Friday, June 19, 2009

A Tale of Two Sisters

Most of us know the story of Martha and Mary--how Jesus rebuked the older sister when she demanded that he tell Mary to come help her serve him. Jesus responded by saying that only one thing really matters, and Mary, who sat at Jesus' feet and listened, had found it.

But was Martha so unreasonable? She was an energetic, high-achieving woman who used her gifts to serve Jesus. Didn't that make her the perfect Christian? Any church would love to have several Marthas running their programs. And she would certainly fit well into our society, where busyness is a sign of importance.

But Martha failed to recognize the radical nature of the gospel. Most religions are about doing the right thing--or legalism. They set up a moral law for us to try to follow in order to please God. That's what Martha did. She tried to please Jesus by her behavior. But the gospel is revolutionary in that God first reconciled his wayward children to himself by paying the penalty for our sin. Then he said, in essence, that He wouldn't focus on behavior; instead, he would heal our hearts, the seat of all corruption. 

It's easy to fall into the trap of saying, "Thanks for the forgiveness, God! I'm so glad that I'm under grace and not under law, so I can do whatever I want. But of course I'll try to be good because I'm so grateful to you." This is actually legalism disguised by a faulty understanding of grace. If our conversion is real, we are born again by the Holy Spirit, but that's just the beginning. God wants to continue to work in us by his Spirit, so that our good deeds are wrought by him. Good works that flow from an unregenerate heart are like "a filthy garment," (Isaiah 64:6) and cannot please God. His grace can heal our corrupt hearts, if we let him. But legalism shuts God out. 

Legalism among the Galations got the Apostle Paul so bent out of shape that as soon as he finished greeting them with "Grace to you and peace from God, etc." he launched into a tirade that lasts throughout the letter. In Galations 3:1, he says, "You foolish Galations, who has bewitched you?" He wrote with large letters (6:11), accusing them of deserting him who called them for a gospel that is no gospel at all (1:6-7). He worried that they had suffered in vain (3:4). Clearly, Paul was very concerned.

And with good reason, because legalism is so insidious. If our behavior is good, we tend to think that we're pleasing God. But that's not necessarily true. "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." (Galations 5:6) God wants our good deeds to flow from a pure heart, and that comes from being truthful enough with ourselves to realize that we need the healing he offers.

He also wants us to know him so intimately that we have no trouble discerning his voice. And only by listening, like Mary did, can we really get to know him and experience his saving grace. 

Monday, June 15, 2009

To Chelsea, the High School Graduate

I asked Chelsea if she would like me to post a tribute to her on Facebook, like I did for Rick. She said, "I'd appreciate the thought, but not the abject humiliation." So I'm just posting it on my blog, where I can safely assume that none of her friends will read it. I know that there's nothing worse in the life of a teenager than a proud parent.

Especially a teenager like Chelsea, who never wants to draw attention to herself. She couldn't understand why the school made a big fuss about her becoming a National Merit Scholarship finalist. "The SATs are stupid anyway. Nobody can help how they do." I don't know what happened to the award statuette she received--it never made it home from school.

Chelsea has always been an independent thinker who challenges my assumptions. One time when she was in kindergarten, I explained to her that daddy was voting in an election to make sure that there would be enough money to make her school look nicer. (I'm not a U.S. citizen, so I can't vote.) "And who will pay for that?" she asked.

"The people who live in Glen Ellyn."

"What if someone can't afford it? I don't think nice buildings are more important than food."

And that is how Chelsea has always been--a compassionate person who thinks rationally. Around Chelsea, we never get away with hypocrisy or faulty logic. She has a fresh and thoughtful perspective on everything. We are much better people for having raised her. 

With, perhaps, a few more gray hairs. One of Chelsea's many "talents" is her amazing ability to pull things off at the very last minute, without the slightest increase in blood pressure. She finished her UC application at approximately three minutes before the deadline. I can't count the number of all-nighters she has pulled. I'm just grateful that when she goes off to college, I'll know nothing about the near-misses. 

Congratulations, Chelsea! We love you.

Mackinac Island, 1992

Monday, June 8, 2009

"A Fool is a Splendid Book" and Other Timeless Wisdom from Charles Spurgeon

A fool is a splendid book to read from, because every leaf is open before you; there is a dash of the comic in the style, which entices you to read on, and if you gather nothing else, you are warned not to publish your own folly.

Know you not that many of the promises are written with invisible ink, and must be held to the fire of affliction before the letters will show themselves?

If you do not pray over what you have sown, God's sovereignty may possibly determine to give a blessing, but you have no right to expect it, and if it comes it will bring no comfort to your own heart.

A certain preacher, whose sermons converted men by scores, received a revelation from heaven that not one of the conversions was owing to his talents or eloquence, but all to the prayers of an illiterate lay brother, who sat on the pulpit steps, pleading all the time for the success of the sermon. 

What a barrister can do in advocating the cause of his client, you and I should surely be able to do in the cause of God. The bar must not be allowed to excel the pulpit. We will be as expert in intellectual arms as any men, be they who they may, God helping us. 

We want men who will try to think straight, and yet think deep, because they think God's thoughts. 

Courage, you that prayerfully work and toil for Christ with success of the very smallest kind, it shall not be so always; better times are before you. Your eyes cannot see the blissful future; borrow the telescope of faith; wipe the misty breath of your doubts from the glass; look through it and behold the coming glory.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

To Rick, on Our Twenty-First Anniversary (And yes, we tied the knot at the age of twelve)

I knew I had a keeper a few months after our wedding (all right, I was twenty-three, but stop with the math!), and I had to make a confession. Rick held two jobs and I had one, so I was responsible for the finances, even though I had never before balanced a checkbook. And I had fallen a little behind on my deposits. So I had to tell him that I had bounced some checks.

“How many? Two or three?”

“Um . . . no. Twenty-two.” I thought for sure this would be grounds for divorce.

But Rick just started laughing and laughing. No anger. No worries that his new bride would drive him into bankruptcy some day. The only thing he did was threaten to tell this “funny” story to the whole family. I pleaded with him to keep it our little secret, and he agreed, as long as I would let him tell the story when I was thirty-five and fiscally responsible (note that he still had faith in me). Well, as you all know by now, I passed that milestone some time ago (without any bankruptcies), but Rick still kept the secret. So here it is, for the whole family and anyone else who cares to read this.

And over the years, Rick’s love has given me room to grow and make mistakes. He tells me I'm beautiful first thing in the morning, without makeup and with unwashed hair. To him, I’m always perfect, to the point where I have to fish for insults. “What about the fact that I never finish putting the laundry away?”

“Well, yes, there’s that.” Somehow he manages to see my flaws and still think of me as perfect.

So happy anniversary to my best friend, whom I love with all my heart, and who actually is perfect!

Maui 2009