Thursday, July 30, 2009

An Aspiring Plumber

I have posted something about all the kids except Stein, so I figured I would give him his time in the sun. (Lucky kid!)

Stein is now a very dignified eleven-year-old who has long since shelved his extra-curricular plumbing activities. But he has the sense of humor to let me post this story on my blog.

One Saturday when Stein was two, I was nursing baby Ryan and heard some splashing noises. I asked Rick to go check on Stein. A few seconds later Rick exclaimed: "Oh, no!"

"What happened?" I feared the worst.

Rick came back and asked me for my digital camera. (That was one of the really early models, so please forgive the quality.) "I think it would be better for you to see this," he explained.

When Rick returned and showed me the picture, I quickly finished nursing and went to see Stein who was having the time of his life. "That's gross!" I said, trying very hard not to laugh.

"Gross!" he agreed with a huge grin on his face.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Man After God's Own Heart

What was so special about David? He collected wives, he never reconciled with his son Absalom even though he had the chance, and as far as I know he was the only Bible hero to commit both adultery (rape?) and murder. He seemed all too flawed. And yet he of all people was a man after God's own heart. Why?

There may be a number of reasons, but the one that stands out to me is found in the words of Psalm 51:11: "Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me." That prayer says a lot about David's heart. He wasn't focused on the devastating consequences of his moral collapse--he worried most about his standing with God. He loved God above all else.

David's psalms make that clear. His relationship with God was not about hollow platitudes tossed like a bone at God; it was raw, deep, and authentic. And it meant more to him than anything.

Personally, I don't care that much for dutiful acts done on my behalf. If somebody had to do it, it usually just makes me feel a little guilty. But I really appreciate spontaneous acts of love or kindness, no matter how small. I also like it when people ask me for help, because it means that they decided that I could and would help them.

God has emotions just like we do. He wants us to love him. He wants us to trust him with our innermost struggles. He wants us to ask him to meet our needs, with the expectation that he can and will help. And he wants us to obey, not out of a sense of duty, but to please him. He wants all this because he loves us.

In spite of all his flaws, David was God's friend. And God wants each of us to be his friend. (John 15:15)

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Waltz of Faith

Without faith it is impossible to please God, but only God can inspire faith. How can the spiritually dead come to life without the Holy Spirit's touch? And if they can't, how can they be held accountable?

I have no clue about the accountability question, except to say that God won't need our help in figuring it out on Judgment Day. Our role is only to respond to him in the waltz of faith.

God initiates and we respond with a small act of faith, which in turn draws us closer to him in deepening faith. God commands us to pray for others, and through our prayers the Holy Spirit awakens another soul. That in turn strengthens our faith. Through that first tiny act of faith, the kingdom of God grows in our dark world.

Sometimes I just need to say, "I believe, help my unbelief!" There's humility and faith in that prayer, and God hears. The biggest mistake we can make is to spend our lives blaming God for things we can't understand. We don't have to make sense of it all, we just have to anchor our souls in the certainty that God is good. Then we take baby steps in faith and obedience. That's all God asks of us. And he responds by revealing more and more of his glory.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Parable of the Strawberry Sticks

Last night I was feeling a little impatient with God because I wanted to make more of a difference for his kingdom. Recently, not much seemed to be happening.

Rick walked in while I was ruminating. Our friend John Olson had just left, and Rick told me that one of the themes for John's upcoming novel, Powers, is that we don't always have to be doing something for God. Often he just calls us to stand before him.

After our conversation, I went out to the deck and saw what our son Ryan had done with strawberries and chopsticks. We had planted strawberry seeds about a month ago, and there's been no sign of life yet. But never one to be discouraged, Ryan has now solved the problem.

We may fool a lot of people with Christian work that's like a beautiful strawberry on a stick, but we won't fool God.

All God wants me to do is take care of the soil by staying close to him. He will do the growing.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Curse

Some years back, I took our daughter Ingrid to a healing conference, at the strong urging of a person I respect. One of the men who ran the conference thought Ingrid's disabilities might be a sign that we were cursed, and asked me whether there had been any sin in my life when I was pregnant with Ingrid. Well, there were a number of sins, mostly self-centeredness and pride, in all their various manifestations. But there was no big, interesting sin, if that was what my inquisitor was digging for.

I wasn't exactly sure what he thought would happen if I admitted to my supposed One Sin. Would Ingrid be instantaneously healed of her seizures and developmental delay? Would the heavens part and the Hallelujah chorus sound as our family embarked on a new life of sinless bliss and ease, never again to offend God in word, thought, or deed?

I'm not implying that sin is never the cause of illness or misfortune. Of course a besetting sin against our own bodies can lead to physical problems. Relational sins can break families apart. Financial irresponsibility can lead to disaster. Actions have consequences. That's the way the world works.

But that does not mean that people who suffer are greater sinners than others. This is a very important distinction, and Jesus made a point of explaining it to his disciples. Some Galileans had been tortured by Pontius Pilate, and Jesus said, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:2-3)

Note that Jesus is drawing a connection between sin and suffering. There is a curse, incurred in the Garden of Eden as a result of sin, but the entire human race and all of creation is under it. We live in a fallen world, and everybody suffers as a result. For example, the current economic crisis was caused by widespread greed, but some of the nicest people I know have lost their jobs. Meanwhile, the very rich are still very rich--although maybe less so. Sin equals suffering, but not in any way that can be considered equitable. Let's say my cocaine habit caused Ingrid's disabilities; that still wouldn't have been fair to her. She certainly did nothing wrong. Sin causes indiscriminate suffering.

There is, however, some scriptural basis for uncovering sin before praying for healing, not in order to assign blame, but because we need to approach God in true repentance before his Holy Spirit can fill us. Sin separates us from God; repentance and faith unites us to him. But that's not to say that the suffering was punishment from God or that it was directly caused by sin. Nor are our past sins of great spiritual significance (unless they have a present impact). It only means that the same power that sanctifies also heals, namely the Holy Spirit. We can't be led by the Holy Spirit and simultaneously hold onto known sins, no matter how small and "understandable." It is God's presence that heals us, body and soul, but only if we let him fill every part of our lives.

Although the man at the healing conference had an offensive manner, his theology would have had some appeal if it were accurate. Who wouldn't be willing to put up with harassment from a stranger if it magically took away some terrible suffering? But God wants far more than that--he wants us to surrender all our sins, not just once, but continuously. That is much harder. But he is endlessly patient with us and works in our circumstances to bring us closer to that one goal: sanctification.

Jesus became the curse for us, to set us free from the power of sin and death. And in the words of "Joy to the World," he "comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Strength in Weakness

One of the most counter-intuitive teachings of Christianity is that we find our strength in weakness. We come to Jesus with all our warts, and he accepts us just like that. He knows it all anyway. Ironically, I can believe that as long as I feel pretty good about myself, but if I fail, the voice of theological reason is often drowned out by another voice yelling, "LOSER!"

A couple of years ago, I read a biography of George Mueller, who is most famous for running an orphanage and trusting entirely in God's daily provision for the children. He forfeited his family fortune in order to live by faith. As a result, his life consisted of one miracle after another. Mueller and his wife never doubted that God would provide. And God always did.

After feeling like a really lousy Christian in comparison, I focused on the reason for Mueller's spiritual victory: It was not at all a "Christian" disposition--it was the opposite. Before his conversion, Mueller was a sinner in every sense of the word. So he was never under the delusion that he had any natural goodness that could please God. Just like he trusted God to prove materially, he trusted him to provide spiritually. Only the God who set the standard could enable him to meet it. And few people met the Gospel standard like George Mueller.

Ever since the Garden of Eden, sinners have found ways of covering up. After the fall, Adam and Eve picked fig leaves to cover themselves, and hid from God. When God sought them out, Adam explained: "I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself." (Genesis 3:10) God recognized their need to be covered up and clothed them in the skin of an innocent animal.

In the same way, God will cover our nakedness with his innocent Son, Jesus Christ. When we come out from from hiding and stop denying our sin, God will clothe us with the righteousness of Jesus. Paul says in Romans 7:18: "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not." By specifying "in my flesh," Paul is saying that he has no power to be good, but the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set him free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2) His goodness is derivative--a gift from God that comes through faith.

The more we realize our utter inadequacy, like George Mueller did, the more victorious our spiritual lives will be. Self-sufficiency creates a barrier between us and God, but God's "power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9) God is not looking for people who think they have it all together. He's looking for the broken, the sinful, the poor--so he can patch them up, purify them, and fill them with his heavenly treasure.

Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 1:26-27: "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong."

So the next time that inner voice calls me a loser, I'll just reply: "Thanks for the reminder!"

Monday, July 13, 2009

Love is from God

Henry Drummond says: "By what we have not done, by sins of omission, we are judged. It could not be otherwise. For the withholding of love is the negation of the spirit of Christ, the proof that we never knew Him, that for us He lived in vain."

It is sobering to note that, according to Matthew 25, we'll be judged by our sins of omission. Whatever we did for the least of these, we did for Jesus. And what we didn't do for them, we didn't do for Jesus.

Doesn't that contradict everything Paul taught about salvation by faith alone? No. In Galations 5:6, Paul says: "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." It doesn't say that the only thing that counts is love. That would imply that whatever love we can muster on our own is sufficient. But our feeble, self-serving love can't please God. Without faith it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6) Faith is the only means by which we lay hold of God's love, and his love will compel us to take care of his children. Faith is the means; love is the end. 1 John 4:7-8 makes it very clear that without love, we don't know God.

In my own life, things will be chugging along in their usual way, with me being irritated by drivers who cut me off and then slow down to make me miss a green light. (Why does that always happen to me?!) I go through my routine and lose myself in the mundane, day after day. Then the Almighty suddenly stoops down to offer me a glimpse into the suffering of another human soul and impart to me some of his inexhaustible love for that seemingly random person. Or his compassion inspires me to pray for the many lost and broken. During those moments, the real, historical, resurrected Jesus comes alive to me like no other time.

I'm praying that it will happen more often.

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God." (1 John 4:7)