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