Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bearing the Cost

Recently I have been re-reading the classic Hinds' Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. My dad first read the book to me when I was quite young, and then again around high school. I have read it myself a couple of times also. I learn something new (or in a deeper way) every time I read it.

Hinds' Feet is an allegory of sorts, with the main character, Much Afraid, allowing the Shepherd to plant the seed (thorn) of love in her heart and lead her on a journey to the High Places. Her first check comes when the Shepherd begins to lead her directly away from the mountains and through a vast desert. Here she learns the first lesson in love, Acceptance with Joy. In the desert sand where a few drops of water happen to splash from a spring, there is a single golden flower persevering; its name is Acceptance with Joy.

As Much Afraid continues her journey through the desert she does not turn toward the high places, but is led toward the Sea of Loneliness. There are many lessons to be learned here and in the next part of the journey, but finally the Shepherd leads her toward the mountains again. Now she has circuited the range and finds herself at a sheer, seemingly impassable precipice. The Shepherd tells her that to make her lame feet like hinds' feet she has to come this harder way. He promises her that she will learn the next lesson of love as she climbs the Precipice of Injury (not to be confused with Mt. Reviling or Persecution) with her strong companions, Sorrow and Suffering.

On the second day of her journey, in a lonely cleft in the sheer rock, Much Afraid meets a blood-red flower, glowing in the sunrise. The flower is named 'Bearing the Cost' (though some call it 'Forgiveness'). At one point it says,

"I was separated from all my companions, exiled from home, carried here and imprisoned in this rock. It was not my choice, but the work of others who, when they had dropped me here, went away and left me to bear the results of what they had done..."

In spite of ill treatment, the little flower continues that in this lonely and desolate place there is nothing to distract it from its Love, the sun.

"He shines upon me and makes me to rejoice, and has atoned for me all that was taken from me and done against me. There is no flower in all the world more blessed or more satisfied than I, for I look up to [my Love] as a weaned child and say, 'Whom have I in heaven but Thee, and there is none upon earth that I desire but Thee'."

I just loved the little flower's response to adversity and loneliness:
Now there is no distraction from my Love. There is no flower in all the world more blessed or more satisfied than I.

What an attitude to have! Rather than seeing our circumstances as hard, impossible, and solitary, we can both accept them with joy and bear the cost. We find that in the isolated places there is nothing to distract us from our Love: Jesus.

The passage that Bearing the Cost quotes from is Psalm 73. I have expanded it below for the sake of having some context. At the beginning of Psalm 73 the psalmist objects that the wicked prosper and do not seem to experience pain or poverty. However, like a sonnet there is a volta, a turning point; the writer thinks these things
until he goes in to the Sanctuary of God. Then he realises his error and misunderstanding. He finishes with these thoughts (vv 23-28):

Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
You will guide me with Your counsel,
And afterward receive me to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish;

You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry.
But it is good for me to draw near to God;
I have put my trust in the Lord GOD,
That I may declare all Your works.

Indeed, may I declare in trials and loneliness that there is now nothing to distract me from my Love. May I discover that there is no person in all the world as blessed and satisfied as me. And may I truly be able to declare that there is none that I desire besides Jesus.

~ Johanna

Monday, August 15, 2011

An Arrow in Flight

When was the last time you sat down to read a good novel? For me it was last night. I picked up Pride and Prejudice to read for 'a little bit' and found myself still reading it two hours later. When was the last time you sat down to read Scripture like a novel? When was the last time you were astonished to find an hour or two had elapsed when you were reading the Bible?

A story draws us in, brings the reader in to the character's thoughts and observations, and often teaches by delighting*. Many Christians tend to think of the Bible as an instruction manual, a textbook, or a collection of sayings, stories, parables, and rules. The Bible becomes bits and pieces 'suitable' for reading in 10 or 15 minutes before dashing out the door for our busy and 'important' lives. However, the Bible is actually a story.

Now, I'm not Dawkins or some emergent church advocate calling the Bible a sham; but what if I told you the Bible is a myth, a fairytale, a metanarrative, and the like? You see, the Bible is a myth, a tale, a metanarrative (over arching story). It just happens to be a true myth, a real tale, and THE big story. (If you have heard metanarratives slandered and dismissed, or if you think they are bad, see Goheen's very readable explanation.)

If you are like me, you secretly harbour the desire to walk through a wardrobe and find yourself in a snowy land of always winter and never Christmas. Deep down you wish that dwarves, elves, talking beasts, and Hobbits really lived in a land you could sail to. We want myths and fairytales to be true. We want to step into the world of Jane Austin's or Charles Dickens' novels. We want a story-line, a hero, a victorious, happy, or peaceful ending.

Though the Bible contains various genres of writing (poetry, parables, prophecy, principles, proverbs, and past events) it is all one story. When you aim an arrow, you know from the beginning where you want it to go. If someone else sees the arrow in flight he can tell by the trajectory (at least generally) where the arrow came from and where it is going. The same is true of Scripture, we see where everything began and the track of the story. We can also see that it isn't over yet, but we have been told that the ending is victorious, joyful, and beyond restorative.

How can we see this big picture in Scripture if we only read a few verses, maybe a chapter at a time? We need to begin reading Scripture as holistically as possible. Read a complete gospel in one sitting. Read a few of Paul's letters all together. Read through all of Genesis, or Isaiah, or Jeremiah, etc. Yes, it takes time. Just remember that it is a story; it is supposed to be read as such. Remember, too, that it is a true story. Not all of it is "applicable" to life, but it does show the character of God and sets the stage for the New Testament, or the chapter of the story in which we find ourselves here and now.

* As Philip Sidney says in his Defence of Poetry: "Poesy therefore is an art of imitation...that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring forth - to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture - with this end, to teach and delight."
(A Defence of Poetry Oxford University Press ©1966 - page 25)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Exposing the Lies of Lust

Hello new territory...

Normally my blog is a place where I discuss books (usually older books, at that) or things God has been teaching me through circumstances, etc. Today, however, I want to talk about an issue that churches are not dealing with: the struggle women have with lust.

Lust is not only a 'male problem' - it never has been. But we have been raised to think it is only guys who struggle with knowing where to set their eyes on a summer's day (one of my friends always said that summer was 'sidewalk season' because it was the only safe place to look). We are told that only men have a black thought-life, and only males are stimulated by scantily clad women on billboards or in the windows of Victoria's Secret.

But the secret is that women struggle, too. Probably not in the same way that men do - men and women think and process differently, of course. Yet lust is a human sin, not geared towards males alone. I have found this to be the case time and again with the girls I encounter... And I would be lying if I didn't say that those billboards, et cetera are distracting to me, too. Few churches (very few, in fact) address the issue, making young women feel like they are alone in their sin, having nowhere to turn in getting help.

Here I will turn things over to someone who has thought this through and polished her writing a bit more (okay, a LOT more) than I have. Please click the link below to read the full post. It isn't long and it is eye-opening.

We need to clearly teach that lust is a human condition, not just a masculine one. Knowing God's glory is at stake, we need to create humble church cultures where secret sin is not kept in the dark, but rather brought into the light...

...The roaring lion waits in the cover of darkness to attack what he finds there, but "whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God" (John 3:21).