Friday, November 27, 2015

Courtship in Crisis? Nah. The Book Review

He needs to be courageous. He needs to be the kind of writer who punches up. As King Lune of Archenland puts it, "Never taunt a man save when he is stronger than you. Then, as you please." And the motive force of all that he writes should be that he deeply loves what he is defending. Some people sign up because they have to shoot something, and wolves will do in a pinch. But others, who are more faithful at the task, fight because they love what they defend. (Douglas Wilson "Pithy or Toxic? How to Write Good Satire" Intercollegiate Review, Fall 2015.)
So I'm in a bit of a pickle. A while back, the anti-courtship blog post came out, and I came out swinging. So far, so good. But I also speculated publicly about the author's motives. Not so good. I should mention here that the author and I have never been introduced. To me, he's just Joe Stranger, author of Book. But as we live in the same region and our social circles have significant overlap, weighing in is not inconsequential. He's an 'international speaker,' as his book cover reminds us, and a public persona. I'm not even a blip on the regional radar screen. In that respect, I should feel free to 'punch up', as Douglas Wilson suggests. On the other hand, he is my younger brother in the Lord, and I should not taunt the man.

Alas, this is a two-edged pickle. I would like to be known as the Courtship Lady about as much as I would like to be known as the Sabbath Lady or the Libertarian Lady. I am fully convinced, but conviction needs a conscience, not a fan club. And Majority has always been a poor way of plumbing wisdom. I do not defend courtship because I deeply love courtship. I defend courtship because I deeply love my children, and I deeply love wisdom. The trick, then, was to write a response in which I say nothing that should not be said and everything that should be. I think this post succeeds.

My wish for Mr. Umstattd is the same as my prayers for my own single adult children: a godly spouse and a rugged marriage, and a heaping helping of contentment in this interim of singleness providentially appointed for him by his good and sovereign Heavenly Father. What follows, then, should not be taken as personal attack but as a critique of his methods and assertions.

Courtship in Crisis by Thomas Umstattd, Jr.
1. The Hook
The book opens with the author's personal story of a courtship gone very, very wrong. If events unfolded exactly as is documented in the book, then it was truly a hurtful, horrifying experience. If. However, I would caution readers here that  one man seems right until another states his case. It is natural for us to rally around someone who has been wounded. I found myself thinking, "Poor guy! This is just terr--HEY! Wait a minute!" I've been bitten too many times, taking up one person's offense, only to have the other side come to light, and the villain, it turns out, is no villain at all. It may be absolutely true that the dad in this story was unreasonable and capricious. Or it might not be true. There is another, untold side to this story. And as it was a private affair, we should expect never to be enlightened; there can be much honor in silence. This narrative can only be regarded as complete when BOTH sides have stated their cases. If the dad were to bring contradictory facts to light, well...We would be naive to take sides right now. As it stands now, it is an appeal to pity.

2. The Research
There were several problems with the claim that lots of research was done for this book. First, when there were personal stories, there seemed to be zero effort to corroborate facts with the accused. Even a simple, "Mr. Jones declined to comment' would have eased my mind at least a little. And the guy who was rejected by twenty fathers. TWENTY? This is a claim of legendary proportions. No footnotes, no verifiable facts whatsoever. Did the author 'do the research' and get those twenty names, dates, locations? And if it is true, should we not consider with Douglas Wilson that this is a feature, not a flaw, of the system? Are you not curious about just what kind of guy could get rejected by twenty fathers? You should be. Second, the author does seem to have read some opposing viewpoints, like Wilson or Harris, and that's commendable. However, the silence on Baucham was deafening. I don't know why What He Must Be If He Wants to Marry My Daughter was never addressed. But this is the handbook on courtship, after all, and it's hard for an "I googled courtship, and it's not in the Bible" hermeneutic to stand up to Baucham's level of exegesis. (To be fair, the 'google' comment was not made in the book but in the time leading up to the book.)
For every bad idea that gets its own book, there's a better book with a better idea. Engel has his Bastiat; Bell has his DeYoung; Umstattd has his Baucham.
Third, scriptural proof was scant at best. It gave this reader the impression of having been waved lightly over the flames of scripture in an effort be be taken seriously as Christian meat--but it was still mooing. If we're going to talk about how scripture informs this area of our lives, we should probably talk about how scripture informs this area of our lives.

3. Sweeping Statements
This one could link back to the research concern. "In many churches, it's taboo for married couples to talk about sex." Stats? Footnotes? Sources? Did the author visit 'many churches' and interview the married couples? Unfortunately, it was sweeping assertions like this one that seriously weakened this reader's trust in the author's ability to present a strong argument. And it isn't the only one. "One of the common modifications in Modern Courtship is for couples to keep their relationship secret from friends until the engagement. Couples do this because they fear their community will blow out the fire of their budding relationship with expectations, pressure, and meddling." Ehhhh, not sure he got his facts. I expected more scholarship than this.

4. Naivete
(Okay. I think I've been quite restrained, golden even, up to this point. But here's where I 'punch up.' If one is old enough to be an international speaker/public persona/thrower down of anti-courtship gauntlets, one is old enough to have the smack laid down wherever smack is required. And, boy howdy, some smack needs to get laid down here regarding just horrid comments on sin and sexuality. If my own adult children said this stuff, they'd get the same response. So you can swallow back the 'You're so mean' nonsense. I'm not mean; I'm Mom.)
The author asserts that willpower will keep us out of sexual sin. Just say no to Froyo after the movie. And his proof text is not scripture, but a study on cookies and radishes. Not.even.kidding.
He also says, and I quote, "If we focus on the banquet, we won't be tempted by the dumpster of premarital and extramarital sex." I have this hilarious friend who would quip, "Hey kids, sex is GREAT. Now go have fun, and don't put anything of yours into anything of hers!" Focusing on the banquet of all of God's righteousness does NOT keep us out of the dumpster of sin. Thus, Romans chapter 7...and the rest of the epistles. And the gospels. And the Law. And the pro--well, you get the point.
Here's another one: "In Erica's community, no strict ritual full of 'guard your heart' rules governed dating, and the community lacked a 'hook up and break up' culture. Because of this, most hearts were guarded and most promiscuity disappeared naturally." Um. I may or may not have laughed out loud at this point. Promiscuity has been going on since time immemorial. Without even trying, I can think of five people conceived in the good ol' days of going steady. If his grandmother thought boys weren't thinking about sex when they were dating, perhaps he would have done better to talk to his grandfather. His grandfather would have assured him, as men have assured me, that boys were thinking about sex. Boys think about sex because that's how God made them. And that's good, good for marriage, good for creation; it just needs boundaries.
Umstattd's flippant treatment of sin and sexuality incensed me, especially when I think of impressionable young people reading it. 

Back to restraint...

5. Jurisdictions
"We value liberty more than life itself." Aha. THERE it is. There is the driving force behind this book, a kind of 'you're not the boss of me!' approach to life. My problem with this statement is the confusion between 'liberty' and 'libertine.' Someone who values liberty values good government. So we value a state that does what a state is supposed to do, a church that does what a church is supposed to do, and a family that does what a family is supposed to do. We disdain a state that excommunicates adulterers or raises children, a church that raises children or punishes criminals, a family that punishes criminals or excommunicates adulterers. We are glad when the state punishes criminals, the church excommunicates adulterers, the family raises children. In contrast, the author speaks like a libertine who disdains the role of the family in an adult who is ready for marriage. But listen to Baucham: "Nothing in the New Testament would suggest that fathers should stand down as protectors of their daughters' virginity." (55) There's an example of the heavy lifting in What He Must Be. Umstattd's book doesn't even break a sweat.

Honestly, I'm puzzled by all of this. I am left wondering what the burr is under the author's saddle. What I would love to see is some statistics on the percentage of the Church that actually favors courtship; I imagine it's minuscule. And if it is, courtship can hardly be left holding the bag for what the author sees as prolonged singleness. But attacking the families who do courtship (like all twelve of us) is like attacking your quiet neighbor for being quiet. You might as well wage war on Zoroastrians.

Did I get anything positive out of the book? Yes. While the author's fundamental premise, 'courtship hurts people' is about as sound as 'guns kill people,' I am mindful that even gun enthusiasts respect guns. Likewise, as parents, we would do well to approach courtship with the same respect. These are real people. These are real men and women with real giftings and uniqueness and hurts and sin and baggage. These are Image Bearers. And they deserve courtesy, gentleness, and kindness even in the midst of rigorous inspection. I like to think that by the time all of our children are married, anyone who has ever interacted with our family will have been treated respectfully, even if firmly.

Let me reiterate. I wish the absolute best to the author in his pursuit of marriage. I have a high view of marriage because God has a high view of marriage, and it doesn't matter a whit to me whether you got to the altar via dating or courtship. This post is not about my view of courtship. There are several places I could have elaborated on what I think, but this is strictly a book review, so I refrained. Second, maybe courtship is really in crisis, or maybe not. I am not personally convinced, but only time will tell. We have not gotten a child to the altar via courtship, but it seems like the wisest course of action at this time.

The work that can ably prove that courtship is truly in crisis will require:
1. A publisher who oversees bona fide research, as in actively gathering hard data, corroborating facts, interviewing representatives from all sides (yes, even the dreaded dragons), not merely passively assembling a bunch of blog comments. No scholar worth his salt would regard that as actual research.
2. A pastor/theologian who oversees and ensures careful use of scripture.
Maybe someone will write that work. But Courtship in Crisis in not that work.

In the final analysis, I predict this book will find a comfortable spot on the shelves of the average Christian bookstore, alongside Osteen and Eldredge. I predict it will get rave reviews from teens and twentysomethings, egalitarians, and hands-off fathers.

I'll be over here giving thanks for my Dragon. :)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Beauty of Stewardship

Just finished Wendell Berry's The Way of Ignorance.
Mind blown.

I've always had a rather suspicious view of art. First, there's my own make-up. I am much more comfortable with things that are measurable and quantifiable. I much prefer things I can track or prove to things that are subjective. Facts don't need a beholder; they just are.

Second, though, is my experience with representatives from the art world. I get all squinty-eyed and suspicious when dealing with artists. And my art appreciation prof back in college essentially finished me off.

He defined art as "the manipulation of materials by a human being for aesthetic purposes." Dr. Courtney would be pleased, I suppose, that I still remember his definition, word for word, twenty-six years later. He would probably be less pleased to know that it was because I was on to him.

'By a human being.' That was the important part. Why? I'll tell you why. The great art hoax of 1964. One Pierre Brassau, who wowed the art world in Goteborg, Sweden, and prompted one art critic to write that he "paints with powerful strokes but also with clear determination. His brushstrokes twist with furious fastidiousness. Pierre is an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer."

Modern Art is Dumb.
Exhibit A:
Brassau was really a monkey named Peter.
Not even kidding.

Yup. Journalist Ake Axelsson gave a monkey a canvas and some paints--and dumped the modern art world on its head. You know you're in trouble when a monkey can keep up with your brilliance...

Anyway, back to my class.  Dr.Courtney also insisted, when not attacking Truth with broad strokes (and I'll get to that in a moment), that art does not imitate life. Up went a slide of Eric Enstrom's Grace accompanied by a monologue peppered with disdain and a flick of the thumb and 'anyone can do that.'

Oh? 'Cause I couldn't.

No, real art shakes off the surly bonds of earth and transcends mere creation. Catch what he was saying there. The work of the Master Artist was not worth imitating. We creatures could do better. And speaking of God, who really believed all that stuff about sin and salvation anyway? His eyes surveyed the class.

Seminar class.
Over 300 students.
This was my heart-pound-in-my-chest, I-don't-have-a-choice, I-have-to-do-this moment.
I raised my hand. I was the only one.
His eyes locked on mine.
"Do you?" he asked. "And can you briefly explain what you think the Bible says to the rest of the class?"

Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.
"That we are all sinners; that Jesus had to die for us because of that; that without Him, we go to hell--

"Actually," the good doctor interrupted, "the Bible never mentions hell. Not once. But thank you for being honest."

Oh, he was a peach.

Alas, the midterm was a nightmare. I can't even remember the picture, but I remember the test. He put a slide up on the screen. We wrote an analysis in our blue books. The end. I got a 'D.' Apparently, though, so did the rest of the class. So the last half of the semester came and went, during which he continued his relentless attack on 'bad' art, which was really good art,  and praised 'good' art, which was really not art at all. Then there was that field trip to the Norton Museum of Art where he told us (I promise I am not making this up) that the best painting in there was a Jackson Pollock. No way. I could have sworn it was a drop cloth.

Modern Art is Dumb.
Exhibit B.
Jackson Pollock.
Rumor has it that Pollock set out, with his drip paintings, to prove chaos. What he did, though, was prove order. Tortured soul? Perhaps. Artist? I can't even.

But the final. That was memorable. Here was the deal. He told us that if we could ace the final, he would toss the midterm and give us an 'A' in the class.

And the slide? Oh gosh, I couldn't believe it. The slide was...
Composition III in Red, Yellow, and Blue by Piet Mondrian. (Look it up; I'll wait... ... ...) I about fell out of my chair. I didn't know whether to laugh or get really angry, throw my blue book at him, and march out of the auditorium.

Modern Art is Dumb.
Exhibit C.
Piet Mondrian.
I could paint this thing with no eyes, no hands, and the stump of my tongue. Peter the Monkey could paint this thing. And I was supposed to analyze this?

Now let me just say that I am not one to get on your prayer chain unless there is blood, fire, or exposed bone.  But I did call in the reinforcements for this day. And knowing that people I loved were praying for me, I started to write. I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote. Oh, this was rich. This was good. I knew it was good. And I didn't believe a word of it.

I got an 'A.' (Thank you, Lord!)
The great art hoax of 1989. Trust me.

So. Have I sufficiently defended my squinty-eyed suspicion of art?

Modern art is manipulation of materials, dappled by human arrogance and disdain for the Creator, for the purpose of self-glorification.

Enter Wendell Berry.
Start with arrogance, and end in destruction.
Start by humbly admitting our human limitations, and end with creational flourishing.

I don't just mean human flourishing. I have been very focused on human flourishing, certainly in term of what is most important to me: my marriage, my children, my friends, the Church. I mean creational flourishing. I mean taking this world we steward and treating it with greater care, greater understanding, greater awe. I mean seeing the art of the Creator everywhere.

It is Berry's fascination with the earth that has really shaken up my take on the world. And by 'earth', I don't mean 'planet' so much as 'dirt.' When I think of the beauty of the earth, I think of our planet: the magnificent mountains, the towering redwoods, and our vast oceans. I think in grand, large-scale, epic proportions. But Berry thinks of the dirt right underneath our feet, the creek running through our property, the working animals, and the diligent caretaker.

Berry loves the dirt. He loves the things that live in the dirt and on the dirt and off the dirt. He loves living forests and clean water and working farms. This agrarian topic is so far outside my areas of interest, part of me couldn't believe I was still reading. But Berry's humble, gentle love for Creation compelled me to read one essay after another. My art prof thought Creation wasn't even worth imitating; Berry leaves his reader understanding that Creation is not just worth imitating; it's worth preserving.

Art has always been the Ecclesiastes of my story: meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless.

I now see art in other places. I see art in a logger and the way he loves his horses and his forests.
I see art in a rancher who turns his land from an overgrazed wasteland to a working wilderness.
I see art in man finding, not job, but vocation.

In short, I now see art in stewardship, and I'm inclined to re-write my art prof's definition of art:
Art is the use of Creation by the stewards of Creation to reflect back glory to the Creator. 

I don't think God ever intended for elbows coming out of foreheads to be art. Or nudes walking down staircases. Or green crayons on notebook paper.

But that's precisely what we get when we forget there is a Creator, and He has a purpose.
That's what we get, Denethor, when we forget we're stewards, and we think we're king.
We act like monkeys trying to make masterpieces--and it shows.

Modern 'art' today fails because of its insipid self-absorption and its disdain of creation. On the other hand, environmentalism fails because it deifies the earth and vilifies the steward. Only dominion helps us to see everything as God intended in the very good beginning.  Therefore, only dominion will bring about creational flourishing, for flora, for fauna, and for man.

It's as if the Master Artist had beauty in mind all along. Only His plan of dominion can redeem the manipulation of materials by a human being for aesthetic purposes. Veer into either the ditch of modern art or the ditch of environmentalism...
and we miss beauty completely.

We have a great capacity to hurt. That includes not just each other, but the places where we live. That's the Fall. But we have a great ability to rule and to restore. That's grace.
And that's beautiful.

That's a beauty that Pollock and Mondrian and Dr. Courtney know not of.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Blood Moons and Suckers

We've been told,
God has warned us,
Jesus is comin' soon. (Blind Willie Johnson) 

I watched the blood moon last night. I don't know about your house, but over here, we've pretty much had a collective shrug at all the eschatological hubbub around this event. Like I tell my kids, "If anyone starts telling you that they've figured this thing out, run. Run fast. In the other direction." There's only one thing we know for sure. No man knows the hour. I have that on good authority.

But as I sat there that night and watched the shadow of the earth creep across the face of the moon, I couldn't help but think. Jesus IS going to come. There WILL BE a day when that happens. Until then, He orchestrates these beautiful lunar eclipses that demonstrate His glory and His majesty. I hope you didn't miss that as you watched.

A few years ago, Brett attended a conference on eschatology, in which seven different views of the end times were presented. Seven. Talk about a theological fun-house. Someone is distorting what's said in the scripture. The problem is...I'm just not sure which one. They were each, after all, arguing from the scriptures. You gotta give them credit for that.

John Piper recently wrote an article in which he exhorted his students not to be suckers--eschatological suckers. He pointed out that we all have a tendency to think that there are nothing but blue skies head, even though God has warned us, in the scriptures, of a coming final judgment.

Seems John Piper and Blind Willie are of the same mind on that point. I have to agree.
Where is the promise of His coming? 
I don't want to be that sucker.

Still, there is another side to that coin. We can be suckers in another way, too. We can be suckers by getting sucked into much ado about blood moons. I don't want to be that sucker, either. I don't want that distraction.

I want to be a good wife, honoring and helping my husband.
I want to be a good mom, bringing up my kids in the fear and nurture of the Lord.
I want to be a contributing part of my church.
I want to work out my salvation in fear and trembling.
I want to be kind and tender-hearted and put away all anger, wrath, and malice.
I want to make it my aim to live a peaceful and quiet life.
I want to be transformed by the renewing of my mind.
I want to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all things.
I want to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God.

I do not want to distracted, not even for a moment, by blood moons. I don't want to suspend any of the good things, things I know I'm told to do, to run to the hills. Blood moons shouldn't make me scoff; neither should they make me fear. Blood moons should make me worship the One who holds the world together by the word of His power.

We are salt and light. But some people track Jesus' return like NORAD tracks Santa on Christmas Eve. What a waste of the brief time that's been given to us. I suspect that while they're circling the wagons around their star charts and their 'prophets,' they are salt losing its saltiness; they are lights under a bushel.

(Pause here for a rant about John Hagee. John "I left my wife for the church secretary and I don't care" Hagee? Hagee's got a thing or two comin', none of which look like a crown of life. If Hagee's your hobby, you need a new hobby. And that's all I'm going to say on that point...)

Jesus did not come back the other night. No surprise there. Some of you are laughing that I even had to say that. On the other hand, some of you were seriously thinking about hunkering down.

I don't want to be a blue skies sucker.
I don't want to be a run-for-the-hills sucker.
I want to be the Church.
I want to be a salty preservative in a culture of death.
I want to be light in a dark place.

So let's keep on keepin' on, one foot in front of the other, loving God and living holy out in front of a watching and dying world. Let's live in such a way that our Lord receives us with, "Well done, Salt and Light. Enter into the joy of your Master."

Like a bride waiting for her groom, we'll be a church ready for You,
Every heart longing for her King, we sing, 
Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come.*

*(Even So, Come by Jason Ingram, Chris Tomlin, Jess Cates, 2015) 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Shout Your Abortions?

Shout your abortions?

Dear woman who has had an abortion,

If you had an abortion because your father failed to protect you, because he thought treating you 'like an adult' meant cutting you loose to do your own thing, because he abdicated his responsibility, because he'd rather be your 'friend' than your 'father,' because he insisted that confronting you would drive you away rather than bring you to safety,
or because he abandoned you, never knew you, abused you, or had better things to do or more important relationships to pursue, I am so sorry.
Please know that there is a better Father out there.

If you had an abortion because your church shamed you, rejected you, cast you aside, tossed you out, I am so sorry. Please know that there is a better church  out there.

But be honest.
Did you give your father a chance to protect you?
Did you give your church a chance to support you?
Or, if you're really, really honest with yourself, down in that part of your heart where only you and God can see...
Were you proud?
Were you willful?
Determined to have the quick fix?

Do you find that you have, not so much a compassion for women who have had abortions, as a solidarity with them?
Do you find that you want to lend your voice to the cacophony, rejoicing in this murderous, self-worshipping, God-rejecting mayhem?
Do  you find that you try to civilize abortion by shifting the terms of the debate?
Do you find that you'd rather talk about a barrel full of red herrings (like government programs or blame-shifting or social 'justice'...) than the tiny soul who has inherent worth and is entitled to life?
That's right; that baby is more than just a tiny body with a beating heart. There's a soul there, a soul, and you have NO IDEA what you are dealing with. Or Whom.
Do you find a certain smugness for mincing pro-life and pro-birth? or 'yeah, but' attitudes that claim I can't have principles if I don't also have perfection?
Do you find it cathartic to shout your abortion?

Don't do this wicked thing. Please don't do it.
There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. Proverbs 14:12 
You think your way leads to validation.
You think your way leads to freedom.
You think your way leads to life.
But it doesn't; it leads to death.

There is a way that leads to life.
There is a faithful and just Father who will forgive you and cleanse you from all unrighteousness, if you confess your sin to Him.
There is a Savior who became abortion and selfishness and rebellion on the Cross and absorbed all of God's wrath against those things, so that you could boldly approach the Throne of Grace.
There is a real body of bona fide believers who have received mercy and grace in their time of need, and they stand ready to be conduits of that same mercy and grace for you.

Do you know where the dignity is found in this debate?
Not amongst the shrieking divas shouting their abortions and waving hangers around like deviant keepsakes. Dignity is found in the sisterhood of saints who love much because they have been forgiven much.

Lay down your weapons and your arguments and your fight.
You will not win this one.
Neither your volume, nor your passion, nor your numbers will win this one.

This is not about winning.
This is about living.
You living.
Living with a forgiven past, a new heart, a fresh start, by way of a faithful Savior.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?
Such were some of you. But you were washed; but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
I Corinthians 6:9,11

Now, that's something to shout about!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Gospel of Psalm 121

I flagged the other night. I could feel it. Funny when sin comes upon you unsuspecting, crouching at your door. I was just puttering around the kitchen, and, whamo! there it was in my heart. It spread to my mind, and I was beginning to 'go there' where I shouldn't. It spread through my body, where I could feel my jaw tighten and my muscles clench.

Take every thought captive...
Master it, or it will master you...

It was a momentary stand on the precipice of sin, vanishing almost as quickly as it came. I fought it; I caught it--thanks only to the Holy Spirit. But it had come. I can't deny that. I don't mean to imply that me battling sin is somehow infrequent. It's just that this time was more like a weird out-of-body experience in which I was simultaneously fighting the battle and observing it.

The heart is desperately wicked...
Every inclination of the heart is only evil all the time...

Sin did not pounce on me from the outside. It was not lurking around the corner. The devil didn't make me do it. Sin came from inside my heart because that's where sin always comes from. I was nobody's victim. I didn't need therapy, counseling, or healing. I needed to repent.

I lift my eyes to the mountains. From where shall my help come?

Psalm 121, my favorite psalm, is a Song of Ascents. When the Jews made each of three annual, required pilgrimages to Jerusalem, they sang songs of ascent. And those mountains? We're inclined to read into the text that they were a source of help. But Ligon Duncan disagrees. Those mountains, which signified Jerusalem, were a menace. They were the reason the psalmist was crying for help in the first place. I have to agree.

But forget for a moment the physical dangers of the road. Forget the wild beasts. Forget the lawless men. Forget the blistering heat of the day or the terrifying darkness of the road at night. They were going to Jerusalem to meet the Lord.

If there's one area where the ancient Jew has the modern Christian licked--in spades--it would be the way he feared the Lord, as in, he was terrified. These were people intimately acquainted with what the Lord could do, not for them, but to them. It was part of their psyche because it was part of their history:
the earth opening up and swallowing people whole...
serpents biting and killing them...
fire consuming them...
plagues decimating them...
enemies dragging them off to captivity...
(For a more complete catalog of God-induced misery, see Deuteronomy 28. Yikes.)

So here's the Jew, making his annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It was supposed to be a time of feasting, celebrating, not what the Lord had done to them, but for them. Nevertheless...he will be cut off from his people if he doesn't go. And he must not appear before the Lord empty-handed when he does go--you know, the same Lord who did those things cited above...

Where does his help come from, indeed.

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Oh. So the Lord, who is making this requirement of me, is going to help me carry it out. Now hold on. What does that sound like? The gospel. This sounds like the gospel. God is going to ask me to do something hard...and then He's going to help me get it done.

Author Trevin Wax says in his book, Gospel-Centered Teaching, that we must be careful to read all of Scripture in a way that is distinctively Christian. He says that if we read, for instance, the Old Testament in a way that a faithful rabbi would concur with...we're reading it wrongly.

So how does the gospel impact the way I read this, my favorite psalm? I can see how the Jew on his pilgrimage might read it. But how do I read it through a cross-centered lens?

He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.

Sleep is an incredible gift. On a good night, the sun sets, the work is over, the melatonin kicks in, and we're off to LaLa Land. On a good night. But not all nights are good nights. I can think of a number of things that keep me from having a good night:
A child heavy on my heart...
A difficult relationship...
A health issue...
The future...
The past...
But most of all, the ultimate sleep stealer is the reality of my sin and the fact that that makes me not right with the Lord. Scares the livin' daylights out of me. For some reason, I'm able to think more clearly when the sun is up. For some reason, I'm able to see the facts, preach the gospel to myself, and understand the renewing mercies of the Lord during the day. And that's why I need to sleep, not think, at night.

But He will not allow my foot to slip. That truth should give me rest. He keeps me, AND He will not slumber. Here's the good news: the Lord does the work of wakefulness so that I can find rest and sleep. No wonder the psalmist says elsewhere that He gives sleep to those He loves.

The Lord will protect you from all evil; he will keep your soul.

Evil. My first thought of evil is bad guys. Criminals. Terrorists. Tyrants. People who seek to do me harm. But the fact is that the most damaging evil is the evil in my own heart. I know that. Deep, deep down, I know that. We have got to start thinking correctly about evil. God does NOT promise to keep me from the bad guys. He promises to keep my soul.

When I had that out-of-body experience the other night, it was sobering. I was instantly aware of how sinful that was against the Lord, what a precarious place that put me, how quickly something offensive could bubble up out of my heart. But He was faithful. As quickly as I sinned, He was right there with a warning. And He was right there with forgiveness. He was keeping my soul.

The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.

One day, two thousand years ago, another Man made this pilgrimage. He looked to the hills of Jerusalem, set His face like flint, and went. He went, not to celebrate what the Father had done for Him, but to receive what the Father was about to do to Him. He did not come empty-handed; He offered Himself. And the awful irony is that His sacrifice cut Him off from the land of the living. The Father poured out His wrath...and then the Father turned His face away.

Because Jesus did not appear empty-handed before the Lord, I do not appear empty-handed before the Lord.
Because Jesus was cut off, I will never be cut off.
Because of what the Father did to Him, I can celebrate what He will do for me.

The Cross is not ancillary to Psalm 121.
The Cross is key to Psalm 121. 
So let's read it again, this time through the lens of the Cross.

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains. From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord who made Heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day nor the moon by night. 
The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. 
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever. 

The Lord brought me in. And the Lord will bring me all the way home.
My help comes from the Lord.
That's gospel, people.
That's gospel.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

God's Not Finished With Me Yet--The Power of Hope

I saw the power of hope this week.

It was a tough week for one of my kids. Seemed that every time I turned around, I was rebuking, scolding, and yes, I even yelled at her one evening. She was tangling with everyone; her jaw was stubbornly set in a 'so what' posture; her eyes blazed.

I truly have no idea what set her off. But I could see it was ruling her.

After three straight days of hauling her into the Crisis Room--I mean, study--hauling her into the study, she and I were both emotionally spent. So, after I triaged her to get littler ones put to bed, I took her--and my Bible--and headed out back for a little one on one time.

There was a particularly despairing moment when she put her head down on the table and sobbed. This girl needed some hope. She needed it desperately.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 
Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. 
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit. 
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You. (Psalm 51:10-13)

Do you know who wrote this? I asked.
No, she didn't.
King David. Do you know who he is?
Yes, she did.
And do you know that while he was a man after God's own heart, he sinned grievously?
Her eyes were focused. I had her full attention now.

That evening, sitting in the back yard, my little 8 yr old heard the story of David, and his sin against Bathsheba, Uriah, and the Lord. It's safe to say, by the audible gasps, that she was fairly thunderstruck.

Do you know that God heard David's prayer that day? forgave him? restored him?
And do you know that David never failed to have a man sit on the throne of Israel? and that was God's promise to him?
She nodded in wonder. The light was going on...

There is a reason the writer of Hebrews refers to hope as the "Anchor of the Soul."
Without hope, our souls would drift like a ship lost at sea,
no particular direction, no particular destination.
But with hope...
With hope, our souls stay rooted, anchored to exactly the place we should be.
Hope gives us the energy to do the next thing.
Hope gives us courage to do hard things.
And hope has this amazing power to take our eyes off of ourselves and to fix them upon Jesus, who is the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)

Author AND Finisher.
God goes by lots of titles in the Bible.
But that one is my favorite.
He is the author of my faith.
He chose me. He raised me to life. He gave me the gift of repentance. He forgave me. He adopted me as his daughter.
He is the finisher of my faith.
He will not un-choose me, un-raise me, un-give to me, un-forgive me, un-adopt me. That would be the Un-Gospel.
He will sanctify me. He will conform me to His image. He will bring me to the Father.
And on that last day, He will save me.
He started this work. And He will finish what He started.

Between the beginning and the end...
it is hope that anchors me in the Now and the Not Yet.
It is hope that keeps my eyes on Him.
It is hope that keeps me from despair when I fail Him.
And when I fail Him again.
And again.
It is hope that makes me get to my feet, dust myself off, and get back in the race.
It is hope that brings me sleep at night.

So we sat there, the 8 yr old and I, in the backyard, and we prayed. We prayed for forgiveness. We asked God to do what we can't: to create a clean heart in us.

She came out to the meeting, a despondent, hopeless soul.
She left, laughing and light-hearted.
The joy of her salvation was restored.
THAT is the power of hope.

Create in me a clean, clean heart.
Create in me a work of art.
Create in me a miracle,
Something real, something beautiful.
God's not finished with me yet.
God's not finished with me yet.
By His help, I can change, I can change.
God's not finished with me yet.*

*(Rend Collective, 2014)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

After the Darkness, Light

This post has been simmering in my heart for a few months, especially as I meet with more friends who, like me, are well into the season of life where we are launching grown children and coming alongside as they navigate adulthood. Or maybe you're one who's just now walking into this season. Without even trying, I can rattle off name after name of friends who are finding this season more challenging than anyone prepared us for.

Sometimes we are tentative. Things look good; then again, he has yet to be proven in the fires of the big, bad world. And we see further down the pike than he does. We know some of what lies ahead. Like a friend said to me, "He doesn't know what he doesn't know."

Sometimes we are tearful; that gap we left, that unturned stone, it is now showing up, wreaking havoc in her life, and breaking our hearts.

Rarely are any of my friends finding this to be seamless. After spending twenty-ish years laying a foundation, and then building upon it, we finally take the scaffolding down and stand back. It's an awesome thing to watch them stand on their own. Then we breathe again.

Or maybe you're still holding your breath.
Pensive doubting, fearful heart.
This one's for you.

"He is still risen."
The day after Easter, my newsfeed was lit up with this proclamation. I don't have a problem with setting a day aside to remember the Resurrection. As long as...
As long as we don't forget on all those other days.  But if I greeted you today with the joyous proclamation "He is risen!" you would think me odd or maybe clever. I know that because it's June, and there's nary a hint of Resurrection on my newsfeed today. We are forgetful creatures, indeed.

He is risen!
We need this Truth.
We need it on a random Tuesday.
We need it in August.
We need it in the dead of winter.

He is risen!
We need to steep in this hope.
We need it in our church families.
We need it in our marriages.
And we need it in our parenting.

We need, every day, the Truth that God is in the business of raising dead people to life.

"Post tenebras lux."
After darkness, light.

It was the theme of the Geneva Reformation after literally centuries of darkness for the Church, brought on largely by bad soteriology (doctrine of salvation) and bad ecclesiology (doctrine of the church). Throw in widespread illiteracy and an elitist oligarchy which functioned under the misnomer 'priesthood', and we had a first class mess that practically guaranteed no one could be a Berean, even if they wanted to.

Then--at just the right time--God raised up men who would stand up to the Enemy and bring the Gospel to the people. Their goal was to preach salvation to every corner of society, from the king on his throne to the boy who drove the plow. The darkness was beginning to die. The good news of the Resurrection was gaining ground. A full-blown reformation was at hand.

The hope of this reformation was anchored in the Resurrection, that God, who raised Jesus from the dead, could also raise the king and the plow boy to life, justified by a faith that came from God Himself.

After the darkness, light.
Likewise, the hope of reformation in our children is anchored in the Resurrection. The same Father who raised His Son to life can raise your child to life. The same Father can turn your child's heart of stone into a heart of flesh.

Relating to these new adults we know as our children is delightful. There's nothing as wonderful as investing in this parenting relationship and then waking up one day to realize that these fascinating, deep, gifted people are our friends. And we enjoy being with them. More amazing still, they enjoy being with us! Who knew?

They aren't 'fun size' any more, though.
These adult kids are like Texas; everything's bigger.
Gone are the days of potty training and spilled milk.
Gone even are the days of junior high awkwardness, immaturity, and insecurity.
Gone are the simpler questions like, Which airsoft rifle should I buy?

Adults have adult questions.
Who am I, and why am I here?
Is God Who you always told me He is?
We're no longer talking about obedience; we're talking about accountability.
We're no longer talking about rules; we're talking about wisdom.
We're teaching less and dialoguing more.

Adults struggle with adult sins.
This is what has my mom friends in tears.
And this is where we need to remind ourselves that He is still risen.
When the reality of your children's sin nature smacks you in the face, find your hope in the Resurrection.

I was reading Exodus this morning. God toys with the Red Sea as the children of Israel look on. First, He parts it. He parts a sea. Are you grasping this? He parts a SEA in two and leads Israel through it! I would love to have been a fly on that wall. What were the little guys saying? Mommy, look at that big fish! What were the old folks saying? Never in all my born days...Then--at just the right time--He closes it over their enemies. Finished. Done. Kaput. God:1/Pharoah:0. Game over.

But then. In the fifteenth day of the second month, this: they grumble against the Lord.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  They just walked through a sea parted by the Lord on their behalf...and now they are grumbling?!?

Seems incredible to us. But we do the same thing when we fret over our kids.

God raised Jesus from the dead. Think about that. He died a death so horrible, so tortuous and terrible, that His body wasn't even recognizable. And God raised Him to life! God raised YOU from the dead, too. You were dead in your sin. You were at enmity with God. And--at just the right time--God made you the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus!

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too formerly lived in the lust of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us even when we were dead in our transgressions made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:1-6

Have you forgotten that? Did you witness the hand of God in your own life, but you grumble against the Lord that He has not worked in your child? Do you doubt the faithfulness of God because of the sinfulness of your child?

After the darkness, light.
Sometimes, there are sad seasons of darkness that you have to walk through with your child. If she is saved, grieve with her. Forgive her. Come alongside her. And remind her that Jesus has raised her to life. If he is not saved, bring him to the Father in prayer. Petition the Lord to save him. Trust the sovereignty and goodness of the Father.  Look at His Resurrection track record.

All the walls, I will repair.
Thou shalt be rebuilt anew.
And in thee it shall appear, 
What a God of love can do.*

Oh, mama, this is what the Gospel is for!
Jesus died because your children do sin, not because they might sin.
But, praise God, Jesus is Risen!
And the Father is in the business of bringing dead people to life.
That includes your children.

For if we have been united with him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like His. Romans 6:5

Can I get an amen?

*Pensive Doubting, Fearful Heart, words John Newton, 1779, music Justin Smith, 2012, Indelible Grace.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Bruce Jenner the Person raises some interesting questions about grace. I've learned a lot about grace in the last year. I've learned what it looks like to give grace and to receive it. I've learned the power of grace to change lives. But I freely confess that I don't know how to do grace with an unrepentant person who is thumbing his nose at God and glorying in his sin. And I don't know how to do grace with someone I'll likely never meet.

I do know this, though: His grace was not intended as a place to wipe your feet.*

So I admit it. I don't dwell on Bruce Jenner the Person. It's not that I wish him poorly; it's just that he's not even a blip on my radar screen. I don't know the man.  I don't wonder what he's up to today. I don't keep up with his social network. I don't lie awake at night worrying about him. If he were my brother, my neighbor, or my grocery checker, that would be different. But there are 20 degrees of separation here. There is, therefore, little obligation of moral proximity. I will leave that to the believers who do actually know him.

And I'll admit this, too. I'm pretty tired of articles and admonitions telling me I can't speak to the topic unless I am praying for him...Praying for him? I'm praying for my bi-vocational husband, my children, my daughter-in-law, and my granddaughter, my church family, my government, the persecuted church, and a handful of unsaved friends. Bruce Jenner is so far down the list, he's not even on the list. Sorry.

And that precludes me from weighing in on the topic?

I care very much about Bruce Jenner the Proposition.
And that has everything to do with those who do live within my moral proximity: chiefly, my children.

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 
I Corinthians 14:20

Bruce Jenner the Proposition is about definitions.
Mamas, my concern here is for our children. Part of our job as mother, as educator, as discipler, is to teach our children the vocabulary of Truth. And know this, deep in your bones. If you don't...someone else will.

A tree is not a car.
A dog is not a piano.
A man is not a woman.
Lopping off body parts and pasting on other ones does not alter that in the slightest.
Bruce Jenner is a man.

That is not hateful.
Or intolerant.
Or narrow-minded.
It is fact.
And facts are stubborn things.

Facts are also simple things. You are what your DNA says you are. And your DNA is what God says it is. So someone who rejects his gender is doing much more than rejecting his DNA; he is rejecting God, the architect of DNA. It is a shame that we have to spend more than a moment on this silly, stupid argument. These are facts my six year old can grasp. But we do have to spend time here because our culture insists on intellectual regress. In contrast, our homes should be places which foster delight, not doubt, in God's wisdom as Creator. There is no room in a gospel-saturated home for a creation 'oops.'

Bruce Jenner the Proposition is about legacy.
If Bruce Jenner the person were to die today, I would be sobered, not because it was Bruce Jenner, whom I do not know, but because any time a soul who lived at enmity with God has gone to face his Maker, I have the same two responses:
I am saddened and sobered for his eternity.
I am humbled and grateful for mine--because I know I don't deserve it.

But Bruce Jenner the Proposition is not going to die; it is here to stay until Jesus returns. That is his sad legacy. Even if Bruce becomes a believer (make no mistake; the gospel is big enough to save Bruce Jenner), his legacy will always be linked to this sin. Even if he turns from the Wide Path, there will be countless others who will be influenced. That's what happens when we choose foolishness over wisdom. That's what happens when we let our feet stray, even for a moment, to the right or to the left.

Bruce Jenner's legacy is forcing this issue from dark and twisted corners to glamourous magazine covers. He's normalizing a perversion that has never been normal before. Think about it. Do  you remember the night your dad or mom sat you down and explained transgenderism to you? No. You don't. They didn't need to. But we do, thanks to the legacy of Bruce Jenner.

Chiefly, though, Bruce Jenner the Proposition is about bravery.
Jenner works at his perversion like Tim Duncan works at free throws. It's the easiest thing in the world to do. And without the restraining power of the Holy Spirit, we would, too. We love our flesh. It calls to us, and we lean in to it as it beckons over the cliff. That's not brave; that's depraved.

Bravery is doing what is right at the risk of personal cost. Bravery is hard. This man is the darling of the Wide Path. He risks nothing to explore his depravity. But culture stands there in its castle built on sand and calls him "brave."

And, Church, listen up.
Neither is it brave for you and I to curl up into a fetal ball and keep the peace. We are afraid of speaking the Truth because, by definition, the Truth offends. It sets limits. By speaking what Truth is, we necessarily speak what Truth is not. We are afraid of being rejected by friends or co-workers.
We are afraid of being seen as loveless, compassion-less, thoughtless. And we are really, really afraid of standing alone.

Face it.
We fear the rejection of man more than we value the approbation of God.

On the other hand, it is brave to be true to our Lord.
While it is cowardly to keep peace, it is brave to make peace.
It is brave to defend righteousness.
It is brave to stand alone.

You know what, though? Part of me doesn't want to be brave and doesn't want my kids to be brave.
I don't want them to be scorned, mocked, rejected, disdained.
I don't want them to lose jobs, friends, reputations.
I don't want this to cost me. And I don't want this to cost them.

But then I remember Stephen.
And Paul. And Peter.
I remember John Bunyan.
And William Tyndale.
And Richard Wurmbrand.
I remember our current ambassadors in chains,
like Saeed Abedini.
My cowardice makes a mockery of these men who have, like their Savior, set their faces like flint and taken up their crosses.
Or...would it be better to say that their courage makes a mockery of my cowardice?
And rightfully so.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. I Peter 2;11

It is tough right now to be a Christian. But it has always been tough. The path has always been narrow. And we have always been aliens. So set your face like flint, and carry your cross.
It's time to be...

All I know is I'm not home yet. 
This is not where I belong.
Take this world and give me Jesus.
This is not where I belong.**

*Angry Young Men, Randy Stonehill, 1985
**Where I Belong, Building 429, 2010

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Creating a Climate of Commendation

Bobo skee waton daton, ah.ah. ahah.
Eenie meenie bobo skee waton daton, ah.ah. ahah.
Zachary, Zachary! Ah.ah. ahah.
Zachary, Zachary! Ah.ah. ahah.

I know; it's a little weird. But it's tradition, family tradition specifically, in the form of a family cheer. Any time one of the kids does something notable, we cheer for them. And, actually, this is just the first in a set of three cheers we do for them. But I'll spare you the other two.

It's tough growing up. And it's even tougher growing in Christ. It's hard at age two. It's hard at age twelve. Nineteen. Twenty-four. And I can personally testify that life is hard at forty-seven. It just is.

And that's why we need to build a climate of commendation into our family culture. Our kids need it. Our husbands need it. And we need it from them, too.

Building a culture of commendation has its risks. There is a family culture that strives at commendation but, missing the mark, hits on coddling instead. Coddling is ego-stroking, wherein Junior's ego gets stroked for eighteen years. Stroke, stroke, stroke. And before you know it, Junior is believing his own press. Then Junior enters the big, bad world, and realizes that not everyone thinks he's as fabulous as Mama thinks he is. But... but... Mama has raised a professional five year old who is doomed to go through life dividing all of humanity into those who like him and those who don't. Parents, if your adult child is using words like that (they don't like me; they're mean), praise God that He finishes what He starts, and pray that the Holy Spirit will intervene and grow him up. Post haste.

In contrast, from the perspective of Wisdom, our kids should never segregate the world into 'those who like me' and 'those who don't.'
Rather, Wisdom divides the world into those who keep the covenant and those who don't. More than that, Wisdom motivates us to admire and imitate those covenant keepers. 

You might be coddling if...
You think your child can do no wrong, you find yourself rationalizing your child's wrongdoing to others, you fight their battles for them. The bottom line for coddling is that what others think about your baby is more important to you than what God thinks about her.

Let's face it. When your child does/says something dumb, and, oh, I can assure you that they will, you need to be first on the scene and last to leave. You need to rebuke them, take them to the Cross, and urge repentance. Swallow your pride, Mama. Remember that there is a sacrifice for sin; there is no sacrifice for denial. *

So if coddling builds a full-grown five year old, what kind of person does commendation build?

His visitor was conscious of a deep and virile indifference in the man which his wife had called greatness. (GK Chesterton--The Strange Crime of John Bulnois)

His wife was right. There's something tangibly great, something virile, about a man who is indifferent. Not that he's indifferent to the world around him, but that he's unmoved by what it thinks of him. Flattery not only leaves him unmoved; it repulses him. But grieving or pleasing the One whose opinion truly matters? That gets his attention. 

How do we build that man or woman? A large part of it is by cultivating commendation.

When one of my kids was struggling with respecting me, he would roll his eyes or mumble something under his breath as he walked out to 'obey.' We had many go-rounds with the issue, and it was very frustrating for me. I would get angry; he would go cold; sternness defined the relationship. I was beginning to think we would never conquer this. Then the day came when he bit his lip, took a breath and said, "Okay, Mom." That got him commended, not so much because it was perfect (it wasn't), but because it was really, really hard for him.

Building commendation does not involve money or materialism. It is their Dad or me coming alongside and saying, "I saw that; that was hard. I see evidence of the Holy Spirit in you! And that's a commendable." Inevitably, they walk with their heads held a little bit higher.

A few weeks back, the eight year old wanted to go early to church with Brett. And Brett, not realizing she hadn't done her chores, said yes. But when I saw her heading out the door even though the dishwasher hadn't been unloaded, I intervened. Brett, of course, backed me up on that. But the eight year old was very, very disappointed. 'You said I could go,' she pleaded. She had to stay home, despite her disappointment. I'll also add that this one has a history of arguing and debating to get her way.

As I bustled about the kitchen finishing some tasks, I was also watching her do her job. And I observed something beautiful. She was putting the silverware back in the drawers, tears streaming down her cheeks. But there was something about her countenance. Something...resolved. After she finished, I put my hand on her.

'That was amazing,' I said. 'I know that was hard. But I saw you rally and resolve to do it, even though it was hard. That's a commendable!' She straightened up and smiled and leaned in for a hug.

Sure, it's great to see our kids succeed at extra-curriculars. Medals, plaques, and ribbons are nice. We can rejoice with and for our kids when they do well at something. I've cheered for football and cross-country; ballet and baseball; piano recitals and speech tournaments. In view of eternity, though, these successes are very transitory. They aren't worth commendation.

But when we see a kid crucifying his flesh,
taking a thought captive,
putting someone else's needs ahead of her own...
when we see him taking up his cross and being conformed to the image of Christ,
when we see evidence of the Holy Spirit in her,
when we see him doing the right thing, even though it's the harder thing,
now that's a commendable.

Most importantly, when we see a kid choose righteousness in an area where they have, in the past, consistently chosen sin, that's a commendable!!!

Life is hard. The Lord disciplines the one He loves and chastises His sons. Could we, as parents, lift our kids' drooping hands and strengthen their weak knees by coming alongside and offering encouragement?

Sometimes, there are days when I get to the dinner table and realize I've had very little interaction with my children that wasn't directive.
Do this. Don't do that.
That wasn't right.
Work on this.
Some of that is absolutely necessary. Discipling our children involves rooting out the sin in their lives. But having a fruitful garden isn't just about weeding. It's also about fertilizing. If discipline is the weed-pulling of parenting, commendation is the fertilizer. It's the extra boost to the soil in their hearts that encourages healthy, abundant growth.

The writer of Hebrews directs us to the covenant keepers of old "who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead from resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated--of whom the world was not worthy--wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth." Hebrews 11:33-38

Sprinkled throughout this chapter is the Lord's commendation for these covenant keepers of old,
these saints who never cared whether people 'liked them,'
whether people were 'mean.'
These saints were far too busy doing hard things to give a fig for the good opinion of men.
These saints are the covenant keepers who comprise the great cloud of witnesses.
These are the ones whom the wise imitate in this race for the Prize.

If the Lord commended them to us, surely we should commend our own in this little piece of the kingdom called Home.

*Jason Meyer, Bethlehem Baptist Church, 2015

Sunday, February 8, 2015

God in the Free-Fall

I was about 14 years old when I went repelling in the Shenandoah Mountains. It was at once the most thrilling and the most intimidating thing I have ever done. The hardest part? Going over the edge. I had the harness and diaper firmly attached by a repelling expert, but trusting that it would keep me safe as I went backwards over the edge was very hard to do.
When we are little, we dream of growing up to become successful. And while 'successful' itself is defined in any number of ways, we all tend to see it as a basic presence of comfort, be that comfortable spouses, children, and friendships, a comfortable income, a comfortable soul housed in a comfortable body.

Oh, we know that marriage and raising children is hard work. We're familiar with things like infertility and cancer, accidents and infidelity, unemployment and financial disaster. But they dance on the edge of impossible. Those things don't really happen, at least not to us, because we go to great lengths to ensure that they don't. We eat right and exercise, take care of our houses and our cars, are ethical employees and business owners. We enter carefully into covenant relationships. We set aside the Dave Ramsey emergency fund. The list goes on and on and on...We pursue success, however we define that, with all seriousness.

Last week, on Christian radio: "Pastor Mary" came on and chatted with the D.J. for a few minutes about calamity and how she reassures that her people that calamity is never from God, but God uses it.

Unfortunately, Christian radio doesn't always offer more value than its secular counterpart. The account I cite above was wrong on a couple levels, one of which is for another day, but I jabbed my finger at the off-button in disgust.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I form light and create darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these. Isaiah 45:7

God is the author of calamity. He gets to do whatever He wants to do. That's what makes Him sovereign. Or let me say it this way: that's what makes Him God. When we grow up, we often discover that Life does not go the way we dreamed it would when we were young. Along the way, we forgot to factor in the storms, the cliffs, the free-falls.

We know that He is sovereign over light; we forget He is sovereign over darkness.
We know that He is sovereign over life; we forget that He is sovereign over death.
We know that He is sovereign over sight; we forget that He is sovereign over blindness.

So,  we buckle our kids securely in the car; we work to keep them healthy; we pray for them. And sometimes, God puts His sovereign hand on the small of our back and pushes us to the edge of the cliff....

We set aside a rainy day fund. We budget carefully, tithe faithfully and live frugally. And sometimes, God puts His sovereign hand in the small of our back and pushes us to the edge of the cliff...

We work hard at our marriages and our friendships. We commit to walking with integrity. And sometimes, God puts His sovereign hand in the small of our back and pushes us to the edge of the cliff...

Life will bring us to the edge of the cliff for one reason or another because it is at the edge of the cliff where God teaches you things you would never learn when you are happy, healthy, and well-fed. But it's worse. Sometimes God puts His sovereign hand in the small of your back--and pushes you over the cliff's edge. Dear one, when that happens, give credit where credit is due. You are not being 'attacked.' (Where do we get that???) You are being discipled.

Fact: the only way that you know that God is everywhere, I mean really know it, is that you've been everywhere with Him. Or rather, He's been everywhere with you. God is there for your walk in the park. God is there at the cliff's edge.

And God is still there in free-fall.

He humbled you and let you be hungry and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live on bread alone but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:3

I love author Linda Dillow's name for God: Blessed Controller of All Things. He is in control of everything that comes your way. He does not blink; He does not forget; He is not bound by human action. But He is the blessed Controller. He is, in every way, good. And sometimes, his goodness takes us through the storm or over the cliff's edge.

A few months ago, I was visiting a friend in the hospital. Her son had been in a horrible car accident the week before, and he had not yet awakened. I gave her a hug in the hallway, and she smiled at me through the tears, "God is good." Wow. Just wow. Here in the quiet bustling hall of a hospital, I came face to face with a mighty woman of God. I will never forget that. Here is a woman who knows what it is to be in free-fall--and knows that God is there with her.

I never planned on free-fall. But I sure spent a lot of time presuming on what God would and would not do to me. I presumed that God would never push me to the edge of the cliff. I rested in that. Then He pushed me to the edge of the cliff. I presumed that God would never push me over the cliff. And I rested there, too, thinking how much I had matured. Then He pushed me over the cliff.

I've spent a fair amount of time in free-fall. And I don't presume upon God anymore. I was talking to another friend the other day, a friend who has also done time in free-fall. And he said, "Oh, I am so far beyond anxiety now." Exactly. The only thing I presume now is that God will do whatever it takes to accomplish His purposes.

My first experiences in free-fall brought out some ugly things in my heart.
Hold your peace, you rebellious pot. The Lord is God, and you are not.* 
Now, I understand a wee bit better. And like my friend, I am SO over much (maybe not quite all...) of the anxiety I used to have. I've just seen God too often to waste my time biting my fingernails.

Free fall clarifies things very quickly. It teaches us that solid ground is not what we stand on. Oh, it seems like it is. We like the feel of the solid-ground-of-good-planning beneath our feet. But we confuse that feel with the Sure Foundation. Only going over the edge, with wide-open space beneath us, shows us that God is the only Rock we are really standing on.

That's how it's always been.
We just didn't always know it.

Your way was through the sea
Your path through the great waters;
Yet your footprints were unseen. 
You led Your people like a flock
by the hand of  Moses and Aaron. Psalm 77:19-20
*Hold Your Peace, 2014, Douglas Wilson

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Acclimating to an Unsuspicious Grace

It was all very innocent. I was working with the children on a writing curriculum, and as I turned the page, there it was, this magnificent work of art. I'm an art stoic in that I do not typically speak the language of art, and art rarely moves me. But this. This moved me. I'm sure it took only a few seconds. Yet the world stopped for just those few seconds as my eyes and my heart connected with the painting. I smiled. Deeply. From my lips to my soul. For in those few seconds, I finally got it.

It took me forty-seven years, but I finally got it.

We are suspicious of grace. We are afraid of the very lavishness of the gift.
(Madeleine L'Engle)

Truer words were never spoken of me. I am, by nature, suspicious of grace. I'm inclined to think that if I show some unmerited favor to my kids, they'll be on the fast track to hell. I stare at grace with squinty eyes and closed fists, unwilling to relinquish the upper hand. I doubt that letting go, letting favor flow from me to the favored one will elicit anything...favorable. I walk circles around grace, giving it a pinch-lipped once-over. When it comes to grace, I hesitate.

There in the shadows of this life...

One of the worst memories I have of parenting is going toe to toe with one of my children over dinner. What he didn't eat for dinner, he would eat for breakfast. What he didn't eat for breakfast, he would eat for lunch.I am horrified by that, and my heart still hurts, all these many years later. It really does.

There in the darkest night of the soul...

So I won the war.

What I did not win was his heart.

Unfortunately, that's not the only time I sank that low. There was the time I rummaged through my closet, found a suitcase, and handed it to my rebellious teenager. "Pack. And get out." No heart-winning there either. But my husband came home and reached out with unmerited favor to that hardened heart. Guess which parent had that child's ear that day.

Same for the saint and the sinner...

I hate those parenting books, the ones that tell you to set them up for a fail, and then discipline them for it. Tricksy parentses. I want to build a bonfire, collect every copy from every corner of the globe, and roast marshmallows with my children over the sorry, burnt carcasses. They fail utterly in replicating God's parenting of us because they are suspicious of grace

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children...
obey me the first time?
come when they are called?
treat me with respect?
walk in the Truth?

The aforementioned Truth is the gospel of

I'm going to say something radical here. It is not our job to raise good kids; that's God's job. It is my job to take their hand and lead them to the Cross. It is my job to sit there with them, at the foot of the Cross, and tell them my story: that I was created in God's image, that I have inherent worth, Imago Dei; that I was at enmity with God and under His wrath, that I was a woman of unclean lips from a people of unclean lips; that He redeemed me from the pit, that God made Him who had no sin to become sin for me so that I might become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. And it's my job to tell them that this is their story, too.

There in the everyday and the mundane...

What does unsuspicious grace do?
Unsuspicious grace considers my child's frame.
When they are tired, I give them rest.
When they are dehydrated, I give them water.
When they are hormonal I give them space.
Unsuspicious grace takes time to discern whether my child is being foolish or rebellious.
Unsuspicious grace refuses to view my child's sin as a declaration of war against me, either personally or positionally.
Unsuspicious grace disciplines, not with a view to reducing my stress or making my life easier. It disciplines with a view to opening my child's eyes to his need for a Savior.

Unsuspicious grace raises children who fall before the Cross, beat their chests, and plead with the Lord, "Have mercy on me, a sinner."

Suspicious grace?
Every offense is a spanking offense. Or a food-withholding, shelter-withholding, affection-withholding offense.
And it produces good kids, sure as shootin'.
It also produces a Pharisee who thanks the Lord that she is not like those sinners.
It produces a 45 or 46 or 47 year old who has a crisis of grace, who wakes up one day and realizes that she has never been good, will never be good, outside of God's intervention,
that every drop of goodness in her is an alien goodness that comes outside herself, that was imputed to her at the Cross.

Grace: unmerited favor.
I've said this before, but it bears repeating.
Emphasize unmerited. Then emphasize favor.
And now you've got it.

This past spring, I came face to face with the miracle of grace. That kid who lost the war over dinnertime? Same kid; different war. Much, much higher stakes. Last time law. And loss. This time, grace. And life. It was supernatural. I don't know how else to say it. It was like God went before us and came after us and walked us step by step through grace.

I saw the difference. I saw it with my own eyes. Or I would not have believed it. It drained away every drop of suspicion I ever had of grace. For I saw that grace does not repel; grace attracts. Grace does the work that law could never, ever do.

There in the sweetest songs of victory...

I was smack in the middle of this lesson, running my son back and forth to the airport so he could make things right, when this song came on the radio. It took my breath away. And it defined my whole year.

From the Creation to the Cross.
There from the Cross into Eternity,
Your grace finds me. 
Yes, Your grace finds me. 

I'm still used to the thick, heavy air of suspicious grace. Up here on the Mountain of Grace, the air is different; it's crisp and unsuspicious. This is where the Prodigal comes to be restored because this is where the Father is. And I'm still acclimating.

But, man, you ought to see the view.

I'm breathing in Your grace, 
And breathing out Your praise.
Breathing in Your grace forever.
"Your Grace Finds Me" by Matt Redman.
My song of the year:

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Homosexuality: The Challenge to Think and Act Biblically

A gay pair shows up at your Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching, Truth-loving church.
Now what?

Twice in the past month, I have found myself having impromptu discussions about homosexuality with two different adult children. One child was blindsided by The Tolerance Game when an innocent remark got a friend's ire up. "Never say that in my presence again." The offensive topic? Those people who can't easily be identified as either a 'he' or a 'she.' Recognizing personhood puts one in an awkward grammatical position, to say the least. Is the person 'he' or 'she?' Certainly not an 'it,' the only pronoun my child could come up with was 'heshe.' And she got her hand slapped by false, pagan piety.

The second conversation happened when another child was musing aloud, "What do you do if a gay person shows up in your living room? What about the partner?"
Do you have them over for dinner? What about the partner?
Can they stay in your home?
And what about your children?
As a parent, I recognize that one of my most important jobs is to protect my children. But my other important job is to be a gospel bearer. I've asked this question before. How do we get close enough to the world to be salt and light, but stay far enough back to keep the kids out of harms' way?

Like it or not, this is the world our children are growing up to inherit.

I've been accused in the past of being too focused on theology, of treating life as if it was a test of doctrine, of treating heaven like the Big Theology Test in the sky. If theology were my hobby, that would be fair enough.

But that entirely misses the point. Theology teaches me about God, Whom I love. I want to know what He thinks, what He loves, what He does not love. And I want to do likewise. 

I want to do likewise.
Doctrine and theology are not a moral high horse. Don't let anyone ever tell you that!
I want an orthodox faith because it leads to an orthodox life. 
Orthodoxy leads to orthopraxy. 
And orthopraxy is worship.

I've long heard that we Christians need a theology of suffering firmly in place because suffering is a matter of 'when,' not 'if.' The surer our foundation, the more likely we are to survive the battering wind and waves of suffering.

Likewise, I was telling my daughter, we need a theology about homosexuality.
This is certainly not a new sin; the writer of Ecclesiastes affirms that there is nothing new under the sun. But it is a more brazen sin than it used to be. There is no more coming out of the closet because a closet implies shame. In our day, the word 'pride' is more likely to be associated with it than 'sin.'

It is no longer a matter of 'if' a gay person enters our social circle; it's a matter of 'when.' Perhaps some of you, like me, even number relatives among the ranks. That's just the way it is now. And it is imperative that we have a gospel response. We must figure out how to think and act biblically about homosexuality.

Enter Sam Allberry's book  Is God Anti-gay? It was probably a day after one of these conversations with my kids that I found this book sitting on a pile of books in the study. So I picked it up. And I couldn't put it down.

I mean this sincerely when I say, this may be THE most important book you read this year. I want all of my adult kids to read it.
And every kid old enough after that.

Allberry is a single man and pastor who struggles himself with same-sex attraction. So he has the insider story of what that is like for a man who names the name of Jesus yet fights this battle. I love his transparency. He talks about what it's like to live with SSA. He talks about what it means to submit to the Truth of Scripture. And he talks about how the Church can respond to both those who battle SSA and those who have caved to the temptation and taken it as a lifestyle. Allberry talks about how hard it has been to live without a family to call his own, to hold an infant and know that he will never be a father, to know that he will never experience the intimacy of biblical sexuality.

I am challenged by this book.
I am broken by this book.
I admit that I have not responded well; I have not had compassion. I have not fully appreciated the struggle of these humans, their need to be whole, to be healed, to be saved. This is a segment of society who needs the light of the gospel as much as any of us.

Allberry reminds me that the gay person's identity is not his sexuality. It is one of the sins he battles, but it is not the only sin.
Allberry reminds me that demanding immediate, perfect, sinless conformity to the commands of scripture reduces the gay person to just gay, not lost.
Allberry reminds me that it is more profitable to work from the inside out, rather than the edges in.
Just like the rest of us.

To borrow from Paul David Tripp, do you want to see their heart changed so they can bear real fruit? or do you just want to staple fake apples on a dead tree?

Some may question whether SSA itself is a sin. All lust is a sin, as my husband points out. And this is a broken, sinful world. We are saddled with our sinful flesh until Jesus comes back or takes us home. But I don't see a difference between that and the person who battles drugs. Every time the believer craves another high but resists the devil and flees the temptation, he is taking up his cross and following Jesus. In the same way, Allberry reminds his readers that the believer with SSA can take up his cross and follow Jesus--to the glory of God.

As for the rest of us?
Jesus went outside the camp.
He touched the untouchables, cleansed the dirty, and saved the sinners.
And will I now shrink back from doing the same? I, who once belonged outside the camp, too?
May it never be!

We've got some work cut out for us. If my home is to be gospel-centered, then my home must have a gospel-informed response to homosexuality. We've got some conversations to have and some wrestling to do.

Allberry does a great job of discussing the scriptural view of homosexuality without changing it or imposing a post-modern interpretation on it. He debunks the arguments of liberals to re-write scripture or to say things that God didn't say.

He reminds his reader that being biblical and being compassionate peacefully coexist.
He breathes grace.
I want to breathe grace, too.

Blessed Redeemer, Precious Redeemer,
Seems now I see him on Calvary's tree.
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading,
Blind and unheeding, dying for me. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Feast of Books--My 2014 Reading List

When my daughter-in-law had a baby shower, I did not send a blanket or a onesie or diapers. I sent books. Specifically, I sent The Big Picture Story Bible, because it's never too early to lead little ones to God, and I sent Ferdinand the Bull, because some children's books simply demand continuous reading. Over and over.

To have read a good book once is to have only breakfasted. Charlotte Mason.
Amen, sista.
2014 was a year of reading books again.

This spring, one of our children was having a gospel crisis. Some of it was intellectual. I found it helpful to re-read some books by gospel-saturated intellectuals. What is Reformed Theology by RC Sproul, Creation Regained by Albert Wolters, and Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey offered fantastic insight, much of which I saw more clearly the second time around.

Over the summer, a debate (and an unfortunate blog post) kicked up over courtship. Hmmm. I'd read some really good books in the past. Could it be that I had missed something? So I read them again. Did I miss something? In a word--no. In many words...I may or may not be working on a future post. But in one dispassionate, purely logical comment, let me say just this: If you want a bona fide perspective on courtship, rather than a faulty appeal to authority, you should only be reading and heeding parents of marriageable-age children. Courtship, after all, is merely a sub-category of parenting.

Douglas Wilson's Her Hand In Marriage reaffirmed our commitment and responsibility to our children. And Voddie Baucham's What He Must Be If He Wants to Marry My Daughter offers a sound hermeneutic for marriage and manhood, as well as fatherhood. Any courtship critic, if he wants to be taken seriously, is going to have to contend with Baucham's deeply biblical assertions. 

But my re-reading was not limited to family and doctrine. There's some glorious, glorious fiction out there that deserves some attention. I admit my tastes are a bit outside the mainstream. I barely made it to the end of Harry Potter and didn't even care enough to pick up the second book. Hunger Games, besides just being dark and depressing, is a veritable hero famine.

Hungering for something noble instead? Let me highly HIGHLY recommend The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson. This four-book series (On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, North! Or Be Eaten, Monster in the Hollows, The Warden and the Wolf King) is an absolute gem which, I'm betting, both Jack and JRR would read. And read again. Don't be fooled by the fact that it was written for middle-schoolers. Don't be fooled by the zany humor. This, dear reader, is pure, literary brilliance. Good guys who are really good. Bad guys who are really bad. Story lines intertwined over layers of scriptural insights. We've read it twice out loud. And twice it has stopped me in my tracks as I've had to collect myself before I could continue reading. If you don't see yourself somewhere here, if you don't see The Maker, you are not paying attention. Read it. Buy it. And read it again.

Fear not; I read some new stuff, too. Boy in the Striped Pajamas took my breath away. And John Buchan, author of Thirty-Nine Steps and Huntingtower, is my new favorite spy novelist.

But my magnum opus this year, from a reader's point of view, was From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, a tome edited by JI Packer and others on definite atonement. Yeah. Definite. As in Jesus came and died for a specific number of people, his elect. I was already convinced of the "L" in TULIP, but this cinched it for me. A collection of essays by various theologians, From Heaven proves definite atonement from both a scriptural and a theological point of view, as well as demonstrating how it was the orthodox teaching on atonement until recent history. The final set of essays discusses definite atonement from a pastoral point of view; it's the 'what this means for me' part of the book. It took me all summer to read, and some of it I had to slog through. But most of it was very readable. Mostly, it confirmed that God is a Big God with a Big Love for a definite people.

It was a good year in books. :)

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers
Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Dragon's Tooth by ND Wilson
Holidays in Heck by PJ O'Rourke
What to Expect When No One's Expecting by Jonathan Last
Boys of Winter by Wayne Coffey
Cyrano d'Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
Beyond Courage--Untold Stories of the Jewish Resistance by Doreen Rappaport
Heiress of Wisterwood by Sarah Ladd
The Chase by Clive Cussler
The Good News We Almost Forgot by Kevin DeYoung
Cold War by James Warren
Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan
To Live is Christ by Matt Chandler
Huntingtower by John Buchan
God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew
Second American Revolution by John Whitehead
Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt
And Now, Miguel by Joseph Krumgold
The Passion of Jesus Christ by John Piper
Lord Peter by Dorothy Sayers
The Big House by Carolyn Coman
Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
Assumptions that Affect Our Lives by Christian Overman
Creation Regained by Albert Wolters
Just David by Eleanor Portis
A Shelter in the Storm by Paul David Tripp
Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung
Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis
What is Reformed Theology by RC Sproul
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers
The Silver Chair by CS Lewis
Remember Me by Penelope Wilcock
Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
Tree of Life by Graeme Goldsworthy
Scots Worthies by John Howie
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola
How Do I Love Thee by Nancy Moser
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson
From Heaven He Came and Sought Her edited by JI Packer, et al
Recovering Redemption by Matt Chandler
The Innocence of Father Brown by GK Chesterton
Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung
Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt by Elizabeth Payne
North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson
Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler
Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers
Expositional Preaching by David Helm
True Beauty by Carolyn Mahaney
Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson
Her Hand in Marriage by Douglas Wilson
The Horse and His Boy by CS Lewis
What He Must Be if He Wants to Marry My Daughter by Voddie Bauchum
Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins
Truth Matters by Andreas Kostenberger, et al
Mistress Masham's Repose by TH White
The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson
Thirteen Days in September by Lawrence Wright