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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Think About Such Things (with inspiration from Psalm 119)

   What we dwell on affects our mindset.  When we are dwelling on negative things, it can be hard to turn our thoughts around.  Yet, writing from a prison that lacked any comforts, Saint Paul wrote about things we ought to think about: "Finally, brother, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things" (Philippians 4:8).   A couple of days ago I read Psalm 119 (yes, that's the longest psalm) in one sitting.  In the original, it is an acrostic that follows 22 letters the Hebrew alphabet. The stanzas have eight lines that start with each letter for a total of 176 lines, which we designate as verses. In the style of Hebrew poetry, the lines do not rhyme, but pairs of lines do echo each other in meaning.  I tried to write two lines for each letter of the Roman alphabet to help me focus my mind on the types of things I ought to dwell on.

Admirable is the way different instruments come together in an orchestra;
Alto, soprano, tenor, bass as a choir lifts voices in song.

Beyond our comprehension are the spiral galaxies
Bursting with the light of countless distant stars.

Character that develops over time as we face hardships
Cannot be fast-tracked.

Determination seen in the child learning to walk or ride a bike--
Dad and Mom want to help, but need to let go.

Evening's glory as the sun sets--shades of red and purple fill the sky
Echoing the beauty of the Maker.

Flowers in a spring garden--tulips, crocuses and daffodils;
Forsythia bushes bring golden life to dull branches lacking leaves.

Grace--undeserved kindness from God above--is a
Gift that we pass on and on.

Heavenly messengers surround us all the time; angels
Hasten to do as God commands them.

Ink on a page that communicates truth
Irrigates our innermost being.

Joy on the faces of those gathered for a wedding
Joining husband and wife in life-long union.

"Kindred spirits," the surprising connection between people we
Keep company with.

Loveliness that manifests itself in a smile, sparkle or glint
Lifts us up from everyday cares.

Molecules so tiny, composing what's visible and invisible to human eyes;
Microscopes strong enough to detect what can make us sick.

Noble heroes of the past whose deeds we can emulate
Neighbours who go the extra mile for others.

Order brought by laws, governments and courts
Offering stability to men, women, children.

Purity of launderer's soap that mirrors how we're
Purged of our misdeeds by the blood of an innocent man.

Quiet early mornings when anything seems possible;
Questions that stir us to consider what's truly important.

Rain in the spring and summer to nourish the soil,
Resulting in bountiful harvests.

Sunrise to mark a fresh new day
Sabbaths to revive our bodies and souls

Truth heard in the pages of Scripture
Telling us the story of God's compassion for a fallen world.

Uncles, aunts, grandparents who connect
Us to a wider family.

Violet, indigo, azure, green, yellow, tangerine and ruby
Vibrant colours of the rainbow.

Winter, spring, summer, fall
Waxing and waning moons that show progress and the passage of time.

X~the Greek letter, used as a short form for
Χριστός, the hope of all nations.

Yearnings for the way things ought to be
Yield hope for the Kingdom of God that will one day set things right.

Zion, the Heavenly Jerusalem, anticipates a future where
Zealots of falsehood will not dwell.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Back to the Source

   The further something gets from its source, the more likely it is to be corrupted.  The water that begins fresh and pure as it melts from a mountain glacier gets dirty as it meanders between pasture lands and human settlements.  The clean water from our taps is fouled by greasy dishes, dirty feet and stained clothing.  As we let such water down the drain, we know that it did not start out that way.
   Yet when it comes to faith traditions that have become corrupted, people today so often dismiss the whole enterprise and determine to have nothing to do with faith or religion whatsoever.  It does not have to be this way, however.
   Consider American slave Frederick Douglass, who published a concise narrative of his life in 1845. Douglass had every reason to reject Christianity because the oppression of Black slaves was justified by so-called devout American Christians during his lifetime.  In one incident he recounts that one of his masters attended a revival meeting and became more serious about faith.  Sadly, the way he treated his slaves did not improve but became more harsh and brutal in his treatment of them. Douglass perceived that the evil system of slavery did not line up with Truth.  With the help a master's wife, he was introduced to the alphabet and gradually taught himself to read.  When he read the Bible, he found the pure source of truth.
   In the appendix to his narrative, he wrote, "What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference."
  Two years after the publication of this narrative, Charlotte Bronte wrote the novel Jane Eyre.  In this story, Jane is an orphan who eventually lives at an orphanage run by a harsh clergyman named Brocklehurst.  After leaving the orphanage, Jane later admits to her employer, "I disliked Mr. Brocklehurst....He starved us when he had sole superintendence of the provision department."  Those who lived at the orphanage were punished without reason to keep order and terrorized by readings about "sudden deaths and judgments."  Despite this unflattering portrait of a religious leader, the novel does not reject the Christian faith outright.  Sympathetic characters, Helen Burns and Jane Eyre herself, find genuine faith in the Lord, who comforts them in their sorrows and guides them in living nobly and rightly.
   It is a great error to reject God even if some who claim to represent him have strayed far from his ways.  One of the definitions of the word "corrupt" is to contaminate or to alter from its original form. Where we see corruption, we are wise to go back and discover what the original goodness was and return to it.  Go back to the Source by reading the ancient words that have sustained and guided countless men, women and children.  Meet the Christ who taught and sacrificed himself for the good of others. Hold fast to what is stable and secure while living in such uncertain times.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Something about Humility

   While doing a word study of "humble" and "humility" in the Bible, I came across this verse in Psalm 25:

   "He [God] guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way."  

There's something about humility that finds favour with God--it's a basic thread in the biblical tapestry.  But it is more than favourtism.  A humble person is teachable, and that makes him or her able to walk closely with God.  There are two parts to being teachable:

  • The attitude of humility towards the teacher or Master means acknowledging that the Master knows things that we do not know.  This humility looks up to the Master as a source of wisdom, experience and growth.  When a person thinks he already knows everything to be known, his pride stands in the way of being taught right from the beginning.
  • The attitude of humility allows the person to DO or NOT DO what the teacher advises.  The willingness to put that guidance into action and practice makes the difference between just knowing something as information and living it out practically.

   I recall when a former professional boxer came to speak at my church a few years ago.  He told the audience that as a young boxer he did not have more natural talent than the others in his boxing club. However, he put into practice what his coaches taught him and rapidly rose above the level of his peers, who considered the guidance given to them optional at best.  Natural talent can take you a certain distance, but humility can take you farther in just about any area because you recognize your own limits and look for help from the wise around you, especially from God Himself.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Tall Orders for Small Stature

   My grandfather Gerrit had the nickname of "Gerrit Mouse" since boyhood.  His adult height was only about 5 feet.  Yet his strength was remarkable.  In his late twenties he cleared an acre of land for a market garden that had been an orchard.  He used hand tools to fell the trees, which he sold for fuel to a nearby baker, and just a hand shovel and a spade to extract the roots.
   Another incident from his life demonstrates his resourcefulness in a desperate situation.  In his village in the Netherlands, my grandfather was a "first responder" with first aid training according to the standards of his day.  One time he was called to the scene where a disturbed man, known to be afflicted by alcoholism, had locked himself in a house with the intent of taking his own life.  My grandfather sized up the dwelling and spotted a small upper window.  He asked the bystanders to assist him in climbing to that window, which he was sure he could fit through.  Indeed, he managed to enter through the window and applied a tourniquet to the self-inflicted wounds of the poor man.
   After all this occurred some said aloud that it would have been better for my grandfather to have left the man to himself and allowed him succumb to his injuries.  However, my grandfather echoed the words of Joseph in Genesis 50:19, "Am I in the place of God?"  It was not for him to decide whether or not this individual's life was worth
   I wonder if humans are forgetting their place as they decide for themselves when to die and ask medical professionals to assist them.  Playing God is a dangerous business.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Human plans & God's sovereignty

   The biblical book of "Acts" is a series of dramatic events.  We see two plots going on at the same time.  You could say there is a human-driven plot and a divinely driven one.  Or you could say that earthly events are being held together by the sovereignty of God the Holy Spirit.
   Consider just a few of the earthly, human-driven events that take place in this narrative.  Taken by themselves, we'd thing this new faith is doomed:
  • Religious leaders plot against the preacher Stephen and stone him.  This leads to the disciples in Jerusalem to flee elsewhere for safety as persecution intensifies.
  • A man named Saul goes north to expand persecution into Syria.
  • A ship's captain insists on sailing during hurricane season, leading to a shipwreck off the island of Malta.
   But the divine intentions and sovereign plan of God to work out the extension of his kingdom are also evident in every single chapter of this book:

  • As the disciples flee from Jerusalem, they find people in the cities they have found refuge in who are willing to hear the gospel message.
  • Saul is stopped from carrying out his plans to arrest believers by a dramatic encounter with the risen Christ.  He is recruited to become the greatest Christian missionary the world has ever known.
  • All 276 passengers on the ship survive; the people of Malta hear the gospel for the first time and have three months of ministry from Saul, now known as Paul.  Eventually Paul makes it to Rome, where he's kept under the type of house arrest that allows him many freedoms, including visitors who come to hear him preach and teach.
   This account of events in the early church can remind us that the everyday sorts of things which we struggle with, or which may seem unconnected or even random, actually do work together for a greater purpose.  With eyes of faith, we may see them advancing God's grace in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

The words from Michael W. Smith's song "Sovereign Over Us" (2014) remind us:

Your plans are still to prosper
You have not forgotten us
You're with us in the fire and the flood
You're faithful forever
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us

Even what the enemy means for evil
You turn in for our good
You turn it for our good and for Your glory
Even in the valley, You are faithful
You're working for our good
Your working for our good and for Your glory

Inspired Word of the Year: Balance

   Hello readers,
I thought I posted this on January 1st so as to alert you all that I was taking a one-month Sabbath from blog writing and from checking blog statistics.  I'm very sorry if you've come looking here for new material over the past month.  I intend to resume my writing, once or twice per week.

   In 2014 I chose a word for the year: Hope/Esperanza.  It was a good concept to reflect upon; I trust that these reflections may have been an encouragement to others as well.
   Like the author of The Peaceful Mom blog, I am continuing the practice of choosing a word to help define the year to come.  The word is "Balance."  The past few months have nudged me towards this word and concept as something I need to strive for.  In my Google+ profile I describe myself as "a teacher with a full life outside of the classroom," but lately I've come to the realization that my life might be too full.
   Balance for me means that the different facets of my life each have their proper place and yet work together is such a way that I do not feel fractured.  It is easier said than done.  Without complaining about the tasks I have taken upon myself, I need to establish priorities.  I cannot allow my part-time job at school and my part-time job as a copy editor to squeeze out spending time with my family or simply maintaining order and cleanliness at home.
   The month of January holds some promising opportunities for me: helping to lead a Marriage Course with my husband on Friday evenings, writing more curriculum for doctrine classes to be held at church and joining a rotation of Sunday School teachers.  However, to keep things in balance, I will be doing a few things differently:
  • I work "afternoons" four days per week, but I've found that my mornings can easily be consumed by preparing for the classes I teach and using the internet.  To make my mornings more purposeful, I've already begun (and will continue) to follow a "rule of three."  1) Spend time with God in reading the Bible and praying, 2) Choose one or two household chores to do, and 3) Prepare something in advance that will make cooking dinner less stressful.  I intend to do all three of these things before I check my email or turn on the computer.
  • For the month of January I took a Sabbath from writing on my blog.  It has helped me to focus on other things.  It was not easy to set this aside, but it was healthy.  
   As the year goes by, I will return to the theme of balance and share insights I discover along the way.