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Archive for the ‘Thoughts on life and scripture’ Category

One of the benefits of having a son in seminary (who lives with you, and maybe I should blog about THAT soon…) is that really delicious looking books are lying around your house, and the stock rotates regularly.  Now for a bibliophile like me, this is sensory overload, and it is amazing I am getting anything done around here, but I am.  Kind of.

This particular title, Basic Christian (The Inside Story of John Stott), by Roger Steer, pulled me in with just one glance.  I flat out love the cover.  Uncle John looks so ready to engage you, as he always was.

I first encountered John Stott in 1982, the spring of my sophomore year, when I was doing a semester abroad in London.  All Souls was a few blocks from our student lodgings, and as there was not another church-goer in our group of 19, I walked those blocks alone every Sunday morning and evening, plus sometimes during the week if there was a lecture midweek.  John was then Rector Emeritus; Michael Baughen was rector (shortly to be moving to his new post as Bishop of Chester later that spring).  John preached maybe every fourth sermon or so, but when he did he packed the house.

What I most remember about his preaching was a wonderfully British, reasonable, gracious & winsome presentation of gospel truth that always made me think “how could anyone argue against that?  He’s just right.”  Professors could pooh-pooh my antiquated, ignorant religion; John Stott reminded me that yes, a thinking man can be a Christian.

What I most remember about John Stott the person is a wonderful, welcoming warmth.  I was an unknown (mostly) face in a big crowd at All Souls, but when exiting a Stott sermon, I always made a point of going through the line to greet Uncle John, because he would look me in the eyes, take my hand in both of his, and really see me and greet me.  He made me feel truly welcome.  Decades later during a visit to All Souls I encountered John at the church door again, and I told him how important his preaching and All Souls had been to me in the earliest days of my faith when I was so far from home.  He seemed to love hearing this, even humbled by it.  So not only can a thinking man be a Christian, he can be warm and wecoming too (even if British).

I have so many notes on this book that this entry would be way too long to post them all, but overall my impression of the book as a book was that it is almost encyclopedic in its coverage of John’s life from childhood to old age (it was published in 2009, just two years before he died) and a great way to learn about not only John Stott but also the development of the whole evangelical movement of the last century (lots of inside info here about Billy Graham as well).  Because the book includes memories from so many scores of people, the style of the telling is a bit episodic and thus jumpy at times.  But themes do emerge which I find priceless, so the style of telling is small potatoes.  The themes and realizations I treasure most from the book are these:  John’s role as a clarifier and unifier in the evangelical movement through much of the twentieth century; his truly gospel-centered, humble, generous heart; his extremely regular devotional disciplines; his ability to read and synthesize a vast array of material and write a cohesive summary statement (his work at Lausanne as a prime example); his deep concern and care for the church in developing nations; and his ability to hear and even to invite criticism as a way of checking himself for blind spots and effectiveness in his preaching.

The trait that most stands out to me at the moment is John’s ability to respond with grace to those within the church who disagreed with him, even when their criticism was unkind and came with personal loss for him.  The book chronicles a number of very sticky conflicts that arose during his lifetime, some of which I’m sure saddened him deeply, but he had a wonderful way of leaning in to listen and a willingness to find himself to be wrong on an issue and make that known, all of which led him to reflect and truly study and pray about an issue rather than give a canned response.  He wanted to know the truth, and when he had sought and felt satisfied with an answer, he stood on it and could tell you why, though he still acknowledged that it can scarcely be possible that one has all the correct answers on every issue that comes along.  He was amazingly comfortable with gray areas in the non-essentials, and this made him a lifelong listener and learner, as well as a remarkable teacher.

However, one area in which he did not budge once he found his footing was in the Christian’s approach to scriptural authority and interpretation.  Hermeneutics was a new-ish (or rediscovered) concern for evangelicals in the mid 20th century, and for John it became a central focus as debates with more left-leaning Christians on contemporary issues often exposed a very different view of scripture itself and often devolved into a debate on hermeneutics rather than a debate on the stated issue (how familiar does that sound?).

Stott’s insistence on approaching scripture with great care, submission, and scholarship served him well when, on issue after issue, evangelicals (and non-)  looked to John Stott to voice the evangelical view, and his speaking and teaching calendar and travels were non-stop, even in his older age.  (A New York Times columnist once wrote that “if evangelicals chose a pope, they would likely select John Stott.” – p. 267).  One such appearance late in life was a debate with Bishop Spong on Christian sexual ethics.  Toward the end, Spong stated, “A Bible that reflects tribal, racial, nationalistic, and sexual prejudices needs to be confronted.  I do not hesitate to say of part of Paul’s first letter to Timothy, ‘This is not the word of the Lord.  These are the words of a first century man locked inside the cultural definitions of his day, and trying to support his prejudices by an appeal to God…’ ” (p. 240).  Stott countered, “if we want to be submissive to our Lord Jesus Christ, we cannot treat his teaching in the cavalier way in which I fear that Bishop Spong has done,” and used much of his final five minutes communicating his anxiety about “what the audience had heard…of the treatment of scripture.”  He later urged that should there be another debate, it needed to be “on the authority and interpretation of Scripture.”  He saw little hope for progress toward any form of agreement without this “crux of the matter” being addressed.  (p. 241)

On the other hand, Stott was not one to say that even those who agree on their hermeneutic method and on the authority of scripture would necessarily see all issues the same, and he worried about factions in the evangelical church which were excessively dogmatic.  He worried that the divisiveness of such dismissive black-and-white thinking on some of the less explicit issues in scripture (the specific application of the role of women in the church, for example) would tend to divide and “weaken the evangelical cause” (p. 242).  He knew that this kind of mindset tended to push people to the opposite extreme of one’s own views, to polarize them, in other words.  “He believed that we should always beware of caricaturing our opponents’ positions–of building a straw man and then demolishing it.  We should always engage and answer their best arguments, not their worst ones” (p. 243).

I find John’s wisdom on this refreshing, and have spent so many words here because it was instructive to me as I was reading this book in the midst of engaging in some online debating on a liberal Christian blog that I visit from time to time (to widen my world just a bit).  Straw men everywhere, and such vitriol, not just in the comments area but from the blog writer herself, who is something of a champion among young Christians online.  And much to my dismay, the readers’ comments about her and her followers which appeared on a conservative blog (TGC) were every bit as nonsensical and mean-spirited–probably more so.  I doubt seriously that John would have dipped a toe in this shark tank we call online Christian debate (he developed personal principles about dealing with controversy that I’m sure would have kept him out of the comments area of blogs, had they been part of his world in the 20th century), but if he had, I would love to have read how he would respond, this master of returning a blessing for an insult, of overcoming evil with good, of speaking edifying words, of warning the brethren yet correcting gently.

For this and many other kinds of grace and wisdom, I would give my eye teeth to have been one of his study assistants (lucky dogs!) or just an office assistant or even the kitchen help.  The book teems with testimonials not only of John’s important ecclesiastical contributions, but also, and more strikingly, of John’s humility, grace, integrity, compassion and humor.  If heaven is a place where we will go looking for people we never got to spend time with on earth, Uncle John will be one of the first people I look up.

Below are some of my favorite quotes and discoveries from Basic Christian:

On language and precision:  “The greatest help in learning to use words with care and accuracy was writing essays in French and German.  There is a precise word which fits every situation, and the sort of education I had has been a great help to me in my preaching and writing ministry.” – p. 51

On compassion for the poor:  Early in his ministry, John spent several nights posing as a homeless beggar, sleeping under newspapers under Charing Cross Bridge and in a hostel for the homeless, in order to get a feel for their lives.  There were many nights when John slept on a cot in his study so that a homeless man could sleep in his bed.

In response to Martin Lloyd Jones‘ (and others’) urging in 1966 that “theologically orthodox Anglicans” should leave their denomination:  “I believe that Scripture is against him in that the remnant was within the Church and not outside it. … Some evangelicals, like myself, believe it is the will of God to remain in a church that is sometimes called a ‘mixed denomination.’  At least until it becomes apostate and ceases to be a church, we believe it is our duty to remain in it and bear witness to the truth as we have been given to understand it.”

An example of John’s ability to support those he disagreed with:  Desmond Tutu, at the 1975 World Council of Churches, spoke and included the following about the Apostle Paul: ” ‘[he] was confused’ and ‘a prisoner of his own culture’ who ‘sometimes didn’t know what he was talking about.’   John’s newly found diplomacy deserted him.  ‘If I had to choose between the blessed apostle and the Dean of Johannesburg,’ he said, ‘I would have no difficulty in deciding who to follow!’  Desmond Tutu didn’t seem to mind John’s outburst, and the two men became good friends.  John was an ardent supporter of Tutu’s struggle against apartheid.”

A telling episode about John’s personality:  At a study group which was considering John Fowles’ novel, The Magus, one member “expressed surprise that he had been asked to read the book.  ‘I found the book very unhelpful to me as a Christian,’ he said. ‘There’s far too much sex in it.  I am going to leave the meeting as I have nothing to contribute.’

With that, he got up and left the room.  John just sat there, let him leave, and then looked up over his glasses.

‘Oh I think that was most unfortunate,’ he said.  ‘I thought the book was erotic, not pornographic!’ ”

From the plaque on the new pulpit at All Souls in 1976 given in honor of John’s 25 years as All Souls Rector:  “He taught us to make God’s Word our rule, God’s Spirit our teacher and God’s Glory our supreme concern.”

From Frances Whitehead, his secretary for half a century: “He is thoroughly consistent.  He is what he professes.  He wants to please God and that’s all he cares about–doing God’s will, living for his glory, being faithful.”

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I am so far behind in keeping up this blog, that I am forced to do a catch-up helicopter ride over the last four months with this post.  There is no deep theological insight here, except to say that as I’ve been organizing my pictures online today, I have been overwhelmed at how richly God has blessed us. Our boys are believing God, and they are so much fun to be around!! (I miss you two college men.) And He has given us such good friends in this place (North Carolina).  We will have been here ten years this coming June, and those years have been filled with some of the deepest friendships I have known.  Some started almost as soon as we got here (including Dinner Chicks), and others are just beginning.  I’m grateful for all of them.  Sadly, some friends have moved away, but we continue to tend several friendships at long distance (annual fall gathering with Rod and Judy Huckaby and friends).

Here’s the rundown of events. Click on the hyperlinked words to view the complete event albums, and watch the slideshow.

In August, our friends helped me surprise Larry with a 50th Birthday Party.  I left food and supplies hidden here at the house, and while we were at evening church service, friends brought more food and set up the flowers and balloons and goodies for us to come home to.  They all hid behind the garage as we rounded the corner, and…

Larrys 50th

Surprise!!

The next day we headed for Raleigh and stayed overnight with Andrew’s RUF pastor and family, so we could get up early for our flight to New England. We started in Maine,

 

moved on to Boston,

 and ended in NYC.

 That whole trip merits a separate blog entry, so stay tuned.

 

Later August found me once again enjoying the Canteys’ beach house in Edisto with my Dinner Chick girlfriends. This was absolutely necessary, to cure the post-vacation, post boys-went-back-to-school blues.  Belly laughs, good food, and some special entertainment by Mary during a game of charades.

Larry and I had a spur-of-the-moment getaway to Black Mountain just as the leaves were beginning to turn in October. A few weeks later, after the colors had ripened and moved further south, we were back in the mountains, this time with a group of friends who gathered in a great mountain house near Hendersonville. We loved catching up with Rod and Judy Huckaby, who were among our first and dearest welcomers when we arrived in Charlotte all those years ago. They moved to Tennessee several years ago, and we miss them.

When I get sad at the realization that many of the wonderful people in my life will inevitably move away, or move on to other circles or churches or ministries, or even to fairer worlds on high–I remind myself that in heaven, there’s plenty of time for more fellowship.  We literally have an eternity to enjoy each other, over good food, good music, good fires, good hikes … or whatever God has in store for us to do together on the other side.

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Blessed is he who has regard for the weak;
the LORD delivers him in times of trouble.
– Psalm 41:1

Andrew

Andrew

We (Larry and I) spent last weekend visiting our boys, who are working at Clemson’s Outdoor Lab camps. Clemson’s beautiful grounds on a finger of Lake Hartwell are home to several summer camps sponsored by agencies such as Sertoma (Camp Sertoma) and the Jaycees (Camp Hope). Sertoma offers week-long camps for kids from underprivileged backgrounds, kids with hearing impairments, and kids with other life challenges. Many of them are foster children who have already bounced from home to home multiple times in their short lives. Camp Hope hosts mentally handicapped adults, for the most part, and these campers by contrast are very often brought to camp by their birth families, who love them well but I’m sure are happy to have a week off from caring for them, knowing that they are safe, and having a ball. Camp Hope is often their favorite week of the year. The Hope staff go out of their way to make it that way for them.

It is truly inspiring to watch the young people on staff at Hope/Sertoma work with the campers. While not expressly Christian, these programs attract young people (mostly college students) who are there to give their lives away, and many of them are indeed believers. You can feel that in the spirit of the place.

Daniel

Daniel

Many of the campers have been coming for several–or in some cases many–years, and their friendships have developed with the staff over the years. Each one has a unique requirement as to what he or she needs most from the staff: speak to me but don’t try to hug me; hug me and don’t let me go; give me simple instructions one step at a time; speak to me in sign language; motivate me with Mardi Gras beads and I’ll do anything you ask. It’s a learning curve that the staff have to negotiate quickly, and once they’ve mastered the best technique for each camper, the week’s up and it’s time to say goodbye, for this year.

Jared

Jared

Our two oldest sons, Andrew and Daniel, are working their second year as counselors. The pay’s not anything like what they might make working a summer job at home (caddying, waiting tables, working construction for Dad, another engineering internship) — but that doesn’t seem to bother them much. Our youngest, Jared, was also there last week with a group from our church (Christ Covenant), serving as a counselor’s helper, or “CIT” (counselor in training). Andrew and Daniel did that in years past as well. Apparently, once the bug bites, you just can’t get enough Sertoma/Hope. Our intention was to bring Jared home from his week at Sertoma, but he asked the staff if he could stay and volunteer for a few more weeks (he’s too young to be on paid staff). That offer was accepted pretty quickly, and we hear that he is actually working in Andrew’s cabin this week, which is cool.

I couldn’t be prouder of my boys. We might tease them about the money they’re not making (and may very well need as poor college boys)–but as Psalm 41 assures us, God will indeed honor those who honor him by caring for the least. Their lives will be blessed in ways that money can’t rival. As one Christ Covenant youth leader said to me during our visit, watching these young people pour out their hearts and energies into the campers gives one much hope about the future. This is the silver lining of the often self-involved Generation-Y. Some of them just don’t fit the mold, praise God.

I encourage you to view the slideshow of images from this amazing place (click HERE, then click on “slideshow”) , and see if it doesn’t bring a lump to your throat too. You can also see more pictures and read about the experiences of counselors by visiting Andrew’s camp blog. If you visit that blog, be sure to leave comments; I’m sure they could use a word of encouragement. They are tired.

UPDATE for summer 2011 — Andrew and Daniel have had to move on to full-time, all-year jobs, but Jared is full time at Sertoma this summer, and also got his lifeguarding certificate.  He reports loving being on/at the water, and has already hauled in some flailing swimmers (or non-swimmers).  Also adding to his sign-language, de-odorizing, and peacemaking skills.

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God has done again what He so often does: brought several threads together for me, to show off a powerful truth. After studying Isaiah all year, after hearing stirring comments on Israel Sunday evening at my church, and then after writing a blog entry on the Jews just yesterday, I find this morning a blog entry by John Piper that puts an exclamation point on all of this. He quotes J.C. Ryle:

They are a people reserved and kept separate by God for a grand and special purpose. That purpose is to make them a means of exhibiting to the world in the latter days God’s hatred of sin and unbelief, and God’s almighty power and almighty compassion. They are kept separate that they may finally be saved, converted and restored to their own land. They are reserved and preserved, in order that God may show in them as on a platform, to angels and men, how greatly he hates sin, and yet how greatly he can forgive, and how greatly he can convert. Never will that be realized as it will in that day when “all Israel shall be saved.” (Are You Ready for the End of Time? 137-138 )

 

I pray that the glory of that day will not be lost on me.

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Today I read where Jesus called a desperate woman a dog. And I realized I am a dog too. Maybe even an anti-semitic dog.

I wrote in March about being “at the table,” which of course is what Christ graciously invites us to, but I think we’d do well to remember often just how gracious this invitation is. Our rightful place, if we have a place at all, is not at the table, but under it.

The story I read (see Matt. 15:21-28 ) is one that on first reading can make you uneasy, as many gospel stories and parables do. It just doesn’t sound like the Jesus we know. But of course we only have the verbal record. What was going on nonverbally and in the heart would probably set our objections aside immediately.

The context is this: after spending frustrating days being scoffed at by his relatives and neighbors in his hometown, scrutinized and criticized by self-righteous Jewish teachers, and hounded by the masses of miracle-followers all around the lake, Jesus “withdrew” to a town on the coast, away from the madding Jewish crowds of Galilee.

But then there’s this desperate voice: “Lord, Son of David, have mercy…”. At first he makes no response, but when his disciples request that he get rid of this gentile woman because of her noise, Jesus answers something strange: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

What?? You agree with them?? And you’re not going to have mercy because she is not Jewish??

Well there’s a whole lot of theology in his words, and a whole lot of theology in my objections. But take a look at the rest of the story, and decide for yourself what he’s up to here.

She hears his response, and simply kneels down and begs (like a dog?) for help. Then he calls her a dog: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Given that he has just said quite clearly that his “bread” is for Israel (obviously the “children” of the metaphor), there can be no doubt whom he is calling a dog. Even if you think of “dog” as “little dog,” like a cherished little fluffball under your kitchen table, a dog is a dog.

Now, considering the state this woman is in, would you expect her to be offended? Her little daughter is possessed by a demon. She has no hope.

Her response says everything about what faith looks like. “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” In other words, “Lord, I know I am a dog, and have nothing to offer you. I’m just glad to be under the table, for whatever crumbs might fall my way.”

This is exactly the kind of faith, the kind of poor-in-spirit heart, that the Lord responds to, every time. I love what Matthew Henry says about this passage:

“Those whom Christ intends most to honour, he humbles to feel their own unworthiness. A proud, unhumbled heart would not have borne this; but she turned it into an argument to support her request. The state of this woman is an emblem of the state of a sinner, deeply conscious of the misery of his soul. The least of Christ is precious to a believer, even the very crumbs of the Bread of life. Of all graces, faith honours Christ most; therefore of all graces Christ honours faith most.”

This passage convicted me this morning, because I know I typically have an upside-down view of who “belongs” at the table: according to my proud heart, it’s first for the gentile, and then, if they’re really humble and repentant, the Jew. (Those mean old Jews — who did they think they were, rejecting and crucifying my savior?) God forgive me my attitude! I even find I have this strange knee-jerk surge of anti-semitism sometimes when I encounter a face and personality that my mind instantly labels as “typical Jewish.” Where did that come from?? A misguided Sunday School teacher when I was six? I hate bigotry! How did these ugly thoughts take root in me?

John Piper preached some convicting sermons on this topic a few years ago, and my own pastor referred just this week to God’s intentions toward Jews, and what a glorious day it will be when finally the lost sheep of Israel will be gathered in. Piper’s warnings to us gentile believers are strong and appropriate:

“It is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you” [Rom. 11:18]. People who need to be supported should be slow to boast. And a Christian is a person who has made a deep discovery: He is weak, lost, sinful, helpless, indeed, dead in trespasses and sins. A Christian is a person who by grace has wakened from a dream of self-sufficiency into a reality of dependence. Utter dependence on the grace of God. Christian, if you boast over the branches, if you are anti-Semitic and proud, you don’t know who you are. Or you are not who you say you are.”

As gentile dogs such as I feast on the overflow of crumbs under the table, we should be longing and praying for that day of salvation for the lost sheep of Israel, guarding our hearts against any sense of arrogant entitlement to the Son of David.

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I have delayed this entry far too long. I kept waiting to be inspired to write something uplifting, encouraging, amazing. It could be months. My life contains aggravatingly long stretches of completely uninspired days. The question is, whose fault is that, and if it’s mine (which it probably is), how do I make it stop?

Logophile that I am, I have to pause a bit here and examine the word “uninspired,” because I believe that language (diction) often chooses me more than I choose it, in a way. What I mean is, I could have chosen any number of synonyms to describe this stretch of days (“unexciting,” “unremarkable,” “commonplace”…), but what came off my fingertips is “uninspired,” and I believe that word moved from my unconscious onto my computer screen for a reason that bears examination. (Word choices often do bear examination, particularly for people who think as metaphorically as I tend to do.) Here’s the significance: I know consciously that “inspire” means breathe in, and I certainly connect that image (and etymology) to the Holy Spirit (spirare – to breathe), but I wasn’t consciously thinking about the relation of my creative doldrums to my spiritual doldrums until I saw the word on the screen. See now, this is why writing matters: to write is to think.

Given that rabbit trails–such as this one I just took–are the stuff of life, or at least the stuff of writing, what can I learn from that little rabbit trail? Simply that it reminds me of why I started this blog in the first place, and subtitled it “Weekly musings on life in Christ.” I need the discipline. To have musings to write requires reflection, and God knows I need to be doing more reflecting. And to do more reflecting requires taking time to be still. Which is exactly why I’ve had several uninspired weeks: no stillness.

Why? Because when a family of five takes a memorable, adventurous vacation in August, someone spent hours in April planning it (mom). Because once you start arranging flights and lodgings for Maine-Boston-NYC, big money is on the line, so you better be sure of your plans and book quickly while affordable things are available. Because Skybus pretends that all is well just two days before it declares bankruptcy and announces that your tickets are worthless (but of course you have already booked rooms for the cities you now have no way to get to, unless you re-book tickets with another airline, which will completely bust your budget). Because retrieving your money is your responsibility, not the bankrupt airlines’. Because our puppy hasn’t quite learned proper respect for the invisible fence yet. And because, at the end of a solid week of all this time of pretty much full-time travel-planning on the internet (and puppy chasing), my mood and my mind defaulted to black scribble, which is the best way I know to describe that foulness of outlook, that ticked-off funk I get into from time to time. It looks like Lucy in the cartoon here. Words are just inadequate. Everything is a mess of ugly knots. Oh, and I pretty much resent everybody I know.

Remember that comment I made on the last entry about knowing that in the parable of the sower, I am the “good soil?” Well I’m still claiming that by faith, but these are the days when the Savior has to remind me of it, if I would give him just half an hour: 29 minutes to calm myself down and stop being petulant, and a minute to listen to him call me his child. But for days on end, I gave him no such time. No, I was too busy stewing about whether the owner of that awesome apartment in Brooklyn with the rooftop view of the bridge was going to e-mail me back, or if I should just go ahead and book the one in East Village, which is $100 more per night. Tick tock. Things are booking up. Better not lose this one. Maybe check one more website…

Good soil, but thorns sometimes. The seed still grows, but the fruit is limited, choked by the “worries of this life” (Matt. 13:22). Deep inspiration stops, replaced by shallow panting. Mercifully, God does not forsake us then. But equally mercifully, he also does not usually reward us with his peace until we stop bolting like a frantic deer, realize that we are short of breath for no good reason, and lie down in those green pastures where He will restore our souls, every time.

How timely that the Tozer Daily Devotional (you HAVE to sign up for this one!) yesterday said this:

“Prayer: Take Time to Listen”

The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I opened my mouth and panted, for I longed for Your commandments. -Psalm 119:130-131

The Quakers had many fine ideas about life, and there is a story from them that illustrates the point I am trying to make. It concerns a conversation between Samuel Taylor Coleridge and a Quaker woman he had met. Maybe Coleridge was boasting a bit, but he told the woman how he had arranged the use of time so he would have no wasted hours. He said he memorized Greek while dressing and during breakfast. He went on with his list of other mental activities–making notes, reading, writing, formulating thoughts and ideas–until bedtime.The Quaker listened unimpressed. When Coleridge was finished with his explanation, she asked him a simple, searching question: “My friend, when dost thee think?”

God is having a hard time getting through to us because we are a fast-paced generation. We seem to have no time for contemplation. We have no time to answer God when He calls. – Jesus, Author of our Faith, p. 46.

Tozer knew it and I know it:  when there is a dearth of inspiration, it has nothing to do with lack of available air.

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Everything I read and hear these days, Kingdom-wise, seems to point me back to the same thing: I am always on the receiving end; He is always the source. Most recently, I have been thinking in terms of tables.

I have wanted a new kitchen table for quite a while now. Our old set was one of those Amish-built (truly — we got it in Virginia from a Mennonite vendor) round/oval pedestal tables and sturdy windsor-back chairs. I remember being so grateful for it when we were able to buy it, and it held up well to toddler seats and school projects and a cook who isn’t very careful to use hot pads under the chicken casserole (that would be me). But for various reasons, it was time for that set to go. So I listed it on Craig’s List, and it left yesterday for the home of a young couple with a toddler and a baby on the way. It stirred a little wave of sentimentality, I have to admit.

This morning I was looking — for the third day in a row because it intrigues me — at the parable of the sower. I’ve moved on in my reading to some of the other parables that follow it in Matthew: the six “the kingdom is like…” parables. But I keep returning to that first one, and thinking about what kind of soil I am. And why. By Christ’s words, I am good soil. The good soil represents those who hear and understand, those who have ears to hear. I know I am one of those. Most days I know it right down to my toes, and other days I need him to remind me. But I know it. And I know that makes me blessed, because I get to see and hear what the prophets and righteous men of old longed to see but did not, as Jesus tells his disciples. I live in the time of the law written on hearts and minds. Hallelujah!

But why did I get to be good soil?

I don’t have an answer other than “because God ordained it so.” But I do know that the question is one that I started asking way too late in life. I think many of us who grew up in homes where Jesus was loved, “where children early lisp his fame,” who were cherished and well fed and handed every opportunity to know Christ that this world can afford — we can easily be underwhelmed by the gospel. He weaves himself so gently and so faithfully into our life story that it takes a knock on the head for us to see how amazing that grace has been. We may even begin to take some of the credit for his being there. (We were pretty good kids, after all.)

So we do what well fed children often do: we come to the table without a word of thanks to the father who provided the food, and we retire to the couch without asking how we might help with the work of the family, and we assume that meal will always be there. And it is.

I did that as a kid at home, and so did my kids. I think sowing gratefulness in a child’s heart must be one of the greatest challenges in a parent’s job. The “starving children in India” line ought to work, but it just doesn’t. And no matter how ungrateful your children’s hearts may be, you always feed them anyway, because they are your children. Generally, they develop gratitude later, when they have to pay for their own food, or feed their own children.

So how does God work gratefulness into the heart of a son or daughter who has been fed grace from infancy? He works it slowly and faithfully, by the word and by prayer, just as He works the other marks of maturity into us. With the word open in my lap and his Spirit in my ear, I hear him say “blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (Matt. 13:16-17). And by his grace, I hear, I see, I understand what He means. And by his grace, I am grateful.

This week, this Holy Week, as I have the privilege of being at my Father’s table again, I know that He paid everything He had for this meal, and He did it out of his great love for me.

By his grace, may that knowing keep me off the couch.

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