From the Basement

January 27, 2011

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?”

English departments have begun the arduous process of notifying applicants for graduate work. Stanford and Emory are interviewing, and Northwestern has already sent out acceptances and rejections. None of the programs I applied to have begun notifying yet, to the best of my knowledge, but an interesting few months are upon us.

Last year, I went through January in a state of relative bliss, not thinking about my applications, only to be hit with a truckload of force by my first rejection letter in early February. The resulting anxiety—will I get in? won’t I?—affected me on so deep a physical level that I was throwing up every morning for the month of February. I remember it vividly: wake up, make coffee, check email, work on some homework, and within a half hour to 45 minutes, I would be wretching in the toilet. The feeling was terrible—this focal point in my belly that felt black, that was wound tight with nerves and fear. What if I don’t get in? What does that mean? What if this isn’t God’s will? What if… what if… what if?

It’s that time again: the end of January, where a handful of schools are beating their peers to the punch by sending out acceptances and rejections. The majority of programs will notify mid February through late March, with wait-lists being accepted/rejected even through early May. Like I said, a long process to wait through.

But my perspective is different this year. Last year, I couldn’t imagine not going to graduate school. I was afraid of wasting my life, somehow. A year later, I know that anything we do—even if it’s unexpected, even if it’s not “using” our degree—is certainly not wasted… not wasted when you are seeking the Lord’s direction, however imperfectly, not wasted when you know that he holds the future in his hands.

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. —Matthew 6:28-33 (NIV)

My fiancé loves to quote the verse 27 of this chapter, which states, “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” (NKJV).

Worrying will not make answers come more quickly. It will not affect an outcome, and it will not even make us feel better. Rather, it makes us feel worse and encourages the vines of self-doubt and pride, anxiety and fear to twine about us, choking out the good that is being nurtured in us.

Scripture tells us precisely what we are to do when faced with this sort of situation. 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast your anxiety on him, for he cares for you” (NKJV).

The sin often referenced in verses dealing with worry, anxiety, and/or fear is unbelief. John Piper articulates in many of his works that unbelief is the root of all sin: not trusting, not believing, not hoping in the promises of the Lord. Look back to the verse in Matthew 6: Jesus does not tell the disciples that they haven’t prayed enough, or haven’t turned to scripture enough, or haven’t worked hard enough, or haven’t done [fill in the blank] enough. No—he reproaches them: “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”

You of little faith. This is how Jesus addresses those who worry about whether he will provide, who do not fully trust his promises and live like they trust them.

Because this is the question: are we living like we trust Jesus? It’s one thing to say we trust him, but really—do we? Last February, I would have said with my mouth that I absolutely trusted God with the outcome… whilst my body betrayed the truth of my belief by wretching all my worry and fear into a toilet bowl.

When a situation is so terrible it is difficult to see how good could come of it, it is hard to believe on the promises of Christ. On the flip side, when we want something so badly and are praying for it fervently, casting all our hope on that to do something for us… it can be hard to take a step back, hold out an open palm, and let the Lord take that dream, saying “not now” or perhaps even “no.” But even in these times—especially in these times—we must hold fast; we cannot doubt his promise in Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (NKJV).

The first chapter of James offers a step-by-step manual, if you will, to dealing with these situations where we are tempted to worry, whether they are trials wrought by our own sin or by external circumstance, whether the outcome will be immediate or long-awaited.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. —James 1:2-8

We are not only exhorted to be patient, but to ask for wisdom. How often do we ask for wisdom as to how to handle a situation in a godly manner? So often I pray for outcomes when I should be praying for the proper, Christ-like attitude. And we should be praying with faith, with total trust, not doubting the promises of Him who is Faithful and True.

This passage ends, of course, with a rather convicting verse about the double-minded man. Oh, have I been the double-minded woman, doubting that the Lord would provide even as I prayed for provision. Or couching my A prayers with B and C prayers, rather like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel—“If this doesn’t happen Lord, then please let this happen, and if you see fit to do this but not this then…” You get the drift.

James calls this out for what this is: unbelief. Sin. How dare we approach the father and pray while doubting him—doubting his promises, which are his very nature—in the back of our minds? We have “some nerve,” my grandmother might say.

James’ words are harsh, but the point is made. We are exhorted throughout scripture to believe on his promises, to let them dwell in our hearts so that our transformation may be from the inside-out, our trust in the promises of God a direct correlation to our growth in Christ-likeness. And here’s the thing: we have no reason not to believe. He has told us that his promises are true, and I don’t know about you, but I can look back on my life—even these short 23 years—and see with stunning clarity how “his grace has brought me safe thus far.” And my prayer is that “his grace will lead me home” – and that I will be receptive to that leading.

He is good. He is faithful. He is true. He will never leave us or forsake us. He holds our lives in the palm of his hand. He is Alpha and Omega, beginning and the end, and he knows our beginning and our end. There is nothing to fear. He is freedom from fear.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;

Whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the strength of my life;

Of whom shall I be afraid?

….

Wait on the Lord;

Be of good courage,

And He shall strengthen your heart;

Wait, I say, on the Lord!

—Psalm 27:1, 14

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October 31, 2010

Videos from the “Think” Conference

Hello all. Videos have been posted from the Think Conference, subtitled “The Life of the Mind and the Love of God,” hosted by Desiring God Ministries and held during the first weekend of October in Minneapolis. Might I suggest the following messages in particular?

R. Albert Mohler, Jr. “The Way the World Thinks: Meeting the Natural Mind in the Mirror and in the Marketplace.” (http://desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/the-way-the-world-thinks-meeting-the-natural-mind-in-the-mirror-and-in-the-marketplace#/watch/full)

Francis Chan. “Think Hard, Stay Humble: The Life of the Mind and the Peril of Pride.” (http://desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/think-hard-stay-humble-the-life-of-the-mind-and-the-peril-of-pride)

Tullian Tchividjian (I posted my notes from this session). “Giving Though to Gospel ‘Math’: Why Jesus + Nothing = Everything.” (http://desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/giving-thought-to-gospel-math-why-jesus-nothing-everything)

Messages from Rick Warren, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Kevin DeYoung were also fantastic, and I’d also encourage you to listen to the panel discussions.

October 7, 2010

Notes from Tullian Tchividjian’s talk at “Think”

On Friday, October 1, 2010, Tullian Tchividjian (pastor, author, and grandson of Billy & Ruth Graham) gave a talk entitled “Giving Thought to Gospel Math: Why Jesus + Nothing = Everything” at the 2010 Desiring God National Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The conference theme was “Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God.”

Tchividijian’s talk was based in the book of Colossians. This post is an attempt to highlight the main points and details of his talk.

He stressed that the gospel is for people inside the church as well as out – it’s fuel as well as ignition, that once God saves us, He doesn’t move us beyond the gospel but rather, further into it. While he’s very encouraged by this gospel centric resurgence in the church, he exhorted us to “amp it up a notch.”

The outline is as such, that “gospel math” addresses:

  1. Motivation
  2. Identity
  3. Idolatry

Motivation

There’s still some trepidation re: the gospel and grace because of a common misunderstanding about the nature of grace – e.g. “dangers to avoid” – legalism and lawlessness. As the argument goes, in order to maintain the equilibrium, we need to balance law and grace. However, framing it in this way keeps us from understanding the radical depth of God’s grace.

Tchividijian suggested that it’s more accurate to say that there is one primary enemy of the gospel – legalism – and that legalism can take two forms, both of which are “self-salvation projects.” First, there are the people who save themselves by doing right, performing well – front door legalism, as it were. Second are those who attempt to save themselves by breaking the rules, by ascribing to autonomous standards – that if we do what we want, then we find freedom.

The biggest lie about grace is the idea that grace is dangerous and therefore needs to be kept in check. Believing this violates gospel advancement in the church and our lives.

The law scares us less than grace. Grace takes the focus off of us and puts it on Christ and HIS power, not on our own (rules). Relying on our own rules is much more comfortable.

Now, obedience matters. Tchividjian reminded us that as a pastor, he certainly understands the fear of “too much” grace – but he reminded us that fear comes from the pit of hell.

As a parent, he often thinks that the way to get his teenagers to behave is to crack down. But he has oftentimes concluded that the only way to “keep licentious people in line” is when they get a taste of God’s radical acceptance of sinners.

The irony of gospel growth is that those who obey more are those who realize that their standing with God is not based on their obedience but Christ’s… not on our radical fetes for Jesus but rather on His fetes for us.

Only when our hearts are captured do we begin to obey more.

People need to hear less on what we can do for God and more on what God does for us!

And people become moralists – unintentional legalists – when the focus is on imperatives and not indicatives. He reminded pastors of their accountability in this.

He noted that the apostle Paul always spent time on indicatives before getting down to imperatives, first exhorting people on the gospel and the awesome power of God, on what God has done, on God’s love, before offering imperatives. Colossians is an example of this – the first two are spent on indicatives of God’s love, and chapters 3 and four get down to the imperatives to the church. As Tchividjian put it, “Paul spends the first two chapters on marinating the people in what God has done!”

Some more gospel math? Imperatives – Indicatives = Impossibilities

Long-term sustained obedience must be grounded in the gospel rather than short-term fear/guilt. And God is interested in a certain kind of obedience – not just anything (look at Cain & Abel). Attitude matters to Him. He wants a cheerful giver – so what motivates our obedience?

Identity

The world wants us to locate our worth in something smaller than Jesus. The gospel liberates us from other identities.

Tchividjian described this last year as being the most difficult in his life. His church merged with another congregation and styles clashed, so for what he said was really the first time in his life, he lost acceptance and was subject to ridicule. It took away the identity that he had placed in what others thought, robbed him of the comfort of acceptance. And following this, his father died unexpectedly.

Colossians 1 – he loves us too much to give us over to old idols.

“Because Jesus was strong, I’m free to be weak. Because He won, I am free to lose. I can lose anything because my identity is in Him, and that is an identity I will never lose.”

Everything – Jesus = Nothing, but Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

“In Christ, my identity is secure, which frees me to give everything I have because in Christ I have everything I need.”

One of the most powerful quotes of his talk was this: “Real slavery is living your life trying to gain favor. Real freedom is living your life knowing you have favor.”

Idolatry

The threat to the gospel is idols – idols within the church. Most idols are good things that become ultimate things.

He quoted C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters at length, specifically focusing on the passages where the older demon, Screwtape, is writing to his prodigy, Wormwood, as to ways to keep his “patient” (a young Christian man) distracted. Screwtape suggests the practice of “Christianity and.” Screwtape says to never let believers come to the place where they really believe that mere Christianity is enough.

So Tchividijian asked: what is the one thing that would devastate you to lose?

That is your idol. Those are your idols.

In closing, he read a quote from Malcolm Muggeridge, a 20th century British journalist turned Christian apologist:

“We look back on history and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of ‘the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.’

In one lifetime I have seen my own fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that, ‘God who’s made the mighty would make them mightier yet.’ I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian proclaim to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin his own assumption of power. I’ve heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as wiser than Solomon, more enlightened than Ashoka, more humane than Marcus Aurelius. I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that Americans, had they so wished, could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.

All in one little lifetime. All gone with the wind. England part of a tiny island off the coast of Europe, threatened with dismemberment and even bankruptcy. Hitler and Mussolini dead, remembered only in infamy. Stalin a forbidden name in the regime he helped found and dominate for some three decades. America haunted by fears of running out of those precious fluids that keep her motorways roaring, and the smog settling, with troubled memories of a disastrous campaign in Vietnam, and the victories of the Don Quixotes of the media as they charged the windmills of Watergate.

All in one lifetime, all gone. Gone with the wind.

Behind the debris of these self-styled, sullen supermen and imperial diplomats, there stands the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom alone mankind might still have hope. The person of Jesus Christ.”

EDIT: It has come to my attention that Pastor Tchividjian tweeted a link to this post. Thank you, Pastor, for your message last Friday. It convicted and encouraged me. Praise God for the things He did that weekend!

October 6, 2010

An Exhortation to Love (inspired by Glee & Joan Osborne)

I’ve been listening to the song “One of Us,” released by Joan Osborne in 1995, most recently covered by the cast of Glee, all day long.

Something in this song is provoking my spirit. I can sing this song in total worship, in the full knowledge that Jesus was one of us, convicted by the hard questions the song addresses (“If God had a face, what would it look like and would you want to see?”). Joan Osborne, the writer and singer, was obviously influenced by her Catholic upbringing, even though she has since left it and now professes Buddhist influences. And tonight, the cast of Glee, characters openly Christian, Jewish, agnostic, and atheist alike, closed the episode asking the titular question – “What if God was one of us?” – even as the show’s creator, Ryan Murphy, said, “My point of view is that God is everybody’s collective goodness.” (Fabulous recap of the episode and Murphy’s quote  here – http://www.eonline.com/uberblog/watch_with_kristin/b204027_glee-dux_praise_cheesus_ryan_murphy.html)

As I wrote yesterday, the book I’m reading right now is Angela Thomas’s Do You Know Who I Am? – a question that every woman (everyone) addresses to God. As I was journaling and praying today, the immediate response was God saying, “Do you know who I AM?” (a response Thomas also chronicles in the book, incidentally – good to know God’s consistent in this! *chuckle).

A lot of lessons are coalescing right now – my reading in Piper’s Future Grace, which rests on the foundation that unbelief is the root of all sin and that the ability to walk in “future grace” comes from having faith in God’s promises, in knowing His character and trusting Him. This last weekend at Think, we were challenged to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, and especially all our minds – not to let the means of loving supercede the Greatest Commandment, which is to love God, but to examine and study and learn of the character and nature of God, that we may not boast in our own abilities but in the great grace and love and awesome glory of His son, Jesus Christ.

This song – “One of Us” – it could be a prayer for this generation. It makes me think – we are so close. While religion will (most) always be used by those in power for destructive purposes (the Crusades, discrimination, slavery, etc.), the heart of the people… the heart I see in my peers, in this generation… is a desperate cry for love and acceptance. As depraved as we are – as depraved as any generation has been, for there is nothing new under the sun – there is a very public desperation for acceptance.

The call for acceptance and tolerance – cries at an all-time media high this week because of the tragic suicides of teenagers due to bullying, largely over their sexuality – are piercing. Church, do you hear these cries? Our culture is not desperate for your anti-sin propaganda; they are desperate for a transformative, powerful love – the kind of love that will wrap a gay teenage boy up in its arms and offer him a life he never dreamed of. Not only unconditional acceptance, but unconditional love. Grace unceasing. Peace that surpasses understanding. Purpose. And the promise of life hereafter with the One who holds you in His arms every day.

Glee creator Ryan Murphy said that tolerance is at the heart of the show – an attitude which, while commendable, is startling in its tepid insufficiency. It is not enough to tolerate, and I think that regardless of religious creed (or lack thereof), we all know it.

“Tolerance” was not something Jesus Christ practiced. He didn’t “tolerate” prostitutes and tax collectors. And He didn’t just accept them in the crowd as He taught. He ate with them. He loved on them. To the thief who hung on the cross beside Him, Jesus said, “You will be with me in paradise.” And this was a thief whose only “work” was to acknowledge Christ as the Son of God.

That’s love. That’s grace. Don’t give me your cock and bull good works propaganda. I don’t want it. Any work not founded in faith and any work not done in love is dead, and I don’t give a damn how good your motivations are. What message is there but the Cross, where people did nothing and Christ did everything? Tullian Tchividjian gave a fabulous message last Friday on how the church somehow feels a need to caution its congregants about grace, as if it’s this wild thing that could be let loose to great destruction if we let it – Lord forgive us that we would temper and dilute the power of Your grace! (Now I want to go find my notes on his talk, which was entitled “Giving Thought to Gospel Math: Why Jesus + Nothing = Everything.”)

In John 13:35, Jesus says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Yes, discussions about doctrine and theology and transgression and the necessity of faith in action are critical to the maturing of believers… but people do not come to Christianity because of its rules. And might I add, they do not come to Christianity. They come to Jesus Christ, the giver of all good gifts, our savior, whose love for us is beyond human description.

People come because they know they are not enough.

They come because they know there is something greater.

They come because they realize that that something greater is the love of Jesus Christ, the son of God, our Redeemer.

Church, people do not need to hear the rules or how much of a sin [______ – homosexuality, adultery, take your pick] is – have the last few millennia shown you that that approach does not work? This is not a game where people come because of us. They come… they only ever come… because of Jesus Christ, who offers an unconditional love which makes words like “tolerance” seem pale and cheap.

The verse bears repeating… “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

As humans, we fail in loving each other. I fail so much, every day. But in God and His son Jesus Christ, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can love… and the beautiful thing is that His love is so glorious that even a hint reflected in this life makes me want to go running into His arms.

What if God was one of us? … what if God was reflected in us, strangers on a bus trying to make our way home…

October 4, 2010

On Desiring God

Oh my friends, it has been a long time, and I apologize for my lack of faithfulness. I have been crippled by fear, by anxiety, by the overwhelming apathy of feeling there is nothing to say, nothing worthy to share.

I’m a bit on God overload right now – a much needed… well, I’d call it a kick in the pants, except it more feels like that hug you get from someone who you’d rather not have hug you right now, but they just keep hugging you and eventually your heart starts to soften as you are overwhelmed by their incredible love and persistence… that’s God right now.

This weekend, as I wrote before, I attended the Desiring God National Conference with my father in Minneapolis. I’ll be writing up my own impressions of the conference at some point, but in the meantime, you can find notes and audio from the talks on the Desiring God website, under “Resource Library,” then “Conference Messages,” then the Think conference. While all messages are to be listened to, may I highly recommend those by Chan and Mohler.

Then today, I arrived back at my mom’s to find that Angela Thomas’s latest book, Do You Know Who I Am? and other brave questions women ask, was waiting for me. I just finished the introduction and the first chapter, which is entitled “Do you know I am afraid to dream big? He is worthy.”

Right now, I am confronted by the mass of my own inadequacies – my stinking pride and selfishness, fear of what God will do in my life, fear of what God won’t do in my life… all of these lies which bundle together to create one enormous ball of yarn entitled Unbelief.

The root of sin, as John Piper writes, is unbelief, and Jesus’ constant admonition to His disciples is to have faith – “O ye of little faith!” One of my favorite verses in all of scripture is the man who cries, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!”

Yet even while sitting in a puddle of my own fear, my own pride, my own fear of being successful for the knowledge that I would likely attribute it to my own skills – even in this state, even proud, even selfish, even untender, even fearful – God gently touches me and says, “Do you know who I AM?”

It’s funny – a few months ago, when I learned of the title of Angela Thomas’s latest book, I thought, that doesn’t really apply to what I’m going through right now. Oh, how my heart has changed! Oh, the pride in my soul that has been revealed! The questions in this book are the ones I have been crying to the Lord –do you know I’m afraid to dream big? Do you know I’m lonely? Do you know I’m afraid? Do you know I’m undisciplined? Do you know I’m disappointed? Do you know I’m ordinary?

The good news is that none of these questions are too big for Him. He is the One who created all. As R.C. Sproul told us this weekend, He is the only helozoistic being in the universe! – the only one who, by mere will, can move Himself and all creation! And the verse that opened this first chapter in Thomas’s book is Revelation 4:11: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” As Francis Chan reminded us in a powerful message on love and humility that was loving and humble because Chan himself was so evidently filled by the Spirit with loving humility and a desperation for Jesus Christ – he reminded us that the marvel is not that we know God, but that God knows us! As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” And in her introduction, Angela Thomas quotes J.I. Packer, who wrote:

“What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it – the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.”

This is overwhelming. His grace never fails. His love never fails.

This weekend gave much thought to loving God. A central verse to the conference was Matthew 22:37, which is one of my favorite in all of scripture. In it, Jesus replies to the question, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?” Jesus’ response: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.” John Piper especially focused on how thinking is merely a means of loving – to think or to feel or to be spiritually moved are not synonymous with love. They are means of loving God, but loving God, Piper exhorted us, is treasuring God, cherishing Him, desiring Him, resting in His arms…

The greatest thing God desires of us is our love, the sort of love that transforms life itself. As authors far greater than I have written, we can only love Him because He first loved us. Thus, when certain world leaders say that they came to Christianity because of an admiration for its precepts, I am aghast! You admired Christ’s teachings? To be a Christian is to cast yourself on Jesus Christ, cognizant of all your own failings and iniquities, knowing that you deserve punishment, but being utterly blown away by the incredible knowledge that God sent His only son, Jesus Christ, to die for us, that we may believe in Him and not perish but have eternal life – that we would have the marvelous experience on this earth of being transformed by His awesome and all-encompassing love for us.

I am a believer in Jesus Christ because I love Him, but ultimately because He first loved me, and that knowledge is utterly mind blowing. Me, guilty of unbelief? Me, who is afraid to let Him fully work in my life? Me, the unemployed? Me, the daughter of divorced parents? Me, with the genetic predisposition for alcoholism? Me? Really? You’re picking me, Lord?

He chose me. He chose you. He has cast our sins as far as the east is from the west – as the group Casting Crowns extrapolates on that psalm, from one scarred hand to the other. His love is overwhelming. It covers every sin. He is worthy. He is worthy. He is worthy. He is the giver of all good things; all good gifts are from the Father (James 1:17).

Who am I, Lord? Who am I?

I am your daughter… your beloved… your friend… your disciple… one who is longing and desperate to be in your arms… one who falls… thank you that you use broken people struggling in the dark, grasping at straws, desperate for your light… thank you thank you thank you… I want you… I want to know you more… I want to be more like you and less like me… I want to cast my own dreams for my life at the feet of the one the one who gives dreams… at the feet of the one who willed creation into being…

October 1, 2010

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God

I’m attending the 2010 Desiring God National Conference in Minneapolis, MN this weekend — the title of this post is the theme of the conference. I attended three smaller sessions this afternoon and took eight pages of notes — I definitely plan to post my notes here on the blog. Tonight marks the first main session with a headlining speaker. Sadly, Rick Warren won’t be live, as was expected. Something has come up with someone close to him that necessitates his staying at home this weekend. But he’ll be joining us via video broadcast, so we’ll see how that goes.

My dad’s birthday is tomorrow, so it’ll be a nice bday celebration for him, getting to hear the wisdom of the likes of R.C. Sproul, Al Mohler, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Francis Chan. Sunday morning is the closing session with John Piper. Audio of the headlining sessions will be available soon after the sessions on the Desiring God website.

September 22, 2010

On (a lack of) Patience & Endurance

Today, I am faced with a question: to take a part-time job with no insurance or benefits, one that involves children (and thus a lengthy commitment I cannot in good conscience back out of)… or to refuse, and continue on in the job hunt uncertain and unknowing.

Today, my heart and my gut are at war. Today, I really despise the gift of freewill and am rather desperate for God to just shove me through a door. Today, I do not want to be the person clinging to the life raft in the ocean who turns down the boat and the plane’s offers for rescue while saying “God will save me!”, not realizing that God in fact sent the boat and the plane.

Today, my family and friends tell me, a job is a job, and you can always back out, even when there are kids. Today, I have been chided for not applying for enough jobs, cautioned against ignoring my gut, and greatly encouraged to pursue any kind of reasonable employment, including temping and administrative work.

Today, I find it hard to trust God, yet I know I must claim that promise, that all things work to the good of those who love him who have been called according to his purpose. Today, I ask him what I have not done, that I do not yet have work. Today, I remind God that I’m feeling pretty humbled, and is it necessary to keep me barely employed for the next year to remind me of that?

Today has been a big day.

I have sought advice from my parents, from my writer friends, and from my fiancé, and I am now turning to prayer and the word of God, feeling convicted – once more – that I saw fit to cry and fuss and solicit the advice of others before turning to scripture. I read the gracious reminders of Psalm 139 and, in my impatience, did not feel much grace, and I’m now turning to the book I’ve been reading, Future Grace by John Piper, which I recalled had a chapter entitled “Faith in Future Grace vs. Impatience.”

Piper says, “Patience is the capacity to ‘wait and to endure’ without murmuring and disillusionment – to wait in the unplanned place, and endure the unplanned pace” (172). My friends, if that’s patience, I have not been patient these months. I have kicked and screamed and fought and fussed and whined and complained and been self-centered and bitchy every gosh darn step of the way. I have not waited restfully – there have been moments of rest but they are ever punctuated by the squalid cry of “Why are you doing this to me?”, ever marked by a desperation for worldly provision rather than spiritual, ever torn by the seeming division of my head and my heart and my spirit.

To wait in the unplanned place – my parents’ respective homes, which cause no end of annoyance and grief, even amidst the joy and comfort. To endure the unplanned pace – to apply for dozens of jobs… to sit listlessly staring at a computer screen, endlessly perusing job listings… to ask God, are you there? Do you know I’m waiting? Do you know I’m lonely? Do you know I’m desperate to get out of my parents’ homes? Do you know… do you know…

I don’t think I’ve once asked God, what can I do for you? Not that there’s anything I can do that he needs, but I’m sure he’d appreciate the gesture.

Trust me, I have played out every possible scenario of why I’m still unemployed and living at home, from me needing to be with my parents right now to God wanting to humble me (done) to God just being vindictive… which is not, of course, biblical.

Days like today, I am confronted with the immensity of my own weakness. My infallibility, pride, self-centeredness, ego, need for human approval, desire for attention, disbelief in God’s promise to provide, that very dangerous root of unbelief… if patience is evidence of inner strength, then my impatience is evidence of great weakness.

Luckily, I worship a God who says his power is made perfect in my weakness. I cannot comprehend how that is possible, but he says it is.

If I had a job interview for every tear I’ve shed these last months, I’d have been employed yesterday. At every turn, I question what I’ve done wrong, and then I’m reminded, it’s not about me. It’s about him, and about his kingdom, and if that means taking a nanny job, so be it – though that’s the last thing I want to do, trust me.

I am just feeling very lost and very unsure right now. I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I also don’t want to disappoint a family or children when another job (hopefully) comes along.

There are no easy answers. Right now, I’m reminded of something my future father-in-law told me a few months back – sometimes God just wants you to make a decision, and where you go, there He will be also, and He will bless that.

Or as Francesca Battistelli wrote, “I wish I could know what you’ve got in store for me/I try and try to read your mind/But I forget that patience is a virtue/You’re teaching me to hold on tight/And I don’t know how the story ends/But I’ll be all right cause you wrote it/I don’t know where the highway bends, but I’m doing just fine/Cause you’re in control even when I don’t know where my life’s gonna go/You’re keeping me guessing.”

September 8, 2010

Faith in Future Grace

On Sex & the City, Charlotte is the friend who insists that things happen for a reason. Her cynical friends tend to not believe her, but this is a hope to which she stubbornly clings.

I’m often that person. No matter how desperate the situation, I’m the annoying friend who will tell you that God will use this for good.

I believe that many things happen for a reason – some things in life are inevitable, even if tragic (death comes to mind). But I believe that in all things, in all situations, God works to the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). I also believe that He who begins a good work in us is faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6). My mom’s two favorite names for God are Jehovah Jireh (God who will provide) and Faithful & True. He does provide, and He is faithful and true.

These are the promises – the hopes – the future graces, as Piper may call them – that we need to cling to, in all situations. It seems generally agreed upon that God has three responses to our prayers: yes, no, and wait. “Wait” is where I’m at right now, and “wait” – more often than not – sounds like silence. It’s still, it’s there, it’s wordless, but somehow, if I’m tuned in, there’s a peace that descends… and I take that to mean, “Wait, my child, have faith.”

I’m reading another John Piper book, and this one is focused on having faith in “future grace” (the title is, fittingly, Future Grace). Piper’s basic thesis is that faith stems from trusting God’s promises for the present and the future; the book also serves as an indictment of the implication that gratitude for past grace is enough to sustain our faith. Trusting what God has promised and having faith and hope in what He will do – this is the key to saving faith.

Piper makes the wonderful point that in the Bible, people are never chastened for having little gratitude. Rather, Christ says, “O ye of little faith.” It is by faith that we are enabled to further put our hope and trust in God, by faith that we are able to act, by faith that we are able to grow.

Lack of faith is the crux of sin, yeah? In times when my faith is lacking, oh, that is when the anxiety, worry, and fear come… that is when I stumble… that is when I fall. I am so grateful – yes, grateful! – that God has picked me up time and time again, and His word tells me that He will continue to do so.

All this to say, I can’t identify a “reason” why I’m still unemployed or why I’m still living at home. If it’s to finish the novel, well, crap, because trust me, the novel ain’t getting’ done any time soon! If it’s to learn compassion for my family, I fail a lot in that area. If it’s to learn patience, well, okay Lord, you have my attention.

But I do have faith that whatever purpose (or lack of purpose) is behind my current situation, that however I fail when I’m here at home, that whatever happens – I know that my God is for me and not against me. I know He is faithful & true. I know He will continue to provide as He’s been doing. And I know that He will be faithful to complete the good work He started in me. And maybe someday, I’ll look back on this and see exactly how God was piecing things together to set plans in motion that are unfathomable right now.

I want to be a woman of great, unshakable faith. Maybe this is part of becoming that woman.

August 5, 2010

Thoughts from a Christian Feminist

I am a Christian. I am also a feminist. I triple majored in English, Politics, and Women’s Studies in college – suffice to say I sought answers in feminism that I could not find in the church. In the church, I saw leaders who told women they should stay at home, who said women’s primary purpose was to be wives and mothers. There were fellow congregants who stood aghast when I declared my ambitions, who were equally appalled at all the original oratories I took to speech competitions on gender pay equity, violence against women in advertisements, and women and the presidency.

For a long time, it seemed like I was on the outskirts of both groups. I was too liberal for the church, and I was too church-y for my women’s studies classes, what with my views on, well, the church (or rather, should I say, Jesus Christ).

For the last decade, any mention of Ephesians 5 has been enough to make my blood boil. Suffice to say that I grew up in a home where headship was abusive and un-Christlike, even after my father’s conversion. Male headship was something to be feared. A husband could do anything he wanted to the wife, and she had to obey for “the good of the family.” And let me tell you, much as I heard pastors rail against abuse and male domineering within marriage, I watched again and again as pastor after pastor ignored my parents’ situation. (It is my personal opinion that for every pastor out there willing to confront an abusive marriage in his congregation, there is one who cowers in his office, fearful of confronting it, hoping he can just pray it away – particularly if it’s not life threatening to the wife and children. Cynical? Maybe. But it’s just my two cents.)

So to say I have baggage regarding marriage is an understatement.

But over the last few months, the Lord has really brought me to a place where I’m reconsidering crucial questions within a biblical light – often for the first time. It’s grace. Total grace. I still have fears, and the desire to control is very strong within me, but I’m learning – slowly – what marriage is about, what it was intended to be. (To spell it out, I affirm Christ-like headship and submission.)

Part of my reluctance in discussing this is that feminism is viewed as an enemy by prominent Christian theologians; it is very much figured as a war on the church. I’m in a unique position in that I am intimately familiar with both sides of the war, as it were. I’ve read Grudem and Piper (the experts on complimentarianism), and I’ve read “evangelical feminists” like Craig S. Keener. It goes without saying, given the Women’s Studies major, that I have read at least the basic texts in each major feminist theory. (Which is – I think – more than Grudem and Piper can say, given some of their arguments.)

This post was inspired by something that struck me tonight; it’s a very small point but I do feel the need to introduce it within its larger context. A friend recently blogged about her frustration with extremism in the feminist blogosphere, and the discussion brought up issues of identifying as a feminist and as a proponent of gender equality.

The term equality has never sat very well with me. It posits a binary in which Man is Equal and Woman is Unequal; at its core is the assumption that women need to be “brought up” to men’s standard. And man is not the standard!

This is what I love about Christianity: it eradicates having “man” or “woman” as the standard – Christ is the standard. Look at how Christ treated women – he was an absolute feminist, for at its core, feminism is about acknowledging the value of men and women, and how much more can you affirm the value of both sexes if not by offering both eternal life? (Notwithstanding the fact that both were created in God’s image to begin with.)

Like I said, small point.

I’ll be blogging about feminism and Christianity in the future, but can I leave you with some thoughts? Both “sides” – the church and “feminism,” so called – make terribly general assumptions about each other. Of particular concern to me is how the church discusses feminism. The Great Commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds, and Faith is not an excuse for:

a)    Rash generalizations (e.g. feminism is responsible for the downfall of the family)

b)    Not doing your homework (e.g. not reading feminist texts and theory)

c)    Poor arguments – the result of being uninformed and general

And it seems that most discussions of feminism in the church today are, frankly, all of the above.

This is not to say that writers like Grudem and Piper have not produced outstanding scriptural exegesis on passages like Ephesians 5 – quite the contrary. Piper in particular gives the best explanation of Ephesians 5 I’ve ever heard. While they sometimes push too far for my liking (e.g. stating that mothers should not work), I think they’ve done outstanding work.

It’s when the church starts blaming feminism for everything that it displays a remarkable lack of self-reflection…

But that’s the beginning of another post.

P.S. Here’s a link to one of Piper’s sermons on marriage, entitled “The Beautiful Faith of Fearless Submission.” http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2007/2088_The_Beautiful_Faith_of_Fearless_Submission/

July 26, 2010

Youth is not a Limitation for God

In the last blog, I wrote that these last few months have been turbulent times filled with spiritual challenge and learning and growth, but also pain, heartache, doubt, fear, and anxiety. This week – the last few days – in particular have brought an avalanche of revelation.

What I would like to focus on tonight is one lie that has seeped into my life: that my youth and inexperience will keep God from using me, particularly in my calling. I put my faith in conventional wisdom that says that countless rejections must be collected before “breaking in”; what’s more, I measure success in human standards of being published. And when it comes to the ever-frightening idea of writing a non-fiction book on Christian living, or just meditations on faith from an unemployed college graduate, I practically freeze with fear, knowing that I lack the credentials – the degrees, the experience – to be published.

It’s really hard to put it out there and say that yeah, I have those dreams.

One caveat here. Over the last few months, I’ve read a flood of articles on unemployed college graduates and on the “Entitlement” complex of Generation Y – how we think we’re entitled to better work and whatnot. Personally, I’m totally willing to do the grunt assistant jobs. Get coffee for someone for years before “making it”? Sure! I’m willing to pay my dues. And similarly, when it comes to publication, I’m willing to start at the bottom. Rejection will happen and a thick skin is necessary. I recently sent out my first story to a professional publication, and I hold no illusions about making it in – it’s valuable experience and you know, I’m putting myself out there. We’ll see what happens.

Here’s my issue: conventional wisdom says that youth = inexperience = lack of wisdom, lack of success. And it’s common wisdom for a reason – it’s common!

BUT. With God, all things are possible. Do we really believe this? Youth is not a limitation for God. Inexperience is not a limitation for God. And it is dangerous when the youth internalize this “conventional wisdom” – that they must wait for wisdom, wait to be used, wait for Their Calling, simply because they are young.

It’s about keeping a right perspective. The fact is, feelings of inadequacy and inferiority are some of the most powerful tools Satan can use to keep us down.

It is crucial to remember that God doesn’t call the equipped – he equips the called. We are called to lean on him and not on our own understanding; we claim that the joy of the Lord is our strength and our salvation. God does not require an advanced degree or decades of experience to be used. In fact, he delights to show his strength in our weakness. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul writes:

“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

A dear friend of mine is going to a foreign country for ten months to set up an organization in a field she is not trained in. She’s the one who first told me that God equips the called, and it was a blessing to be able to repeat her words back to her when we had lunch a few days ago. Skills and knowledge can be learned – the content she’s working with can be learned – but she has an invaluable knowledge going in: the knowledge of the mercy and grace of Christ Jesus and her ability to show His compassionate love to others. Jesus will make a way where there is seemingly no way.

Our youth and inexperience are perfect opportunities for the Lord to make manifest His glory, for we really cannot boast on our own wisdom and understanding. Indeed, God recently slammed a door in my face that would have brought me that advanced degree and the worldly respect that accompanies it.

It is not wishful thinking or naiveté that gives me so powerful an assurance in this wonderful quality of God’s, but rather His own words. God delights to use the ill equipped, the young, the “wrong” choice to bring about His glory. Two examples come to mind: Moses and Esther. When God drew Moses to Himself via the burning bush (such an awesome idea), He said: “Come now… I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). Moses’ reply falls from his lips before he can stop himself – “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

He protests. Even though we can see how Moses is uniquely, wondrously called to this task (saved from Pharaoh’s edict as a baby, raised in the palace, familiar with Egyptian customs, and y’know, he’s sort of the brother of the current Pharaoh) – in spite of all this, Moses clearly felt himself ill qualified. He doubted himself. He didn’t think he was worthy.

God’s response to Moses’ fears? “I will certainly be with you.”

We are never enough; He is always enough. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

Of course, God’s assurances do not assure Moses – a chapter later, Moses is still arguing with God, saying he’s not eloquent enough to speak. And yet God provides for this weakness, as well (Moses’ biological brother, Aaron, is a gifted speaker).

God will make a way where there is no way.

Similarly, Esther is called to act in a radical way. She is a young Jewish girl hiding her beliefs from her new husband, who just happens to be the King of Persia. She’s inexperienced and, in spite of the presence of her cousin Mordecai, frighteningly alone. However, she is thrust into Purpose headfirst when one of the king’s advisors, Haman, hatches a plot that would destroy all Jews in Persia (the Holocaust, only thousands of years earlier).

Mordecai implores Esther to go to the King and beg his mercy, and she protests, reminding Mordecai that no one can enter the King’s inner sanctum unless personally called (death is a possibility for such radical disobedience). Mordecai’s response to Esther’s fear is famous: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)

In spite of their youth and inexperience, even in the face of their fear and anguish, God used Moses and Esther to deliver His people in marvelous ways. In fact, he positioned them perfectly. They acted against convention, against “common wisdom” – they were willing to risk death in order to obey the call of God on their lives.

They were willing to be used. Humility and submission: these are the qualities we are all to cultivate in terms of obedience to God. The aged and the young, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated – regardless of status, a humble, submissive spirit before the throne can and will be used by the Father.

One example of awesome humility and submission was Mary, the mother of Jesus. When the angel Gabriel came to her, she was 14 – eight years younger than I am right now. Luke tells us that Mary was “troubled” at the angel’s appearance and greeting; Gabriel exhorted her to not be afraid. When he told her of her calling – to bear the son of God! – her one question was an understandably logistical one (that she was sort of a virgin). The angel answered her question, finishing “For with God nothing will be impossible.” Mary then replied, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

Wow. Wow.

Mary then visits her cousin Elizabeth (who is preggers with John the Baptist) and her song is just incredible.

My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior.

For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;

For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.

For He who is mighty has done great things for me,

And holy is His name. (Luke 1:46-49)

She is 14, engaged, pregnant with the son of God, and about to face ridicule, condemnation, and public gossip. (Remember that Joseph almost leaves her over this.) She is no fool – she is well aware of what happens to women in her situation, and yet her faith is absolute. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior” – let that be an inspiration and exhortation to us today.

(I realize that it may sound as if I am implying that youth and inexperience are inherently limitations and weaknesses. Not so! We all are possessed of limitations and weaknesses that seem like mountains, but these are nothing for our God.)

How glorious it is, as a young person, to know our savior, redeemer, lover, friend. How wonderful is it to be pursuing His heart, His right thinking this early! To not waste decades and years on the pursuit of vanity – things that cannot possibly fill us. How awesome to be walking in His light, to be seeking Him, to be latching onto our callings at such a young age! Oh, my prayer, friends, is that we would all walk in our callings, for how beautiful will they unfold – like flowers opening under the sun – over the years and decades of our lives to come.

I would like to offer a snippet of a sermon from John Piper on this subject of youth and wisdom. He uses quotes from Ecclesiastes and Job that are just outstanding sources of encouragement on this topic.

To bring our minds into conformity with God. Job 32:8: “But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.” To walk in the Spirit, pursuing His calling on our lives in our youth, for indeed, we are not guaranteed tomorrow.

I really like the song “Song of Hope (Heaven Come Down)” by Robbie Seay Band. And there’s one line that gives me chills – it’s the first line of the chorus.

I will sing a song of hope, sing along

God of heaven come down, heaven come down

Just to know that you are near is enough

God of heaven come down, heaven come down

I will sing a song of hope. That is our calling – all of our calling – on this earth. Not literally singing, perhaps, but proclaiming the perfect Hope we have in our Creator.

Lord, I pray that I would have the courage to sing a song of hope, in whatever form you want me to sing, to whoever you want me to sing to. That I would not let my own fear get in the way. My own insecurities, my own anxieties about youth or inexperience or pride or whatever else I’m dealing with. Jesus, your strength is made perfect in my weakness. You are enough. All of you is enough for all of me. I pray for the strength to proclaim your word boldly, to love boldly, to sing boldly, to hope with a boldness and strength that can only come from you. Amen.

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