Category Archives: odds and ends

Decorated Homes & Dependent Hearts

In our home, we are shaking our tryptophan stupor off and decorating our way into December.  As we are only  1/32 elf in our family, we tend to keep the decorations simple. Yet, every year, when everyone goes to town with their tinsel, tree-trimming and twinkle-light-hanging, my heart finds itself in the same wrestling place.

Because I am not on top of things, I find myself frantically searching for a decent picture of our family to try to rush order Christmas cards. By decent picture I mean we are all clothed and bodily present with at least one eye looking in the general direction of the camera.

Next, I look at my meager two containers of light strands that have fractions of working bulbs. This will do.

All joking aside, this is the time of year when we love to decorate our homes, filling them with all the smells and sights of the holiday season. While that is not my strong suit, I am well-acquainted with a similar tendency: to seek to decorate our hearts and our lives to match our cheerfully decorated homes.

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An image painted by Frederick Buechner in his memoir Telling Secrets has been haunting me of late. Speaking of his aging mother’s tendency to remember only the high points of her life, he writes the following.

“The sad times she kept locked away never to be named, but the funny, happy times, the glamorous, romantic,  young times, continued to be no less a part of her life than the furniture…She liked to paste gold stars on things or to antique things with gold paint – it was what she did with the past too of course  – and lampshades, chairs, picture frames, tables, gleamed like treasure in the crazy little museum of her bedroom.”

While my house does feature any gold-painted furniture, I do notice in my own soul a  scary tendency to want to make things appear shiny and together. I find my heart desiring to place gold stars on hard seasons or circumstances. I want to decorate my own heart.

However, more than a finely decorated, neat and tidy heart,  God longs to have a deeply  dependent heart. One that invites Him into the mess and the mayhem, one that cries out to Him for help and hope.

He doesn’t want me to plaster and decoupage my anxious heart and hectic home with gold stars; He wants something far more for me and my family. He longs that we admit our neediness of Him, our limitations  and our deep hunger for far more than this world has to offer. As we present our hearts in humility and honesty before Him, He promises to shape in us a refined faith in Him, proved of more value than gold.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by  various trials, so that the tested  genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found  to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:6-7.

In the midst of beautiful decorations and manicured Christmas card pictures, I long to fight my tendency to decorate my heart. Rather, I pray that God would give me a heart that is fully dependent upon.

Pain as Preservative

What formaldehyde is to organs in a jar, pain can be to the human heart.

I spent entirely too many hours semi-willingly quarantined in labs in college. Even the faintest whiff of formaldehyde conjures memories of organs and invertebrate bodies floating in large jars.

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Although it is not used as much now due to its carcinogenic properties, formaldehyde was once used commonly to preserve the tissues of the specimens, allowing them to be further studied. By being soaked and stored in formaldehyde, the organs or organisms remained soft and supple when they otherwise would have become hardened.

Suffering as Preservative

Pain, while terribly uncomfortable, can also have such a preservative effect on the human heart.

Recently, my grandmother passed away, and for the days surrounding her passing on either side, my heart was as soft as it has been in months. While out running errands and doing school pick up or cooking dinner and talking to a friend, I found my eyes leaking frequently at both the beauty and brokenness around me.

The world and the monotony of life can have a slowly hardening effect on our souls. And, in some ways, it is more comfortable to be comfortably numb than to have quivering, sentient souls that feel acutely.

Pain jolts us awake to the reality of life in the already/not yet of the kingdom of God. It protects our hearts from the hardening effects of life and keeps us supple and tender to the suffering of others.

Suffering as Silencer 

As a mother of three boys, I know that life can get noisy. As such, I have grown shockingly accustomed to an unnatural level of volume in my home. Sadly, I have also grown overly accustomed to an unnatural level of static in my soul. Static and background noise, a running list of to-do’s and ought-to-have-dones, a looping reel of lies and fears, the demands of the urgent. These are the sounds of my soul’s static.

Pain and suffering silence the static and sharpen the substantial. When a family member is diagnosed with cancer or a child struggles at school, when a friend betrays or a job is lost, the secondary static noise is quickly quieted, allowing us to hear the things that matter most.

Suddenly, the to-do list is eclipsed by a to-enjoy list and eternal conversations begin to trump surface subjects. Suffering teaches us to number our days rather than be numbed by them.

Suffering as Study 

As hard as it is to suffer ourselves or to watch those we love most suffer, suffering sets the gospel on display, inviting the watching world into a study of the gospel. When a friend who has lost her hair, but has not lost her hope in the Lord, the world wonders and takes a second glance at the gospel she adorns in her pain. When a mother loses her child, but continues to entrust her pain to a suffering Savior, those outside the fold are likely to do a double-take.  When an adoptive or foster family goes to great lengths to love a child who has no ability to love them back or to repay them long term, they see a glimpse at our suffering  savior who authored agape love.

It is not easy to live with a supple hard in a sharp world, but God calls His children to do just that. He bids us to be alive and alert to the pain all around us and to step towards it with the Good News of a lasting hope. There is a day coming when suffering will be no more, but, until that day, we are called to have supple hearts, preserved and softened by pain that we may point others to Him!

 

 

Can Crossfit Coach the Church?

Full disclosure: I do not do Crossfit. I do what I have dubbed “Mom Fit” which means that I daily carry heavy children and groceries and book bags in addition to my brisk walk. That being said, I have been observing the Crossfit movement from afar for quite some time. Many of my dear friends are involved in various Crossfit movements and gyms, and I have even nearly died a few times trying to join them.

As such, I have been pondering this morning what the Church might glean from the Crossfit movement. After all, I see these gyms mobilizing people to do insane and often terribly uncomfortable things daily. I see people involved becoming raving fans who cannot help but invite others to join them. I see Crossfit bringing people together across political, economical and racial lines.

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Clarity & Incremental Goals

It took me quite some time to realize what in the world WOD meant. For those who are couch potatoes or brisk walkers like me, WOD is an acronym meaning Workout of the Day. Each day, the people walking into the Crossfit gym are challenged to a very specific workout. The goal for each day is clear. If the WOD is too challenging, there are adaptable exercises that help participants incrementally gain the strength and form required to eventually do them with greater comfort and ease.

While I am not suggesting that our churches post a daily workout on a chalkboard sign, I do think that we could learn to offer people more clarity. What does it mean to be a member? What is required of volunteers? What does a community group (gospel community, life group, cell group, etc…) actually do for its members?

Rather than expecting that everyone who walks into our doors already possesses the necessary skills to open, read, study, apply and cherish the Word of God, we might learn to offer incremental trainings to get people to place where they can do their daily spiritual workout with confidence and skill.

Community & Consistency 

It seems that people who Crossfit love Crossfit. The community that begins over squats and burpies tends to bleed into other parts of life, morphing into friendships and dinner parties and the likes. From the outside, it seems that they have done an excellent job creating community around challenging tasks, around a shared mission. I most certainly find it hard to imagine waking up and getting excited about pushing my body to its uttermost limits, yet these gyms seem to have done just that!

Perhaps such a sense of community comes from the near-daily expectation of working out; perhaps the community is birthed from the consistency of having a shared public space which is neither the workplace nor the home. Either way, Crossfit gyms seem to have done what the Church continues to try to do: create an intimate community around a shared vision and task.

I recognize that the Church delves into messier areas of life than a gym; however, as a women’s ministry director, I sense I have a lot to learn from the contagious community around a terribly uncomfortable mission.

After all, the Church exists to make much of the name of Christ, to be the family of God here on earth and to equip its people to do the hard work of mortifying sin and living to righteousness (which is a far from comfortable task).

Long-Range Goals & Celebration

I don’t imagine that the Crossfit community promises results overnight. If I were to walk my not-so-toned self into a gym, I presume that they would tell me that while results take time, the end result will be well-worth the sore muscles and torn hands.

Similarly, sanctification and depth of relationship in the context of the local Church will not yield instantaneous results. We would do well to continually set the end-goal of Christ-likeness before our people while also reminding them that day in and day out practices might not always feel good or worthwhile. For no discipline at the time seems pleasant, but painful, but in the end, it produces the peaceable fruit of righteousness in those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).

Perhaps by celebrating the small wins more regularly and highlighting the reality of the struggle on the backdrop of the greater goal, the Church might move closer toward equipping its people for a long obedience in the same direction.

A Word to Stumpy Souls

Plumerias are strange, stumpy plants that produce the most exotic flowers. Their milky, thick, fragrant flowers, which grow in a variety of colors from fuchsia to white with subtle yellow and everything in between, are used to make beautiful Hawaiian leis.

A friend gifted us a Plumeria stalk which we planted in our old backyard.  Its blooms were arresting, so when we moved, I took a cutting to bring the beauty to our new address.

And so, a strange, stumpy stalk has been sitting in a pot on our doorstep for months. My kids have taunted me, telling me it is dead. To be honest, I can’t fault them for their teasing, as it has most certainly appeared dead, even to me.

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The other day, a tiny leaflet appeared from the stump, and I nearly burst into tears. Lest you think I am that crazy plant lady, I need you to understand why a single leaflet led me worship.

Of late, my soul has felt like my stumpy cutting has looked. It seems that only uncomely things have been coming out of my heart this summer. I am doing the things I know to do, remaining in the Word, fighting to take my thoughts captive, praying and pondering; yet, I have felt like a barren stump.

My soul has felt withered and tight, trapped and taut. With each passing week, my heart became more and more frantic, desperately wanting to feel and sense His presence, to see His face.

What am I doing wrong? Where are the flowers? Is there something wrong?

It has taken a great amount of effort to remain potted, to simply stay where God has me and my soul.

The Lord has had my soul idling in Isaiah 30, the Scripture I run to in barren places, clinging to His word rather than my feelings (or lack thereof).

Therefore, the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.
Isaiah 30: 18-20. 

It helps me to know that in my waiting for His presence, for His face to shine through my numbness, the Lord, too, is waiting. He is actively waiting, preparing, positioning Himself to move in my seemingly stagnant soul. He bids me remain and trust His character and promises, not my discipline, ability to stir up my own soul or pathetic attempts to produce forced blossoms.

He hears my desperate cries for deliverance from the stuck places of sin, for a vibrant walk with Him. And He promises that even after what has felt like scant rations in the unfavorable climate of my soul, I will see Him.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
Psalm 27:13-14. 

Wait. Stay potted. Abide. Remain. Keep watering what appears to be dead. Don’t trust in appearances, trust in His promises.

These have been my watchwords of late, which is why two little blades of life coming from my stumpy cutting filled me with timely hope.

If your soul feels stagnant and stumpy, barren and bald, I pray my slowly growing and gradually returning to beauty Plumeria plants hope in your soul.

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Questioning our Queues

I have stood in many a line for many a thing. The allure of free Chick-fil-A sandwiches has had me in a long, hot, sweaty line dressed as a cow with my little calves countless times. I once wiped my eyes, grabbed my coffee and posted up at the local public pool at 6 am to get free swim lessons for my water-phobic children. I am no stranger to the strange compulsions of a love of a mother.

Yet, the recent phenomena of out-of-control queues for the the “Pay Your Age” Build-A-Bear promotion has me saddened and concerned.

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On the one hand, as a mother, I understand deeply the desire to work hard to secure and procure good things for our offspring.  The love of a parent for a child is a near-miraculous thing. Yet, on the other hand, I see a sad story in the Build-A-Bear conundrum. We find it acceptable and expected to see lines wrap around entire malls for toys, yet seem to have a hard time expecting, accepting and empathizing with families queuing up on our border in attempts to leave dangerous situations and life-crippling poverty.

I am quick to recognize that immigration policy is a complex subject, so I will avoid any discussion of what we should do as a nation, as that is not my area of expertise; however, I am concerned about our hearts and our posture towards those queues no matter what the policy.

We are quick to assimilate long lines for toys into our view of reality while rejecting and ignoring the longer queues at our borders.

I have thought and pondered long on my own heart’s desire to focus on my own possessions and places while conveniently tuning down (or turning off) those which make me face uncomfortable realities. I believe we are afraid to face the refugee situation because we are afraid to face our own fears.

In our country, as a whole (as compared to most other nations) we are able to believe in the facade of control, stability and longevity.  As such, refugees make us face our deepest fears that life on this earth is indeed temporary, that, despite the fact that we live in secure homes on mostly ordered streets, any neighborhood on this globe is really only a tent city, a temporary home.

Our country has made its name and built its history on an independent spirit. My own soul desperately wants to self-sufficient, even as one who knows that the gospel primarily means a delightful utter dependence upon God. To pay attention to refugee populations who have become, often through no fault of their own, utterly dependent on hand outs and aid is to be reminded of how deeply dependent each of us are to others for our well being.  After all, we breath borrowed, walk on legs we did not create and eat food we did not grow.

The sad reality is that in rejecting to at least deeply consider the plight of refugees we are rejecting a remedy.

What refugees offer to our nation, in addition to countless other gifts of culture and perspective, is remedy in the form of a searing reminder. A reminder that this earth is indeed only a vestibule, a hallway into an eternal life. That, especially as believers, we are called to live as those in tent-cities, living lightly, ready to move at any moment, utterly dependent upon our God for life and breath and being.

While we offer stability and security and the chance to begin life again for refugees, they bring something we desperately need but equally desperately seek to avoid: a reality check.

I fear that in refusing to engage in the refugee situation, we are refusing a great and timely gift, one that would benefit our neighborhoods, our Churches and our souls.

For in the recognition in our ultimate lack of control, our desperate dependence upon God for all things, and our deepest desire for a forever home, a city without walls whose builder and architect is God, we are able to live in this earthly vestibule in a way that brings the most joy, the greatest hope and the longest security.

I, for one, need these reminders daily, as, in my flesh and fear,  I am tempted to become accustomed to toy lines and accusatory to border lines. By the grace of God, may it not be so!

 

 

 

 

Perseverance through the Badlands

I have never been to the Badlands, nor does the name leave me desiring to do so. Originally named by the Lakota people for its scorching temperature, lack of water and rugged terrain, the description seems to have stuck.

Although I have not visited the Badlands proper, I have driven through Eastern Texas which is its own version of the Badlands. Long stretches of hot, flat sameness that offers little excitement or novelty are neither easy on the eyes nor the soul.

The middle years after young adulthood and the novelty of marriage and family can sometimes begin to look like the Badlands with their long stretches of monotony and sameness.

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C.S. Lewis captures the Enemy’s potential to exploit those long middle years in his tongue-and-cheek classic The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape, the senior tempter, writing to  his young, naive apprentice Wormwood, encourages him to take advantage of the badlands.

“The Enemy has guarded him from you through the first great wave of temptations. But, if only he can be kept alive, you have time itself for your ally. The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather. You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere. The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it – all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.”

Routine, sameness, necessary responsibilities compounded over time, lack of novelty: all of these have always been excellent campaigning weather for the Enemy of our souls. However, in our culture of instant gratification and constant amusement and change, we are even more susceptible to the slow atrophy of the Enemy.

Steadiness, once hailed as a virtue, is often seen as boring. Quiet faithfulness is not flashy or headline worthy. Yet, the kingdom of God has moved steadily onward through the mundane faithfulness of ordinary people living ordinary lives with an extraordinary God for countless centuries.

We would do well to reclaim and rename the badlands of the middle years as the bedrock of beautiful faithfulness. Rather than allowing the middle years to work their attrition on our souls, we are invited to allow these years to deepen our adoration of our steady, unchanging God. After all, He has not grown weary of causing the sun to rise or the moon to wax and wane monthly. He has not grown weary of using the same gospel to save myriads of souls across the centuries.

Moses, in the midst of his middle years in Midian, met Yahweh in an astounding way and was compelled into a new, fresh season of faithfulness. Even as he grew old and shepherded a stubborn people through an unforgiving land for decades, through grace, his spirit did not grow dull. Deuteronomy 34:7 tells us that “Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated.”

In the badlands of bland landscape with a bleeting flock of wayward soul-sheep, his eyes kept a spark of life and light and wonder. How?

He kept near to His steady, life-giving God. He continually sought His presence and power and wisdom and was rhythmically renewed in Yahweh’s words and promises.

Sameness of company and calling does not have to be equated with the badlands. Quite the contrary, in the sameness of life here, we are invited to be washed and renewed in the steady stream of His purposes and love which have no expiration date. Our steady God offers us fresh mercy and renewed perspective to continue to do the same thing with a hopeful heart.

 

Contented but Kaput

Kaput. Toast. Done. Spent.

After spending years chasing after a general theory of relativity to broaden his ground-breaking special theory of relativity, Einstein finally did it. After the flurry, in a letter to another physicist friend, Einstein closed his letter “Contented but kaput.”

While a large majority of what I read about this genius and his theories were lost on me, the phrase has stuck, along with Einstein’s almost unnatural ability to focus on a goal.

He had completely given himself for nearly a decade to this goal, and afterward, at least for a short while, was contented yet exhausted. A few short months later, he would pick up another lofty unicorn of a goal, a unified theory that would explain the relationship underlying the entire universe, keeping Newtonian physics in tact while also encompassing relativity. This would keep his focus and drive him literally up to his death bed where he was still scribbling attempts at equations when he died.

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He gave himself to physics, much to the chagrin of his close familial relationships which were tenuous, at best. His entire life was given to trying to understand and unlock the mystery of the universe, which he attributed to “the Old Man,” God, whom he believed created a simple yet profoundly beautiful universe but did not interfere with man personally (a unique mix of deism and agnosticism to which he held faithfully after he left Judaism as a teenager).

Clearly, he was a brilliant man and one who shaped the fabric of science and humanity as a whole. Yet, when I was processing what I was learning about Einstein with my ten year old son, he said something profound.

“He was smart, for sure. But he wasn’t the smartest man who ever lived, because He did not know God and God is the smartest.”

Einstein, arguably more than another any other human who has existed, appreciated and understood the depths of general revelation, as he was both humbled and intrigued by the beauty of His handiwork. Yet, his life is proof that general revelation is never enough for a wholistic understanding of God. He continually chased his “unifying theory,” which I believe was his attempt to figure out the rest of the mystery (special revelation).

Psalm 19 shows both the beauty and deficiency of general revelation.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set out a tent for the sun…

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Psalm 19: 1-4 & 7-11. 

My son was correct. The Word of the law is sure and certain. It makes even the most simple wise. Only Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, kept the law of God perfectly.  But he was put to death, that we might have life, might be revived. He is more to be desired than gold, in knowing Him there is the greatest reward.

While I do not and will not understand relativity and cannot even scratch the surface of the way that Einstein saw and enjoyed the cosmos, I have a Christ whose life, death and resurrection make sense of humanity.

I long to live my life with a singular focus. I long at the end of my life to be able to say that,  in my pursuit of knowing Christ and being conformed to His image, I am contented but kaput. I want to leave it all on the table, to spend all I have to the end of knowing Him and making Him known.

 

 

A Long-Belated Apology

Kumeyaay Highway. The green sign placed on the side of one of the most well-traveled (read bumper to bumper traffic) highways in San Diego did not capture my attention anymore than any other roadside sign. Until recently.

A few years ago, I read Dee Brestin’s Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, the harrowing historical account of the way Native American culture at large was negatively effected and essentially eliminated by Westward Expansion. Since having read it, my eyes and heart are more sensitive to all things Native American.

The Kumeyaay were the indigenous people of what is today Southern California. They were resourceful, using the little that the dry land gave them. They moved closer to the sea in the sweltering summers and inland toward Coastal Oak Tree groves in the winters.  Their diet was mostly plant-based and they made every possible use of the acorn, even crushing them vigorously to remove the inherent tannic acid within them. Their habitations were simple dome-shaped units made of interwoven palm fronds.

Today, the only sign of the Kumeyaay people in Southern California are the few highways dedicated to their various tribes and the billboards for the handful of casinos that are featured on their respective reservations.

As if to add insult to injury, we named an intrastate highway after them. A highway. Highways represent efficiency, urbanization, speed, commercialization, most of which contributed to the bleaching of their culture and their separation onto small strips of land.

Every time I get off the exit to head to SDSU’s campus, I cringe as I read and reread the sign. I want to drive to the reservation and express my apologies in person. I have yet to build up the courage and gumption to do so, in part because of my own laziness and in part because of the grim stories I’d be likely to hear were I afforded the opportunity to build a relationship with someone of Kumeyaay descent.

While I have yet to trace our ancestry and I did not myself take part in the Westward expansion, the same greed and myopia that infected those who did lives within me. The desire for more and more and a similar sense of Manifest Destiny lies latent in my heart. Bigger, better, more, at all and any cost.

The sign acts as a regular check to my heart and a reminder to get to know the land around me, the native flora and fauna, just as the Kumeyaay people did.

A Long-Belated Apology

We dedicated a highway to you,
An insulting consolation prize;
For we still don’t see the earth
As if through your aged eyes.

Miles of concrete ribbon
Making static the living ground
A pathetic peace offering
For treatment wholly unsound.

To glean from your culture
An more apt apology would be.
To study the earth around us,
Each hill and rock and tree.

I am sorry for my part
In the exile of your ways.
I long for your remnant
To know much better days.

I am not attempting to eulogize a people I do not know as, first of all, they are not completely gone, and secondly, I know they have vices of their own. It’s just that I find my heart thinking of this people group I know of only through books and stories and a smattering of artifacts in cases in museums with longing and apology.

Especially as a believer in Christ, I want to learn from them. While I do not agree with a worship or deification of the earth itself, I am convicted by the accounts of Native American respect for and stewardship of the Earth.  One would expect a people so closely united to the earth, so deeply dependent on its resources to care for the earth in such a way; however, Christians should be one step further toward caring for the earth, not multiple steps closer to consuming the earth. After all, we are closely united to the Creator of the globe and the galaxies beyond. We are as dependent upon Him as the vine upon the branches. As such, we have more motivation, not less to steward His creation.

Self as Subscript

My children excitedly await the significant and wildly intellectual publications to which they are subscribed: the Lego magazine and Nat Geo kids. When they arrive, we experience a mini household holiday with its accompanying sibling spats over who gets to read them first.

Besides the immensely cute pictures of unlikely animal friends, the favorite parts are the games, most notably the “What is it?” game whereby an extremely zoomed in picture of something is featured and they are to guess the larger context to which it belongs.

I believe that we, as humans first, then as a culture, and lastly and sadly, often as the Church, have often sought to live in such a zoomed in, overemphasized view of self.

To be certain, self has a place. After all, God created each human with a distinct self that was intended to be His delight; however, self must always be known for what it is: a dependent and derivative subscript of our gracious God.

We must be certain to begin with God and end with God in our knowledge of self and our leading others to know themselves.

As I have been preparing a women’s Bible study course, I have been wrestling with the concept of double knowledge,  summed up succinctly in Calvin’s Institutes.

“Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves” (Inst. I.1.i).

I long for the women to leave the short, blitzkrieg class with deeper double knowledge. To that end, we will be exploring Gary Thomas’ Sacred Pathways this week to learn how we have each been wired to experience God and His Word.

I have been hesitant in my heart to spend a week focusing on self. In light of our sinful hearts and our self-obsessed culture, I have feared that such exercises might only tend toward self-absorption or making time with Lord all about them or an experience. Then, this morning as I was praying and preparing, the Lord gave me the image of self as subscript.

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Subscript is signifiant, but not central. One must begin at the main text to even need or see the subscript. When one rightly uses a subscript, be it a footnote indication or a cross reference, one is not meant to remain there. What is found in subscript is meant to compel and propel us back to the main text in a more informed and interested way.

Thus, there is a place for self-knowledge in the Church and in our relationships with the Lord. Relationships, after all, imply and presuppose two parties seeking to know and be known by one another. I want these women to know the various ways that they most naturally meet with God and experience Him. But all self-knowledge should exist to the end of pointing us back in a deeper and more grateful way to the God who has created self as significant subscript.

I was helped greatly through Knowing God by J.I. Packer in regards to not completely losing the place and experience of self in the fear of self-absorbed Christianity.

“The emotional side of knowing God is often played down these days, for fear of encouraging a maudlin self-absorption. It is true that there is nothing more irreligious than self-absorbed religion and that is is constantly needful to stress that God does not exist for our comfort or happiness or satisfaction or to provide us with religious experiences, as if these were the most interesting and important things in life….But for all this, we must not lose sight of the fact that knowing God is an emotional relationship, as well as an intellectual and volitional one, and could not indeed be a deep relation between persons were it not so.” 

As we seek to encourage others to press on to know God, we would also do well to remember that all our knowledge of God exists only because of His underlying, unbelievable loving knowledge of us.

“What matters supremely, therefore, it not, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it- the fact that He knows me. I am graven on the palms of HIs hands. I am never out of HIs mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him because He first knew me and continues to know me.”(J.I. Packer, Knowing God).

 

Setting the Table

If you know us well, you know that one of our most treasured possessions is our table. It is nothing fancy, but it is huge and it is ours. We bought it deeply discounted at a Pottery Barn Outlet because of dings and dents. Over the years we have added countless other scratches and marks of ownership that even the Magic Eraser, that mysterious wonder of cleaning products, cannot heal.

We don’t have fine china; in fact, we don’t have any china. We rock Ikea plates and strange silverware that we thought looked cool twelve years ago when we chose our wedding registry (clearly our tastes have changed).  Our glasses are a hodgepodge of pieces that haven’t broken over the years. All that to say, when our table is set, it is nothing to write home about.

Yet, there is something about setting the table that speaks of love and wreaks of anticipation. A set table, even if boasts only paper napkins and chipped plates, invites and summons, for the purpose of a meal is twofold: nourishment and intimacy.

table

Nourishment. We need to be fed often and daily. It is a matter of life and death, literally. Frills or no frills, we need to eat.  Yet, a meal is not simply about choking food down, but enjoying the presence and company of those we most love. Intimacy.

As I am in the process of preparing a 4-week course for the women at our Church, Studying the Bible with Your Heart & Mind, I cannot shake the image of a beautifully set table.

Even though we don’t own fine linens and I have never measured a single thing set on our table, I have found my heart longing to go to great lengths to set the table for the feast of God’s Word. Setting women before the rich Word of our Living God feels weighty, and as such, I want to be certain that every cup matches and every place setting sparkles. I have felt an immense and fitting pressure to proverbially find the best linens and most beautiful candles that should accompany such a Divine feast. But somewhere, in the process of preparing, I think I have begun to lose sight of the twofold purpose of the class in the first place: to set people before the food of Jesus (the Word of God) and the face of Jesus.

From the image of a beautifully set table, measured and crumb-swept Downton Abbey style, my mind jumps to Jesus. I imagine Jesus, with anticipation and care, setting innumerable tables for two, some fancy, some casual, some picnic blankets in parks, some to-go meals for the commute to work, eager to both feed His beloved children and to sit in intimacy with each of them.

He sets the Table. His Cross turned sideways has become the Table. He is the food. He is the host.

We live in the Already/Not Yet. Intimacy with Jesus has been opened by way of the Cross; yet we are not fully free from sin and able to sit face-to-face with our Beloved.  The Cross turned sideways has become a table, an access point of nourishment and intimacy with the Lord until the day when we sit down at the wedding supper of the Lamb, seeing our Christ face-to-face.

The table has been set, the food is rich, the company unparalleled. May we become people who come to the tables He sets daily, no matter the state in which we find ourselves. May we feed on His food and enjoy glimpses of His face until the day when we will feast with Him face-to-face for endless days.