Feet to the Mountains, Splash in the Streams

The drafts are piling up again. A months worth of blog posts that I start and either never finish or decide not to publish. One is a meditation on Mother’s Day and Pentecost. Another about Isaiah 58, and rebuilding ancient ruins and restoring broken dreams. Another about how I am done writing  for a while. Another about the need for foster parents. Another about how the words are all spilled and now is the time to “chop wood and carry water”. Another about being “All In”.

The common thread: it’s time to do the thing, regardless of what anyone thinks. Personally, I’m done doing everything else but the thing. I am tired of trying to measure up to anyone else’s convictions. I am tired of hiding, of pretending, of writing voiceless protagonists carried away by circumstances beyond their control. I am tired of measuring my obedience to Christ by a handful of verses in Titus and Timothy without taking into account the mighty women of the Old and New Testament.

Ain’t nobody got time for all that. There’s been no room for slave women  since the crucifixion, and no time for timidity since Pentecost.  The Kingdom must advance.

What is the thing? It looks a little different for everyone, in how it plays out. But it is the work Christ began and commanded and empowered the church to carry out. It is the only thing that matters, the place of joy in God and bringing Him glory. It is walking in step with the Spirit, and in the heart of the Father, for our families, community, nation and world.

We are given one life. Just one. At the end of it, the only opinion that will matter is the one of the GodMan who said “whatsoever you have done for the least of these, my brethren…”  He who pointed out fields white for the harvest and commanded his followers to go out into all the world has promised the power to carry out the task.

Right now, there is a huge need for foster and adoptive families in our community. Beyond that, we must remedy the circumstances bringing families  to that point. There is a need to bring the gospel into the darkness of addiction, the hopelessness of poverty, physical and mental affliction, and to pierce the veil of illiteracy and ignorance.

I remember when He first called me. I know where He brought me from, and it ain’t pretty. The good news of Christ met me in many of the areas I listed above. That alone should compel me to extravagant worship, untiring labor, faithful dominion, and ceaseless praise.  He has proven His sustaining power again and again.

God  has proven Himself mighty on my behalf and I want to be where He is, doing what He does. This is the place of joy, the place of the Shepherd’s leading.

So today, obedience to that call looks like caring for my family and continuing to get the house ready for an adoption home study.  In a couple of weeks it will look like finalizing lesson plans for our church’s literacy program. Next fall, it might include an online class or two, because I’ve pretty much maxed out what I can do with the tools I already have, and some of my  Samaria and End of the Earth dreams require a bit more learning.

What about you? What is your Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria? What mountains has Christ called you to? When is the last time you played in the streams?  What joy unspeakable, full of glory, waits over that next rise? He is joy unspeakable, full of glory,  and He has called us to come and to follow Him!

 

 

The Active Abiding

I wrestle with an old question as I prepare to teach a group of kids a Lenten bible study on the fruit of the Spirit. As I rejoice in the  matchless grace of God in Galatians, I also find myself nodding along  with another book I am reading by a Catholic homeschooling mom about establishing godly habits as a training in virtue, to build character and spiritual discipline. How do we abide in Christ and produce fruit?

The first Lenten lesson is a meditation on Galatians, and the object lesson was to go begin something like this:
I have potting soil and seeds and water. I demonstrate that adding water the potting soil produces mud. There are no tomatoes or watermelons or grapes or strawberries, just mud. Dirt follows it’s own nature and only produces dirt, not fruit.

In order to get fruit, there needs to be a seed, a deposit. As Christians, we are given the Holy Spirit. That is God’s deposit into us. Mud cannot produce fruit, fruit seeds produce fruit.

Here is were I get a little caught up. The just shall live by faith. It is God who sends the rain. And yet, faith comes by hearing the word of God. If I cover my ears and refuse to hear, will that little seed bear fruit?

The Psalmist says, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help” The Psalmist cannot help himself, but he does turn his face toward the Son of Righteousness who arises with healing in His wings.

I know that our Heavenly Father loves his children, that He will keep them and save them to the uttermost. I have often struggled in my own Christian walk with trying to add dead works to the glorious freedom that is found in Christ Jesus.

This is the question I ponder today, before I finish my children’s lesson: What place do the spiritual disciplines have in the life of the believer? What does it mean to abide in Christ? Is this abiding an active verb or a state of being?

What do you think?

 

Improv Fiction- The Book of Isaiah (ch2)

Chapter 2

They won’t even notice I am gone. Bianca slipped away an hour ago. Derek, red-faced with too much wine, pontificates. His mother eats it up. When I can take no more of their gluttony, I leave.

I walk through a marble expanse, past a massive staircase lit by an even more impressive chandelier. I pass the parlor where we spent 45 excruciating minutes getting that perfect shot for the photo card.

I walk down a small, narrow hall. A passage almost never used by my family, although the servants are familiar with it. It runs from the kitchens to the main living areas of the home. At the end, I find the door I am looking for. I pull a key from the chain around my neck.

The oak door swings open with a creak. I make a note to myself to find some WD40 for the hinges. My hands find the damp stone surface of the wall within the door.  I won’t be able to get the lights working until I descend into the granite cellar.

This is the oldest part of the house, built up from the remains of a stone cattle dug right into the side of a hill. A small foothill near the Cascades, if you’d like. In the 20’s my great-grandfather built his timber transport money mansion right over the remains of his grandfather’s barn. I run my fingers along the cool stone and imagine I can hear lowing and braying and smell the sweet stink of a barn in cold November. I reach the bottom on the stairs and power the generator on.

Screens come to life. On a few moments, I’ll pull up an satellite and real time  views of my entire empire. I light a pipe. I should have done better, done more. I could have made such a difference in the world. I meant well. What went wrong? Where did I go so wrong with my children?

I remember my father. This was his sanctuary as well, but in his day, the walls were lined with maps and pushpins. He had dreams, dreams of the good a fortune could do in the world, or at least, one nation.

I call up footage from one of our drones. The beauty of our land will never get old. The mountains, the wildlife, patchwork quilts of farms. On another screen jagged lines appear, representing company stocks. News reports start blaring from blaring from two flat screen TV’s. I turn the volume all the way down, but the images burn themselves into my mind. Riots in Portland. Police brutality in Baton Rouge. The Pipeline protest. A march in DC.

And that’s just this nation. I close my eyes to the images of drone attacks, and Syrian refugees. My heart cannot take in anymore talk of terrorists and war. What have we come to?

I open my email server and begin the first phase of my plan. I cannot save the world, but I may be able to redeem the lives of my children. The first missive goes to Delores.

 

Track Back, start again.

It didn’t all come crashing in at once, it was more like a gentle landslide. Sickness. Family stuff. Needy kids. Car trouble. It all compacted together against our obligations and an unrelenting schedule. We started school in August. It was good. I still found time to write, exercise, and sleep. My sister moved in with us in August, and needed rides to work a few times a week. My eldest started a demanding EMT class in September. Shane and I started foster parent training in September. We had family in, which was a joy, but we still tried to keep up a regular pace in stead of letting life interrupt our schedule.  Sometime around then, I stopped getting enough sleep a night, stopped losing weight, started getting fatigued. I stopped making time for things that are good for my soul. Started reading sensational news articles instead of books and watching political commentary instead of having quiet devotions.

In the midst of a busy schedule, we all started to suffer. My oldest struggled with her class. My ten year old started having emotional meltdowns, the kids all got sick, my husband got worn down.

I turned 38, and took a step back. Talked to my hubby. Contacted the foster parent agency we were training with and said “we’re not in that season yet”. I really wanted us to be in that season, but we’re not. Our other children need more from us right now.

This week we’ve been in recovery mode. We cleaned house. We spent some days just playing with legos. The meltdowns stopped.

This week, I took time to think rather than just ingest media. I’ve been reading about late 1930’s Germany, paying particular attention to the tension between faith and nationalism. This line of investigation  led me to the Barman Declaration (which was awesome, the church took a stand against German nationalism and the Nazi party), Karl Barth (the theologian who summed it all up with:Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!) , and the life of Dietrich Bonheoffer. In reading Bonhoeffer, I find a gentle reminder of an orthodox Christian liberality? liberalism? that I can embrace. I find a respite from the false dichotomy presented by the media, and the better way Jesus expounded on in the Sermon on the Mount.

Today I read Psalm 37. It said not to worry about the wicked or the powerful. It said to rest, to dwell in the land, and to wait. It said that the meek would inherit the earth. I struggle with waiting. I struggle with  a gnawing uncertainty that we’re not doing enough. The lie that I am supposed to do “great things” for God. Is it really enough just to raise my kids? Shouldn’t I be doing something more?

And yet, the fruit that Christ looks for is not in the things that we build for Him, but the fruit that we bear in the process. And the fruit of the Spirit is this: love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. These fruits dried up in my life weeks ago (were they ever there?). They were replaced with: stress, anxiety, self reliance,  bitterness, a short temper, binging, and guilt.

So I’m stepping back. Going back to the place where I last knew peace, and joy. Resting from my work and entering His.

Who would Jesus vote for?

In the past, I’ve tried to avoid writing about politics. I don’t hold a corner market on truth, and I respect that people come from many different perspectives, and believe as they do for their own reasons.

However, I have been a lifetime student of scripture. I can read, and while I do not understand it all, I believe I can articulate some of the major themes of scripture as it pertains to civic duty.

In Genesis, we see all mankind given stewardship of the earth, to tend it and fill it.  We see the people dividing into nations. God chooses one family as His own, but all nations of the earth are blessed and judged according the  same criteria.

Some reasons God judges a nations include:

  1. Arrogance and refusal to care for the poor (Sodom and Gomorrah) According to Ezekiel 16:49, 49Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”
  2. War crimes against other nations.
  3. The rich taking advantage of the poor, particularly the widows and fatherless
  4. The shedding of innocent blood.
  5. Unjust judges, unjust business practices
  6. False worship, idolatry, also hypocrisy among those who claim to be worshipers of Yahweh
  7. Harsh treatment of foreigners, strangers, and refugees
  8. Wicked trading practices with other nations. This is usually described in lurid sexual terms evoking harlotry, but the sin being discussed is economic, not sexual.

I am sure there are more. This is the general gist of Israel’s prophets, decrying nations for their lovelessness toward God and their neighbor. Jesus said that the whole law of Moses could be summed up in loving God with your whole being and loving your neighbor as yourself.

God will hold us accountable for how every human being is treated. Syrian humans. Unborn humans. Poor humans. Black humans. Immigrants. Women.

In reading Job and the Psalms, we can also see God’s cares for the earth and its creatures.

Jesus, as God who came in flesh, was remarkably indifferent to the politics of His day.

In the gospels, we find Jesus decrying hypocrisy and false worship and telling people to stop worrying so much about amassing wealth, but to trust God and care for the poor instead. He touched the lepers and healed them. He healed all who came to Him weighted down with infirmity, and charged nothing (how’s that for healthcare reform?) He was often swamped by the disabled, the outcast, and those suffering with mental illness. The poor flocked to him. The religious leaders stood at the fringes of the crowd, looking for a way to trap him. They feared Him because he was politically impractical, if the people followed Him as a King, the Romans would swoop in and take away whatever national sovereignty they had left. The Pharisees didn’t necessarily like Herod, but at least he was an evil they knew.

When backed into a corner to answer political questions, Jesus always brought to light the weightier issues.

Man trying to trick Jesus into making a political statement: Should we pay taxes?

Jesus: Show me the coin. Whose picture is on it?

Tricky guy: Caesar’s

Jesus: If Caesar’s picture is on it, then give it to Caesar. Render to God what belongs to God. (In this case the whole of our beings, as we bear His image.)

Jesus did not come to earth to start a political revolution, but to claim His rightful throne in the hearts and lives of every being on earth. His work on earth looked so much smaller than king making and grew to something so much greater than mere Rome.

The earth is the Lord’s and all it’s fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. Jesus doesn’t need to vote, that’s not how He went about things anyway.

When we look at the state of our nation today, we need to look through the lens of scripture and not just one political party’s  platform. Christianity has no business in the kind of politics that builds godless empires while refusing to care for the poor. We have no business in the politics of mocking and mud slinging. We’d be better off working on the grassroots level, like Jesus did, and waiting for empires to rise and fall around us.

And so, dear Christian, I implore you, in the words of Peter’s 1st letter: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”

Take the Next Mountain

It feels like a high wire act. That balance between having Big Faith and Walking Humbly with your God. It’s funny, last Sunday I taught a Sunday school lesson about the faith of Caleb, then heard a sermon about humility. As believers, we’ve got to grab a hold of both. Really, they are not opposing things.

Yet, there are rocky shoals threatening on every side

There’s  the “Name it/Claim it” trope, thinking that somehow everything we envision will come to us by some universal law.

Or we could get caught up in a mistrust that God is faithful to keep his promises or a theology of false humility that doesn’t really believe that He is Good and has good intentions towards His children.

What is the thing that advances Christ’s dominion over all things? What is the thing you cannot do in your own strength? What is the thing that you must fully throw yourself on the mercy of God in order to do. That thing is your “by faith”.

I have friends who have, by faith, laid down their desire for marriage in order to better serve the Lord. Others, by faith, raise large, God fearing families. By faith, some men leave certain income for full time ministry. By faith, families raise thousands of dollars for international adoption, leave comfortable homes for the mission field, or plant inner city churches. In those cases, it is not vanity but a Caleb like obedience that says: “Take the next mountain”.

I remember a  retreat I was on around the time I was 21. We were told to write down everything we wanted to do and have for our lives. We were then told to cross off anything that we could accomplish in or by our own strength, leaving only the impossible.

At the time, the only things left on my list were this:

  1. Get married. I figured it would take a miracle to find someone I wanted to marry that also wanted to marry (overweight, independent, outspoken, kinda crazy) me.
  2. Raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (I was supposedly infertile and my family background was all over the map. Would I even be allowed to adopt?)
  3. Write books that inspire kids to seek the Lord. I didn’t know how to write. I never finished college. I had no self discipline. Writing a book seemed like an impossible thing that I would never accomplish.

Sixteen years later, I am happily married with children by both birth and adoption. We homeschool. We are getting ready to jump back into foster parenting. I write. Not very well, but I’ve finished two books.  Mostly tripe.  The writing thing WILL take some work and persistence on my part, but the next mountain is in view.

It strikes me that a certain boldness is required for each of these endeavors. I often feel like a grasshopper compared to other wives, other mothers, other writers. Who am I to presume to homeschool my kids? Who am I to think I can take other children into my home? Who am I to think anybody will ever want to read something that I write? I see my failings and the imperfections in my offerings.

The real question is: Who am I to judge or compare myself to another servant?

It doesn’t matter who I am. It matters who He is, and who He has called me to be. I just have to keep moving towards the next mountain.

I write this as I struggle through, as I doubt, as I try to steer clear of the rapids. I write this for you, whoever you are, to encourage you not to shrink back. He is faithful.

Poet of the Week: T.S. Eliot

060

This poem was written by T.S. Eliot during a time in his life when he converted from Unitarianism to Anglicanism. I like the perspective, in the head of one magus. I like the references to old wine skins the Birth/Death, awaiting the new Kingdom at the end

The Journey of the Magi

by T. S. Eliot

<!– (from Collected Poems 1909-1962)
–>

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

“The Journey of the Magi” by T.S. Eliot from Collected Poems 1909-1962. © Faber and Faber, 1974.