What I Want from God

I expect God to reward me.
Expecting
Perhaps that is a bit candid, but I suspect I am not the only one.
I expect that when I do something for God, give something up for Him, that He will reward me appropriately.
I think that I can control His response by what I do.
Perhaps this is extreme, but I don’t think so.
Before our children came along, my husband and I went to China for a year to work with a house church that had been established the year before.
Missions
Travel
Serving
When we came home, we didn’t have jobs.
A month went by and we still didn’t have jobs.
Our savings started dwindling, and another month passed with no sign of gainful employment.
When work finally did come? It was a temporary position at a university. Not exactly what we had dreamed and hoped.
Through all of this, there were a lot of prayers hurled at God.
There were a lot of accusatory, “we served You!”, and “why are You deserting us?” sorts of prayers heaved toward God.
We think that if we do something for God (give up our life, give up control, do x number of acts of service), we should gain something from God (love, happiness, more than enough to live on).
Yet if God is holy, if He is worthy, if He is perfect beauty, than to see Him is to bow, to worship, to understand my own unworthiness.
God is offering us so much. He gives us His Son. He promises to make us like Him, into who we were created to be. He promises us His presence, promises to be with us, to never leave us.
So I suppose we do gain when we give up something for God.
Not houses and travel.
Home
Not adoring family and deep friendships.
Family
Not healthy body and intelligent mind.
Intelligence
None of this is promised.
What, then, do we gain?
Nothing less than God Himself.
Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ~ Revelation 21.3

Seeking Knowledge

Children have control over so little in their lives.
We grownups like to think that we have control over our lives, but perhaps that is only illusion.
Daddies and Mommies tell them when to get up and when to lie down, when to eat and when to play, what to wear and where to go.  Children will often grasp at anything that will give them more power over their lives.
One of the things I’ve noticed that children use to gain a little control is knowing what name to call things, especially when that thing frightens them a little.  When she was smaller, my eldest daughter’s constant response to a loud noise was That was? That was?  Now that she is a little older, she asks What was that? That noise?  Knowing the name of something gives her power over it, makes it seem a little less scary.
She seeks to know.
Perhaps she is not very different from many adults.
Scientists, medical researchers, geneticists, stay-at-home moms who like to learn…people want to know what name to call things, want to know about things, because that gives them power over those things, those ideas.  If we know how something was put together or how something works or even just what to call it, we feel as though we have power over our world.
We seek to know.
A long time ago, in a land far away, around the beginning of the Christian Church (perhaps even earlier), there lived a group of people we call Gnostics who believed (among other things) that matter, the material universe, was bad and that deliverance from our material form could only come through special knowledge.
Not long ago at all, in a land not at all far away, there lived a group of people who believed that their minds were all-powerful, that the dying of their flesh was bad, that through knowledge they could overcome all physical limitations.  They could eat poorly and take vitamin supplements.  They could ignore their children and send them to therapists.  They could extend life and choose the sort of life that they procreated through the technology they created.  They believed that saving our natural resources wasn’t important because their minds, human ingenuity in the form of science and technology, could surely take care of that problem as well.
There is nothing new under the sun…
In C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man (in 1943!), he said that mankind’s power to do exactly what it wants seems to be growing all the time through humanity’s so-called “con­quest of Nature” – the progress of applied science.  However, “each new power won by man is a power over man as well.”  We can throw bombs from airplanes but can also be bombed ourselves; a race of birth-controllers is a race whose own birth has been controlled.
We seek to know.  We seek to control.
Why do we feel that Nature is bad, that the material world needs to be conquered?  Even as Christ-followers we seek knowledge because we fear.  We want to know and to name so that we can control that which is uncontrollable.
Is the pursuit of knowledge wrong?  Not at all.
Paul says in Philippians:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. ~Philippians 1.9-11 (Italics mine)
Paul seeks to know.
Paul also said this:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength. ~Philippians 4.12-13
Paul is definitely not in control, nor does he seek to be.
Is this a Faustian-like power, this power of knowledge?  A power that gives away everything good that God created in order to gain power and control over His creation?
It can be.
As Christ-followers, do we seek knowledge because we are fearful of the future and wish to wrest control of His creation from the One Who set it all in motion?
Sometimes I do.
Perhaps instead we can seek knowledge in order to praise God with our minds.  Perhaps we can seek knowledge in gratitude for our imagination and intelligence, in gratitude for the complexity of His creation.
I suppose that, as with most that God has created, the goodness or evil of the pursuit of knowledge depends upon the heart of His creation.
May our hearts and minds seek to know out of thanksgiving rather than out of fear.

*etching is “Faust” by Rembrandt

*edited from the archives

Faith Is Not for the Timid

Christianity is frightening.  It is not for the timid.
Sacrificing to the gods
The ancients knew they could not control their world and thus offered sacrifices to the gods in an attempt to exert some control.
controlling nature
We moderns have deceived ourselves.  We think that we control ourselves, our environment, the things and even the people that surround us.
It is this, our self-deception, which makes Christianity so wild and dangerous.
That faith can be only the gift of God emphasizes the scandal of our human condition ~ the scandal of our absolute dependence on Him. I have to depend completely upon what very largely I do not know and cannot control.  ~  H.A. Williams
This giving up of ourselves to that which we cannot control is terrifying.  It is a blind leap into the void.
A blind leap
Yet our belief that we can have some control over our own lives is really just a shutting of our eyes to reality, a whistling in the dark.
We cannot control what happens to us.  We are able to control only our response to what happens, and a giving over of ourselves to that which we cannot understand means giving over the only thing we are capable of controlling.
It is a giving up of all control.  And in return, it is a wild kind of freedom, a dangerous adventure to which the ending is known but not all of the steps along the way.
It is invigorating, lavish, and exhilarating.
Joy
It is abundant.

 

Art credits: plaque depicting scene from the “Aeneid” by Sebastian Brant and Johann Grüninger ; rock garden photo by Jim O’Connor; photo of girl on edge of canyon by Edmilson Sanches

Living by Formula

Formulas are nice when you want to control your results.

Formula

Living creatively is risky.
creative architecture
Yet the first thing that we are told about this God in whose image we are created is that He Himself is creative.  He is a creator.
God Creating
You can never tell what will come of living creatively.  Even many who are courageous enough to practice an art form and share it with the world would prefer to live more formulaically.
paint by number
Many of our choices in this life can be directly guided by what God says through His Scriptures.  Am I angry with someone?  I should not kill them.  Do I see something I like in a store window?  I should not steal it.
Yet there are so many other areas in our lives where we are asked to live as courageously as artists, to be riskily creative with our choices.  We ask God where we should live, where we should go to school, whom we should marry, what sort of career we should pursue, how exactly we should parent our children, and we are dissatisfied with the answer that God can use us wherever we are and on whatever path we choose.
Looking for answers
There are other, more specific situations, in which we long with all of our being to do the right thing, to obey God, to be like Jesus, yet that right thing is far from clear.  This is where we yearn for a formula.  We desperately want to be able to turn to a page, a verse, and get a specific answer for a specific issue.
We tell ourselves it is because we want to obey, yet perhaps it is often closer to the truth that we simply do not trust God’s Spirit in us.  We do not trust that the Holy Spirit can guide us in the way that honors God.  We are too fearful to take the risk of living like an artist.
I have been in the middle of just such a situation this week and have found myself searching anxiously for a formula to tell me what to do.  I was attacked by a dog, a dog that is owned by a neighbor with a history of keeping dogs who have to be put down for attacking people.
Whether or not my neighbor knows God, I am not aware.  What an amazing opportunity to make God known to her!  And I live in a neighborhood filled with children.  God asks us to protect the weak, to care for those who cannot care for themselves.
children playing
How can I do both of these things?  How can I glorify God to my neighbor and protect the children of our neighborhood at the same time?  Certainly an eternal soul is more important than any physical harm, yet God also calls us to work toward justice and the defense of the weak.
Part of the trouble that I (and most of you, I would wager!) like to know my path several steps in advance.  Preferably enough steps in advance to allow me to see the end.  I do not like walking forward when I can only see the space where my foot will land next.
I knew my next step.  I knew that God was asking me to meet with the owner of the dog and just speak with her, but that wasn’t enough.  I wanted to know what would happen after that.  I wanted to see all the way to the end, to know how I would both protect the children and make God known to my neighbor.
Loving the Children
Loving our Neighbor
God did not ask me to plan out all of my steps to the end.  He did not tell me the formula I should use to accomplish both of these goals.  He did not give me the task of making certain that everything was ordered perfectly in order to reach His aims.
He only asked me to do the first thing and to trust Him with the rest, to live creatively and allow the Spirit to guide me one step at a time.
So I did.  I met with the dog’s owner without knowing what would come next.  I took the risk of starting down this path, trusting that God will shine His light ahead when the time is right.  I don’t yet know the ending to this story.  I don’t know how God will work things out.
Lighting One Step at a Time
So I live like an artist, taking the risk to wait for His light without planning all of my steps to completion, knowing that God is far more able to control the ending than any number of formulas that I might follow.
Even though I still like formulas.

 

Art credits: God Creating the Sun, the Moon and the Stars by Jan Breughel; Paint-by-numbers photo by Isabelle Bart; Christ with the Children by Carl Bloch; Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Henryk Siemiradzki

Turning My Temper into Beauty

I am feeling discouraged today.
Discouraged
It is easy for me to heap guilt and shame onto my own head.
I have tried and tried and tried yet again to keep my temper. Sometimes I succeed for the first ten transgressions, at other times it only takes one, yet at some point I always fail.
I yell, I spit ugly words through clenched teeth, I point an unyielding finger as I hiss.
Yelled at by Mommy
Why is this so difficult? I would gladly lay down my life for these babes of mine, yet I seem unable to lay down my pride and my temper for even one day.
Is this familiar to any of you? Do any of you struggle with the same things over and over again?  Join me over at Embracing Grace so that we can each share what God is teaching us.
(Go to http://embracinggrace.net/2013/07/turning-my-temper-into-beauty/ if the links above are not working)

A Precarious Perch

I sit at my kitchen table and stare out the window.

Out my kitchen window

I am weary.

I see a robin settle on the tippy-est top of a tree.

Robin perched

The wind is blowing him fiercely as he desperately tries to keep his perch.

Robin on the edge

I feel a sudden kinship with this robin.

I, too, feel as though I live perched at the top of a tree, fighting to keep my place, leaning this way and that, re-balancing with a flap of my wings as people and circumstances gust all around me.

Trying to fix all the pieces of my husband that don’t quite suit me.

Robin plus one

Trying to make my kids love God above all else.

Robin plus two

Trying to force my heart to desire God more than anything else.

 

I offer “suggestions” to my husband that will help him to be more like I want him to be.

I plan activities galore to train my girls’ hearts toward God and their minds toward brilliance.

I read book after book to help me understand how to make my heart like God’s.

And I read this:

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

It shouldn’t be a startling conclusion. I am NOT the Holy Spirit. Neither are you.

Yet we so very often try to do His work for Him.

Rather, we must step aside and allow the Spirit to do His job. In His own timing.

I open my heart wide to His gentle teaching and reminding and, at least for this moment, give up my striving and balancing, allowing the Holy Spirit to surround me and give me rest and peace. Peace in knowing that He loves my family even more than I do.

Robin trust

He alone will heal and change our hearts.

Confidence

Music, writing, crocheting. Gardening, canning, baking. Volleyball, reading, learning.


There are many things I enjoy doing and I have always done well at most everything I have attempted. I’m one of those who is an expert at nothing but very good at many various skills and activities. The result of this? I am a fairly confident person.


I know that with anything over which I have control, I have a good chance at success. And there you see my trouble: “anything over which I have control”.

For most of my life I have had control over all that I do. Then I became a mommy.


Suddenly I discovered that even when I read all the right books and learn all the perfect techniques, even when I master everything perfectly, my children may or may not respond as I was promised.

You may roll your eyes or shake your head at my naivety, but this truly rocked my world. My confidence had vanished.

I struggled and prayed and sought wisdom from many sources. After one particularly desperate session of prayer, though, my confidence was beautifully restored.

As much as I may have wished, God did not give me the perfect technique for parenting my little ones. My confidence in myself had nothing to do with my restoration.

Instead, God gently reminded me that He loves my girls even more than I do. Which is a lot. God wants, even more than I do, that they should love Him and love people.


And if God wants something to happen, who can stand in His way?

I still have children who refuse to respond properly to my masterful parenting techniques (which often involves stomping my foot at them), but as long as I remember God’s promises, my confidence can no longer be shaken.
But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. ~ Jeremiah 17.7-8

Slinging Mashed Potatoes

My eldest has had trouble loving her sister lately.


When she gets angry, even if it is with herself, her first instinct is to lash out and hurt Little Sister. We’ve been working on this, trying to teach her other ways of expressing her anger, but it is a long and difficult road. She seems to lose all common sense when her emotions run high.

Sadly, this reminds me all too much of the adults in our country this time of year.

Ah, election season.


Time for everyone to lose logic and common sense and to begin slinging hateful words around like mashed potatoes in a junior high camp cafeteria.

I have been wondering how we got to this place. How did we get to the place where it seems impossible to have a compassionate discussion of ideas?

In my most recent Mars Hill Audio Journal, it was suggested that this has become part of our culture because of the direction that our public schools have taken.  When we emphasize math and science to the exclusion of teaching ethics and civics and philosophy, our citizens grow up without knowing about logic, without knowing how to follow an idea through to its logical conclusion.


Here is a clip of one of my favorite authors, N.T. Wright, speaking about the problem that we don’t even have the debate but rather have bits and pieces of a shouting match (if you are viewing this via email/in a reader, click here to view this video):

 

I can see, having been a teacher myself, how cutting logic and philosophy out of schools would appeal. It is much easier to control the flow of ideas than to teach people to think for themselves. (I am not proposing that this has been a deliberate conspiracy against free thinking in our country, rather that this has been the unintended consequence of placing a higher value on sciences than humanities. It simply helps the cause that the things that are cut out are subjects that tend to make governing more difficult.)

As I thought about how we got to this place, though, and as I listened to respected leaders speak about this issue, I realized that this is not a new problem, this problem of not teaching young people to think for themselves, of not teaching children how to think logically about an idea and spot the fallacies contained within.


In the 14th century, John Wycliffe was one of the first advocates for translating the Bible from Latin, a language that only priests and rulers could read, into the common language, accessible to all. The leaders of his day violently opposed him, wanting to keep the power of ideas to themselves. Wycliffe’s opponents cried out, “The jewel of the clergy has become the toy of the laity”. In the end, Wycliffe was declared to be a heretic and his body was exhumed and burned, and the ashes were scattered.

As much as I would like to swell with indignation at the thought of trying to control ideas, if I am honest with myself, I can relate. It is difficult for me to trust my own children. I want to control the flow of ideas, to control what they know and understand. This would be much easier than teaching them to think critically and then dealing with the inevitable hard questions that will come.

Thankfully, I know better. God has instructed me to trust. Not other people, but Him. I must trust His Spirit inside my children.


So I will continually ask for help in relinquishing control. I will trust my girls to the care of God’s Spirit and trust that He will show them what is good.

As for our country, our election season, let us be the first to use logic and common sense, to show compassion to those with whom we disagree, and trust in God’s plan and His Spirit working rather than taking the easier route of slinging mashed potatoes all over their faces.

Art Credits: Vote photo by woodsy; photos of N.T. Wright and Wycliffe stained glass from Wikipedia images

Why do you seek to know?

She has control over so little in her life. Her Daddy and I tell her when to get up and when to lie down, when to eat and when to play, what to wear and where to go. She grasps at anything that will give her more power over those things with which she comes into contact.

She loves to know what name to call things, especially when that thing frightens her a little. When she was smaller, her constant response to a loud noise was “that was?”. Now that she is a little older, she asks “what was that? that noise?”. Knowing the name of something gives her power over it, makes it seem a little less scary.

She seeks to know.

Perhaps she is not very different from many adults.

Scientists, medical researchers, geneticists, stay-at-home moms who like to learn…people want to know what name to call things, want to know about things, because that gives them power over those things, those ideas. If we know how something was put together or how something works or even just what to call it, we feel as though we have power over our world.

We seek to know.

A long time ago, in a land far away, around the beginning of the Christian Church (perhaps even earlier), there lived a group of people we call Gnostics who believed (among other things) that matter, the material universe, was bad and that deliverance from our material form could only come through special knowledge.

Not so long ago, in a land not so far away, there lived a group of people who believed that their minds were all-powerful, that through knowledge they could overcome all physical limitations. They could eat poorly and take vitamin supplements. They could ignore their children and send them to therapists. They believed that saving our natural resources wasn’t important because their minds, human ingenuity in the form of science and technology, could surely take care of that problem as well.

There is nothing new…

In C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man (1943!), he said that mankind’s power to do exactly what it wants seems to be growing all the time through humanity’s so-called “con­quest of Nature” – the progress of applied science. However, “each new power won by man is a power over man as well.” We can throw bombs from airplanes but can also be bombed ourselves; a race of birth-controllers is a race whose own birth has been controlled.

We seek to know. We seek to control.

Why do we feel that Nature is bad, that the material world needs to be conquered? Even as Christ-followers we seek knowledge because we fear. We want to know and to name so that we can control that which is uncontrollable.

Is the pursuit of knowledge wrong? If so, than my thoughts a few weeks ago were completely amiss.

As I read through Philippians again, I see this:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. ~Philippians 1.9-11

Paul seeks to know.

I also read this:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. ~Philippians 4.12-13

Paul is definitely not in control, nor does he seek to be.

Is this a Faustian-like power, this power of knowledge? A power that gives away everything good that God created in order to gain power and control over His creation?

It can be.

As Christ-followers, do we seek knowledge because we are fearful of the future and wish to wrest control of His creation from the One Who set it all in motion?

Sometimes I do.

Perhaps instead we can seek knowledge in order to praise God with our minds. Perhaps we can seek knowledge in gratitude for our imagination and intelligence, in gratitude for the complexity of His creation.

I suppose that, as with most that God has created, the goodness or evil of the pursuit of knowledge depends upon the heart of His creation.

May our hearts and minds seek to know out of thanksgiving rather than out of fear.

*etching is “Faust” by Rembrandt