Archive for May, 2014

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I Have Nothing

May 29, 2014

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Imagine what a pioneer from the Old West would think if they time-traveled to modern times and stood in your living room – or what if someone from a poverty-stricken third world country found themselves in your kitchen?  They would be amazed.  Do you ever think about the sheer amount of stuff we have in wealthy, developed nations?  The comforts and technology we have is mind-boggling.

It should inspire us to awe, thankfulness to praise God, and a desire to share what we have with others who are in need. And often, it does.

And yet, from the perspective of God or eternity, what do we have?

A whole lot of nothing.

Eternally speaking, what we have is worth no more than the tattered clothing of a homeless man.  We have machines that will be obsolete in a matter of years, houses that will crumble with the passage of time, belongings that will wear down, rust, and fall apart – certainly nothing that will last beyond that day when God remakes the world into a new heavens and earth.

All our stuff and money is like carnival tickets.  It’s handy and useful while you’re in the carnival.  You use them to play games and gather memories.  But at the end of the day, when the carnival lights go out, they’re nothing but scraps of paper in your jeans pocket.

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I’ve written about earthly treasures before, but until this week it never occurred to me to look up, gaze around the lovely home I enjoy with my family, and say, “This, all this stuff, is nothing.”

It’s a real attitude-changer.

You don’t get upset at your kids when furniture nothing gets nicked and scratched, or walls nothings get drawn on with crayons.  You don’t feel a sense of bruised entitlement when they empty the toy box all over the very clean living room you had approximately 1.5 seconds to enjoy nothing!

In eternity, will any of that stuff matter?  Or even ten short years from now?

Moving beyond the topic of miniature masterminds of destruction children…  You don’t get upset at the idea that nothing might get destroyed in a fire someday, or stolen, or lost.  And it’s a lot easier to contemplate sharing all you have with others when you count your worldly possessions as nothing at all.

And that’s why we share all we have with you
Though there’s little to be found
When all you’ve got is nothing
There’s a lot to go around
— “Through Heaven’s Eyes” (one of my favorite songs!) from the film “Prince of Egypt”

I love the way God’s Word puts everything in its proper place, and (if we are reading it rightly) leaves no room for us to worship anything but God, or demean anything good He has made for our enjoyment.  We are created in God’s image, beloved children, precious in His sight…and yet we are small, insignificant specks before His greatness.  Our earthly possessions are gifts from Him, to be stewarded appropriately because all things are His…and at the same time they are transient and temporary, nothing to be grasped or hoarded, for they have no eternal worth.  Their value is found only in the way God uses them to shape us into His image and draw us closer to Him.

For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. – 1 Timothy 6:7

This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

I spend a lot of time praying, “God, you’ve given me so many things and I don’t deserve a single one!”  That’s true, and a good prayer.  But perhaps I should spend just as much – if not more – time praying, “God, You alone are worthy.  These earthly things are of no account.”

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Between Two Worlds – Internet vs. Home

May 23, 2014
This calls for a disturbing staged photo.  :P  Look, the baby is an excellent actress - I didn't even ask her to make that perturbed expression!

This calls for a disturbing staged photo.  The baby is an excellent actress – I didn’t even ask her to make that perturbed expression!  😛

One of my ongoing battles is with smartphone addiction.  You know, compulsively checking the iPhone to see if there is anything new.  Getting lost reading articles and digging deeper into pointless websites until 15, then 20, then 40 minutes have whizzed by with the phone still in my hand.  Answering “uh huh” mindlessly to my kids without making eye contact, because I’m presently making a comment on Facebook or replying to a text.  Those kinds of things.  Maybe some of you can relate.

I hate it!  But no matter how many times I have tried to kick the habit by deleting the apps I check most, or giving myself limits, or trying to leave the phone in one spot all day…it always comes creeping back.  For a couple of days I’ll succeed, and then I start making excuses.  “Oh, they’re watching TV right now, so it’s okay.  I’ll just read my news feed and then put it away.”  Next thing I know, it’s living in my pocket again and being pulled out too many times a day.

Have you seen that government ad that portray nicotine addiction to a tiny little bully man who bosses a teen around and drags him outside for a smoke?  It’s weird enough to make you snicker, but also uniquely disturbing, and it hit a little too close to home when I saw it, even though I’ve never had a clinical addiction.  Sometimes the siren call of the internet can be a little bit like that miniature bully.

I considered ditching the iPhone for a basic phone, but my husband reminded me that it’s an invaluable tool in this day and age.  It’s my GPS.  It’s my line of communication.  It’s my Bible (no, literally!  I mean the Bible I use most is on there, in app form).  Of course I could find alternatives to those features if I didn’t have the iPhone.  But ultimately, it’s not the tool that’s the problem – it’s the way I use it.  Technology isn’t evil, but like any good earthly gift, it can be used for sin.

There are many blessings and benefits to this age of instant information and communication, and smartphones and ubiquitous technology aren’t going away.  People often wax poetic about the “good old days” before these things were everywhere, but the reality is that this is the world now.  We can retreat like the Amish, or we can adapt and build a brilliant, beautiful life that includes technology – in its proper place.

 

Sucked Into Another Dimension

Spending all day with one foot in the internet is like juggling my time between two different worlds – the real world, and the digital world.  And sometimes, it feels like that single foot is actually in the real world, while the whole rest of me is on the other side.  (Pondering these competing worlds has inspired some interesting thoughts for the next draft of my portal fantasy sci-fi trilogy!)

As a mom of small children I’m especially tempted to be bored or frustrated with “real life” and seek digital life for something, anything more interesting than being cooped in the house with two crazy toddlers, or stuck on the couch nursing the wee one.  Whenever a dull moment comes up, I’m likely to pull out the phone and get sucked in.  It makes me so snippy!  That is the part I hate the most.  When I’m busy peering through the portal into that ever-changing, constantly-updating digital landscape, I start to see my own precious children as distractions – instead of the other way around, like it should be.  And then I get unjustifiably angry to have my Very Important Comment or Extremely Crucial Reading Session interrupted by a squabble, an accident, or a mess I have to attend to.  Being distracted by Internetopia, I also miss a lot of crucial things, like “who started it”, and whether the mess was an accident or intentional misbehavior…important things for a mom to know in order to disciple her children properly!

My family should be my first priority, not Facebook or baby name blogs, or Instagram photos, or anything else I could find by looking into a screen.  It’s not that an occasional escape or distraction is wrong…but I have to ask myself, if I’m constantly looking for moments of escape, what am I trying to escape from?

 

Your children only have one childhood.  Make it memorable. – Maria Shriver

I came across that quote this week and it shocked me into contemplation.

These babies only get one childhood!  They are only little for such a short time, yet this short time will shape their entire lives.  I’m responsible for the majority of that shaping.  I’m the only mom they get!  Having had a vibrant, memorable, wonderful childhood myself, I was sickened to think of how empty our days often are – real life hollowed out by the spaces where I am peering through the portal instead of engaging my tiny ones and shaping their lives with joy.  And how many times do they feel like they are competing with a device for my attention?

I can only be in one world at a time.

Few things we can do in this world are so well worth doing as the making of a beautiful and happy home. He who does this builds a sanctuary for God and opens a fountain of blessing for men. – J.R. Miller

So today I am embarking on yet another attempt to curb my smartphone usage down to where it should be, with my eyes focused on the goal this time instead of on human effort.  Rather than escaping at any opportunity, I’m leaving my phone plugged into the speaker system for fun music.  I’m taking initiative to create memories and build things here in this “world” of home: relationships, block towers, Lincoln log houses, Lego constructions, new experiences, joy.

Here is where God has put me, and this is my most important mission.  The internet is a fantastic thing, and great for staying in touch with friends and family, blogging, learning new stuff, and the like.  I can’t and won’t throw out all the good digital things along with the dirty bathwater of selfishness.  But here with my children is where I’m most needed – physically and mentally – and entirely irreplaceable.

The internet is a nice place to visit, and often.  But, really, I don’t want to live there.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13 (ESV)

Can you relate to being pulled between two worlds?  Did you have a memorable childhood?  How do you create one of those for your own children, if you have them?

 

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Think About These Things

May 16, 2014

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

When it comes to fiction, Christians are very fond of this verse.  It is often quoted as a warning against sinful content in books and movies.  Many of us have felt guilty over stories we’ve enjoyed because parts of them seemed to go against this text, even though there were many good things in the story otherwise.  Some of us have quoted this passage to others with loving concern, when we suspect their entertainment choices are less than godly.

I am concerned that this may be a skewed interpretation of what this verse means and how we should apply it.

First, let me be clear – the Bible is adamant that we should flee temptation to sin, and so I must be as well.  Our Lord even said that if our eye causes us to sin we should (metaphorically!) gouge it out rather than dally with temptation (Matthew 18:9).  It’s foolish to play with fire.  Everyone should discern carefully whether their entertainment choices are leading them toward sin or pointing them toward godliness.  So I’m not talking here about watching pornography, or crude, coarse comedy shows, or other things that are clearly detrimental to our walk with the Lord and our witness for His name.  I’m talking here about those things in the middle, that might not be completely “clean” or may portray great darkness, but also have “redeeming qualities”, as they say.  What do we do with those stories?  Do we avoid them because it might make us think of untrue, dishonorable, impure, or un-praiseworthy things?

Many of us are uncomfortable with fictional sin because – well, sin is wrong, and doesn’t reading about wrong things equal thinking about them?

Yes, it does…but might I suggest a different interpretation of the command?

See no evil?

Look for the True

There are many Scripture texts that teach us to avoid sin and temptation, but personally I don’t believe this is one of them.  It never says we should keep matters of sin and ugliness from ever entering our thoughts, as some suggest (and let’s not deceive ourselves – there are plenty of hideous things in our minds and hearts already, and putting big walls around our minds won’t keep the sin out).

It doesn’t say, “If there is anything unlovely, if there is anything condemnable, if there is anything unworthy of any praise, stop yourself from ever thinking about these things!”

Instead, what I see here is a glorious command to look for the true.

In every story you encounter, look for what is true.  Find the things that are honorable.  Search out what is just.  Examine the things that are pure and lovely so you might imitate them.  Discern what is commendable and keep an eye out for the excellent.  If there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things!  Put aside the unlovely and meditate on the beautiful things that remind you of God and His grace and goodness.  In the enjoyment of any story, set your mind on things above.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Fred Rogers

Beauty and small pictures of Christ’s love can be found everywhere, and all truth is God’s truth, even in stories written by ungodly or mistaken authors.  That means anything true, lovely, and praiseworthy is from Him, through Him, and to His glory – and we can rejoice in it as such because we are new Creations in Him.

Am I suggesting we surround ourselves with filth so we can use a magnifying glass to look for flecks of gold in the mud?  As Paul might say – by no means!

What I am suggesting is that we shouldn’t judge a story on whether it depicts sin or not.  (If there are humans in it, there is bound to be sin.  Either that or the author is a lousy portrayer of human nature and reality.)

Rather, we should judge our fiction by asking, “Did this story leave me ‘think[ing] about these things’?”

And we writers, who joke about “killing our darlings”, raising the stakes, taking our characters through the worst of troubles, finding the things they would never do and figuring out a situation where they would do it – we are often the “masters of darkness” when it comes to the lives of our fictional people.  It’s important for us to depict the reality of sin.  It’s not just a bad idea, it is rebellion against the Maker and Avenger of all things, and the wages of sin is death.  So we must show real sin, because sin is real and demands a blood sacrifice.  And we must show real darkness, because the true world holds darkness because it of that sin.  But where are we pointing our readers?  We should always point them toward the light, not leave them staring bleakly into the blackness.

Different Perspectives = Different Takeaways

The interesting thing is, our reactions to a story are heavily influenced by our own perspective on life, often as much or more than the actual content of the tale or the intentions of the author.

As an example, take Frozen.  I have seen Christians decry that film, claiming it is full of secret gay propaganda.  They busily scare up “evidence”, quotes, lyrics, or scenes that might be trying to promote homosexuality.  Of course it’s all theoretical, since Disney hasn’t made any claim of such intentions.  On the other hand, I have seen many Christian reviewers praising Frozen, calling it one of the most Christian movies of the year, full of themes of Christlike love and self-sacrifice!  They watched the movie and glorified God, because they saw His grace reflected through the characters’ story.

Which side in that controversy has their minds more focused on what is true, honorable, praiseworthy?…and which side has its mind in the gutter?

In the nebulous area of stories and symbolism, beauty is often in the mind of the beholder.  Filmmakers may create their stories in evil, perhaps, but God can still mean it for good.  All truth is His, no matter how much the atheist or lawless man might try to claim it for their own or use it against Him.

Look to the Source of All Joy

Why should we look for what is true, honorable, and all the rest?  And how do we know it when we see it?  Those are topics for a whole series of posts, but I think the easiest answer is this – look at Jesus Christ.  There is no one more true, more honorable, more just, pure, or lovely, or more worthy of commendation, excellence, and praise.

The more I meditate on Christ, the more I will see glimpses and reminders of His beauty in the stories I read, hear, and watch.  And the more often I am reminded of His beauty in unexpected places, the more often I will meditate on Jesus day in and day out.  There is nothing more precious to set our minds upon than Him!

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I’d love to hear your applications of this text!  What is the last story you enjoyed that made you “think about these things”?  For me it’s Captain America: Winter Soldier.

 

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Why I Didn’t Always Love Jesus

May 8, 2014

Church_clip_art_hightWhen I was three years old, I hid inside a closet and prayed to “ask Jesus into my heart”, as they say.  It’s probably my earliest memory.  By the time I was ten, I recognized that my conversion had not included a confession of my sin or a desire for forgiveness, so I sought salvation a second time out of a desire to be more “correct”.  However, looking back on my childhood, I firmly believe that God heard the prayer of that tiny girl in the closet.  Salvation doesn’t come from an impeccable grasp on soteriology.  It comes from God, opening a sinner’s eyes to their need for Him and hearing their humble prayer. Maybe I didn’t know exactly why I needed Jesus, at that tender age, but I knew that I needed Him in my heart.

From then on, I have called on the Lord, looked to the cross for my salvation, and known the Spirit to be working in my heart.

But for many years, I did not love Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong.  I loved God.  I wanted to serve Him and learn more about Him.  But Jesus?  For the second Person of the Triune God I felt very little interest, except being grateful for Him for dying for my sins.  I even avoided His given name as much as possible, preferring to call Him by less personal titles like “Christ” or “the Savior”.  To this day, the name “Jesus” does not roll very naturally off my lips…that wonderful Name above all names!

It makes my heart ache, because by now I have grown to truly know, and deeply love, and passionately adore Him above all others.

Why did it take me so long?

This week I came across a quote that stopped me in my tracks:

‘The Hobbit’ was written in what I should now regard as bad style, as if one were talking to children. There’s nothing my children loathed more. They taught me a lesson. Anything that in any way marked out ‘The Hobbit’ as for children instead of just for people, they disliked – instinctively. I did too, now that I think about it. All this ‘I won’t tell you any more, you think about it’ stuff. Oh no, they loathe it; it’s awful. Children aren’t a class. They are merely human beings at different stages of maturity. All of them have a human intelligence which even at its lowest is a pretty wonderful thing, and the entire world in front of them. – J.R.R. Tolkien

When I read that I was stunned.  Finally, I could put into words why I had snubbed Jesus for so many years.

Because it wasn’t actually JESUS I was trying to avoid!

It was Kid-Friendly Jesus.

The “Jesus Loves the Little Children” Jesus.  The cartoon Jesus with the silly grin.  The “do unto others” Jesus who only seemed to care about people being sugary-nice to each other.  He was boring, sappy, insipid.  Who would follow a Savior like that?

Apparently, people think that children will.

I disliked Jesus because He was the guy children were supposed to like.  We were supposed to sing exuberant praises to Him, while being taught lots about His niceness and little about His power.  While adults worshipped in “real” church, we went to kid-appropriate classes to have everything dumbed down for us.  We didn’t even pray to God the Father (like the true Jesus instructed us to pray).  We were taught to pray to “Dear Jesus”, as if God the Father was too busy to care for the prayers of babies, but Kid-Friendly Jesus would listen.  He was a Big Deal, but aside from, “He died for you!  And He LOVES you!  Isn’t that GREAT, kids?”, we were given few compelling reasons why we should be so excited about Him.  How did He love us? Sure, He did miracles long ago, but what did that have to do with us?

I’m not blaming any particular Sunday school teacher.  And certainly not my parents!  Much of my own personal attitude toward Christ came from my sinful nature, not developed entirely out of over-exposure to sappy caricatures of Him.  I don’t have clear memories of when Kid-Friendly Jesus was taught to me, or by whom.  It’s really an attitude and a feeling, a way of interacting with children that is church-wide and pervasive.

In mainstream Christianity, kids are often treated like a separate class of slightly-dumber people.  There are “Children’s Bibles” with bubbly illustrations and little mention of sin, full of moralistic lessons that kids need to learn.  There are “Children’s Worship Songs” that no Christian adult could stand to sing or listen to because they are silly, devoid of meaning, or poorly written.  Most big churches have “Children’s Church”.  I have even heard of some churches that won’t allow little ones into their “adult” services.  There is no place for them there.  No place for children!  I think the true Jesus would object.

Can you imagine if a church had a separate Old People’s Church?  Asian Church?  Women’s Church?  Church for Those with Disabilities?  What if these services were complete with badly-drawn illustrations to make sure everything was as obvious as possible, and songs designed specifically for that sub-category of humans?  It would be insulting and demeaning, and simply wrong.  I am thankful that in our own church family, all are welcome, young and old, to the public worship of God. This has been true of every church my family has been a part of, but is especially true in the Reformed churches we have joined since shifting away from Evangelicalism. In the first church where I grew up, children stayed for worship but left for the sermon until 5th-6th grade, and honestly I do understand that approach. Sermons are long and kids fidget and don’t always understand the whole thing. But I wonder what my life, thoughts, and spiritual walk would be like now, had I heard deep, serious, biblical sermons even from my young childhood. It might have radically shaped me! Personally I don’t remember becoming serious in my faith until I was of an age to sit in for the sermon – not what a young child likes to do, but so important. I’m glad my children have that blessing now.

Perhaps I am being overly harsh here.  There is definitely value in simplifying things for little ones, and there’s nothing wrong with unique music or stories specially crafted to capture the attention of young ears.  (Ideally these things will appeal to adults as well!  I think a good rule of thumb is that if an adult can’t stand it, it’s not fit for children either.  Bad art benefits no one.)  But once you get past a certain age, it becomes very easy to see the adult world talking down at you, instead of talking with you like they would with each other.

By the grace of God, I have seen the beauty and power of Jesus.  It took years of listening to faithful preaching from the Word of God, and the more eager study of His four gospels I have done as an adult.

Perhaps I am an odd case.  But if the church continues to dumb down Jesus to children, preaching a smiling Savior of Niceness in a special Children’s Church for the Simple, it grieves me to think that there may be many others like me, who do not see His true beauty for years…or maybe never, because Kid-Friendly Jesus inspires little love.

Children aren’t a separate class.  Let’s trust their intelligence, their natural curiosity.  Let’s beg God to work in their hearts, not beg them to “work” for their salvation with a sinner’s prayer.  Let’s not drag enthusiasm out of them, but rather show them our own awe and wonder for the beautiful Prophet, Priest, and King who loves, saves, and rises again from the grave.

But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great. – Mark 10:14 (ESV)

Can you relate?  Even if you grew up in the church did it take you a long time to truly love your Savior?  Why do you think that is?  I love to hear my readers’ thoughts.

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Fewer Posts Going Forward

May 7, 2014

Today I’m simply popping in to alert everyone that from now on I will be posting once a week instead of twice. I enjoy posting Wednesday and Saturday, and it’s doable for me, but I have decided I’d much rather post once a week and devote more time to ensuring that each post is polished, high-quality, and edifying. I also have lots to do around the home and in my fiction-writing, too, and I’ve noticed that many people seem too busy to read on the weekends, or can’t keep up with following the blog as they’d like to because I post so frequently.

From now on I will be posting Thursdays only – starting tomorrow, if I get my act together!

Love,
Bethany