Sunday, December 14, 2014

Dreaming of a White Christmas

One of my favorite things in the whole world.

Free of all the things I can't stand in the world
like heat
or sand
or noise.

Memories from childhood of sledding
and snowballs
and opening my bedroom dormer window and climbing out on the roof with my dad to watch as it fell.
So quiet, it makes its own music.
So beautiful, it is its own art.

No, there is nothing like snow.

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. 
Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow. (Isaiah 1:18)

That is what the Incarnation set it motion.
It gave us hope that the stain of our sin would be cleansed.
It rescued us from the flames of Hell that were licking at our feet and beckoning us to our own destruction.
It silenced the noise of our flesh that tries to interfere with the noise of our Father.

There is just something about snow.
It is clean and cold and quiet whether it lies in the peaceful valley or on the rugged mountaintop. The constancy of the properties of snow just stuns me into awe at my Creator and makes me fall to my knees in worship of my Redeemer.

We still do battle with the heat and the sand and the noise.

But it's temporary.
What the Incarnation set in motion,
and what the Resurrection permanently secured,
will one day, once and for all,
make a permanent reality.

Until then, I remember the clean, cold, quiet snow of my childhood,
and I dream of the clean, cold, quiet snow to come.

Merry Christmas from my family to yours.

May all your Christmases be white.

Monday, December 1, 2014

How Not To Be Insufferable

Like a song of ego that clings to me,
How the thought of you does things to me.
Never before has someone been more...
Insufferable. (Nat King Cole--sorta)

"Everyone under 30 is an idiot." (Pastor Bill Wilson--verbatim)

I remember distinctly where I was when crusty Brooklyn evangelist Bill Wilson said that. I was 29, married for almost 9 years, and the mother of four children. Well, alrighty then.

Now that I've got three adult children in their twenties, with a fourth almost there, I've been observing a lot about this demographic. I'm now interacting with twentysomethings more than I have since I was a twentysomething all those years ago.  For the most part, this is a delightful portion of the population. They are zealous, idealistic, and enthusiastic. They have the world before them and almost nothing in their way. I love them; I love hanging out with them; I love our chats; I love hearing them think out loud or grapple with life's issues. Of every four twentysomethings I personally know, three of them are a delight because those are the kind of people my adult children choose for friends.

But there's often an undercurrent of omniscience, insufferable omniscience.

Insufferability. It sets in about the senior year of high school and crescendoes during the college/early career years. (Think 18 to 25. But Wilson isn't far off.) Then, with any luck and a whole lot of God's intervention, it tapers off--much to the relief of our family and friends.

And don't bluster at me. Your mother agrees with me. She told me so. :)
Nobody loves me but my mother, but she could be jivin', too. (BB King)
No. She loves you; she's your mother. But unconditional love and blind adoration are not the same thing. At least, they shouldn't be.

Is it because they're fresh out of the logic stage? Is it because so many of  them debated in high school?  Is it because they've argued with their peers so long that they think everyone is their peer? Is it because they've learned so much stuff that they confuse a 'vast-knowledge-of-stuff' with 'wisdom?'

I've also noticed that marriage changes things.
Probably because there's nothing like a spouse and children to get your eyes off your own fascinating navel. You think your parents are bad? or your sibling roommate? Your spouse is all of that rolled into one, plus more. Methinks it's no accident that marriage often begins right in this season.

Now don't get your underoos in a wad. It took me more than twenty-nine years to reach the age of 30. I know of what I speak. I wouldn't go back and re-live my twenties for anything. I shudder at the person I was. And to be fair, the battle between your ego and God's glory is a battle you will fight your whole life. It just seems to be less sanctified at this stage of life. At least, that's my own story.

Theologian/pastor/author Dr. RC Sproul wrote, "As I reach my twilight years, perhaps the last three holes of the back nine, I have lost the omniscience I briefly enjoyed as a college sophomore."

I love that quote.
I love it so much it's my favorite quote of all time. And I hooted aloud when I first read it in Dr. Sproul's book, The Consequence of Ideas, because I remember the omniscience of my own sophomore year.
It's true.
And it's accurate.
Deathly, scathingly accurate.

I love it so much that I'm going to say it again.
As I reach my twilight years, perhaps the last three holes of the back nine, I have lost the omniscience I briefly enjoyed as a college sophomore.

Youth is awesome. But it's still youth.
Young adults are awesome. But they're still young adults.

Timothy, who pastored the church of Ephesus, was young. And it is in Paul's letter to Timothy where we find the oft-quoted (by youth) "Let  no one despise you for your youth..." passage (I Timothy 4:12). So let's back up and see what God had to say to young Timothy. I think the secret to not being insufferable might be found in this letter.

Pretend you're on Google Earth. Take one step out. The whole verse, which we are wont to abridge, says, "Let no one despise you for your youth, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe." Translation: there's a whole boatload of valid reasons to disdain youth. But you, you, don't supply any good reason for that disdain from your own life. You be an example that contradicts the well-earned, bad reputation of youth. You be an example in your speech, your conduct, your love, your faith, your purity.

GoogleEarth, another step out. Let's look at the whole letter, I Timothy, which I shall herein subtitle, Listen Up, Young'n. What did the Apostle Paul feel was important enough to write this young man? Let's see...

Once upon a time, in the faraway city of Ephesus, there was a young pastor named Timothy...

(This is your cue to go get your bible. I'll wait.)*

Chapter one...
Grace, mercy, and peace.
Dear Timothy, don't forget God's grace--getting what you don't deserve, God's mercy--not getting what you do deserve, and God's peace--which comes from being thankful for aforementioned grace and mercy.
Pure heart, good conscience, sincere faith.
Dear Timothy, remember this is the aim. By all means, drink deeply of pure doctrine, but it's not so you can win arguments. It's so your heart will be pure, you conscience will be good, your faith will be sincere.
How not to be insufferable according to chapter one.

Chapter two...
Pray for all men.
Dear Timothy, prayer will remind you that, while you can't change people, God can. Prayer for all men will remind you that other people have worth.
How not to be insufferable according to chapter two.

Chapter three...
How to conduct oneself in the household of God.
Dear Timothy, just in case you thought your vast wealth of knowledge qualifies you for leadership...
Let me remind you that it is the humble success of a well-ordered home and a disciplined life that makes you truly qualified.
How not to be insufferable according to chapter three.

Chapter four...
Public reading of scripture, exhortation, teaching. Devote yourself to these. Practice, immerse, persist. 
Dear Timothy, public scripture reading, public exhortation, public teaching, these will grow you and the ones around you. There's nothing like scripture, and the exhortation and teaching of it, to remind you of who you were without Christ, who you are and will be because of Christ.
How not to be insufferable according to chapter four.

Chapter five...
Widow, elders, rebuking someone older than you.
Now I'm all for being on a first name basis with young adults, say high school graduates. I think it's important that they be included in the adult circle of fellowship, in iron sharpening iron. On the one hand, they become peers; on the other hand, there will always be different levels of wisdom, purely because one has walked this earth longer than another. Like Moses said, Rise in the presence of the aged, young'n.
How not to be insufferable according to chapter five.

Chapter six...
Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called 'knowledge.'
Timothy, don't be a dufflepud, dear one. If someone declares persuasively that watermelons are of the devil, take a deep breath because your peers will be saying, "Watermelons are of the devil? Hear him, hear him! Watermelons are of the devil! Watermelons are of the devil!" Sometimes, ideas masquerade as knowledge, and fools masquerade as sages. Don't be their town crier.  And don't follow them over the edge of the cliff. Stop. Think. Refer back to chapter four.
How not to be insufferable according to chapter six.

And Timothy lived wisely ever after.

I don't mean to imply that I Timothy is just for young adults. All of us get the benefit of  the Holy Spirit's wisdom, through Paul, to Timothy. In fact, of all the lessons above, the one God is most deeply impressing upon my own conscience this past fall is rising in the presence of the aged. I see how far off I am, how far I have to go. But I am thankful for the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the power to change through Him.

Google Earth, final step back. Timothy is the New Testament's example of young adulthood...
Because a man of Paul's spiritual calibre had vetted him--and approved him.
Because a man like Paul installed him as a pastor, wrote to him, walked alongside him.
We don't know he was living a commendable life because of his stack of medals or his popularity on campus or his whizbang intellect.  We know he was living a commendable life because an older, wiser man in the faith was investing in him.

I suggest that a man who has walked with God for decades has more to offer than a young seminarian.
I suggest that a woman who has finished parenting has more valuable advice to offer than an early-childhood education major.
I suggest that a finely aged pastor with one brain tied behind his back will trump a therapist on her best day.
I suggest that a small-business owner who has lived through business cycles, bear and bull markets both, will have more valuable economic wisdom than the Armani-suited Wharton graduate.

I suggest you imitate Reheboam less, seeking wisdom from your peers. It didn't work well for him; it won't work well for you.
I suggest that you imitate Timothy more.
Find your Paul, and drink him dry.

So flee youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. II Timothy 2:22 

*This is not an exegetical reading of  I Timothy. :)