Tuesday, November 29, 2011
I'm just about finished with Tim Keller's The Prodigal God, and I'm thrilled beyond belief I read it when I was almost 40 instead of almost 80. I will never, ever look at the parable of the Two Lost Sons (or "The Prodigal Son" as tradition calls it) the same. Never. Ever.
And while the majority of its pages whisper insight about this almost too familiar story, I was struck by the last chapter's thoughts on cultivating generosity. It is, after all, the Advent season when we're frequently asked to give to those we will never even meet.
In case I'm not the only one who sometimes feels inferior because I don't have as much as others... or in case I'm not alone in pondering my child's college savings or our vacation fund when asked to give, read on...
"We can only change permanently as we take the gospel more deeply into our understanding and into our hearts...
You may wish to become more generous with your money. This will not happen by simply putting pressure on your will to do so. Instead you should reflect on the things that are holding you back from more radical giving. For many of us, having a lot of money is a way we can get others' approval and respect, and a way of feeling we have control of our lives. Money comes to be not just a thing, but something out heart puts its hope and trust in. Look at how St. Paul, in his letter ot the Corinthian church, helped them grow in the grace of generosity. He doesn't put pressure directly on the will, saying, "I'm an apostle and this is your duty to me," nor pressure directly on the emotions, telling them stories about how much the poor are suffering and how much more they have than the sufferers. Instead, he says, "You know the grave of our Lord Jesus Christ, that thought he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). Paul is taking them back to the gospel. He is saying, "Think on his costly grace - until you want to give like he did."
...The solution to stinginess is a reorientation to the generosity of Christ in the gospel, where he poured out his wealth for you. You don't have to worry about money, for the cross proves God's care for you and gives you all the security you need. Jesus' love and salvation confers on you a remarkable status - one that money cannot give you.
... All change comes from deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out the changes that understanding creates in your heart. Faith in the gospel restructures our motivations, our self-understanding, our identity, and our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without heart-change will be superficial and fleeting."
So once again, it's all about Jesus, and really not about me (and my striving) at all. Merry Christmas to you. And to your heart. And to your self-understanding and self-worth.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
... Just one generation later exercised a radically different worldview. Just one. And sadly, the treasures of their hearts and thoughts were painfully expressed with their hands.
The children of those who bravely ran from religious persecution oppressed the reason for their parents' survival - The Native Americans. And somewhere, woven throughout their lust to make people just like them came the insatiable need to display one's worth through possessions. Land was everything to the new settlers. And the need to control - the root of so many sins - reared its ugly head even in the late seventeenth century.
Lest we bow to chronological snobbery, we can't ignore that even those of the crude, early villages in American history met the daily temptation to be unsatisfied. For me, it's a yearning for new major appliances... for the daughters of the first Pilgrims, it was a need to have a bigger cooking area with their log cabins. For me, it's new clothes to shout my worth. For them, it was more land to feel powerful. For me, it's wanting the validation that others are like me - or really, I am like them. For the Pilgrims, the differences of the Native Americans brought a defensiveness that made them yearn to force conversion.
Maybe their parents were too busy surviving to share their worldview. Maybe their parents' deep loss silenced their mouths as their hearts broke over and over again. Maybe parents didn't "go there" with their children in the late 1600's.
And I risk appearing woefully judgmental, but - I promise - I question how clear my deepest passions are to my children. With the compiling of school lunches... and the races back into the house for library books... and the homework... and the cleaning of the rooms - Are my son and daughter absolutely certain of my entire life's foundation? Of what I hold most dear? And tragically, I must ask if what I'm portraying in my everyday speaks of different philosophies than what mommy really holds in her heart.
I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever;
with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.
For I said, "Steadfast love will be built up forever;
in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness."
...You have a mighty arm;
strong is your hand, high your right hand.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
Blessed are the people who know the festal shout,
who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face,
who exult in your name all the day
and in your righteousness are exalted.
For you are the glory of their strength. Psalm 89:1-2, 13-17
So today, Thanksgiving Day in the United States - regardless of where you are in the world - may we impart to our own sons and daughters and to the children in our communities what's truly important. May we help them see God's goodness from the beginning of time. Regardless of our suffering and our finite inability to see the whole picture, may we point them to a God who radically pursues us. And in doing so, may we recklessly love others well.
And may I be truly grateful.
Monday, November 21, 2011
They faced the horizon and watched a tiny vessel grow large until it finally docked on their undeveloped shoreline. Coughing and unsteady, pale bodies emerged. And their self-sustained culture on land would never, ever be the same.
Instead of isolating themselves, Native Americans gave to strangers, knowing they'd probably receive nothing in return except the ability to grow in their understanding of the world.
The first Thanksgiving gives us a picture of true community reaching across racial lines. After months of educating and helping foreigners, the Wampanoags celebrated the Pilgrim's first harvest - made possible only by their own sacrifice of time and instruction.
Cultures and worldviews collided as diverse individuals - all bearing God's image - dined together. Parents were probably silent, hoping their polite smiles could substitute for true conversation because of the language barrier. I imagine children took turns making one another laugh, as children across the world often lack the need to clothe themselves in self-conscious pretension.
And I ponder how desperately I need to learn from the Wampanoags. They ran toward the mystery, risking and throwing themselves into the the unknown. They gave in order to sustain a foreign culture. Gave to sustain a life not their own.
Authentic, racial integration not only reflects God's kingdom, but it serves as my classroom, my lesson, my textbook into greater facets of God's character. Aaron Layton, Director of Diversity at a local Christian high school here in St. Louis, claims that diversity is not just about living amongst those different from us... it's about admitting our need for others. It's about understanding how much others can teach us.
Diversity sounds a lot like humility.
Friday, November 18, 2011
I love this time of year.
You see, I work in an elementary school, and our students are of the age when it's a complete delight to reflect on God's goodness by celebrating the first Thanksgiving in American history.
Our curriculum is designed so that in first grade, our six and seven year-olds research the Pilgrim's experiences and perspectives, focusing on the religious persecution in Europe which motivated them to board The Mayflower. Their hearts longed for safety, for worship without boundaries. So they abandoned their communities, and material security, and safety to cross the Atlantic. Desperate. Desperate to connect with their Maker at any given time, in any place, in any way.
I've never known hunger - real hunger - in this way. I can't fathom the fear of oppression when the soul longs to fulfill its very purpose of worship. Yes, I've never experienced the yearning so deep that would make me choose between physical safety and spiritual fulfillment. I. have. no. idea.
But they came. Desperate. Desperate to give their children and grandchildren a life of open, wild communion with the One who had saved them for eternity. What a gift - broken dads and moms giving out of their physical and spiritual poverty. A gift indeed.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Psalm 42:1, 2
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Psalm 42:1, 2
God, give me that thirst that would cause me to sail away from relationships and an established home toward the utter unknown. Give me a deeper perspective so that I can be thankful this year.
Monday, November 14, 2011
It was a tiny blow to the heart - and I do mean tiny. I can see it now in hindsight, but not so much then.
I pondered and reflected - too much - causing the offense to grow in my mind until I was overwhelmed in its shadow. I scorned the injustice of it all, not realizing I was dancing out of reality.
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” The words of my Redeemer jolted the Pharisees of His day, causing religion to quietly turn away. But I, I picked up enough stones to hurl them into the form of a wall surrounding my heart, vowing never to let it be broken again.
He took my deep reflection and transformed my self-protecting efforts into a looking glass. Oh, the dreaded mirror into one's own heart. And with every wounding comment I relived in my mind, He revealed words from my own silent heart - words no one hears yet boast the same ugliness.
Why does forgiveness in this fallen world feel like a loss of control?
And today - with every grasp toward a stone - He tenderly reminds me I'm holding my own sin. My Enemy lures me to keep building, but my Maker whispers, "Lay it down". And though I long to build upon a wall started years ago, He points me toward the doorway again, toward the escape He created centuries ago with his broken body.
Friday, November 11, 2011
Deep thoughts from The Great Divorce, CS Lewis...
"If you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you'll never learn to see the country."
"But that's just how a real artist is interested in the country."
"No. You're forgetting," said the Spirit. "That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light."
"Oh, that's ages ago," said the Ghost. "One grows out of that. Of course, you haven't seen my later works. One becomes more and more interested in paint for its own sake."
"One does, indeed. I also have had to recover from that. It was all a snare. Ink and catgut and paint were necessary down there, but they are also dangerous stimulants. Every pot and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn't stop at being interested in the paint, you know. They sink lower - become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations."
Thursday, November 10, 2011
I've been a fan of Frog and Toad since college, ever since a speaker read from one of their adventures when addressing 2,000 university students. Here is an excerpt that has to do more with patience and control more than friendsship...
"THE GARDEN", FROG AND TOAD TOGETHER BY ARNOLD LOBEL
Frog was in his garden. Toad came walking by. "What a fine garden you have, Frog," he said.
"Yes," said Frog. "It is very nice, but it was hard work."
"I wish I had a garden," said Toad.
"Here are some flower seeds. Plant them in the ground," said Frog, "and soon you will have a garden."
"How soon?" asked Toad.
"Quite soon," said Frog.
Toad ran home. He planted the flower seeds. "Now seeds," said Toad, "start growing." Toad walked up and down a few times. The seeds did not start to grow.
Toad put his head close to the ground and said loudly, "Now seeds, start growing!" Toad looked at the ground again. The seeds did not start to grow.
Toad put his head very close to the ground and shouted, "NOW SEEDS, START GROWING!"
Frog came running up the path. "What is all this noise?" he asked.
"My seeds will not grow," said Toad.
"You are shouting too much," said Frog. "These poor seeds are afraid to grow."
"My seeds are afraid to grow?" asked Toad.
"Of course," said Frog.
"Leave them alone for a few days. Let the sun shine of them, let the rain fall on them. Soon your seeds will start to grow."
That night Toad looked out of his window. "Drat!" said Toad. "My seeds have not started to grow. They must be afraid of the dark."
Toad went out to his garden with some candles. "I will read the seeds a story," said Toad. "Then they will not be afraid."
Toad read a long story to his seeds.
All the next day Toad sang songs to his seeds. And all the next day Toad read poems to his seeds. And all the next day Toad played music for his seeds. Toad looked at the ground. The seeds still did not start to grow.
"What shall I do?" cried Toad. "These must be the most frightened seeds in the whole world!"
Then Toad felt very tired, and he felt asleep.
"Toad, Toad, wake up," said Frog. "Look at your garden!" Toad looked at his garden. Little green plants were coming up out of the ground.
"At last," shouted Toad, "my seeds have stopped being afraid to grow!"
"And now you will have a nice garden too," said Frog.
"Yes," said Toad, "but you were right, Frog. It was very hard work."
Ah, drive and motivation are nothing without wisdom.
I want results, but mostly I lust after control itself - if I'm really honest. And without control, I am frustrated. I shout. And I demand. Yet the heart's stamping of the foot does nothing but breed fear. Fear of growth.
And so I start to blame, for I must find a reason the story is not unfolding as I have planned. I look all around to find reasons, yet fail to look inward.
And I grow so very weary. Trying and striving can strip the life out of you.
Indeed, we must stop shouting. We must stop hovering. Yes, the sunshine beckons growth, but the rain, the rain also flourishes until life finally emerges - the very life we thought would hide away forever to avoid being beaten and bruised from the storm.
The Great Botanist - His plan is so very intriguing.
Monday, November 7, 2011
I recently spoke at an women's Advent event at my church.
Last year, I was asked to present a workshop on "Keeping Christ in Christmas". And surprisingly, they asked me back! You see, I was but one presenter in an array of holiday workshops led by incredibly talented women who displayed God's glory through their creativity. He is the Master Creator, and we're created in His image. But while the other leaders were inspiring last year, I encouraged my audience to do less and to simply ponder their need to be rescued by the Baby.
This year, I renamed the given title to "The Fight to Keep Christ in Christmas". For after all, even those who have walked with God for years and years are tempted to pile on the traditions and beauty and holiday striving that shadows why we even celebrate the human birth of the Divine.
I challenged these broken, needy women (who looked beautiful and put-together) to run to the Holy of Holies - the home of God's very presence made accessible when a baby-turned-Savior's broken body miraculously caused the temple curtain to rip in two. And I dared women to travel to the deepest, darkest parts of their hearts.
My friend, Susan, loves Thanksgiving. She embraces what she calls "The Forgotten Holiday" and basks in what could be the only holiday uninfected by commercialism. Susan, like all of us, has much for which to be thankful.
So, I'm following her lead and embracing Thanksgiving head-on this year, too. I'm making every attempt to have all of my Christmas gift-buying and wrapping and festivities-planning taken care of by Thanksgiving. Yes, the next couple weeks will be quite a marathon. But I hope to enter into Advent through Thanksgiving this year, through a day in which I can rest. And stop. And ponder on all I have been given and the eternal hope which makes the brokenness of this world bearable.
Please keep me accountable.
Friday, November 4, 2011
They don't want to go, and I question where I've gone wrong.
A holiday from school had provided ample rest - almost too much. For when given the chance to connect with their Maker on an outside autumn path, they want to stay. We give them no choice, and they comply, but their hearts are begging to stay within the shallow comfort they've created for themselves.
His tenderness confronts my frustration during our short journey to another world. Tender confrontation. They - my offspring - they are me. My Redeemer beckons me to so much beyond myself and my little life, but I hug my routine and vow I lack the energy to step on another path. How did predictability become my comfort? How very sad.
And in a few moments we run, kissing goodbye what almost held us captive. Laughter and joy and readiness - all evidence we've quickly forgotten the stale comforts of the everyday.
We lose sight of our babies-turned-youth until my nine year old beckons us with his hand to walk faster. Beckons with his eyes.
Thirty years our younger, he calls us to worship. Calls us into the magic of our Creator. We're still. And speechless. Still. And speechless.
And my baby, she takes the camera...
... and tries to capture the mystery she would've ignored if left to her own authority a half hour ago.