30 April 2008

Things That Go Plop!

There are times in your life where you know that God has taken you by the scruff of the neck and left your feet dangling just above the earth. Sometimes He does it to keep you from running in front of a fast moving truck. Other times He does it to give you a "time out." He even grabs ahold of us to get us to focus. It's as if He is saying "Whoa! Nice shooting, Tex..... but the target is over here!" It can pinch a bit when the Almighty grabs you, but occasionally He does it to lift you up and show you something.

The last two days have been so full of blessing that I can scarcely believe it. I have whined and prayed and blogged about not having something to do. I have asked God to give me something to be passionate about. For nearly three years I have done my best to open some doors. I realize most folks would like to be retired, but I am not ready for it. I finally gave up and said "God if you want me to do something, you need to plop it in my lap." Yesterday He plopped a huge blessing in my lap, started my passion engine and changed the lights from red to green.

I have periodically done some college and career counseling with some of the local young people. I have experience as a career counselor and I thought I would use it. I have an appointment with a young man tomorrow. There is a program I use that I am familiar with from my work in California. I have kept a private license and, although the program was geared for California students, it had some aspects that have been helpful. In preparation for this young man, I wanted to make certain my subscription was current. It wasn't so I had to renew. Once I was able to get access, I saw that the program has expanded and is now something a Kentucky student would benefit from completely. I called them to see what a multi-user license would be... and it was more than I could afford.

Yesterday at a women's bible study potluck, I was asked to tell the women what I do for the students. She had heard me speak to students and parent several months ago. I gave the ladies an idea and mentioned that I was considering a multi-user license. After the pot-luck, one of the women took me aside and said, "There is a need, you have the skills, I want to purchase the license for you." I was completely blown away. The woman wants to be anonymous and I want to respect that. God bless the anonymous saints that get so much accomplished.

A little while after returning home I was called by the local Christian school principal. I had met with him two years ago. One of the women at the pot-luck called him and told him about me. He remembered our conversation. He called and asked me a bit about it. I had to tell him that I hadn't made the licensing arrangements and would call him once that was in place.

Today I called the organization and ended up talking to the same woman I called the day before. I said, "Hi, this is Rosemarie, the woman from Kentucky who called you yesterday." To my surprise she said, "Rose- I was just trying to get in touch with you. I talked to my director and told her what you were doing there in Kentucky. We want to offer you a significant reduction on the license for a year." She told me the number and I was stunned. I just about screamed, "I'm in! I'll take it!" And then she said, "We have a mutual connection with the 'Man Upstairs.'" Normally, that term would make me cringe... but coming from a professional while working at a public business in California, I knew she was treading on dangerous ground for mentioning Him at all. I was under no such constraints. "Praise God! He is totally blowing me away!" With that tears of gratitude leaked out all over my face. She quickly said, "Don't cry! Just give testimony! Tell them Sunday that He has done this for you and for the students. We know what you're trying to do and we support it. He supports it. "

I have a call in to the principal and hopefully I will be able to help the high school students there. I am completely in awe of His timing and His ability to move what seems immovable. I have no idea what this is going to end up looking like. I do know that God will receive the glory. Pray for my direction on how to serve and use these resources and to keep me focused on glorifying God.

28 April 2008


I've said it before, I love my church. If I am in Kentucky for no other reason than to be a member of this church, it's a good enough reason for me. After service last Sunday I dropped into the local grocery store to pick up some ingredients for our women's bible study pot-luck. One of the other members of the church was picking up some lunch. She made an unsolicited remark that she too loved to hear the Word preached the way our pastor does it- in its entirety. "I can't believe I wasted all those years listening to garbage." I wanted to hug her. I know exactly how she feels.

I remember feeling betrayed when I realized I was being taught fluff and nonsense. I remember thinking I would be so much further along in my sanctification process by now, if only I had the truth preached to me after I was saved. I fancied that I could probably have been the protestant version of Mother Theresa, if only. . . That was 17 years ago and before I wrestled with the Doctrines of Grace. I have a far more realistic picture of myself now.

As I listened to my pastor preach yesterday on Philippians 3, he said some things that helped me see how much God has changed me. Pastor is making certain we understand how dangerous it is to put our confidence in our flesh instead of Christ. He said, "The biggest issue facing the church today is where you place your dependency." I am so guilty of trying to be the good Christian soldier and be all I can be. I seldom check with God to see if my idea of being sanctified and God's idea of my sanctification are congruent. I want to pull myself up by my own bootstraps. I want to impress God. Yeah, like that's going to happen. I am an idiot. "Unless the LORD builds the house...."(Psalm 127)

He also talked of a conversation he had with Al Mohler some time ago where Dr Mohler correctly called Oprah Winfrey the most influential 'clergyman' of our time. Not the exact quote, but the gist is accurate. Look at her now...spiritual guru and mentor to the world. Confession time: I remember actually liking Oprah. I was in awe when she switched her talk show genre from sensationalism to self-helpism. I thought she showed integrity and great business sense by making the change. I was half-right. I was half-right about a lot of things back then. Thanks be to God that He didn't ask my permission to change that. Oh, I can still be wrong, the part he changed is the part that used relativism and subjective standards to label things either good or bad. God's word sets my standards now.

Yup, I can so understand my sister in Christ lamenting that she spent years of her life listening to garbage. But-here's the main thing I gained from yesterday's sermon. "Joy is contingent upon truth." The truth is our sanctification is perfectly timed and orchestrated by Almighty God. If we get lost in what might have been, we have no choice but to be miserable. Could have, would have, should have and if only... these thoughts do not spring from the truth. Joy is contingent on truth.

27 April 2008

Be yourself- don't waste your blog...

So... I read an article on my friend, Carla's blog. I have written about her on my blog before and have recommended her before. In this particular post she talks about one blogger's vision for a directory of Christian bloggers to help promote accountability. Which, on the surface sounds all good and 'Christianly' but Carla has reservations. Then I read the comments for her article and Steve Camp of Camp onThis fame has responded. I have also recommended his blog a number of times. For those of you who don't want to click the links, this is a brief synopsis. Some guy wants to have a Christian bloggers directory for accountability purposes, Carla questions the need since accountability begins in the bloggers local church, and she fears it will set up a click of bloggers who are "in" and those who are "out." Steve drives the point home and signs his comment "Don't waste your blog..."

That's the part that has me spinning. "Don't waste your blog." I have maybe 3 regular readers of my blog, one is my pastor. I do not disagree with Carla or Steve in this matter. If I am a couple bubbles off plumb, I want my pastor to come level me out. I want him to cut the Word straight with me. That's not what this post is about or I would have just commented on Carla's blog. It's the idea of not wasting your blog coupled with some comments Carla makes earlier, "Simple, you be yourself. Blog the way you blog, and don't worry too much about it. If you love the Lord, and you're a Christian who happens to blog, your readers will know it. "

I write here, for the most part, because I don't do anything else. It's not that I haven't tried to find something to do, it's that for reasons of His own, God has closed every door I have rattled or tried to open. It's a humbling experience. I am used to being productive. I am used to being the employee that excels. I have received everything from letters of commendation from politicians to a bronze medal. I love working hard and being the best I can be at what I do.... but that's all changed. I am jobless. I am missionless. I have fretted about it, cried about it, been ticked off about it, been depressed about it, been frustrated about it and felt worthless because of it. Each time I complained about it to a friend they said, "You should be writing." None of them told me what I should be writing, but without exception I have been encouraged to write.

I don't write with eloquence. I am not technically correct and I am not published anywhere. It's taken me almost a year to remember what I named my blog and it's only the last few months that I have written with any continuity. I wonder why I am blogging. I would certainly be one of the 'out' crowd that Carla mentioned. I am not controversial or profound. I do not exegete Scripture or take on doctrine. Am I wasting my blog? Should I be geared to do something differently here? Should I be blogging at all?

One of the young women I mentored while working at a Christian college mentioned my name in her graduation interview. She and I met for a while and I tried very hard to impart wisdom to her. She was willing to learn and I wanted so badly to teach her what I knew. I tried to make every moment count- nothing but profundity from me. Once during our regular meeting time, I had to go shopping for a special event I was doing and asked her if we could hold our meeting while shopping. She said sure and we went to several stores while I picked up the supplies I needed. I felt like I was short changing her so I really tried to talk about important things and ask her deep questions. When I found out she mentioned me as having an impact on her life while at college, I immediately thought of the pearls of wisdom I lavished on her that day. Do you know what she told them? She told them all about the day we went shopping and how I saw something that I thought was really cute and I wanted it for myself but put it down and said, "Thank you, Lord you're right, I don't need that it's a want." Two hours of well planned morsels of wisdom and she was impressed by 5 seconds of resisting an impulse buy.

Proverbs 16:9 The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps. (NAS)

Be yourself- don't waste your blog... be yourself- don't waste your blog....be yourself- don't waste your blog.

26 April 2008

Joy in Gray

Today is my favorite kind of day. It's about 60 degrees outside. The sky is bright but gray. There is a misty breeze that has left a translucent veil of glittering water on all it touches, magnifying color and texture. I love the feel of cool air on my skin and in my lungs. I am exhilarated. I am energized. I am happy.

I had the chance to meet the artist, Thomas Kinkade once. It was on a similar day in the Napa Valley. He was on his way to a gallery featuring his work but the artist in him couldn't help but to stop and paint what he was seeing. The colors of the grape leaves, the light on the wild mustard, all of it was too much for him to pass by. The intensity of the colors, the vibrancy of life. He was so animated and excited as he tried to describe what he saw and how it called to him like deep calls to deep. I can't write my name legibly, but I knew exactly what he was talking about. I wanted to be jump up and down with him and exclaim, YES!! I know!! When I see his work I think of that day, which if I remember correctly, was his birthday. He touched my heart with his unbridled joy. That and he was very kind to my kids. They were so young, I don't know if they remember meeting him. I'll have to ask.

I enjoy people who are excited about what they do or what life holds at any particular moment. It's infectious to me. My brother-in-law loves music. His tastes are very eclectic. My sister got him an iPod and he is like a kid on Christmas morning with it. He loves to search for the songs of his youth. He has all the gadgetry he needs to play it for himself while he is mowing their property or to play it for me and my neighbors while he's working in my yard. Mike is a great brother-in-law. He's the kind of man who enjoys meeting people and doing new things. He has no hesitancy in joining in whatever he happens upon. He was in Toronto once and ended up at an Amish auction and a Portuguese bull run. On a different trip he and my sister were at a Lexington hotel and one of the other hotel guests, a former jockey, missed a ride to Keeneland racetrack. The man was going to be late for an event and Keeneland being a local destination, Mike told him to get in and they would drive him. My sister took it all in stride. It's just the way her husband is. When she told me the story she said, "The jockey rode a famous horse once... Aly something." That would have to be either Alydar, who ran second to Affirmed in all three legs of the Triple Crown- which Affirmed won and was the last horse to do so. Or it was Alysheba, a Kentucky Derby winner. Mike has all the fun. He saw my neighbor's children digging a hole in the field between my house and theirs. He walked over to investigate and the kids thought for a moment that they might be in trouble. They sheepishly told him they were looking for fossils. Little do they know Mike's the kind of man who will put some fossils in his truck and look for the kids outside the next time he comes to my house.

I used to go fossil hunting when I was a kid. There was a rumor that the local community college would pay for fish fossils. They paid $1 per inch. I think it was started by a professor who wanted to give kids a reason to be outside. However the rumor started, I was on my quest to find fossilized fish. My room was full of the fossils I found. I couldn't bear to part with them. I wanted to be an archaeologist but didn't know how to get there from my family from hell. It seems that God had other plans for my life. I went to college the first time thinking that I would build a foundation of studies that might lead to anthropology or archaeology, but got sidetracked with public-safety. I still like fossils, though, almost as much as I like today's weather.

As I sit here at my computer, all the windows and doors of my house open, enjoying the breeze and the smell of clean air, I am deeply appreciative of the moment and thank God for it. He knows how happy I am and how stirred my soul is on days like today. I am hoping that I can find something to do with this part of my life that will give me a sense joy and wonder. I want to find my passion. Please, Lord. Help me find my passion and may it be pleasing to you.

24 April 2008

Prayer and Holy 2 x 4's

My lawn was mown and jungle tamed today. I actually did some yard work and didn't get eaten by T-Rex. More importantly, I am better attitudinally. Why? Because people are praying for me. I tell myself they are praying for me because they are tired of hearing me complain about everything and they want God to shut me up. My inner monologue says some fairly mean things to me. It doesn't matter though. I gladly accept prayers to our God on my behalf.

I used to hate it when people told me they were praying for me. I hated it because that meant that God was going to do something in my life. He was going to take action and I was going to receive whatever it was whether I wanted it or not. I didn't mind so much when there was a catastrophe of some kind going on in my life. I would actually ask for prayer then... but when someone would randomly tell me they were praying for me, it unnerved me. Praying for someone exponentially increases their likelihood of being refined. If someone told me they were praying for me, it was the same as saying, "God is going to take away the things you like most." I am so grateful that God has extended me His grace and taught me differently. Prayer is a good thing.

My friend, Carla keeps a prayer journal. She's one of those Proverbs 31 women types, although she would probably try to deny it. She has a post on her blog on how to keep a prayer journal. We'll all know that God has done some major rewiring and refining in me when I start keeping a prayer journal. Not because I think it is a silly idea. I think it is a great idea. I just know I don't have the discipline required to keep a prayer journal. I can't discipline myself to make a grocery list. When I was young, I didn't need one and now that I do, I can't remember to write them. Or if I remember to write them, you can bet I can't remember to take them to the store with me when I go. Oh for the synapses of my youth! But... I digress.

I know about Carla's prayer journal because my name is in it. Carla is one of the people praying for me. She not only prays for me but checks in with me too. See? Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 collide to make a wonderful sister in Christ. I bet she is praying for my prayer life. Somebody is. I am being nudged by the Holy Spirit to get busy and pray. One of these days I will learn to respond to His nudging and not wait for the Holy 2 x 4 to get my attention.

John Piper has a series of sermons on prayer. I listened to Be Devoted to Prayer today and think that I will listen to it again tomorrow. He makes some excellent points if you have difficulty praying. Basically he says, "So what? Why should you be any different? Do it anyway. Fight to do. Work at it." That's the kind of straight shooting I need to hear. I better go listen again.

23 April 2008

moved from pity party to prayer warrior with a phone call

I have been dog tired. I have been grumpy. I have been disinterested in the things of God, but I still like him much more than I like people. People. Bah! Why does God bother with us? Horrible things. Sinful things. Who needs them?

Ever notice when you're grumpy everyone wants to try your patience? My lawn service hasn't shown up in three weeks. Three weeks of growing bluegrass makes your property jungle-like. That's OK... I expect the wildlife are enjoying the added cover and camouflage. There's probably a T-Rex out there. He's probably hoping one of the dust buffalo in my home will come out and play. My house is a mess- the good fairy hasn't shown up to clean it and I am certainly not going to be productive. That would ruin my pity party. My car's check engine light went on... and once they fixed what caused that problem they told me about another one. My guts hurt. My whine is becoming perfected. And just when I am about to pitch a full on temper tantrum... something happens.

I've learned that my young nephew is losing his hearing and is having horrible headaches. He is profoundly deaf now. The doctor suspects there may be an inter-cranial mass and has no idea if the hearing loss will be permanent. Multiple tests have been ordered and I am waiting to hear about an outcome.

There's nothing like someone you love more than yourself being in pain or distress to make you snap out of your pity party, repent of your pride and arrogance and fall on your knees. Sweet Marcos. He is an exceptionally bright young man who is taking elementary school by storm. He is kind, he is loving, he has two frantic parents and he two little brothers who love him. I love him. Everyone loves him. He's easy to love. If you are a prayer warrior, I want you to love him too. Yeah, people are sinful... we're awful.. but this one is worth the bother. Not because he has something to offer God... but because he has something to offer us. I would trade places with him in a heartbeat if God allowed me to.

Psalm 116:5-6
5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yes, our God is compassionate.
6 The LORD preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me.

22 April 2008

The Line Between Entertainment and Truth

I have finished watching the HBO series, John Adams, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by David McCullough. I am not going to review it here, but I am going to discuss an aspect of the final show. I don't think it will spoil anything but... fair warning.

There is a lot to like about the series. It haven't read McCullough's book yet, but I have recently read Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation, Cokie Roberts. In it, Roberts writes about both Abigail and "Nabby" Adams, providing some primary source material. I read the book as part of a book club and we had a marvelous time discussing the women who were a part of our founding history. Armed with some elementary research, I was thrilled to watch the John Adams series.

One of the things that struck me in the final episode was the evolution and transformation of the friendship between Adams and Thomas Jefferson. As they both neared their ends, there came a time when all of those who had been instrumental in our separation from England were dead save the two of them. They discussed in letters what would be left and how posterity would remember them for what they had done. It was Adams' contention that posterity would not come close to getting it right.

I've been thinking about that for the last two days. What I was watching had spun history by virtue of being entertainment value. No matter how true his research and dependent on primary sources McCullough may have been, assuming that was even a priority for him, he has written this book from his perspective. He can't divorce himself of his opinion. The screenwriter and actors have put their interpretation or spin on the truth as well. Here's the thing that really struck me. Our desire for entertainment may have done more damage to the truth than being centuries removed from the actual event could ever do to the primary written sources.

I don't think that it was the intent of the author, nor of executive producer, Tom Hanks, to over sensationalize the story for pure entertainment value. In fact, I think they tried to treat it justly.
I also believe these movies and books, when done well, are good things. Band of Brothers, another work that Tom Hanks was involved in at HBO, is a brilliant body of work. I think the series, John Adams, is no less brilliant even though Band of Brothers had the great benefit of being able to interview the surviving men about whom the story was written. Their interviews and commentary are incredible and lend veracity to the drama as filmed. I am not anti-historical movies and such. Not at all.

What I am saying is that we are a fickle people. We have come to expect to be entertained over and above being educated. We would rather have our emotions manipulated than to have our minds engaged. And though I think this series does engage the mind in such a way that the heart has to be stirred, we must factor in our penchant for being entertained into in how we view such works.
Reportage and historical fiction are not the same thing. Movies and video aren't the only place we need to define the line between entertainment and truth in art.

It is not impossible for a movie to contain the gospel message, but they [movies] are not substitutions for the gospel being preached. There is a marked difference between The Greatest Story Ever Told and Godspell or Jesus Christ Superstar. The same is true between The Passion of the Christ and The Last Temptation of Christ. All of these works' artistic value is subjective. The gospel is not, nor should it ever be considered as such. The desire to lure people into our churches with pleasing aesthetics and entertaining programs is an appeal to same subjective entertainment values that are suspect in a series like John Adams.

We need more men and women of God writing about the things of God in such a way that they care more about a presentation of the gospel than the entertainment and marketability or money making potential of their message. How will posterity remember us?

2 Corinthians 2:17
17 For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. (NAS)

Hebrews 4:12-13
12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

21 April 2008

Stumping the Clerks

Since moving to Kentucky I have a favorite game I like to play- Let's Stump the Grocery Store Clerk. It's always fun and fascinating. I have been here three years now and haven't tired of it yet. The game started accidentally. You see, being from California, I am used to having an abundance of produce to choose from. Conversely, the selections are somewhat limited in Kentucky.

Although the produce here in Kentucky is getting better, when I first arrived what was sold in the stores looked like what would be thrown away in any California market. My sister and her family arrived 5 years before me and she says it was quite shocking for her and I am fortunate that it has gotten better. To be honest, I didn't realize how battered and forlorn a zucchini could look by the time it made it to the store. Thank the Lord for Farmers Markets and vegetable gardens.

Slowly, as the quality of the produce has improved, the variety has increased. You can recognize a big city transplant by the way they caress a pristine vegetable or delight in seeing an "old friend" in the vegetable case. My sister and I feel obligated to purchase the newly introduced selections, no matter what shape they are in, in an effort to reward the store for doing the right thing. The fun part comes when you go to check out.

I first discovered this pass-time when I found some artichokes in the store. I was delighted and willing to pay nearly $3.00 a piece for them even though they were scrawny and scarred. I got them to the checkout stand, grinning from ear to ear. The clerk was clearly baffled. "What are them?" Now I was confused. "They're artichokes." She inspected them, obviously fascinated. "What do you do with them? I ain't never seen 'em before. Are they good?" Never seen an artichoke? The poor woman. She's been deprived. "They are delicious! You can steam them or boil them until the leaves are tender and can be pulled off easily. You dip the end of the leaf in mayonnaise or garlic butter or your favorite salad dressing and then use your teeth to scrape the meaty pulp off."

Amazed by what I told her, she responded in wide-eyed wonder, "Really?" I couldn't help but giggle a bit as I assured her I wasn't pulling her leg. I was beginning to feel a bit self-conscious about holding up the line, but in rural Kentucky folks are still very friendly. The bagger and the lady behind me in line were both studying me to see if I was serious. There in the checkout stand I got to sing the praises of artichokes, explain where and how they grew and exactly how to clean, cook and eat them. In three years I have only purchased artichokes one time without being asked, "What are these?"

I have a lengthy list of produce that stumps the clerks- bok choy, Swiss chard, Napa cabbage, jicama, cilantro, shallots, eggplant, spaghetti squash, scalloped squash and endive to name a few. Avocados used to be on the list, but folks have gotten used to them now. Finding a decent avocado in south central Kentucky is a real treat.

The locals have a good time poking fun at me too. I ask how to cook collard greens, turnip greens and dandelion greens. Exchanging culinary grimaces over strange sounding food I promised one woman that I would try pickled bologna at least once. She assures me it is yummy. I haven't been brave enough yet. Some think it is funny that I am willing to drive to 150 miles to buy salami. (How does an Italian-American woman survive without salami?) Or that I have my sister in California ship me my favorite taco sauce and coffee beans. When I fly back to see my kids, I beg for pizza, Chinese and Mexican food. On my return flight, my carry on bag is loaded with real San Francisco sourdough bread.

All in all I love living here. Where else can you have so much fun buying produce?

20 April 2008

Connecting the Dots

Today my pastor preached from Philippians 3:1-11. He unpacked verse 3 "for we are the {true} circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,"(NAS) The entire sermon was encouraging and convicting and verse 3 stuck with me.

Am I trying to place confidence in my own abilities? Is that the cause of my misery? While considering the possibility, this thought occurred to me. I am always prepared for crisis. I am the one you want to know when the hurricane comes, when the earthquake strikes and when your relational world falls apart. If you need to figure out how to get a mountain moved by noon, I am your girl. Why? There is a mechanism within me that works when everyone else seems to seize up. It is not something I set out to accomplish for myself. It is the way God designed me.

I was talking with a group of women at bible study and remarked that I like earthquakes. Now, don't get me wrong, I hate that people get hurt and lose their property, but I love earthquakes. There is no doubt in your mind when you are in the middle of an earthquake that you are at the mercy of Almighty God. There is absolutely nothing you can do to stop the earth from moving. You can have some emergency supplies on hand that may help you survive once the movement stops, but you cannot make it stop yourself.

When I am active in ministry, or dealing with crises, I remember to put my armor on every day. When I am battling, I want my defensive equipment in tip-top shape. I have several emergency kits. I keep one in my car. Some of it is pretty normal- flashlights and the like. Some is pretty specialized. The chance that I will ever need to cut my seatbelt in order to get out of my car is pretty slim, but if I need to, I am ready. I have been carrying a center punch in my vehicles for almost 30 years and I have never had to use one- but I know exactly where to grab it if I do. I wouldn't say, "I have never used this in 30 years, I don't have to take it today." That would defeat the purpose of having it. I have to ask myself, why do I treat being prepared for spiritual matters with less zeal?

The chances that I am going to encounter a spiritual crises, battle or problem is guaranteed. I am in need of the full armor of God each and every day yet, because I haven't been battling or been in crisis, I have let my armor get loose, sloppy and unwieldy. I am not so much counting on my own abilities or putting confidence in my flesh as I am presuming on God's grace and mercy to instantly make me fit for battle. That's kind of like asking for prayer on a mid-term that you haven't studied for- something I used to tell students not to do. When a student asked me to pray for them during exams and confessed they hadn't studied, I would pray that they received the grade they prepared for. And now, here I am, unprepared and unwilling to wait on the Lord. It seems the sin of envy has partnered with the sin of presumption- I must repent. I must continue to ask God to show me my sin and grant me faith to repent.

True faith is grounded upon knowledge. Knowledge carries the torch before faith. There is a knowledge of Christ's orient excellencies. Phil 3: 8. He is made up of all love and beauty. True faith is a judicious intelligent grace, it knows whom it believes, and why it believes. Faith is seated as well in the understanding as in the will. It has an eye to see Christ, as well as a wing to fly to him. - Tomas Watson

19 April 2008

Failing Miserably at Being Still

Envy is not an easy sin to overcome. I find that it permeates my daily thoughts like breathing and blinking. I kid myself by trying to believe that it would be easier to stop envying people for their things and their social status than it is not envying them for having something to do with their lives. I don't give a rip about things and keeping up with folks on their toys and gadgetry. I don't care about their money or their stock portfolios. I envy them having something to do.

I think my problem is that I don't only want something to do, I want to be doing something that matters and to be good at it... but I haven't a clue what that thing might be. Where does that fit in on the sinful unbelief scale? I suppose it could be sinful to think that your life doesn't matter. I mean, God is keeping me around for some purpose. I could list for you the things I don't want to do or can't do... but nothing that I think I could do.

I am failing miserably at being still. The good news is that this isn't a surprise to God. He's not in his heaven, slapping his forehead and exclaiming, "What am I going to have to do get her to understand? Is she ever going to get this right??!" I do take comfort in that. I also think that it is possible to be absolutely clueless about what your gifts and abilities are when they are yet to be discovered. Or to put it another way, I knew what my talents and strengths were when I was working in public safety. I knew what I excelled at there partially because I received evaluations and commendations and partly because I got the job done. I also knew my strengths and weaknesses when working in higher education and for the same reasons. I got feedback and I saw results. Currently my life is devoid of not only feedback and results but opportunity.

I have to ask myself, is it the applause of man that I am missing? If so, then that's the problem. I should not seek the applause of man. I already know that seeing results isn't necessary to be assured that what you're doing is valuable in God's economy. However, there's no solace there for me because I am not doing anything.

I used to have a brass plaque that said, "On this spot in 1887 nothing happened." I don't know what became of it when I moved. I should find it and give it a place of prominence. Or, I suppose I could write my biography and say, "And it came to pass that nothing came to pass." I only hope that there aren't many chapters with that theme. I don't want to see, "And it came to pass, while nothing was coming to pass, that nothing continued to pass while waiting for something to come to pass."

At least I still have my humor.... warped though it may be.

17 April 2008

Redbud Paparazzi

"If you have ever walked among giant redwoods, you will never be overwhelmed by the size of a dogwood tree... "

When I first moved to Kentucky it reminded me of where I grew up with just a few things missing; redwood trees, cool fog and the smell of the ocean... I can almost feel them. Almost. We have fog, but in California when it is foggy it is cold. Here it is warm and foggy. That's just not right. Things are very different here. My brother-in-law said, "Welcome to Kentucky, turn your clock back 50 years." I knew at once he was right. He grew up in the California redwoods too. We're both old enough to remember when California was kinder, slower and gentler. Kentucky is still all of those things.

I had a chance to chat with with a woman at bible study. She was a teacher at the local elementary school. She has the kind face, ready smile and soft, expressive voice that undoubtedly made her a favorite teacher. She also has the inquisitive nature and sense of wonder that should be mandatory among teachers. I love to have her tell me stories about our little town. A few weeks ago we talked about our very own little "tornado alley." She told me all about the path the storms normally take. She would have been a valuable resource when I was looking for a home. You guessed it, I live in one of the alleys.

This week we talked again about weather. The weather is more than polite conversation here. You make your plans and live your life by it here. She asked me if I was from a temperate part of California. I told her yes, I came from wine country. She smiled vaguely and I followed with, "North of San Francisco, where Luther Burbank settled and did all his work in horticulture." That made sense to her, we live in a dry county and wine country doesn't mean much to folks who are pleased to keep alcohol out of their stores and restaurants. "Do you enjoy having four seasons or do you miss the California climate?"

She went on to talk about the seasons within the seasons here. We had one day that was in the mid seventies and the next day we had snow. "Well, we've had our redbud winter, we'll be warm for a few days and then we'll have dogwood winter and then something else and then one last cold spell when the blackberry bushes bloom." She fascinates me. Later that night when my step-dad called he asked about the weather. He lives in Hawaii and worries about me when he hears about storms. I told him about redbud, dogwood and blackberry winter.

"Redbuds like in California? Would you send me pictures of them?" So yesterday and today my sister and I have been out driving the roads and finding redbud trees to photograph. We call ourselves the "Redbud Paparazzi." It was good to be out, having fun and communing with nature. We saw delicate wild flowers, beautiful rock formations, creeks, waterfalls, a wildcat and lots of redbud trees growing in between and under the other trees that are slowly coming to life. The countryside is breathtaking. As we drove I couldn't help but to be grateful to God for providing such a wonderful display.

"If you have ever walked among giant redwoods, you will never be overwhelmed by the size of a dogwood tree. Or if you have been through a hurricane, a spring rain is nothing to fear. If you have been in the presence of the almighty God, everything that once controlled you suddenly has less power." Edward T Welch

Alistere McGrath on Doubt

" Doubt reflects the continued presence and power of sin within us, reminding us of our need for grace and preventing us from becoming complacent about our relationship with God. "

15 April 2008

Repentance and Remediation

When you squeeze a sponge and dirty water comes out of it, it's not the pressure on the sponge that made the water dirty. The dirt was already there. In the last few days I have been poked, prodded and squeezed, revealing the content of my heart. It's not been pretty.

I can offer a lot of excuses to try and rationalize the misery I have been in and most of them would sound plausible. I have been feeling poorly. I have cabin fever. I have not been active in the Body. I have been unemployed, my finances have been stretched.....and the list continues. The reality though is that my flesh has been driving my life.

It didn't happen all at once or with an announcement of its intentions. No, sin is an insidious evil and like the San Francisco fog it creeps in looking enticing and mysteriously beautiful . Then, while you are admiring it, it blinds you. Lovingly, God sounds the foghorn and if you're wise, you'll heed the warning before you crash on the rocks.

While thinking that I needed to evaluate blogging and whether I should put more, less or any effort into it, what I was really doing was griping about God's providence. I don't like the content of my life. I am not experiencing major trials. I am not suffering for want of a home, food or place to have my soul nourished. I am, none the less, a malcontent. I have been petulant and haphazard about everything that I do, which is a pitifully small list of things. You see, I am an adrenaline junkie. I don't like that I have oodles of time on my hands. In fact, I pretty much resent the heck out of it. So, I haven't used the time to my benefit or anyone else's. I am pouting.

I have always been a doer. I have never been in such a predicament in my life. I can't seem to find suitable employment or service. My health has been horrid. I have a disability in my hands that makes doing manual things difficult. I have been wrestling with God. He has pinned me to the mat and I don't much care for it.

Monday I was on the ragged edge. I felt swells of anger and resentment, frustration and despondency. I wanted nothing to do with God. That is a scary place to be. When I realized that, I knew I was in deep trouble. I had cried my eyes mostly shut and given myself a migraine. There was only one sensible thing to do. I needed to hear God's Word. I went to Desiring God and downloaded a series of sermons on Battling Unbelief. I started at the beginning and listened to each one. Over and over again I listened. I opened the Bible program on my computer and did my best to follow along as Piper called my sin exactly what it was and correctly identified the root cause; unbelief. I read from Psalm 37 as he pointed out the sin and folly of envy.

There are few options available to believers who find themselves beset with the sin of unbelief. I knew I could ignore the Holy Spirit and further endanger my soul or I could repent. It's not a tough decision to make, repentance isn't hard. It's the remediation that is necessary afterward that is difficult. God made us creatures of habit and when our habits are good, it works for us. When our habits are bad, they work against us. When we repent and turn from something, we must turn toward something else. Knowing what to turn toward was agonizing for me.

I believe it is healthy to be uncomfortable when you are not doing what you should be doing. It is our discomfort and pain that moves us. I also knew I had to repent of the sin of envy. I was envious of people who had something to do, who had ministries- whether within their homes, church fellowships or businesses. I knew I had to repent of impatience, God's timing is perfect. I could think of a ton of things to repent of but not the suitable replacement. In Ephesians, Paul tells the believers, "Formerly you were.... and now you are...." He tells them to take off the old man and put on the new. What am I to put on?

With the intentions of going to Psalm 37 to be convicted some more about my sinful envy, I stumbled into Psalm 46 and of course this jumped from the page. "Cease {striving} and know that I am God;" Immediately I thought of all the times I have been encouraged to be still and wait. I had an employer once that voiced his frustration with my performance. He said I drove him crazy because I would do a fabulous job at ten things I wanted to do instead of facing the one task given to me that I didn't care for. He was right. I have just spent two years trying desperately to do what I would like to do instead of being still and waiting for what God would have me do. I have avoided spiritual (and physical) house cleaning and God has far more tenacity than I can muster. He doesn't have a problem waiting for me. My sanctification is going to be completed and the Lord will see it done exactly the way He wants it accomplished. I need to be still and cultivate contentment.

When you are in need repentance and remediation, it is best to go straight to the One who gives both- grabbing with both hands the grace and mercy available in abundance. It is only His grace and mercy that can turn envy to contentment. It is by consuming the Word and asking that fools become wise; and it is only yielding to His Spirit within us that can allow us to be still before Him.

Isaiah 30:15 a For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, "In repentance and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength."(NAS)

As for blogging, for now it is good for me. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

14 April 2008

Speaking of Evaluation

I am evaluating the purpose of my blogging. It seems to me that there are many writers out there who are far better at the craft and whose contributions are infinitely more valuable. As I search for something meaningful to do with my life, I am not convinced that this is it. I can go several days without speaking to another human being and thus it is nice to 'give voice' to my thoughts, but if this is it- if this is all my life is to contain- then it ought to be given more thought and better effort or not done at all.

10 April 2008

Evaluating Arguments and Godly Behavior

The final day of debate between James White and Steve Gregg was the most beneficial day of the five. The two men posed and answered questions in a controlled manner allowing the listeners to hear and absorb more information. I was relieved. There are a lot of comments regarding the debate on the web- sadly some are downright nasty. Normally I provide links or citations to allow my readers to see for themselves, but at this point I find no benefit in reproducing or highlighting something that troubles me so greatly. In fact, most of the comments have been cut and pasted to me and I haven't bothered following or searching for the links to the authors. It wouldn't be productive to my post and my objective here.

What is my objective? I want to encourage believers to learn how to make evaluations and assessments of positions or arguments while exercising control of their sinful desire to attack people personally.

You may well ask what lends me credibility in this area. It is a fair question. I worked in public safety as a supervisor and trainer. Thus, I had the responsibility of writing performance evaluations for civil service employees. Supervisors of public safety civil servants receive extensive instruction on how to train and evaluate employees. Additionally, during my employment in higher education, I served on the accreditation assessment team. Accreditation is taken quite seriously as well. An institution without accreditation may not receive government financial aid for their students. I have received hundreds of hours of specialized training and have over a decade of practical experience. I have also studied biblical counseling at a master's level and have been counseling believers for years.

In order to evaluate performance you must have objective standards or a set of criterion by which to measure the performance. Subjective standards lead to relativistic results. This is why the more productive debates have rules or a set of objective standards to follow and a moderator to make certain participants adhere to them. And why yesterday's debate was more beneficial, in my opinion. Generally speaking the rules are agreed to by both sides in advance of the debate.

To fairly evaluate the merits of an argument, you must be able to look at the premise of the argument and identify what type of argument is being made. Is the argument based on a false premise? What is being presupposed in the argument? In regard to arguments, they are either valid or invalid (fallacious) and not right or wrong. It is quite possible to have a valid argument and come to a faulty or fallacious conclusion.

Most arguments use either inductive or deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning starts with specifics and draws conclusions about the general. Deductive reasoning works by starting with the general and working back to specifics. Here is a quick and general way to tell the difference between the two. If adding evidence increases how convincing the argument is to you, it is likely inductive. If adding a dozen more examples of the same thing does not make the argument more convincing, it is likely a deductive argument.

It takes discipline and stamina to fairly evaluate the merits of an argument. You need to be able to recognize when someone fouls an argument by using fallacious reasoning. Are you able to identify circular reasoning? Do you know how to recognize a loaded question? An appeal to authority? A red-herring? An argument from silence? An Ad Hominem? This is by no means a complete list of commonly used tactics and fallacies. I list these only to show that evaluating an argument is not passive. It's work.

Let's be really honest here. Most folks don't put themselves through this sort of rigorous mental discipline when listening to a debate. We all have our own set of assumptions and a side we cheer for. However, there are a few who are legitimately wrestling with one side or the other. I am tenderhearted for those people who go looking for more information and are subjected to the emotionally driven opinions and unkind characterizations made regarding the participants of the debate.

Here is the heart of what I want to say. If you are reading reviews and opinions of the debate, keep this in mind. Those folks who, professing Christ, are being unkind and uncharitable to the debaters and who insist on personal attacks- are in sin and need to repent. Cheap shots and slander are not helpful to those who are honestly working through these issues. Not in the slightest. Further, if a Christian truly believed that one of the men was being sinful- the first person to whom they should voice their concern is the man himself, not the people who read their forum or blog.

I am not saying that Christians should avoid criticizing an argument. By all means, go through the argument and identify where it is wrong and supply proof when you do. If you were swayed by one argument, say so and give supporting reasons for it. It's OK to process the information and be undecided. Heck, I don't even mind when someone says they like one position over another simply because it appeals to them. That's honest and doesn't impugn a brother's character. But please do not fall into sin yourself by believing and/or perpetuating ad hominem attacks. By the way, I am not saying that debaters cannot be bizarre or downright crazy, but a criticism of such behavior should be followed with specific examples and be given in the kindest way possible.

And lastly, to those folks who cringe over confrontation. It's not a sin to be tenderhearted or to dislike debates- but please remember not all confrontation is evil. Nor are those people who are willing to confront necessarily mean spirited. Confrontation can be a wonderful tool and blessing when used biblically.

Thanks for the challenge, Jenny G-does this help? :)

09 April 2008

Gardening, Parables and Thoughts

We had two beautiful days of spring here. The redbud is in bloom, my patio peach tree is awash with deep coral colored blooms. My clematis is springing to life. There are daffodils and tulips blooming. Spring and fall are my favorite times of year here. The colors of the foliage are spectacular. Soon I hope to take a drive through the Smokey Mountains. They are simply stunning. Yesterday I ran errands, enjoyed the scenery and purchased some plants for my garden.

Today is overcast and we are likely to get some rain. As soon as I got up I got dressed in my gardening clothes, grabbed my tools and headed outside. I had some lovely and huge terracotta pots on my deck that had lavender growing in them. I managed to keep the lavender alive but the pots did not fare well over the winter. If the plants have any hope of survival they need to be in the soil before the terracotta crumbles away. I took my shovel out in the yard and dug two massive holes, one on each side of the rose bush I had planted last fall. Next I wrestled with the lavender and transplanted them to the holes. I also planted some gladiola bulbs, some snapdragons and some purple salvia. I put some herbs in what is traditionally a strawberry planter and put some bright pink and purple double stock plants in a resin pot on my deck. Stock smells sweet will blend beautifully with the pungent herbs that will be growing next to it. In my vegetable garden I've sown peas, spinach, swiss chard and onions. With all this accomplished, I am hoping for a light rain so I don't have to drag the hose out and water the things I have planted.

Gardening is therapeutic for me. I have half an acre of property that needs to landscaped. My home was built in the middle of what used to be someone's pasture. My lawn is Kentucky bluegrass, dandelions, nettles, wild carrots, wild onions and a host of weeds I have yet to identify. As I putter about, I generally try to think through things that are on my mind. When I started gardening my thoughts were occupied with the debate I have been listening to between James White and Steve Gregg. What started out as a productive exchange has devolved into something less than helpful. Today is the last day for the debate and I hope that it will return to being useful.

As I evaluated the debate, I worked at making the soil ready to receive the plants I was about to put in and my thoughts wandered to the parable of the sower (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8). I wonder if it is prideful arrogance that makes a man believe all men are fertile soil or is it wishful thinking? Knowing that all the seeds I have sown in my garden are not going to bring forth life or fruit didn't keep me from sowing them. Not knowing who the elect may be doesn't keep me from spreading the gospel in the same way. God is the giver of life, it is not up to me. Why do Christians so willingly accept that only God creates life in the womb, but deny eternal life is also His prerogative? Is it because we have had success in joining sperm and egg in a petri dish that we honestly believe man creates life, even his eternal life?

Why do some men have no problem with allowing God to choose Israel but Gentiles must choose Him first? How can they voice no displeasure at God's rescue of Lot and the annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah but be infuriated if He chooses some to be saved from among other sinful towns now?

The rain has come and according to the forecast we are going to have rain over the next couple of days. This will be great for the things I have planted and for the weeds that will grow in competition with them. I must turn my thoughts to other things. I need to clean my house so when the rains stops I will be free to go out and pull weeds. I can't help but bring this verse to mind.

Matthew 5:45 in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on {the} evil and {the} good, and sends rain on {the} righteous and {the} unrighteous.

07 April 2008

You Fear What You Think You Need

Emotions are tricky things. Just when you think you've figured them out, they set you spinning in another direction entirely. I've said it before. We need to be suspect of our emotions. Jonah slept peacefully in a boat going the opposite direction from where God had just directed him to go. David was overcome with his desire or perceived need of Bathsheba and as a result the sword never left his house. Elijah challenged 850 priests of Baal but then ran in terror from Jezebel. Paul felt justified in his zeal for Judaism and executing Christians until Jesus stopped him on the road to Damascus.

In his book, When People Are Big and God Is Small, Ed Welch makes some great observations. Here's one of my favorites.

"The rise psychological needs was inevitable: If you exalt the individual and make emotions the path to truth, then whatever you feel most strongly will be considered both good and necessary for growth. Whatever you feel most strongly are seen as your God-given needs. That is why the unpardonable sin in today's culture is to either 'deny' or suppress your emotions. Emotions point to needs, and to deny your needs is to deny something God-given and God-like."

Welch is addressing how our felt or perceived needs drive us more often than not to fearing man more than we fear God. We are controlled by the things we think we need. Because we assume that we have the right to have our felt needs met, we will do whatever we have to do to meet them. In other words, we don't own our needs, they own us.

We have all seen someone who is desperate to fill a need make a fool out of him or herself in an effort to get what they want. If we are honest, we have all been that someone. A woman afraid of being perceived as weak by her subordinates becomes hyper-critical and terse at work. A man afraid he will be passed over for promotion takes a credit for work he didn't do in an effort to impress the boss. A woman fears being alone and throws herself at any man who will tell her she's amazing, even if it is just for a night. A man fears having nothing more to offer than empty words and finds a different woman to be with whenever he feels his weakness will be discovered. I could go on. We do it in our relationships, our businesses or leisure activity. We do it in big ways, we do it in small subtle ways. We even do it in our ministries. In our sin we fill our perceived needs with people, objects or status.

Fear will control our thoughts, words and actions. It will set our mood and our course. The only remedy for the wrong fear is the right fear; the fear of the Lord. Rather than people, status or objects, we need grace and mercy. We need full dependence on Christ. We need biblical insight as to what our real needs are and to know the One who meets them. We need an accurate picture of who we are- sinners saved by grace- not much to esteem about us other than the One who saves us.

How do we cultivate a proper fear of the Lord? It comes from understanding His holiness and our wretchedness. We need to expose our selfish, self-centered desires as the sinful things they are and replace them with a desire to honor and glorify God. The Proverbs are a great place to start.

Post Script. I just read Steve Camp's blog and he has a fabulous post on God's Holiness. I have added the link.

Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:29-33
29 Because they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD.
30 "They would not accept my counsel, they spurned all my reproof.
31 "So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way, and be satiated with their own devices.
32 "For the waywardness of the naive shall kill them, and the complacency of fools shall destroy them.
33 "But he who listens to me shall live securely, and shall be at ease from the dread of evil."

Provebs 2:3-6
3 For if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding;
4 If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures;
5 Then you will discern the fear of the LORD, and discover the knowledge of God.
6 For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth {come} knowledge and understanding.

Prov 3:7-8
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil.
8 It will be healing to your body, and refreshment to your bones.

05 April 2008

Fear in Femininity

There are differences between men and women and one of them is what and how we fear. There are common fears between us. Men have different societal roles and therefore different pressures and fears, but a man cannot know what it is like to have fear simply because you are a woman. Women make constant evaluations based on safety.

While driving his car a man gets a flat tire and he thinks, "Drat! How inconvenient! I will be late and I will get dirty while I change the tire." He's glad to see someone pull over and ask if he needs a hand." A woman thinks, "Oh no, someone has pulled over...are they safe....will I be safe?"

A man calls a plumber to come help him fix the problem in his master suite bathroom. He wants to make certain the plumber will do a good job and not over-charge him. A woman wants those things too, but she is mindful that she is allowing a stranger, most likely a man, to come into her bedroom in order to fix her bathroom. She wants to make certain the plumber is safe or that someone will be there to protect her if he is not. .

A man checks the back seat of his car before getting in because he doesn't want to be robbed or murdered by someone waiting in the backseat for him to get in. A woman looks for the same reasons, but she knows that being robbed and murdered aren't the worst things that could happen to her.

I am not saying that men are not victims of unspeakable violence. They are. But men are not normally targeted because they are men. Men, generally speaking, are not raped during assaults. In the United States, 1 of 6 women and 1 of 33 men will be sexually assaulted. The likelihood that the woman will know her assaulter is as high as 89%. (CDC statistics.) These figures are conservative because roughly half of the assaults on women go unreported. I won't go into simple assaults or domestic violence statistics.

Why do I bring this up? Because I want my brothers in Christ to realize that we women make decisions based on our safety. Where we will go, what time we will go there and whether or not we go alone are decisions we make, more often than not, based on the conditioning we have undergone in always evaluating our safety. You may make fun of us because we go to bathrooms in herds, but for us, there is safety in numbers. You tease us when you scare us in 'good fun' and we 'over-react.' If we walk somewhere at night and we are assaulted, it will likely be said we should have known better. If we refuse to go somewhere alone, we are too needy. If we are assaulted when we are alone, we should have taken better precautions. If we tell you we are afraid we fear we will to be ridiculed, demeaned or have that information used against us.

In an earlier post I talked about being fearful of submitting to a man. You'll get no argument from me that my fear is partially a result of my sinful heart. I am not trying to justify rebellion here. I do want to say that the fear I have for my personal safety compounds the problem I have choosing to submit. I am not alone in this. I think sometimes our fear for our safety bleeds over into our relationships and poisons them.

I also want my sisters in Christ to recognize how deeply ingrained fear is in the fabric our femininity and to be mindful of the difference between being safe and being rebellious. We are not as physically strong as men. We know we are easily over-powered and we all know someone who has been raped, molested and/or assaulted. Finding the balance between being mindful of our safety and being obsessed or incapacitated by fear is difficult. The Christian life is always about balance and Christ is always the fulcrum.

These are just some thoughts thrown together after a conversation in #prosapologian. It's late and I will probably have to edit these thoughts later.

Do-over Politics

So, just a few more thoughts on the race for the presidency. Obama was on The View last week and smoothed out a lot of wrinkles for people. One of the hosts, Sherri Shepard, who had previously been a Hillary supporter was swayed by his message and said she would campaign for him. The man is great at saying nothing in precisely the right way an emotions driven public wants to hear it.

Meanwhile on Good Morning America, Maya Angelou said she was supporting Hillary. Ms. Angelou was a prominent civil rights figure in the 60's and 70's and says she has been watching Hillary since she was the First Lady of Arkansas. Suddenly Kentucky's May primary is important. Bill and Chelsea are here stumping for Hillary.

Barak has already been here and made his mark. You can buy "Barak is my Homeboy" t-shirts with your city or county name on them. He also has a fan website titled, "Kentucky Gays for Obama. No, these are not attempts at redneck humor. These are the real deal.

Now, add to this mixture Senator Joe Lieberman, who was a Democrat when he ran on the ticket with Al Gore and was elected as an Independent Democrat to his current position, is now endorsing presumptive Republican nominee Senator John McCain for president. Not that they are stumping here. No need to show up when everyone looks the same.

Can we get a "do-over?"

03 April 2008

Bad Theology is Fertile Ground for Fear

I saw a program on the National Geographic channel called Dogs with Jobs. In this particular episode, a dog that was being trained for an elite defense team in Austria was being tested to see if she would make the grade. She was a young Belgian Shepard who obviously loved her work. She watched her master's every signal and command and obeyed him, doing all he asked with all she had. She located bad guys who were hiding, disarmed one gunman and cornered another. She scaled walls and crawled on her belly under barbed wire. All of these things were perfectly executed but her final test would be the deciding factor. She and her master went up in a helicopter- way up-and parachuted out together. The dog and her master were clipped to an expert skydiver, whose job it was to guide them to the earth as if they were going in on a mission. If the dog balked, became disoriented, sick or frightened, she would be disqualified. The dog so trusted her master that she didn't seem to notice she had left the helicopter. In fact, when she landed she wanted to play and was given her favorite toy as a reward.

I watched the program in total amazement all the while thinking what a wonderful gift God has given us in dogs. Their companionship, loyalty and ability to help us is a blessing. I also saw in this example the freedom from fear that comes from trusting your master absolutely. We experience fear, the unhealthy and sinful variety, when we don't trust our Master. We don't trust Him because we don't fully understand who He is. Bad theology is the right soil for cultivating fear and the lack of spiritual discipline acts as fertilizer.

Spiritual discipline alone is not a cure for fear. It is a means by which our faith is bolstered and our understanding of the character of God is increased. We see our utter dependence and His complete faithfulness when we submit to Him and discipline ourselves to seek Him. Faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Donald Whitney in his book "Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life" describes it this way; "The Spiritual Disciplines then are also like channels of God's transforming grace. As we place ourselves in them to seek communion with Christ, His grace flows to us and we are changed. " He then goes on to quote Charles Spurgeon. "I must take care above all that I cultivate communion with Christ, for though that can never be the basis of my peace--mark that--yet it will be the channel of it."

Not knowing God as He really is, not hearing the Word of God cut straight and rightly divided, not spending time in prayer, bible study, and worship, the only sensible reaction is to be scared. A right understanding of God will cultivate the right kind of fear. God is completely trustworthy, holy and righteous. He does not lie and takes no pleasure in our sinful fears. His perfect love casts out fear.

I John 4:15-19
15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
16 And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
17 By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
19 We love, because He first loved us. (NAS)

02 April 2008

Untangling Fear: Part One-Definitions

I am an adrenaline junkie. I have been described by people who thought they knew me as "fearless." Truth be told, I have always enjoyed a smidgen of fear to make my heart race and senses tingle. I think that's why I enjoyed my public safety career. I like earthquakes and thunderstorms and am at my best in a crisis. Joseph Wambaugh nailed it when he said police work was "hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror." I couldn't agree more, public safety is like that.

Some fear is addictive. I like anticipatory fear. The best part of riding a roller coaster is that long, slow, why-in-the-world-did-I-think-this-was-a-good-idea climb to the apex of the ride with that teeny tiny bit of time you are suspended just before you fall. Yowza!

I have had the great pleasure of swimming on the Great Barrier Reef. To say that it was incredible is an understatement. The colors, the beauty, the wildlife, it was all breathtaking. And then the person heading our expedition told me as a matter-of-fact, and I quote, "Oh yeah, for sure and guaranteed there is a great white shark out here that's big enough to eat you." I suddenly found myself weighing the once in a lifetime opportunity of seeing the reef dwellers in light of being eaten. Would the wonderment outweigh the risks? You bet.

I met my friend, Vicki, because she ran the horse boarding business on her family's ranch. The ranch was a few thousand acres and had riding privileges on surrounding ranches. You could ride for miles and miles. Sometimes we would ride in groups and one of my favorite rides was through Potato Patch and Apple Hill. Apple Hill was a great place to take the tickle out of your horse's feet and let them run. One by one we galloped up the grade. My mare was fierce. She would lay her ears down flat, stretch out her neck and run like the wind. I would never be first to charge the hill. My mare only stopped at the top because there was a horse stopped there already. When she was running that hill I was completely at her mercy and I knew it. If I am to be honest, the fear of her not stopping made the run more exhilarating. Definitely worth the risk, I am grinning from ear to ear just thinking about it.

After the girls came to live with me. My willingness to accept risk changed. I had two little black holes of need to love and provide for. They had already lost so much and I knew I didn't have the right to endanger myself and take more from them. The fear I sought in adrenaline rushes gave way to fearing for their wellbeing. Most of our fears change as we do, but not all of them.

With age comes wisdom and hindsight is 20/20. As I reflect on my life thus far, I have obviously spent a great deal of effort avoiding one kind of fear while chasing others. Those people who thought me fearless couldn't have been more wrong. Recently I've realized I have spent most of my life being terrified. People terrify me. Babies frighten me. Loss terrifies me. My singleness is a result of my fear of really being known by someone. That and thinking about submitting to a man's authority causes me anxiety. The fear of rejection and abandonment run rampant within me. Being vulnerable and being needed are equally scary to me. The world would tell me that my past make these fears totally understandable. The truth is these fears are evidence of my distrustful, disobedient, and sinful heart.

Fear itself isn't sinful. What you fear and why you fear it may be. Our emotions are tangled in our flesh and the wisdom of the world. We need to be able to discern what type of fear is biblical and what to do when it is not. We would be wise to do this before we are in crisis.

Healthy fear is reverential and respectful. Proverbs tells us the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge (Pr 1:7). Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 offers this: "The conclusion, when all has been heard, {is:} fear God and keep His commandments, because this {applies to} every person.
14 For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. " And Peter tell us to fear God and honor the king (1Peter 2:17). Healthy fear keeps us from sinning because of our respect and awe for our Creator.

Unhealthy fear is more than the unpleasant feeling of dread. It's quite appropriate to feel afraid in some circumstances. For instance, if someone were to put a gun to my head, fear would be a reasonable response. Not going to church because I fear random violence from someone who might come there with a gun and hold it to my head is not reasonable. However, the reasonable or unreasonableness of fear isn't what defines fear as good or bad. Good or healthy fear keeps me from sinning. Fear becomes bad or unhealthy when it keeps me from doing or being willing to do what God requires of me, and/or when the actions motivated by fear are sinful in and of themselves.