radical conversions, though, were not just found in Israel.
Nebuchadnezzar was no ordinary king; he was more like an emperor. And his Babylonian Empire was known and feared the world over. Thus, he would stand at his balcony, survey his lands, and applaud his own might and glory. In short, he loved his power and his position. But God does not brook with pride or share His glory, and the die was cast. Nebuchadnezzar would be humbled.

Nebuchadnezzar was driven by God into the wilderness where he lived like an animal, unkempt and eating grass, devoid of human reason. At the end of this madness, his reason returned to him. And what was a wilderness to the unredeemed eye was really just part of the Creator's great cathedral. Then this humbled emperor looked up, and he lowered his voice. He acknowledged that God alone is mighty and glorious, and he bent his knee to the Creator/Redeemer God.  Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the king of heaven, for all His works are right and His ways are just. (Daniel 4:37)
Where is Nebuchadnezzar now?
Probably sitting next to Manasseh.

If God is able to redeem wicked Manasseh and arrogant Nebuchadnezzar, is He not able to save President Obama? So pray. Pray for salvation to come to the Obama household. And if you find yourself believing that Mr. Obama doesn't deserve God's mercy and grace, then you don't understand the power of the Gospel. And you don't understand the stories of King Manasseh and King Nebuchadnezzar. Don't for one minute think that Mr. Obama is too wicked for God's salvation.
God saved you, didn't He?

Besides, there is a supernatural transaction that takes place when you pray for your president. Some time may elapse, but obeying God's commands will change your heart. It can endear him to you. I've been praying for Mr.Obama for four years now. He's my president. Prayer humanizes him to me and reminds me that he is made in the image of God. It binds him to me in my heart. I disdain everything this governor stands for; I disdain his contempt for the rule of law and liberty. But I am genuinely concerned for him as a lost soul who is not yet in right standing with God.

Let's go to the Throne of Grace for our president.
Let's bang down the doors of Heaven for his redemption.
Let us, who are dearly loved children of the Father, make intercession for one who is not.

And let's remember that wicked-kings-and-radical-conversions is Gospel business. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

2012 CC Song of the Year

That was fun.

Oh, don't get me wrong. There were a couple good things that happened. Alex settled into the next season of life and found that she is quite the academic, after all. Luke graduated from high school and has eagerly embraced college and adulthood.  The family stayed healthy and safe. We celebrated twenty-four years of marriage. Those were some reasons for rejoicing.

But that was not, unfortunately, the predominant tenor of 2012.

For me personally, it was the year of living dangerously. I tried to champion liberty. I did everything one woman with a facebook account and a blog could do to derail the Romney/Ryan campaign. And I upset not a few friends. I watched a good man, a statesman, get railroaded by 'my' party. I watched good, strong Christians  cave to pragmatism (and the atheism that it signifies). I debated the role of the State and the role of the Church with anyone who would listen.

In August, my suspicion that there was something rotten in DC was confirmed when the Mafia rode into Tampa Bay riding a herd of elephants. John 'Don Corleone' Boehner led the way in a shameless game of corruption when he made the delegates an offer they couldn't refuse.
They couldn't refuse it.
Because posters with (other names) were ripped from their hands.
Because he rammed down a convention rule-change in which the vote was scripted on the teleprompter,
Despite the 'nays' from the floor.

Then August turned to September, and suddenly the pressure was on  people like me to 'play nice.' By that, of course, they meant I was expected to vote for their man.

(and I said this to a man's face, so I've got no qualms about saying it here)...
If you ever thought that this girl would go quietly,
If you ever thought that this girl would take her cues from the Wide Path...
you would be utterly mistaken.

Yes, 2012 was a year of head-banging, chin-dropping, face-palming frustration for our household. Where have all the good men gone? Not to DC, that's for sure.

And, as if the state of the State was not bad enough, not corrupt enough, just take a gander at what the campaign season did to the state of the Church.

Enter Billy Graham.
Reverend Billy Graham.
Evangelist Reverend Billy Graham.
Behold the doctrinal pretzel Mr. Graham twisted himself into as he declared that we should no longer call mormonism a cult.


Thanks, Mr. Syncretism. Thanks for cheapening the Gospel, the blood that bought you, the Truth. With shepherds like you, who needs wolves? If I were you, Reverend, I'd make haste to the Cross to beg forgiveness of the Savior you betrayed.

More head-banging. More chin-dropping. More face-palming.

And the day after election? What was the Church doing that day? If my facebook account is any indicator, American Christians were full of declarations that God is still in control and Jesus was still the King. Truly, I lost count of how many times people comforted themselves with those proclamations.

As if you wouldn't need that reminder if your candidate had won...
As if I wouldn't need that reminder if my candidate had won...


But my friend Keri reminded me that Jesus IS still king. And she was right. He is the sovereign monarch over all of His creation. There is not one part of all His creation over which He is not Lord. So, perhaps I've all been lamenting the wrong thing when I ask where the good men have gone.

There is only One who is good.

And the government shall be upon His shoulder.

Yes, we're supposed to take dominion. Yes, we should be concerned about bringing goodness to the jurisdictions of family, church, and government in this fallen world. Yes, we should exercise our right to vote and assemble and petition the government and speak freely. Frankly, if we don't correctly view them as responsibilities first, then we can forget securing them as rights.

But this life is a vapor. And this American experiment shall pass away. This Constitutional democratic republic shall pass away. But the Word of God shall stand forever.

Jesus is the King. No, we can't say America has ever covenanted with Him as king (though I'm afraid that's what many people meant the day after the election). But He is king. He's an absolute ruler. He doesn't need our vote or our covenant or our approval to exercise His rule.

The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

In the end, proud knees will be forced to the ground; the iron fist of the absolute King will make it so.
Humble knees will bend in willing submission; the scarred hands of the absolute King will receive them.

And we will all know then what He knows now:
The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ. 

It's not that it doesn't matter what happens in government right now. It does. It absolutely does. But it's good to be reminded that elections do not ever change God's plan. Regardless of who is sitting in the Oval Office, or at the head of any State, for that matter, King Jesus is on His throne.

And He shall reign forever and ever.

Some people grasp that earlier than others.  George Freiderich Handel was certainly one of them, and in the wake of 2012 politics, I'm glad he did. Handel's magnum opus, Messiah, is really a Bible study about God's promise of redemption and His plan for the Savior. Written in 1741, it still remains immensely loved today. And the climax of the oratorio is The Hallelujah Chorus, a declaration of the supreme Lordship and Kingship of Jesus.

When Messiah is performed today, the audience still stands during the Hallelujah Chorus. Curious, that despite the increasing darkness of our world, men still recognize a tradition which brings them to their feet when the truth of Jesus' reign is being proclaimed in the chorus.

But one day, none of us will be able to stand.
King of Kings.
Lord of Lords.
And He shall reign forever and ever. 

Carmel Conversations 2012 Song of the Year:
"The Hallelujah Chorus"
 (and the tenors totally kick it at the end of this rendition!)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

In Search of Nobility: My 2012 Reading List

Another year, another round of reads...
I found this year that the recurring theme, albeit unintentionally, was nobility.  Perhaps I began to notice the theme because this is my second year of immersing myself in Charles Dickens. Perhaps I began to notice it because I trudged through a couple of disappointing books people asked me to check out. Whatever the reason, nobility began to find its way into my vocabulary with increasing frequency as I considered character--or lack thereof.

Back to Dickens...

I have a love-hate relationship with Mr. Dickens.  I hate that his cast of characters almost always swells to some unmanageable number.  I hate that I can get to p. 307 and come cross a name that niggles familiarly at the back of my brain because the last place he was mentioned was about p.15. I hate that I'm supposed to remember who this is when I've been introduced to forty-three other characters since this character's debut.  Add to that about ten substantial plot lines ... and it's easy for even the most attentive bibliophile to get confused.

But...the man is a literary genius. And for that I love him. By the time his tale has ended, all of the characters and plots have converged in one incredible climax. Truthfully, my favorite part of every Dickens novel is the denouement. The wicked have richly received their just desserts, and the noble are vindicated. I always close the book with a contented sigh.

Nobility.  It chooses what is right, despite personal cost. Indeed, true nobility doesn't even consider the cost. More than that, though, nobility trains its appetite for a higher standard of goodness which turns it to greatness. When nobility walks into the room, the less fortunate are ascribed dignity, and the low of character begin to squirm. Nobility remembers she sits at the King's table; nobility invites all to meet her there where she serves grace, kindness, and goodness.

Little Dorrit's Mr. Clennam is noble.
So is Molly Gibson of Wives and Daughters.
Silas Marner learns nobility, as do The Wingfeather Saga's Igiby children.
And...some novels lack any nobility at all:
Collins' Hunger Games, Hill's Mrs. DeWinter, and Rivers' Her Mother's Dreams.
They left me sad and unfulfilled.

I often found myself trying on characters.
The Murdstone siblings of David Copperfield.
Absolutely resolute in their opinions.
Absolute strangers to grace.
(Oh please, don't let me be the Murdstones.)
Dickens' Amy Dorrit.
Overlooks offense.
Honors the dishonorable.
(Sigh. I wish I could be Amy.)
Gaskell's Mrs. Thornton.
Independent. Self-sufficient.
Impeccably just. Frugally merciful.
(Ugh. I think I might be Mrs. Thornton.)

Yes, I could use a bit more nobility.
As for non-fiction, my top picks tend to answer problems I see in the Church.

I've observed that believers who have previously been steeped in legalism tend to swing to the other extreme: the conviction-less place of antinomianism. What an unfortunate place to land. Several books on my list press for church membership and make a persuasive case for defining who's in and who's out. But David Wells' Turning to God: Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural was most excellent at proving the need to be a convert, not merely a follower, of Jesus Christ. Wells describes insider conversion and outsider conversion and sets appropriate expectation for how that will look. Bravo, Mr. Wells.

The Future of Justification was a lucid response to NT Wright's unfortunately weird theology. I'm sorry, friends, but anyone who speaks of Liberation Theology or the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, in complimentary terms is more than half a bubble off plumb. But those are merely indicators. Wright's larger problem is his bizarre notion of justification. Piper kindly lays the smack down. Smack he lays, nonetheless.
Boom, Mr. Wright. Just boom.

What is the mission of the church? Ludwig von Mises isn't the only one rebuking the notion of social justice. And the world is not the only place this concept has been misappropriated. The Church has wandered off into the weeds, too. DeYoung, who, as everyone knows, is my favorite young theologian (rivaled only by Matt Chandler), sets the record straight in What is the Mission of the Church?

Without further ado, here is my list. There are books I recommend and books I really, really don't. There are books I read to the kids for school and books I read just for me. There are books that took their maiden voyage and books I read again and again. This year's total: 56 books; two short stories; 14,954 pages. (I've included pages because I was challenged by our family friend Owen to a page contest. You can read Owen's most excellent blog here.)

Enjoy. And may 2013 be filled with more ideas, more great characters, more great authors, and more nobility.

Revolution by Ron Paul (167)
Maid of Fairbourne Hall by Julie Klassen (410)
Baptism: Three Views by David Wright, Sinclair Ferguson, and Bruce Ware (192)
Thomas Jefferson: Architect of Democracy by John Severance (179)
Madeleine Takes Command by Ethel Brill (192)
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (256)
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (644)
Classics on Prayer--Books 1-4 by EM Bounds (387)
Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Petersen(339)
Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx(96)
The Future of Justification by John Piper (188)
The Help by Kathryn Stockett (530)
What is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile(120)
In Search of Honor by Donnalyn Hess (152)
After You Believe by NT Wright (284)
The Law by Frederic Bastiat (80)
A Praying Life by Paul Miller (268)
Hero of Heroes by Iain Duguid (114)
The Reb and the Redcoats by Constance Savery (203)
Love or Die by Alexander Strauch (69)
Subversive by Ed Stetzer (232)
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (299)
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens (860)
Tell No One by Harlan Coban (346)
Return of the Dragon by Cynthia Rupp (150)
One Hundred Cupboards by ND Wilson (289)
What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert (268)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (274)
Trivium Mastery: The Intersection of Three Roads by Diane Lockman (260)
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis (186)
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien (233)
Evangelical Fallacies by DA Carson (142)
Seven by Jen Hatmaker (221)
Pleasures of God by John Piper (257)
The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler (224)
Silas Marner by George Eliot (172)
A Cricket in Times Square by George Seldon (149)
Red Like Blood: Confrontations with Grace by Joe Coffey and Bob Bevington (218)
Soul of Science by Charles Thaxton (248)
Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum (188)
Charlotte's Web by EB White (184)
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (729)
The Church by Mark Dever (166)
Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus by Jonathan Leeman (132)
Turning to God: Reclaiming Christian Conversion as Unique, Necessary, and Supernatural by David Wells (179)
The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn (253)
William Carey by Jeff and Janet Benge (211)
The Blue Umbrella by Mike Mason (425)
A Holy Ambition by John Piper (150)
Dandelion Fire by ND Wilson (466))
Her Mother's Dreams by Francine Rivers (483)
True Spirituality by Frances Schaeffer (180)
Of Courage Undaunted by James Daugherty (162)
Jane and the Genius of the Place by Stephanie Barron (361)
Mrs. DeWinter by Susan Hill (349)
Skipping Christmas by John Grisham (227)
Chimes by Charles Dickens (106)
The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens (105)