Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A miracle of grace

I've experienced God's grace in numerous amazing ways in my life. Tomorrow, my  husband and I celebrate an extended season of grace beyond anything we could ask or deserve.

On November 20, 1994 my husband and I said "I do" in a little church in Fort Smith that we "borrowed" because at the time we were unchurched. I can't even begin to tell you how much grace has been poured out on our lives. Even before I began walking with the Lord, I saw His hand on our marriage.

For over 7300 days of my life, I have woken up next to a man [ok, technically most days I've woken up after him by a couple of hours, but still ... ] ... next to a man whom I have never doubted, for a single moment, loves me deeply and would willingly "take a bullet" (his words) for me.  Even more significant, he does lay down his life for me in countless demonstrations of sacrificial love all the time.

For over 7300 days of my life, I have heard "I love you." More days than not, I've also heard, "You're beautiful."  

For over 7300 days of my life, I've experienced extended grace, and I am oh so grateful.

As a married couple we have experienced grace together for 20 years now. On paper, we shouldn't have made it. We both made mistakes and came to our marriage broken individuals. But over the last 20 years I have learned that grace flows best when it has some nooks and crannies to seep into ... when there are cracks to seal and chipped edges to mend. I'm not perfect, he's not perfect. But we're perfect for each other. And I am inordinately grateful for the partner God has given me. Our marriage, like any, is unique to us. It might look kooky to the outside, but it works. And the main reason is simply ... grace. Unmerited favor. We got it wrong before we got it right, and we still mess up. But we've learned that God's grace is bigger than that and we've learned to let that grace flow to each other. And for that, I am incredibly grateful.

20 years in, we could tell you some things about making a marriage work. Tidbits like carving out date time, being kind to each other, being open and honest, making decisions together, trusting each other's strong points -- all are true and important. But none would get anywhere without the grace of God - and without us extending that grace to each other.

Because of grace, we can love beyond our human ability. We can enter into 1 Corinthians 13 love that is not about emotion or response but about actively seeking each others' good. Because of grace we can choose to forgive. Because of grace we can serve God together and focus on a purpose beyond ourselves. Marriage can have meaning and significance beyond our happiness.

But in God's grace, He has also given us SO much joy. He has given us the emotions that go with love and marriage that is not only significant, but fun!

I do love the husband God has given me. I love that he happily prepares breakfast every morning and gets truly excited when I ask him to fix  "Bob-let" (a special cheesy omelet that takes extra time). I love that he seems to spontaneously know the practical outworking of Scripture while I hash it out with my word study books. I love that his gift of faith overflows to every aspect of life. I love that after 20 years of marriage he still thinks of me as his princess. I love that every. single. day. of our marriage I have felt loved and treasured. I love knowing that he will always be the one to check out the weird noises and that he reminds me constantly to be more security conscious.

I love that as much as he treasures and protects me, he doesn't have me in a "doll house". Just as much as he takes care of me, he also respects and supports my dreams and interests. In fact, he encourages me to pursue things beyond what I would even consider knowing that God has bigger things for me than I would envision for myself ... because I am not a risk-taker and have trouble dreaming big!

I love that he enjoys hearing my many opinions on just about everything, that as much as he teases me about being opinionated he wouldn't have it any other way. I love that he makes sure the newspaper is on the table at breakfast and asks me to tell him things from it. I love that he looks forward to the "Bob list" I keep throughout the day and is disappointed when the busy-ness of life keeps me from jotting things down to share later.

I love that he enjoys hearing the details of my work day and sharing the details of his. I love our traditions and our reading together and our constant interaction in each other's lives. I love that he gets excited to talk to his kids and grandkids and sends me emails with multiple exclamation points about the conversations. I love watching him call around and tell grandkid stories after every visit. I love his pride in the technical skills of his youngest daughter, the servant's heart his son has, and the multitasking talents of his oldest, including her ability to bend people in two at their request (aka personal training).

I love that he never lets "conventional wisdom" hold him back and that he started training for marathons at age 62. I love the look he gets on his face when he talks to someone about Jesus and when he is fundraising for St. Jude. I love his prayers for divine appointments and his unbelievable gift of faith.

I love that he always has my best interests at heart. I love that he had as much fun on our "Little House" vacation this summer as I did. I love that he drove most of the trip and I got to enjoy watching the prairie out the window.

Most of all, I love that this man gets up every morning to spend time with God before he spends time with me. That spiritual leadership has helped me in so many ways.

Our marriage is still a miracle of grace, and I treasure every second.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Job, Assisted Suicide, and Words Meant For the Wind

"Do you intend to reprove my words, 
when the words of one in despair belong to the wind?" 
(Job 6:26 NASB)

Sometimes, out of deep suffering, people say things they don't mean. Job - the poster child for righteous suffering - was no exception. Among the words he uttered out of his pain were these tragic pleas:

"Let the day perish on which I was to be born, and the night which said, 'A boy is conceived.' 
Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?" 
(Job 3:3, 11 NASB)

"Why is light given to him who suffers, and life to the bitter of soul, 
Who long for death, but there is none, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures," 
(Job 3:20-21 NASB)

In the darkness of his pain and suffering, Job wishes that he'd never been born and longs for death, even thinking it wrong that he has to go on living. In ways I cannot grasp, Job could relate to those whose suffering leads them to ask for the pain to end, for the blessed relief of death. He knew what it meant to lose the will to live. 

And yet he lived on, honestly working through his struggling and pain, remaining blameless before God. That's why Job's words in Job 6:26 are so instructive about how we react to the words of those in deep suffering. Job says these sorts of words "belong to the wind". In other words, they should just be carried away like the wind carries away debris. 

In an exceptional blog post on this verse, John Piper explains:
There are words with roots in deep error and deep evil. But not all grey words get their color from a black heart. Some are colored mainly by the pain, the despair. What you hear is not the deepest thing within. There is something real within where they come from. But it is temporary—like a passing infection—real, painful, but not the true person.
What Piper writes of individuals who lash out at us out of pain is also true of those whose words of despair take them in the direction of assisted suicide. Sure, some might truly want to die. Others might be speaking out of the pain and suffering, or out of a desire to not "be a burden".

That's why the church (and our society) should strongly oppose assisted suicide. Will there always be people whose pain makes them want to end their own lives? Of course. We cannot always stop that -- but we should not step in and make it easier, either. When we take it upon ourselves to determine the genuineness of someone's professed wish to die, we step into the realm of the spiritual. We take a great risk at saying that we know "the deepest thing within". We put ourselves in God's place.

It's important to remember that when God finally speaks into Job's situation (started in Chapter 38), He affirms what Job has said about God -- but still reveals to Job areas where he was speaking out of turn. When Job responds, he repents:

Then Job answered the LORD and said, "I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' 
Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 'Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.' I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes." 
(Job 42:1-6 NASB)

We know from Job 42:7 that Job spoke rightly about God - so he is not repenting of anything false against God, like his friends would have to do. Instead, Job repents of talking about things he couldn't understand. Things like the meaninglessness of his suffering. Things like how it would be better to die.

Job never knew why he suffered. We see the spiritual battle behind the scenes in Job 1-2, but there is no indication that Job knew about that. Much is made of Job's restored fortunes, but the real victory for Job came not in understanding his suffering or in being restored. Instead, the real victory came in growing to know God more personally - not just hearing, but seeing. Job uttered words that were meant for the wind -- but on the other side of his pain, he found a deeper relationship with God. As people of God, we should weep with those whose pain makes them weep, and then walk alongside them into a deeper understanding of their Creator. What we should never do is promote actions based on words meant for the wind.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Death with Dignity

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
- 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 (ESV)

Death is an enemy.

Before we can grasp the joys of heaven and the promise of eternal life, we have to see death for the enemy that it is. We were not created to die. As I wrote in my last post, death, destruction, pain, and toil are aberrations from the good, perfect, life-filled world that God created - aberrations caused by sin.

In our heart of hearts we know this to be true. We feel the tearing away when we lose a loved one. We mourn when we someone "too young to die" loses a life. Even our biological "fight or flight" mechanism hard-wires us to run from death and toward life.

Yes, Jesus has defeated death - but let's not forget that death is not "normal". Phrases like "circle of life" and "death as a part of life" may comfort, but apart from the hope of the resurrection in Christ, they are deceptive and meaningless. We pass from life to life only by holding Jesus' hand.

What breaks my heart the most about the decision of a young woman with cancer to publically advocate for the right of people to "die with dignity" - and then yesterday, to move forward with that decision and choose death - is that the story of this young, beautiful face for the "right-to-die" proponents just edged the culture of death in this country further off the cliff. I don't pretend to know how bad her symptoms were or how much suffering she was enduring. I leave to others who are choosing to walk through pain until a natural end of life to discuss the issue of suffering.

What I know is that "death with dignity" is not defined as "choosing when and where I die". That's not a choice we get to make. We were created for life, and until the day God, who breathes life into our bodies, determines that we've breathed our last, we should walk in the direction of life. That doesn't mean we choose every treatment, but at the very least it means we don't hasten the process. "Death with dignity" means we don't fear death because we  are holding Jesus' hand walking through those final days.

I've witnessed death with dignity up close. My mother-in-law went to be with the Lord 7 1/2 years ago. My husband and I were blessed to be in the room with her. After all the measures to bring healing to her body failed, it became clear that her time to go was near. My husband and I stayed in her room for the final hour and a half, talking, telling stories, and singing praise songs. Lucid until the end, she fixed her eyes on us and transitioned from worshipping in this life, to worshipping in the next. Peace filled the room - peace that was a witness to the nurse outside the door. She lived a ministry to her very last moment on earth.

Don't be fooled by the deceptively beautiful language surrounding assisted suicide. Death is still an enemy, no matter how we dress it up. Assisted suicide is a dangerous proposition as some European countries are learning. Death with dignity isn't about choices. It's about relationship.

Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death — that is, the Devil —
- Hebrews 2:14 (HCSB)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Oh Glorious Day

"As Augustine said, evil is negation; love and beauty are the realities."

This sentence from this article has rung through my head all night. I think about the onslaught of efforts to be "real"; the "gritty realism" and "authenticity" movements that seem at times to glorify sin and elevate evil to a place of dubious honor. In this sentence, I feel my brain was set aright once again. I remember that Paul wrote "Now we see through a glass darkly". Among the many things that means, I now understand that one aspect of the darkened glass is that we think the dark things of this world are the normal ones. They are not. They are the aberration.

Back to Genesis: "And God saw that it was good." Everything was created good. Humanity, in God's image, was created "very good".

After the fall: Death. Destruction. Pain. Toil. All aberrations. All negation.

"And they all lived happily ever after." There is a reason our souls long for stories that end this way. Because deep down, we know that's the way it's supposed to be.

Looking through the glass darkly, we catch glimpses of the way things were meant to be all along, and will one day again be in the new heavens and new earth. I don't want to fall prey to the lies that glorify the negation. May my heart be drawn, as Paul also wrote, to dwell on "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think on these things" (Philippians 4:8).

Darkness is not dark to Him, because He is light. Darkness does not overcome the light. Light. Always. Wins.

Oh Glorious Day.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Reflections on a journey: Laura Ingalls Wilder, South Dakota, William Wilberforce, and Rich Mullins

We just returned from a vacation – only our second in almost 20 years of marriage. My husband and I are Little House aficionados, and we have long dreamed of a “Little House” vacation where we would see the various museums around the country. Four years ago, as a graduation present when I completed my master’s program, we went on our first vacation – a quick trip to nearby Mansfield, Missouri, where we spent a couple of days immersed in Laura & Almanzo’s life in the Ozarks, where she wrote the books and lived 64 years of her adult life. 

On our 19th anniversary last November, we made the decision to plan a trip for our 20th. We didn’t know how much God would provide for, so we researched and planned and ultimately settled on De Smet, South Dakota, where five of Laura’s books are set and where she met and married her husband Almanzo. De Smet was a pioneer town, so we knew there would be a lot of history about our country’s westward expansion, as well as all the ‘Laura stuff’.  We excitedly booked our trip and looked forward to it for months – talking about it daily for the past few weeks as we re-read the Little House series in preparation.

I thoroughly expected to love the Laura stuff. What I didn’t expect God to teach me so much that goes far beyond a connection to our country’s formative Westward Expansion years.
-         I didn’t expect to see so many life lessons while on vacation, to have my mindset transformed about things like agriculture and political primaries and simplicity and so much more.
-         I didn’t expect to find my heart expanded to love another place so much.
-         I didn’t expect to leave with such a sense of awe and worship as I said farewell to a part of God’s creation I’d never seen before.

I certainly didn't expect to leave infused with such hope.

The people of De Smet are probably the most unpretentious, down-to-earth people I’ve met. Talk about “salt of the earth” – they are living on the Dakota prairies. De Smet unashamedly embraces and celebrates its past, while continuing to quietly impact the present through farming and other ventures. There is a simplicity and patience to farm life – from all we could see people generally don’t do anything they can’t really afford, and repairs/upgrades are done as money is available. No fancy cars, no fancy stores, and we didn’t see a large ornate church in the place – just people who work hard and wait when waiting is needed. Truly, the heartland.

I quickly fell in love with what I called the undulating prairie – it’s hard to describe, but as the wind blows the grasses or crops, the prairie looks like it is waving, almost like the waves of the sea. It is beautiful and incredible to behold and I watched it for hours out the window of the car.

During the trip, I continued reading Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas - the story of William Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade in England. I read about the incredible circumstances that only God could orchestrate to connect individuals who actually considered slavery wrong and wanted to do something about it – connecting them with each other, and bringing about events that no human could imagine.

As we headed home, we popped in Rich Mullins "Songs" and soon came to “Calling Out Your Name.” I watched the prairies waving, “calling out His name” as only God’s creation can do. And suddenly, a line I’d just sung past before jumped out at me:

From the place where morning gathers
You can look sometimes forever 'til you see
What time may never know
What time may never know
How the Lord takes by its corners this old world
And shakes us forward and shakes us free
To run wild with the hope

To run wild with the hope
The hope that this thirst will not last long
That it will soon drown in the song not sung in vain

I thought of Wilberforce and William Grenville and Hannah More and Granville Sharp and John Newton and John Wesley all the rest – people God used, in one way or another, to transform the world. For not only slavery was affected. This was one of the hingepins of history, where God truly did “shake us forward, shake us free”  - not only from slavery but from the culturally acceptable religious hypocrisy that allowed it and so much more to flourish. 

As I listened to Rich sing, and watched the prairie grasses calling out God’s name, and thought of Wilberforce, and remembered the faces and people we met alone our journey to the heartland  – I felt hope rising within me.  Hope that some of the struggles our world faces now will one day be historical footnotes to a great story that God is writing. 

In Luke 8:26-39, Jesus heals a demon-possessed man.  The man’s transformation evokes a strange reaction in the people of his village: 

Luke 8:37 NIV Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

Fear. Imagine that. Someone who was demon-possessed, kept in solitary confinement and guarded, is suddenly in his right mind – and everyone was so afraid they asked Jesus to leave. (The loss of their livelihood when the pigs ran off the cliff was certainly a factor as well.) As I thought about the “shakings” that God brings about to “shake us forward, shake us free” I realized – not everyone wants to be shaken forward. Because with it, comes a loss of the familiar. The people of Gerasene literally preferred the “demon they knew” to the Jesus they didn’t know.

This is a truth of any dramatic freedom: It will be resisted by some who hold on to the familiar darkness rather than wade into the unknown light. As they hold on, it might get worse on the way to better (2000 years of church history and current persecuted believers can testify to that).

And yet, I’m still hopeful. I still think of the prairie grasses waving. I remember that Psalm 119:9-91 tells us that all things are His servants. Some willingly, some unwillingly. 

I’m wild with the hope that He will indeed shake us forward, shake us free.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Corrie Ten Boom

Today is the anniversary of Corrie Ten Boom's birth and death (she died on her birthday).  I'm not huge on "heroes" - I learned early in life that all our heroes have feet of clay (thank you Mrs. Baker, 11th grade English) - but Corrie Ten Boom is definitely on my short list. She would absolutely be seated at my dream dinner table.

If you don't know her story, read or watch The Hiding Place and the upcoming film Return to the Hiding Place. Corrie is one of the "Righteous Gentiles" honored in Israel for hiding Jews during WW2 and suffered in a concentration camp for her decision to do so.

But that isn't why Corrie is one of my few heroes. Corrie Ten Boom left that camp and spent the rest of her years as a "Tramp for the Lord" going around the world with a single message, "Jesus is Victor". In the early days of my walk with Him, I devoured every word I could find that she had written. God used her simple illustrations to instill in me an example of relationship and trust that I still strive for. One day I read a poem that, though not original to Corrie, was used by her in a dramatic fashion during her talks. She would hold up a weaving and show a tangled underside, with the threads all jumbled, while she recited words that hit me so powerfully I memorized them on the first reading:

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me
I do not choose the colors
He worketh steadily

At times He weaveth sorrow
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
and I, the under side

[at this point she would turn the weaving around to reveal a beautiful crown]

Not till the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God roll back the canvas
And unveil the reasons why

The dark threads are as neeful
In the Master's skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.

My late mother-in-law heard Corrie speak in Tulsa once, but I never had that privilege. I hope that in heaven, though, I can be seated at her table at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Not so that I can hear her story though. I just want to be close enough to see her face as she worships Jesus, because I know written in every glance will be one phrase, "It was worth it all."

Rest in peace Corrie.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Understanding the "silent war" on religious liberty: A must-see video

From the outset, let me make clear that this is not a political post. I'm not trying to convince you to support any party or candidate. This post is part of an ongoing conversation about religious liberty in the West that I've tried to be part of in the broader context of global persecution. Please do not attack or promote candidates in your comments. That will not further the conversation. 

In my previous blog series on persecution, one of the posts gave a picture of what persecution in the 21st century world looks like. In that post, I shared what I have learned from others who have made a point of studying and researching this topic: Persecution in the West - Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand - looks very different than persecution in other parts of the world. Persecution in the West typically doesn't look bloody, but it's no less serious. People of faith are marginalized by an increasingly (and often intentionally) secular worldview which brings some presuppositions to the table - ideas that directly conflict with Scripture, setting up a certain challenge for those who adhere to Biblical faith. A few of these challenges include:

  • Private Affair: The idea that faith is private and should not impact a person's public choices or actions. This is often called the "naked public square" approach (as opposed to an "open public square, where all ideas have an equal chance to be heard). 
  • Relativism: The idea that faith is a matter of opinion and preference is pervasive. While the idea that individuals are free to choose their beliefs is a basic tenet of free society, this type of relativism elevates the "human rights" of individuals to such an extreme that sharing one's faith is offensive - and increasingly challenged on legal grounds. 
  • Anti-Christian elites: There are some secular political elites who are intent on bringing a "neo-secular inquisition" (Professor Rocco Buttliglione's phrase, quoted in Boyd-Macmillan, p. 217) to professing Christians.
  • Anti-absolutes culture: Increasingly, the West is hostile toward religions with uncompromising ethical beliefs. There is an "anti-absolute militancy" (Boyd-MacMillan, p. 219) that presents several lies as norms. If these are challenged, marginalization and persecution occur.
It's rare to hear a speech on a national level that highlights the unique aspects of these challenges to religious liberty. While President Obama rightly spoke out recently on the persecution of Christians globally, his remarks were linked solely to the obvious, blatant persecution outside our borders. Others that do speak to the religious liberty challenges of our post-modern, post-Christian western culture often fail to present a complete picture, instead focusing on the political aspects or taking a fear-mongering approach. The reality is that the religious liberty challenges in the West are much less obvious because they are bloodless and don't yield dramatic photographs of people beaten or abused for their faith. Yet they are real enough and serious enough as they are.

These challenges are real, and they need to be pointed out. For the church to be an advocate for those experiencing severe persecution, we must have a voice. For the church to be a light in the darkness, we must leave our four walls. For the church to fulfill the great commandment and the Great Commission, we must open our hearts, hands, and mouths to share the Good News with those around the corner and around the world.

So I was happy to hear about a speech on a national level that focused on religious liberty. When I heard the speech I was amazed. Here was a political figure - some say potential presidential candidate - who was not only speaking about religious liberty, but hitting all the key points that scholars have recognized about the secular West.

Below is the speech by Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana. He begins speaking at about 15:00 mark and speaks for about 35 minutes, followed but a question and answer time. (For those unable to view, here's the transcript.) Some of the key elements of this speech, from my perspective:
  • Jindal makes clear on more than one occasion that this isn't a Christian issue. This affects everyone of any faith at all. 
  • He accurately puts diversity of belief as foundational to who we are as a country, noting: "These days we think this diversity of belief is tolerated under our law and Constitution. But that’s wrong. This diversity of belief is the foundation of our law and Constitution."
  • He gets the order right: "America does not sustain and create faith. Faith created and sustains America."
  • He observes that a war, silent or otherwise, on faith in the public arena is a war on good deeds and social action, for faith has driven countless changes in this country. 
  • He highlights three strands of current legal challenges that should concern anyone of any faith.  
  • He draws from current issues at the state level to show both potential problems and potential protections.
  • He clearly notes the important distinction between freedom of worship and freedom of religion. That single word change makes all the difference, legally. 
  • He advocates an open public square, not a naked one. 
  • He challenges Americans not to settle for a silent faith locked away inside the walls of our religious institutions.
This is an important speech.  Watch it and pray. Remember the words of Daniel 11:32: "The people who know their God will stand firm and take action." Know Him, stand firm, and take the appropriate actions He leads you to take.

Boyd-MacMillan, Ronald. Faith that Endures: The essential guide to the persecuted church. Revell, 2006.