Thursday, October 27, 2016

Squirrel Life





A pair of squirrels is playing tag in the autumn sun: around the fir, across my porch, over my roof. They flirt their tails and chirrup, they thunder boldly through the day, through life. Perhaps I envy them their simple lives—unworried about elections or the future. Yet, the squirrel can’t think about the fact that it is a squirrel. It can’t wonder what the purpose of its life is or if it matters in the world and the universe. A squirrel simply is. It fears predators and looks for food; it mates and bears young. The squirrel sails into the pumpkin on the porch with his tiny, fur-fringed hands; he turns brusque and reprimands when someone gets too close to him.

I, however, am not a squirrel. I get frustrated over elections. I am anxious about the future of our country and world, about the future for my niece and nephew, for the child being born today. I grew up with old-fashioned ideals and aspirations, with courtesy and a deep appreciation for human life. I grew up with a sense of wonder, with an awe of the numinous, with a firm belief that there is hope outside of my small self.

I grew up much like a squirrel. Like squirrels, people worked to make a home and provide meals. Fears were few and obvious, or so it seemed at first. I didn’t know cancer or divorce from personal places. War was in the Gulf, policemen were valiant and safe. Right and wrong were easy to discern. The people where I lived were the comfortable, trustworthy sort. Terrifying things were “out there”, not inside my safe world. But the borders of safety were breached. Evil and Sorrow and Death crossed the threshold. Not far behind were Uncertainty and Fear. I discovered that hard things, scary things were outside of my parents’ control, and certainly outside of mine. Squirrel-life shattered.

Sometimes I don’t like the realities and responsibilities that come with sentient, incarnational human-life. I don’t always appreciate the boon (or burden?) of being able to question if there is reality or if truth exists and is knowable. At times I let fear paint the picture that life is dark and crumbling and frightening. I let in the lies that marriage will fail, that motherhood steals one’s identity and is stifling, that tyranny and the ungodly will win.

Truth did not shatter with squirrel-life, however. Truth, in fact, illuminates life and gives me a clearer view. When the enemy of our souls portrays shadowy, suspenseful, formidable scenes of what life is for or is going to be, God stirs up the embers of truth. When the fire of truth is blazing it casts the shadows away, it gives me light to see that there is hope, there is redemption. All manner of things shall be made well. Sadness will come untrue.

When shadow-lies are shot-through with truth’s light, beauty and goodness gleam: as Christians we are the bride to a Bridegroom who will never desert or abandon us—He remains faithful, even when we are faithless. Marriage will not fail ultimately. I am reminded that children are a joy, that they deepen us and our ability to love and to sacrifice. Being a mother is part of one’s identity if they are called to that, but it does not mean they have to give up all the rest of their giftings. Mothers, in fact, change the world through their ideas, the truth they speak, and through their children, too. In the bright light of the truth I am reminded that Christians throughout history have faced wicked governments, evil oppression, violence, death, and injustice. Many in other countries face these things today. But evil cannot exist without the good thing it mocks and twists. And one day, if not now, it will be done away an the good, the true, and the beautiful will stand solid and bright and real.

Our salvation does not come through politics and laws. If those things we’ve looked to save us begin to crush us, they reveal themselves as the false gods they are. Some trust in chariots, some in horses—some trust in presidents and some in their own way of life—to save them, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God (Psalm 20:7). If, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we must face the furnace, we still need not bow down to false gods. We will rise and stand upright (Psalm 20:8).

Like those men before us, we know that God can save us; even if He chooses not to deliver us from the fire, we are not lost. Our destination is sure and steady—even when we have wracked our limited minds over the questions of truth and certainty and reality. We question, we seek certainty, we have that uncomfortable gift of knowing that we don’t know it all. We walk in the questions, and we walk by faith. In that balance we thunder boldly through the days and we thunder through life, not like squirrels, but like the sons of God we are.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Come, Let us Judge

Can we get something straight? It is okay to judge. I know it is the unpardonable sin of our society, but it is not unpardonable before God. In fact, he calls Christians to judge.1

Before someone runs off decrying me as a heretic, let’s talk about what judging isTo judge means to esteem, to select or choose, to determine or resolve, to sift or weigh evidence, or to pronounce an opinion between right and wrong.2 In short, it means to assess. Not to be confused with asses: what people make of themselves when they draw no distinction between judging and condemning, trying to shut down reasoned assessment by crying, “Don’t judge me!”

Though the word “judge” may at times be translated to condemn, it is not the first or top use for the word—in either the lexicon or the dictionary. A person can be praised for having good judgment (discernment), but shouted down the next moment for judging (having an opinion). I have witnessed Christians bandy about the first four verses of Matthew 7, only to have them completely miss verse five:

Don’t [judge], and then you won’t be [judged]. For others will treat you as you treat them. And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own? Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother. “Don’t give holy things to depraved men. Don’t give pearls to swine! They will trample the pearls and turn and attack you. (Matt 7:1-6 TLB emphasis mine)

Let’s see what Matthew’s words look like, fleshed out in our mirrors, in our daily interactions with people. . . How we make assessments or criticise others is the same measure that will be applied to us. We don’t live up to our own critiques, let alone God’s, so it is important to first know and love God, and next to ask the Lord to help us to be holy as he is holy. Whereby, we are able to not only use God’s word to assess our fellow men, but to first use it to judge our own motives and actions. Though we also sin, it does not mean that if we see a fellow believer outside the boundaries of God’s word that we can ignore his sin. It is our calling to examine our own hearts before God and then to help set our brother straight again (James 5:19-20).

We are to be both bold and humble if we see our brother in sin. Bold in speaking the truth, humble in our motives—do we desire our friend’s good and growth, or do we just want to be right? Before we approach a fellow believer who is in sin, we need to first turn away from any sin in our own hearts and lives. Not long ago, when a friend of mine was angry, he said some very untrue and unkind things to and about me. Though I was praying before our conversation to clear things up, I began snipping at him and accusing him once we began talking. Right in the middle of our conversation, I heard my tone and I knew that whatever else the case may be, I was in the wrong. I prayed silently for the Lord to forgive my attitude, and that I would be humble enough to ask for forgiveness. 

When I next had the opportunity to speak, I took a deep breath and asked if we could start again, asking for forgiveness for my cutting words and haughty heart. The tenor of our conversation changed immediately from heated battle to comrades-in-arms, fighting together against the enemy who sows discord among brethren. Once I had removed the “board” in my own “eye” by confessing my sin to God and my friend, I was free to approach my brother to help him remove the speck in his eye. We are not free to call out sin in a haughty spirit, but instead, to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15)—and love is not arrogant. We are not free to simply say nothing—He who knows the good he ought to do and does not do it, to him it is sin, says James (James 4:17).

Note that I say these things about making a judgment in regards to our fellow believers. Even though God holds us all to his standard, Christians are to judge differently between believers and non-Christians (I Cor 5: 9-10, 12-13). We are specifically called to judge (discern the words and actions of) our fellow Christians; not to throw away the holy gift of speaking wise judgments to evil men, as Matt 7:6 says above. We must speak the truth, of course, but we must let God hold unbelievers to his standard—that is his role, not ours. It is okay to call sin what it is: sin. It is okay to stand up for God’s character. And in the painful times when a brother continues persistently and unrepentantly in sin—even after exhortation and Godly confrontation—Paul tells us we must break fellowship with him (as in the case of unrepentant, gross sexual immorality in I Cor 5:11).

It is okay to judge—to sift a matter, to observe behaviour patterns, to see if actions and words align, to see if there is good fruit and assess the roots thereby. We can do this for all men. We cannot judge (in the condemnation or passing a sentence manner) the hearts of men, because only God knows the heart of a man. We are called to be discerning of what we observe. Let us, “Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days. Don’t be vague but firmly grasp what you know to be the will of God” (Eph 5:15-17 PHILLIPS).

We must not be vague—we must make wise judgments based on what we know of the will and the character of God. We do not have to back away from speaking the truth simply because someone demands that we “do not judge” them. We must ask for the boldness, courage, love, and humility that we need to continue to judge rightly, to turn away from our own sin, and to help our brother to turn away from his, too. So, come, let us judge.

__________


1. See Matt 7:5, I Cor 5:3, 12
2. krino or judge as defined in the Strong's Concordance

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Changing Seasons and Cello Strings



I wish I could write words and have them flow out in music. Tonight's words would be cello and classical guitar—calm, reflective, soothing. There would be the deep voice of the cello, humming that there is no hurry, no place to be. The intricate finger-picking of the guitar would be the drops of thoughts all strung together, drip-dropping slow and steady. Tonight's music would be dark cello softly illuminated by stars of silvery guitar. . .the clear calm of night after a whirlwind. 

Because, life has felt rather like a cacophonous, rushing wind in the last weeks. Work and weddings and writing. New seasons and more responsibilities. These punctuated by loss—coming home to me in a score of ways, in unexpected moments or places. Marriage is so very good, but it changes friendships, and the loss sweeps over me in final slumber parties, in having to share my dearest friends in sacred moments. I don't mind being on my own, but I do mind my fellow adventurer's getting swept further up the mountain at new and different paces. 

And yet. . .if I love my friends—and I do—then I want what is best for them. If it is walking with someone else more often than with me, if it is for their deeper good, if it draws them closer to the Lord, then I will not slow their steps. . .I will not seek to hold them back. Now I am encouraged to change my pace, or to call more frequently upon the Shepherd, the Prince of the High Countries. I can still walk with my friends, even if we are not exactly in sync anymore, and I am grateful for that. They still spur me on, encouraging me to go further up and further in.

As the dust of the whirlwind settles, I find myself too much the same. Rhythms are well and good, but they should not become ruts, deep wells to confine my vision and my stride. It isn't that I should stop taking joy in Autumn colours and crisp air and the scent of crunchy leaves. . .Nor should I cease to find pleasure and renewal in making a meal or crafting thoughts with paints or words. I should not find that Beauty is hollow and empty because the season of life has changed. 

Every season of the year has its special Beauty. Each season comes and fades by degrees to make it bearable. Seasons will not be rushed. They ought not be hurried to or through. Each has glories to enjoy. Perhaps each season also teaches us, a little more, how to be thankful even for the things we don't like. Summer's heat and beating sun are what make the mountain meadows blossom. Though I love Winter, many do not enjoy its frigid cold and barrenness. But the sting of Winter's chill brings a rosy glow to our cheeks; the barren trees sway in their unique Beauty—perhaps if they were never bare, we might not realise how rich it is to have their scores of leaves in the other seasons. Even Winter's grey skies make us appreciate blue ones and they give us the chance to stay indoors before a cosy fire with friends or belov├ęd stories.

Seasons are good in life, too. Or so I tell myself. Reminded that they come creeping in often—though not always—like a green leaf with gilded edges slowly becomes wholly golden. It is a process for change to happen. Thus, I will not lose my friends in a day—or perhaps at all—though the relationships will change. I will not become good in a day, either. I will not form new and better character all at once, but by daily asking for the Spirit of the Living God to have His way in and through me. I must also submit my will, must expect that the Spirit truly will come, in order for new habits to be formed. 

Tonight carries on, like a throaty cello, reflective. The day melds into evening, the stars are o'erhead. A good dinner and a London Fog cannot fix the loss I feel inside; yet I have savoured these special things, being glad for them and for tastebuds, thankful that the change of seasons is gradual this time.